11 Feb 2018

Mini Reviews 11/02/2018

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.

YOUNG MONSTERS IN LOVE #1
Writers: Various
Art: Various
DC $9.99

Jo S: This compendium has set me up a treat for Wednesday’s Valentine festival of love and was well-worth its rather heart-racing cover price. Ten tales on a theme is too many for me to cover each in respectful detail, so I’ll pick out my highlights. I’m relatively unfamiliar with most of the monsters in the role call but, though short, each tale managed in but a few pages to get me up to speed on what I needed to know. I particularly enjoyed Paul Dini’s Deadman story - not a romance, directly at least, but a story of bullying set on Valentine’s Day, tackling uncomfortable ideas effectively, even in such a short space. The Swamp Thing story by Mark Russell, with Frazer Irving’s artwork, is a tear-jerker, the second time that this Big Green Guy has torn at my heartstrings this week, and has reawakened a Nirvana earworm which is likely to stick around for some time to come. My absolute favourite though is something of an odd choice: Steve Orlando’s ‘Visibility’, a story about Monsieur Mallah and The Brain. It’s a peculiar little tale which manages to include much of the history of the pair encapsulated in a very short span of time, but it is absolutely lit up by Nic Klein’s artwork, with inventive page structure swirling the reader through that history and with the most heartbreaking close up on the final page, raw emotion shining through in a way that transcends differences and shows that love is truly for all. 9/10

VS #1
Writer: Ivan Brandon
Art: Esad Ribic & Nic Klein
Image $3.99

James R: After a few SF misfires of late I was delighted that Images' latest science-fiction book absolutely hit the spot for me. Firstly, Ivan Brandon's script pulls off the tricky task of establishing a world, characters and a conceit without ever resorting to heavy exposition. The plot reminded me of a much-loved comic of my youth, Dragon's Claws (from the masterminds behind the UK Transformers comics, Simon Furman and Geoff Senior), so I was immediately predisposed to the plot that, in Brandon's own words, is 'Space Gladiators'. What really makes the book stand out though is the astonishing art of Esad Ribic - he's one of the best artists working in comics today, and it's a joy to see him crafting a whole new world which has tones of classic science-fiction artists like Chris Foss and John Berkey. This first issue does what all good premiers should - it made me want to come back for more next month. A decisive victory, and a series rich with promise. 9/10

Matt C: Esad Ribic’s artwork, complemented by Nic Klein’s evocative colours, is stunning, as expected – the immersive creation of a new world is intoxicating and breathtaking; a master at the peak of his powers. The story though? The whole ‘war as entertainment’ isn’t a new thing in sci-fi, but neither is it a thing without further mileage. The trouble here is that the central concept isn’t conveyed clearly and powerfully, and while there appears to be a main protagonist pushed front and centre, he barely registered as an interesting character that warrants following. Pretty pictures will only take you so far, and while there are some of the prettiest pictures you’ll see this year in this issue, latching onto a substantial hook is a problem that will potentially scupper the series before it has a chance to take flight. 6/10

X-MEN RED #1
Writer: Tom Taylor
Art: Mahmud Asrar, Ive Svorcina
Marvel $4.99

Jo S: Jean Grey is back and instead of taking a break she’s immediately forming a team, strategising and planning to change the world for the better. The girl never slows down for a minute! This issue shows her running the full gamut of hero-ing, from saving a newborn to trying to save all mutants everywhere, forming alliances mini to macro, and kicking ass as required along the way. As a first issue in a series, this held absolutely nothing back - no sign of using the first issue to establish any backstory, just straight to business. If further issues are this exhausting, I can’t help but wonder if Taylor will burn out of ideas (and whether Jean will just burn out). The artwork, whilst bright and toony, feels a little rushed for my taste - this doesn’t appear to be scheduled on the same crazy fortnightly scheme as recent X-series but I wonder if some attention to emotional detail has been lost in the swift pace of the story arc. 7/10

BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT #5
Writer: Sean Murphy
Art: Sean Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth
DC $3.99

Matt C: As with VS this week, the art is the star in Batman: White Knight, the script not so much. Sean Murphy is one of the best, most distinctive artists working on comics right now, his panels bristling with intensity, dynamism and detail. It’s the portrayal of the main cast that causes problems; the characterizations feel off on a number of levels, and consequently it loses credibility as you find yourself questioning whether Batman or the Nightwing or, well, the Joker would ever behave like that. It remains interesting even though it doesn’t really engage on an emotional level, and the art makes the experience infinitely more palatable, but the gorgeous imagery can’t disguise the shortcomings of the story. 6/10

BATMAN #40
Writer: Tom King
Art: Joelle Jones & Jordie Bellaire
DC $2.99

James R: When we had our recent PCG meet-up, I noted that looking at Tom King's run on Batman now, it's both unrecognisable from Scott Snyder's run, and King's own early issues - and that's a very good thing. King has made this book his own, crafting short, punchy vignettes and character studies that, for want of a better term, just work. This issue is the finale of Batman and Wonder Woman's journey into The Realm whilst Catwoman acts as escort for the Gentle Man on Earth. What's great here is that for all of King's sharply-observed character studies, he's also a writer who realises these books need moments of levity along with the moody darkness. Once again, Joelle Jones' work is first-rate: some artists shrink from the challenge of depicting Gotham - Jones simply thrives on it. Consistently great, and for the first time in a few years I find myself eagerly looking forward to every issue of Batman. 8/10

SWAMP THING WINTER SPECIAL #1
Writers: Tom King & Len Wein
Art: Jason Fabok, Brad Anderson, Kelly Jones & Michelle Madsen
DC $7.99

Jo S: My pull-list put something of a strain on the ol’ credit card this week but it was a tough list to try to trim, packed as it was with issues which would have been ‘get this if nothing else’ issues pretty much any week of the year. This Swamp Thing special is a year-topper though, and we’re only in February. An 80-page giant, this has just two stories on board; Tom King’s hauntingly beautiful ‘The Talk of the Saints’ and Len Wein’s unfinished episode following on from ‘The Dead Don’t Sleep’. With Wein’s passing last year, both stories are weighty with poignancy, and form a graceful tribute to his work. The second of the two is presented without dialogue, as Wein had not had time to complete a lettering script before his death, and a first ‘read’ is an interesting exercise in how much can be eked from the visuals alone. Following the story is the plot in full, including Wein’s instructions on emphasis and where to leave space for lettering. The text eloquently shows the trust and admiration Wein had for Jones and Madsen - they must treasure these words deeply and it feels like an honour to have them shared with us. ‘The Talk of the Saints’ sees Swampy struggling through a dense blizzard, cradling a child in his arms or carrying him on his shoulders; the tenderness of the giant creature’s care glowing through the whiteness. Tom King has created something astonishing in this tale, playing with timing and mystery to draw us in and twist our emotions. He is a masterful writer of the weight of responsibility, of duty, of how easily we can be convinced that we are doing right; this is flawless, for me. 10/10

Matt C: Intended as a tribute to the significant talents of Swamp Thing creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, the main story from King, Fabok and Anderson elevates those intentions into the realms of the profound with a tale that is hugely affecting and, visually, flat out astonishing. Fabok’s work here is beautiful, desolate, warm and heartbreaking, even when set against such a bleakly cold backdrop. King uses the tale to consider the past, present and future, what we take from each, what we carry forward, and what we leave behind. Poignant undersells it. The ‘unfinished’ Wein story – art followed by the script – is a lovely addition (and obviously a contributing factor in the price of the book), but it’s the King/Fabok/Anderson concoction that’s the selling point, and it’s a heck of selling point at that. A love of the character isn’t a prerequisite to make this an essential purchase; a love of great comics is. 8/10

James R: I wanted to pick this up as a Tom King fan; I really wanted to see what he'd do with Swamp Thing (as a huge Alan Moore fan too, I retain a sizeable soft spot for DC's avatar of the Green.) The book is also a farewell and salute to Swamp Thing's co-creator Len Wein, featuring his last, incomplete script for a proposed Swamp Thing miniseries, brought to life here by the art of Kelley Jones. In total, it's more of a collector's item than an essential read. King's script is as good as you'd expect, even though it unfortunately features the same bait-and-switch that the author used in Batman #38, but Jason Fabook's art is exceptional. The second tale shows that Len Wein still had some interesting tales of Alec Holland so it's sad that these pages can only act as a preview and nothing more. With a hefty $7.99 pricetag, I was hoping for a little extra - as it is, this is a special that feels a little mundane. 7/10

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