24 Dec 2017

Mini Reviews 24/12/2017

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.

TALES OF SUSPENSE #100
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Art: Travel Foreman & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: I love Matt Rosenberg’s writing and would probably read pretty much anything he wrote now: that guy could write the instructions for wiring a plug and do it with wit and pace (hey, there’s a challenge!) so there was no way I was going to miss this one. Worth it for the letters page alone - do NOT skip that if you pick this up - this book writes the bereaved Clint Barton in a darkly humorous mode, as he sets out to investigate the murders of a series of members of a very familiar list: all people that Natasha Romanoff, herself recently murdered before the eyes of the world by Hydra-Cap, wanted dead. Barton’s investigative style is not subtle, and he wreaks something of a trail of havoc before finally making some progress - and running across another of Nat’s former loves, Bucky Barnes. I feel duty-bound to mention that I had a small issue with some of the artwork, specifically the action scenes, which somehow lacked dynamism for me. Foreman’s crowd scenes and, when teamed with Rachelle Rosenberg’s colours, his flames and explosions are superb: the fight scenes just felt like the safety rehearsal rather than the real thing. 7/10

X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN #1
Writer: Ed Piskor
Art: Ed Piskor
Marvel Comics $5.99

James R: What a treat to finish 2017 with. When we saw this one in Previews, it came out of nowhere - Ed Piskor, the mastermind behind Hip-Hop Family Tree, writing a concise history of the X-Men, was one of those pitches that sounded irresistible, and the final product doesn't disappoint. Piskor is the master of condensing complex stories and interactions down to the essentials, and moving the narrative at the perfect pace, and he plies this skill adeptly on the tangled (and frankly wacky) history of the X-Men. Part of the joy for me was just how mad the world of Marvel (and mainstream comics) are - the insane coincidences and twists, all are portrayed with a loving eye and a knowing wink by Piskor. Marvel have announced that both issues of Grand Design will be released as an oversized collected edition (the same format as Hip-Hop Family Tree) and if you've ever enjoyed the saga of Marvel's Mutants, I highly recommend picking that up - this first part alone is evidence enough of Grand Design's greatness. 9/10

MARVEL 2-IN-ONE #1
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Art: Jim Cheung, John Dell, Walden Wong & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Nature abhors a vacuum, and the lack of the Fantastic Four in the Marvel Universe has certainly left a gaping hole that no other characters could ever fill. They’re the heart and soul of this fictional universe; their debut appearance kickstarted the Marvel Age, and even though the politics behind their absence have been well documented, it was only a matter of time before they returned. We’d seen an indication of that in Marvel Legacy #1, and Marvel 2-In-One seems to be another step in that direction, an utterly wonderful one at that. Why? Well, it swiftly becomes clear Chip Zdarsky understands exactly what makes these characters tick: the warmth, the humour, the ties that bind this (first) family together. The focus is, obviously, the enduring relationship of between Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm, but this is actually a stealth Fantastic Four book, which becomes more evident when Doom enters the mix. The artwork is, unsurprisingly, exceptional, the sophistication and emotion in Jim Cheung’s imagery impacts with grace and style; he wows with apparent ease, and there's love and devotion poured into single every panel. We may only have half of the Four back at the moment (or a third of the Six if you count Franklin and Valeria) but there’s pure joy in these pages, a certain kind of magic that you only get with these particular characters. 9/10

BATMAN #37
Writer: Tom King
Artists: Clay Mann, Seth Mann & Jordie Bellaire
DC $2.99

James R: In this conclusion of the wonderful 'Super-Friends' two-parter, Tom King shows something that people have been saying mainstream comics have been lacking for a while: fun. Without getting into the whole 'are mainstream comics too gloomy? Are the DC movies too gloomy?' arguments, it's fair to say that there's been a lack of levity in the DCU since the late '80s. This issue feels at once both a throwback, yet simultaneously a thoughtful and intelligent modern book. Bruce and Selina take in the Gotham County Fair with Lois and Clark, and the foursome discuss their lives and relationships. It may sound like a soap opera episode, but it's another terrific character study from Tom King - as I've said before, he truly understands these characters, and it's clear that he's totally in the groove with them now. Once again, Clay Mann's pencils are terrific, and as a Batman reader, I go into 2018 more excited about the prospects for this book than I have in a decade. 8/10

PETER PARKER: SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #298
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Art: Adam Kubert, Juan Frigeri & Jason Keith
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: I’m really enjoying Chip Zdarsky’s way with Spidey’s words in this series and he has clearly got the measure of the wisecracking webslinger’s attitude on life, making much in this issue of his consideration for others above his own wellbeing. Spidey is a sweet, funny guy who fights as much with his wit and his wits as with his webs, and Zdarsky gets that. That said, for me, the appeal of Spider-Man has always been his physiology. Artists who ‘get’ Spidey know that there is a unique beauty in the way he flexes and contorts, the way that ‘up’ and ‘down’ are much less relevant directions for him, and here, Kubert and Frigeri show their passion for Spider-Man as a physical entity in a total treat for his fans. Without wishing to spoil too much, a large part of this issue involves our hero fighting a sequence of bads on a bridge. In the air, on the ground: the action is seamlessly balletic, wings, muscles, clawed hands curled; the tension in each physique twangs with tamed power. My favourite ‘noticing’ in the whole issue: this extended fight sequence takes place on a suspension bridge with ample rails, cables and girders for our arachnid hero to make use of, but the only point where we see Spidey clinging to a vertical, in that classical taut crouch pose, it’s the frame of the panel he’s actually hanging on to, not an object in his world at all: a sort of physical fourth wall break which is SO COOL. 8/10

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