4 Mar 2018

Mini Reviews 04/03/2018

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.

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Marcelo Maiolo
DC $2.99

James R: As someone who loved the weird science aspects of the Fantastic Four, I was thrilled to see that Jeff Lemire and Ivan Reis had decided to pick up the mantle of Marvel's First Family... at DC! This isn't the time or the place for a 'What are Marvel playing at with the Fantastic Four?' thinkpiece, but while Reed Richards et al. are missing in action, I'm really impressed with the debut of the Terrifics. Lemire has picked an intriguing roster of heroes (Mr Terrific, Metamorpho, Plastic Man and Phantom Girl) and thrown them in at the deep end together, casting them adrift in the Dark Multiverse uncovered in the Metal event (though, blissfully, you don't need to have read up on that to get this). The other point of interest for me here is the introduction of Alan Moore's Tom Strong to the plot. As a huge Alan Moore fan, I've been fascinated by DC's recent choice to co-opt two of the America's Best Comics characters into DC continuity. Promethea in Justice League seemed incredibly random and an odd fit but Tom Strong, conceived as a combination of Doc Savage and the Fantastic Four by Moore, is an inspired choice. A breathless and fun read, illustrated with aplomb by Reis, I'm already looking forward to issue two of The Terrifics. 8/10

Matt C: Jeff Lemire returning to DC felt like an exciting move; following an impressive stint at Marvel, alongside his generally outstanding creator-owned work, getting to play in the DC Universe sandbox again indicated his winning streak would continue unabated. Unfortunately the debut issue of his ongoing series, The Terrifics, is a generic, by-the-numbers DC book that’s burdened with explication, a loose riff on the Fantastic Four that fails to provide a convincing case for the gestation of a new team dynamic. Reis’ art is fine, but perhaps possesses only flashes of his best work, with a slickness that dulls appealing edges, often skirting a bit too closely to ‘House Style’ for comfort (and don’t get me started on that irritatingly pointless, spoiler-heavy fold-out cover). The cliffhanger final page offers an intriguing tease, and that – along with Lemire’s pedigree – will mean I may be back for one more issue, but beyond that it’s not looking promising. 5/10

Writer: Richard Starkings & Tyler Shainline
Art: Shaky Kane
Image $3.99

Jo S: Pop art colours pop off the page throughout this lurid serving of factory farmed, steroid stuffed fast food, with Shaky Kane’s classic visuals very much the star of the show. Mudsville, California, where our story unfolds, is a farming town, with old family feuds and new families arriving to add fuel to simmering flames of resentment; underdog Chuck endures years of bullying as his father appears to have done before him, all the while tucking away burger after burger, soda after soda, adding daily to the chemical load on his system… The badge on the front claims it's ‘suitable for vegetarians’ but I'm going to jump in and add ‘as long as they're not of a delicate nature’ - not for kids or the faint-hearted, this one looks to be keeping the bleurgh-factor high. 7/10

Writer: Aleš Kot
Art: Danijel Žeželj & Jordie Bellaire
Image $3.99

Matt C: The debut chapter led with a quote from Steve Bannon, this time it’s Manic Street Preachers, and it feels tonally and thematically correct. There’s a moment in this issue I had to revisit several times; its potency relies on its simplicity, underlined with a casual menace that emphasizes why this book possesses a real relevancy, its vision of near-future events not exactly stretching plausibility. As long as it remains within the realms of ‘This Could Happen!’ then this could easily become Kot’s best work to date, the expressive imagery – full of doom and melancholic inevitability – pushing it that much further into the category labelled ‘Essential’. 9/10

Jo S: For me, this is absolutely the perfect example of what Image are capable of. Viciously close to the bone of today’s news, this story bites into the fears of modern society, extrapolating straight from events of 2016-2018 to a terrifying image of the very near future. Presented mostly as a series of talking heads, this second issue extends further into the motivations of each of four characters: the radicalised leftist, now going to extremes of terrorism to realise her beliefs; her associate in crime, a muslim whose experience of persecution by the authorities has driven him to alcohol but not away from his faith; the devastated, bereaved ex-wife, bitterly vengeful and yet loyal to the cause; and the government agent, ruthless in his determination to stamp out terrorism, by fatal means if necessary. Each character is a portrait of unavoidable motivation - Kot’s mastery of our sympathy is staggering, to the point where the incentives of even the monstrous government agent Freeman, depicted so eloquently as a racist, fascist bigot that I missed the significance the first time, become something we can empathise with. An unfaltering example of where the story is told at least as much in the images as in the words spoken, Žeželj’s work here is both subtle and vital and must be given full attention. 9/10

Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Art: Adam Kubert, Juan Frigeri & Jason Keith
Marvel $5.99

Matt C: This series – only recently relaunched – hits its ‘landmark’ 300th issue, presumably before it gets renumbered again in another couple of months. It’s a sales technique of course; the publisher wants us readers to pick this issue, and adding questionable anniversary bells and whistles is an extra lure, but what’s most important is what’s been between the covers, and this has been a generally okay storyline so far. Zdarsky has shown a good grasp of character and a very good ear for dialogue, but it’s now reached a point where it’s become needlessly convoluted, a plot that wasn’t that compelling to begin with (it’s the characterization that’s been the selling point so far) unravelling through contrivance. Kubert provides some reliable visuals but with no resolution in sight for this tale, this bumper-sized issue has me bailing instead reiaffirming a commitment. 6/10

Writer: Daniel Kibblesmith
Art: Carlos Villa, Roberto Poggi & Chris O’Halloran
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: In case you, like Medusa herself, were wondering, “Where do you suppose Lockjaw goes all the time?” this series is a window (or maybe a dog flap?) on just that question. I shamelessly loved this first issue - the hippo-sized Inhuman equivalent of the royal corgi is superb in this, in all his lollopy, slobbery glory, and he and his soon-to-be sidekick, former Captain America support-act turned washed-out lovesick waster, D-Man, make a great double act. This first issue introduced just enough story to get me hooked - is that a mini-Lockjaw? Alien attack-hamsters? - and plenty of fun layered in too. And in case your question was actually not the same as Medusa’s, and was, in fact, “I wonder what Karnak, who knows the flaws in all things instantly, has for breakfast?”, never fear, for that too is answered. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire
Image $3.99

James R: This week really highlighted the versatility of Jeff Lemire. We've had the release of The Terrifics, (sadly, Dr Star & The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows didn't make it on the transatlantic flight, so I have to wait until next week for that) and the sublime Royal City. As much as I enjoyed The Terrifics, Royal City is a class apart - the saga of the Pike family is utterly compelling. In this chapter, there's a great sense of the various family members dealing with their destiny - either acquiescing to their fate, or desperately fighting against it. Lemire's art truly does seem to get better and better, and his use of Tommy's journal as a storytelling device is beautifully judged. The only thing missing was one of Lemire's accompanying playlists - but given the man's remarkable output, I think I can overlook that this month! One of the books that constantly reminds me why I love this medium, Royal City continues to cast a spell. 9/10

Writer: Hubertus Rufledt & Helge Vogt
Art: Helge Vogt
Statix Press $5.99

Jo S: The blurb for this two-part series aimed it squarely at the quirkily macabre Tim Burton zone of comics fandom and it's hard not to draw comparisons between classic Nightmare Before Christmas characters and Rufeldt and Vogt’s graveyard crowd. Sweet, doll-faced and recently dead, the titular character ‘awakes’ and finds herself in a spooky cemetery, unaware of her exact situation and with no memory of how she came to be there. As cast of oddities introduce themselves and gradually, Alisik realises she is no longer part of the living world and begins to piece together the hints of her former life. Helge Vogt’s art brings together gothic and magical, cute and monstrous, modern and long-past in a cavalcade of delicately constructed, sensitively illustrated scenes, elegantly framed and sprinkled with odd little details. Cat Connery’s lettering is worthy of mention too - especially where Rufeldt’s poetic explanation of the world they inhabit is represented in song. The story here is, as yet, nothing new, but the quality of the visuals makes this very well worth your time and money. 7/10

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