13 May 2018

Mini Reviews 13/05/2018

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.

BARRIER #2
Writer: Brian K Vaughan
Art: Marcos Martin & Muntsa Vicente
Image $3.99

Jo S: Watching the recent Lost In Space series yesterday, my son rolled his eyes and grumbled “Oh look, the alien robots have arms and legs and a face, surely if there were really aliens they would look nothing like us? Like in Hitchhikers, where there’s a sentient shade of blue.” Obviously, I was immediately flushed with geek-parental pride, and it sent me off on a train of thought regarding the limitations of our imagination when it comes to designing alien creatures. It’s interesting to note that, in issue #2 of this already-astonishing series, artist Martin is given first credit on the cover - Vaughan’s writing is excellent: it's spare and, I think, deliberately exclusive of those who don’t speak either English or Spanish (or military jargon), using language to create a sense of separateness and alienation, even before the actual aliens are established - but Martin’s work is what really defines this second issue. The design of the craft, the ‘creatures’, the mechanics of the space, all echoed in the expressions of the characters - it all conspires to give a feeling of unnerving ‘otherness’. A terrified, cowering fox, a vicious rattlesnake lashing out in fear; each a familiar image reflecting the total unfamiliarity of what they are experiencing. I think this will be on my mind for some weeks to come. 9/10

Matt C: Image’s weekly release of Vaughan and Martin’s previously digital-only series continues after the FCBD launch, and those of us who’ve resisted due to the requirement of needing to be able to turn actual pages (or maybe you can’t wrest your iPad away from your kids!) can now absorb the widescreen excellence at their leisure. Perhaps not as high-concept heavy as the duo’s previous collaboration, The Private Eye, Barrier is still a relentlessly smart, striking comic, rolling out its themes in an ingenious manner, forcing the reader to see that language may separate but it's our humanity binds us all together. Martin makes excellent use of flipping the panel grid on its side for some cinematic compositions, really grasping hold of the opportunity to go full sci-fi, while Vaughan brings the characters to the fore, as he always does. It goes without saying that if you haven’t gone the digital route with Barrier, you need to get physical. 8/10

James R: After the magnificent FCBD issue last week, we're immediately served up the second chapter of Barrier. As with the debut, this is a showcase for the talents of Vaughan and Martin - following the introduction of Liddy and Oscar in the last time, things get alien in every sense of the word in this chapter. The issue reminded me - in the best way - of Denis Villeneuve's beautiful 2016 movie Arrival. The idea that an alien species being so radically different to us, and the difficulty in understanding their motivations are front and centre here, and this can also be seen in the difficulty in communication between our protagonists. Vaughan's right to say that even if you don't speak Spanish, Oscar's dialogue is still decipherable thanks to the magic of comics - but making ourselves understood (and understanding others) is a fine theme to explore. Marcos Martin shows himself to be an adaptable artist who illustrates the Texas border as brilliantly as he does the inside of a spaceship, and he makes this story feel real. A terrific book that serves as a reminder of the scope and power of comics as a medium. 9/10

PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #304
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Art: Adam Kubert & Jason Keith
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: Chip Zdarsky once again evidences his adoration for classic Marvel here with an eloquently executed exercise in the well-trodden story of how you should never mess with your own timeline. I’m groaning on the inside, of course, because time travel stories are my bĂȘte noir, but I've suspended my biased judgement in this case and been rewarded. There’s nothing very new in this story at all; the inevitable result of timeline meddling in previous issues is faced by our hero and his friends (yes, including JJJ) and the altered future/present accidentally wrought by a small change in past-Peter’s life is, of course, not the world we know or want. But, corny as the storyline is, Zdarsky, along with Kubert and Keith, manages to make this a masterclass: he KNOWS Spider-Man and he creates something brilliant and entertaining which wraps a web around your heart and drags it in. A couple of touches I need to mention: Adam Kubert’s page structure is spectacular throughout and I absolutely loved how the aspect-altered sections applied only to certain characters, and, detail-aholic that I am, I also loved the little nods to the creators that appear on scattered books in one image: very cute, very cheeky, very… Spidey. 8/10

BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT #8
Writer: Sean Murphy
Art: Sean Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth
DC $3.99

Matt C: From a purely visual perspective, this miniseries has been exceptional, capturing Gotham and its inhabitants with detail, energy and dynamism, a near perfect match of artist and subject. Murphy has repeatedly shown throughout the eight issue run that he is a stellar Batman artist, creating his own unique aesthetic with such familiar icons. So why I’m a not more enthused? Perhaps the basic premise of the Joker ‘going good’ didn’t sit well with me. Or maybe it’s because even if you get past that premise it wasn’t really delivered in satisfying manner. Or is it that the characterizations felt off and far enough away from the template that they didn’t register as authentic? Or could it be that all these points merge together until the plot is noise punctuated by blips of corniness with the art alone keeping things afloat? It saddens be to be down on this because I think Murphy is a genuine talent, but at its conclusion White Knight is a misguided disappointment, and the opportunity to add something substantial to the legacy has been missed. 5/10

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #20
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jason Latour
Image $3.99

James R: The 'Gut Check' arc seems to have been going on for an age, but this concluding chapter makes the wait worthwhile. It's a chapter bathed in blood and pain - as we've come to expect from Southern Bastards - but it sets up yet more penance and payback to come, and it's delicious. This works so well for a lot of reasons, but for me, it's the perfect union of artist and writer: Aaron's scripts always surprise and satisfy in equal measure, but Jason Latour's art make Craw County come alive: I can't think of another title where I could recognise it from 100 feet away, thanks to the unique colour scheme that Latour employs. I've enjoyed Southern Bastards from issue #1, and after 20 issues, that affection is as strong as ever. Yet another touchdown from this this terrific team. 8/10

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