22 Apr 2018

Mini Reviews 22/04/2018

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.

ACTION COMICS #1000
Writers: Various
Art: Various
DC $7.99

Matt C: 80 years and 1000 issues. That’s no mean feat, and worthy of celebration. This ‘landmark issue’ follows the general pattern of the series in general: some tales will evaporate from the memory as quickly as they’ve been read, others possess a more solid, lasting impression. And that’s fine, we would expect nothing less from a bumper-sized issue assembling the best and brightest creators available to pitch in. This includes such luminaries as Dan Jurgens, Curt Swan, Scott Snyder and Louise Simonson, with Brian Michael Bendis getting his first crack at the Man of Steel, and indeed his first story set within the DC Universe. You may look at that last tale and wonder whether the character is in good hands, but whatever the immediate future holds, there was a special kind of unplanned magic that occurred when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first conjured up the idea of an alien with extraordinary, superhuman abilities, who uses his power to act us a force for good in our world. They inadvertently kicked off an entire genre that’s arguably more culturally pervasive than it ever has been, but even taking into account the multitude of superheroes who followed in his wake, there’s something intrinsic to Superman himself that makes him the perpetual gold standard. Brad Meltzer and John Casssaday’s precise, thrilling five-pager perhaps exemplifies this best in this issue. He’s been around for eight decades but the alias of ‘Man of Tomorrow’ still feels entirely apt. 8/10

James R: I was appalled with myself earlier this week when I realised that I had missed Action Comics #1000 from my list for On The Pull. Allow me to make up for it by saying what an absolute joy this landmark issue is. Compendium issues like this can often be a mixed bag - the standard tends to be that there are one or two gems amongst a lot of filler. Action Comics #1000 doesn't quite get the accolade of 'All Killer, No Filler' - a couple of the ten tales don't quite hit the mark - but the vast majority are a fitting tribute to the most iconic of superheroes. A special shout to 'Faster Than A Speeding Bullet', the story from Brad Meltzer and John Cassaday - what I would give for these two to have a run with Superman, they show a perfect understanding of what makes Kal-El tick, whilst conveying the dynamism of the character. I also loved Tomasi and Gleason's 'Never Ending Battle' which is a beautiful sprint through Superman's history. 'The Car' is also worth the cover price alone as Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Olivier Coipel show that what makes Superman so super is his belief in humanity, and our ability to be better. In a turbulent time, this issue is a timely reminder of the genius of Siegel and Shuster, and why Superman has lasted the decades - today we need him more than ever. As I'm sure it is for a lot of comics fans, Superman was the first character I loved as a child - this bumper issue will remind and reinforce the magic of the Last Son of Krypton. 9/10

SKYWARD #1
Writer: Joe Henderson
Art: Lee Garbett & Antonio Fabela
Image $3.99

Jo S: My draw to this new series was the device of changing one element of the physics of our world, in this case reducing Earth’s gravity to a tiny fraction of what we currently experience, and exploring how that would affect the future. The story is told from the point of view of Willa, a baby at the time of the event, now 23 and a package courier in Chicago. Henderson does a good job of imagining how the world would change: there are no vehicles, traversing outdoors is dangerous - “the sky kills” as Willa’s father warns - and actions which we take for granted such as going for a jog, or kids playing outside have had to be rethought. It's easy to pick holes in the result: 23 years seems a long time for folks not to have thought of better, safer ways of getting about, and Willa’s dad exercising using resistance bands (as weightlifting would be pointless) rather serves to highlight that everyone is still pretty trim and fit - wouldn't people have got more out of shape without gravity to work against? That said, the artwork is uplifting; Garbett is creative with page structure and gives the characters real appeal, as well as managing the kinematics of this unfamiliar situation with style, and the story, though not anything entirely new, has promise - I'm interested to see how dad Nate is connected to the ‘event’ and what the countryside Willa longs to visit is like in the new world. 7/10

LAZARUS #27
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark, Santi Arcas & Tyler Boss
Image $3.99

Matt C: A low key return, but an eminently welcome one. Rather than plunging back into the war between the Carlyle and Hock families, instead we follow the story thread that resulted from Jonah Carlyle taking a dive into the North Sea. What follows is a tale the exudes warmth and humanity, with Jonah discovering what life can be outside of the duplicitousness of the Carlyle Family, where emotions are genuine and connections are real. We're never in any doubt what kind of world we’re dealing with here though; there’s an undercurrent of danger running throughout, more manifest as we get glimpses into what life is like under the Bittner family. The break to allow Michael Lark to get up to speed again was well worth it; he is a master of combining action and emotion through detail and expression, his panel compositions always perfectly judged. Greg Rucka continues to dive deeper into the wider world of Lazarus, and at this stage it’s doubtful any other current fictional universe carries the same sense of verisimilitude as this one; every aspect feels like a tangible part of a wider whole, and the more expansive and encompassing the narrative becomes, the more impressive it gets. Lazarus is back and we remain lucky to have it on our pull-lists. 8/10

BATMAN: CREATURE OF THE NIGHT #3
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Art: John Paul Leon
DC $5.99

James R: What a phenomenal miniseries this is! Whilst Mister Miracle is (rightfully) picking up the plaudits at the moment for DC, Busiek and Leon's 'alternative' Batman tale continues to exceed expectations, and is turning into one of the best Batman tales ever told. This month, Bruce Wainwright attempts to discover just how he is manifesting the Dark Knight, and who might be the secret identity of his tireless protector. Simultaneously, he learns that the real world is far more murky and complex than Batman's Gotham, and that a crusade on crime in the real world is more folly than triumph. Busiek spins the narrative beautifully, moving the plot along, and involving a huge roster of characters without losing focus, whilst John Paul Leon continues to show what a unique talent he is - his dark inks and earthy tones providing a perfect fit for this story. Compelling from first page to last, this is brilliant stuff - if you can't track down the original issues, I imagine this will be one of the great collected editions of the year. Intelligent, surprising and utterly involving. 9/10

MISTER MIRACLE #8
Writer: Tom King
Art: Mitch Gerads
DC $3.99

Matt C: As any parent knows, the period following the birth of your child can be a traumatic one. A good night’s sleep becomes a thing of the past, you’re constantly in fear of something going wrong with your kid, and everything you’d researched beforehand suddenly becomes useless information because how the hell does anyone really know what they’re doing without a manual? But at least you’re not juggling childcare with fighting an intergalactic war between two planets. We follow the first few months in the life of Barda and Scott’s little miracle, and the stresses of parenting are coupled with their participation in the ongoing battles between Apokolips and New Genesis. King ingeniously conveys how new parents' perception of life can alter in unexpected ways through the filter of conflict, and how we are able to push ourselves to keep going even when we’ve got nothing left in the tank. The classic nine-panel grid Gerads’ utilises allows for rhythm and repetition to generate emotion and excitement, the expressions he brings to Scott’s face capturing recognizable human truths. Two thirds of the way through and its brilliance abounds. 8/10

TALES OF SUSPENSE #104
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Art: Travel Foreman & Rachelle Rosenberg
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: A tricky review to write, this one. I’ve very much wanted to like this series throughout and have found much to appreciate in the interplay between Clint and Bucky, the ruthlessness of Natasha’s tactics, and everything about Ursa Major. As is becoming clear, I think Matt Rosenberg is an absolute gem of a writer and hope Marvel continue to give him great characters like these to work with. You can hear the ‘but’ coming like rail tracks humming before a freight train passes though: I just don't get the art style in this series. This final episode, based at the headquarters of the Red Room, is packed with action scenes which should be stylish and dynamic but, for me, simply do not work. Panels which were clearly intended to show Natasha’s balletic fighting technique are oddly framed and posed, giving a feeling of stasis which really spoiled the moment for me, and a point where Nat whips off a jacket and shoots a guard in one movement is just impossible without the kind of velcro-joined clothing the Chippendales sport. Rachelle Rosenberg’s colours elevate the work a good deal - I liked the alternating of colours in the section where the Clint and Bucky’s thread is interleaved with Natasha’s, and the latter’s flame-red hair, especially vivid during the a scene with multiple clones, is used to great effect. Unfortunately, the ending fell flat for me; a final bitter decisiveness should have felt like strength and independence; instead it felt more as if patience had simply been exhausted. 6/10

BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #1
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: Reading this issue of Black Hammer was a moment of reassuring luxury this week - before I had even opened it up, I knew it would be great, and as usual, the creative team of Lemire and Ormston did not disappoint. Immediately after taking on the mantle of Black Hammer, Lucy Weber promptly vanishes, only to arrive... well, it's not entirely clear yet just where she is, but it's a home to the dark counterparts of our heroes. Meanwhile, the champions of Spiral City begin to hatch a plan to finally escape from Rockwood. The cast is so well fleshed out that I loved reading both the heroes bicker across the kitchen table and the addition of the hellish Anteroom (featuring the Ramones as house band!) I unashamedly love this comic, and it's great to have it back as a regular fixture again - for my money, this is the best ongoing superhero comic being published. 8/10

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