8 Apr 2018

Mini Reviews 08/04/2018

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.

XERXES: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF DARIUS AND THE RISE OF ALEXANDER #1
Writer: Frank Miller
Art: Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair
Dark Horse $4.99

James R: Well, that's certainly a a title that's no friend to brevity. This (which for the sake of my keyboard and sanity I will now refer to as Xerxes) is Frank Miller's prequel to 300. The original was released way back in 1998, and since then Miller has been distracted by Hollywood but had often mentioned a return to the wars of antiquity. It's a lavish $4.99 comic, and Miller makes full use of the double-page spread images, giving a sense of the epic. It reads exactly like a continuation of 300 in every way, and that's both its strength and weakness. If you loved the original 300, you'll love this - even though the narrative now comes from the Athenians, the voice is nigh-identical to the Spartans, and once again, there are pages of sword & sandal action. All told, I found it an enjoyable enough distraction: it's not the best thing you'll read this year, but it's still great to see that Miller's fire and passion for this era burns strong. 7/10

ISOLA #1
Writer: Brendan Fletcher & Karl Kerschl
Art: Karl Kerschl & Msassyk
Image $3.99

Jo S: A magical realm forms the backdrop for this beautifully illustrated mystery tale, where gigantic birds with rainbow feathers soar over forested lands filled with rich animal life. A story where the ground rules are eked out gradually; I was mostly as mystified by the end of this first issue as I was at the start. A nameless soldier travels with a beautiful tiger, whom she refers to as her queen; without spoilers I can say that it becomes evident that Queen Olwyn has been transformed into the form of a tiger and that her faithful guard is guiding her to a place where this transformation might be resolved. I'm not a huge fan of magical-world based stories and so this was a bit of a long shot for me; it was the artwork and, admittedly, the oldie-looking maps that drew me in. Although the mysteries of how the duo came to be in this situation, and where and what the hinted-at destination of Isola might be do both intrigue me, this didn’t really pull me in as I’d hoped and I’ll probably finish my journey with it before a second issue. 6/10

ANALOG #1
Writer: Gerry Duggan
Art: David O’Sullivan & Jordie Bellaire
Image $3.99

James R: This one reeled me in and then lost me. The opening of Analog is terrific, as Gerry Duggan and David O'Sullivan introduce us to Jack McGinnis, a 'Ledger Man'. The first sequence immediately reminded me of the much-missed crime juggernaut 100 Bullets, and the notion of a new pitch-black crime series shot through with a near-future dystopia was beguiling. However, as the book unfolded, I felt it became a little too on-the-nose - Duggan's future is one in which 'the cloud' of data has burst, revealing everyone's secrets, and bringing back hard paper copies of sensitive information. This, unfortunately, was also the premise of Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin's series The Private Eye, and I found their take on the idea of a post-information age to be more compelling. Antagonist Jack McGinnis is also quickly revealed to have been a central figure in the data burst, a plot point that felt a little forced for the first chapter. David O'Sullivan does a fine job giving the book a modern noir feel, and for a lot of readers this will be a timely and vibrant read, but sadly this is a one-and-done for me - a too-familiar future echo. 6/10

Jo S: Gerry Duggan must have had a crystal ball to hand when writing this book, or at least have been exceptionally accurate in his predictions of where the hints of a particular situation in current affairs might be heading - either way, I shall be looking to take gambling tips from this guy in the future. Analog is, on the face of it, about a ‘Ledger Man’, one of many whose job in a post-encryption world is to carry secrets, literally, in a briefcase, from place to place. The idea of how we would handle the sharing of information in a post-apocalyptic world fascinates me but Duggan has designed a subset of that genre of story here: the internet, and all it hides, has been broken open - everything has become visible. All our technology and infrastructure continues to exist but nothing electronic can be secret. This terrifying tale is interestingly represented: O’Sullivan’s style is very retro - the main protagonist is styled like a trenchcoated, square-jawed g-man; he’s paid via an envelope of cash, he flicks a zippo lighter open to destroy evidence, but next to him on the street buzzes a rogue Roomba vacuum cleaner and he struggles through traffic clogged with self-driving cars. The central mystery is hinted at here: we start to learn that McGinnis had a greater role in the blowing open of mankind’s secrets, good, bad and hideous, than just a well-compensated opportunist - I will definitely be coming back for more of this. 8/10

MARVEL 2-IN-ONE #5
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Art: Valerio Schiti & Frank Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The news that the Fantastic Four are returning to the Marvel Universe should of course be celebrated, but there is some sadness that Chip Zdarsky won’t be spearheading their new adventures. It’s clear in these pages that he holds enormous affection for these characters and their mythos, and can translate that love into some gloriously imaginative, funny and emotional storytelling. Which leads us to Doctor Doom, Devourer of Worlds, in one of those alternate universes that only the FF could visit, where tweaks and changes to established continuity allow for a succession of wonderful ‘What If’ moments. Schiti rustles up some striking imagery, whether it’s a broken alt-Reed Richards exploding with rage and melancholy, or the shadow cast by the Thing’s brow, the decision to bring Johnny on this mission under false pretences weighing heavily on him. If the destination is the return of the FF, the journey is proving to be well worth taking. 8/10

BLACK BOLT #12
Writer: Saladin Ahmed
Art: Christian Ward
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: The end of a series which has brought such pleasure brings mixed feelings but Ahmed and Ward have put together a measured blend of pathos, message and touching emotion in this final episode and there was definitely a little something in my eye as the last page closed. I came to this series for the psychedelic art and stayed for the matchless blend of writing and visuals - the Inhumans get a rough deal, in my limited experience, and I still don't feel this book has received the attention it should. The message that a man (or Inhuman) gains strength from allowing those he loves to help him is wrought so strongly and yet so sweetly here: Bolt overcomes the damage done to him as a child with the love and support of the motley crew who have become his new family. Ward’s art is so good I find myself embarrassed on a second reading that I missed so much of it the first time: I will certainly be pulling the full set from the box and running through it again, to luxuriate fully in this utterly distinctive collaboration. I will be looking out for this team in the future. 9/10

DOCTOR STAR AND THE KINGDOM OF LOST TOMORROWS #2
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art Max Fiumara & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: It's really interesting to read this book hot on the heels of the most recent issue of Descender. That superb title has started focusing on the hubris of a man whose desire for knowledge took him far from home, and whose rewards came at a painful cost. The second issue of Doctor Star uses the same motifs but with an even greater emotional gut-punch from Jeff Lemire. Jimmy Robinson makes contact with a benevolent alien species, and in true heroic fashion, commits to saving them from a deadly threat - but in doing so ends up losing those closest to him. This is another beautiful book from Lemire - I'm now starting to worry how long he can keep this remarkable run of titles going, but each of his creator-owned books have surpassed my expectations. I'm also hugely in love with the Black Hammer universe, and I couldn't be happier that Lemire has even more miniseries and characters to introduce. Max Fiurama's work here is great too - he handles the galactic sequences with the same deft touch that he brings to the mundane world of the hospital or the bar. Doctor Star is heart-breaking in the best way - this is a stellar series. 8/10

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