8 Oct 2017

Mini Reviews 08/10/2017

We may not have time to review every book on our pull-lists but we do aim to provide a snapshot of what's been released over the past week, encompassing the good, the bad, and those that lie somewhere in between.

Writer: Sean Murphy
Art: Sean Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth
DC $3.99

Matt C: This felt like a slam dunk as soon as it was announced. Murphy’s illustrative prowess is unquestionable at this stage, and pairing him with the Dark Knight seems like a match made in heaven. And so, of course, it’s an utterly sumptuous package, the energy and detail in each panel being nothing short of intoxicating. The script is very fine too, flipping the Batman/Joker dynamic on its head in an inventive manner, perhaps a little implausible, but compared to some iterations the character’s been through (Rainbow Batman!) it’s perfectly palatable, leaning into the idea touched on many times before of a Caped Crusader who’s lost his sense of perspective. There’s an argument to be made that a lot of DC’s best books sit outside continuity at the moment, and this opening issue certainly adds a substantial amount of weight to support that. 8/10

James R: This one looked like a must-read when it was announced, and that's just what it turns out to be. Sean Murphy's amazing pencils have always looked like a perfect fit for Gotham: his pages for Scott Snyder's anniversary issue of Batman a few years ago looked stunning, and his recent work on Tokyo Ghost showed how good he was at illustrating a huge, sprawling city. White Knight sees him flexing his writing muscles too, as we're plunged into an 'Elseworlds' Batman tale that sees a quickly fleshed-out version of the Joker. Here, he's the failed stand-up of The Killing Joke, but far from the indiscriminate homicidal artist of DC lore, he's more a thwarted thief. Following a seemingly random conclusion to his latest caper, the Joker loses his homicidal tendencies and swears to bring whom he sees as Gotham's greatest threat - the Batman - to justice. It's worth getting just to luxuriate in Murphy's art - I've been a fan since Joe The Barbarian, and somehow he seems to just get better. This first issue covers a lot of ground quickly, and sets up a neat twist on the classic Batman tropes - I'm interested to see where it goes from here. 8/10

Writer: James Tynion IV
Art: Eryk Donovan & Dee Cunniffe
BOOM! Studios $5.99

Jo S: I found this a tricky one to rate, and I'm happy to hear alternative views to mine. The series popped out of Previews for me, and I was grabbed by the sight of Tynion IV as writer, having followed his work on Batwoman this year, as well as the creepy but striking monster embryo cover. In terms of getting my hard-earned pull-list cash this week, there was a balance to be struck; a short run is appealing at the moment, and this promises just three issues, but a cover price of $5.99 puts some fairly hefty expectations on it. So, is it worth the price bump? I have to say, on balance, yes. This first issue introduces a near-future Earth which has been ravaged by a catastrophic plague which not only wipes out millions but also effects a near zero birthrate as pregnancy of those affected ends in miscarriage. A cure is found, but its ethical impact may prove to be a higher price than humanity can afford. Donovan’s artwork really pulled me in, although I can't quite put my finger on why: perhaps the black guttering which makes panels really jump out, perhaps the unusually striking face and style of the geneticist central to this issue or perhaps the liberal but effective gore - whatever the reason, I'm keen to see more. 8/10

Writer: Dan Panosian
Art: Dan Panosian
Image $3.99

James R: This is the title that I decided to gamble on this week (very apposite given the Vegas setting of the book) and I'm pleased I did. Slots introduces us to Stanley Dance, a down-on-his-luck boxer,who is summoned back to Las Vegas to help an old friend keep her struggling casino from a hostile takeover. I am a huge fan of a good crime caper, and reading this first issue of Slots, I was really reminded of the late, great Elmore Leonard. His crime books were filled with great characters and over-ambitious schemes, and Slots is very similar. As writer and artist, it's obvious that Dan Panosian has poured his heart and soul into this book - it's a vibrant first issue that capture the faux-glitz and grime of Vegas really well. As an introduction to Stanley Dance and his world, it certainly reeled me in, and I will be back for issue #2 to see if Panosian can deliver a knock-out blow. 8/10

Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Goran Parlov & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Very few writers have been able to dig into Frank Castle’s psyche in the way Garth Ennis, and arguably – from his slightly tongue-in-cheek work with the late Steve Dillon through to the more bleak tales via the MAX imprint with Goran Parlov (who collaborates again here) – he’s become the definitive Punisher writer, capturing the singular, homicidal purpose in a way no other writer has. After his excellent 2005 series Born, with Darrick Robertson, which suggested the real birth of Castle’s alterego came about during a bloody tour in Vietnam, rather than murder of his family, Ennis rewinds further to take a look at the character’s first taste of the conflict. If you’re familiar with Ennis’ writing then you should be well aware that he’s the contemporary writer who most eloquently captures the chaos and broken heroism of war, so it’s no surprise that this opener feels raw and authentic. What lets it down is the blurring of the cast (combat fatigues makes it hard to differentiate between them) and the lack of definition for the lead, who feels like more of a distant figure rather than focus. Experience tells me to stick with it, but in all honesty I expected something a little more explosive from this debut. 6/10

Writer: Saladin Ahmed
Art: Christian Ward
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: This series has been such a surprise and treat: from a slightly odd start, it's built gradually to the perfect finale, taking a path through rich characterisation and unusual, distinctive visuals. This last issue in the tale of Black Bolt’s incarceration in the prison he built for his own brother is an absolute triumph for artist Christian Ward and a textbook piece in how an artist taking on all aspects of the art can create something unique. The story has required Ward to represent psychic energy, explosions of sound and mind and metaphysical spaces - abstracts which he has managed to render so credibly that one feels with the characters. His visualisation of a star-filled sky, so long invisible to the prison-bound compatriots, is intoxicating. Ahmed’s storytelling is magical too; it can't be a simple task to give depth of sensitivity to the Inhuman king when he is almost constantly silent but Ahmed manages to write the camaraderie between the unlikely band of survivors adeptly. A really unexpected gem. 9/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Salvador Larroca & Edgar Degado
Marvel $4.99

James R: I'm reviewing this issue as it's Jason Aaron's last issue of Star Wars, and I felt respect was due for what has turned into a Rancor-sized run. The issue works as a great stand-alone summary of what he's done on with the series - we spend the majority of time with Kreel and SCAR squadron and see their blind devotion to the Empire, before switching to the iconic rebels, and how Kreel's actions strengthen their resolve. Aaron very much puts the 'war' into Star Wars, and reading this, I was reminded of the great stuff he's done with the title. It's tough to add to canon whilst not impeding on the original movies, but he managed it with aplomb (only really dipping during the flat Yoda arc). Salvador Larocca's art is as great, finding the sweet spot between realism and his own style, and I think it's a wise choice to keep him on board for the next arc. Thanks, Mr Aaron, it's been stellar. 8/10

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