8 Jul 2018

Mini Reviews 08/07/2018

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.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #1
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art: Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan & Sunny Gho
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: In the current political climate, Cap’s solo title is the most obvious (and necessary) place to pass comment on the state of a nation, even if it’s in an indirect way (we’re unlikely to see the Sentinel of Liberty punching Trump in the face any time soon). Coates wisely builds on the distrust the public have for the character following the events of Secret Empire to underline how America can lose its way if it doesn’t have anyone to stand up and inspire them. This seems like a run that will have its targets, and even if it doesn’t hit the bullseye first time, there’s an intelligence coupled with a desire to not be frivolous that suggests it’ll be well worth sticking with. There’s a firm pacing to the drama, the art brings in a sense of intensity and urgency, and it avoids black-and-white readings of heroism and villainy to bring a tinge of ambiguity to the proceedings. There was a lot of fuss about keeping politics out of mainstream superhero comics last year but it’s impossible for books pitched at a wider audience not to reflect the culture they spring forth from, and Cap in particular needs to react and resonate with the times. Coates and co look like they’re on the right track here. 8/10

Jo S: Ta-Nehisi Coates writing Captain America was never going to be all bunnies and rainbows, but Mark Waid’s run on with Cap feels like a very gentle interlude when seen in the rear view mirror of this new start. Coates pulls no punches: fascism in the form of Hydra, and Hydra in the literal form of mind-warped Steve Rogers, has just been ostensibly defeated but, in art as in life, it’s not as simple as the war being done and everything going back to normal. Hydra’s collapse has left a vacuum, many military leaders lost in the fight to defeat the Secret Empire and the faith of humankind in their former leader has been soured, leaving them exposed to a further battle to lead the new order. Coates holds nothing back in this first issue: on the surface, members of the Hellfire Club burst onto the scene in the first pages and Cap is faced with multiple clones of a familiar tattooed cyborg but underneath, messages about what it means to wear a flag, what happens when trust is abused and the blurring of the lines between taking responsibility, taking charge and taking power all give this opening episode a gravity which is unavoidable. This is a book with important things to say and this creative team together have the strength and skill to express them with unavoidable force. 8/10

BATMAN #50
Writer: Tom King
Art: Mikel Janin & June Chung
DC $4.99

Matt C: Social media appeared to be awash with criticism this past week (although when isn’t it??) when spoilers appeared in advance of this issue’s release. Seems a lot of folks didn’t like the idea that the wedding of Batman and Catwoman – both damaged individuals lest we forget – may not be the most joyous of occasions. I guess, no matter how much people say they like darker tales, there remains an innate desire to see characters live happily ever after. There’s nothing wrong with that – we all need a little optimism in days like these – but there’s a sense of naivety to any expectation that this issue would volte face and send the Dark Knight off into a the sunshine, ignoring the inherent nature of these particular characters. But, taking that into account, Tom King still manages to  inject an affecting level of romance, even though it may be a tragic romance. Love flows through these pages, but not the fairy tale version: love is complicated, it’s messy, and it will involve sometimes painful sacrifices. There is no happily ever after, there are just lives moving forward in the usual haphazard fashion, and King, alongside Janin, Chung and a cast of top tier artists providing spectacular splash pages, convey this idea in a way that’s beautiful, moving, heartbreaking and full of relatable truth. It results in one of the best single issues of the year. 10/10

James R: DC certainly are doing a good job with their 'landmark' issues of late. Action Comics #1000 was a fitting and epic salute to Superman, and now this 'anniversary issue' telling us the story of the Bat and the Cat's big day is equally impressive - truly, a love letter in numerous ways. Tom King's script proves once again that he truly understands these characters (and I'm now beyond excited to see his Heroes In Crisis series) and Mikel Janin shows just how intrinsic he's become to King's run, illustrating an issue that's perfectly symmetrical. In between Janin's pages, we're treated to an all-star artistic jam presenting the life and times of Bruce and Selina. As an unashamed fanboy, I absolutely loved this issue, and it's left me with a huge degree of anticipation for the next fifty issues. 9/10

CATWOMAN #1
Writer: Joëlle Jones
Art: Joëlle Jones and Laura Allred
DC $3.99

Jo S: Catwoman has always been close to my heart, stalking that fine line between hero and villain, strong and gentle, fierce yet elegant, and there’s no doubting that Jones ‘gets’ her too, both artistically and in a storytelling sense. This new solo adventure for the femme feline gives Selina all the grace and beauty, all the strength and ferocity, all the vulnerability and independence she deserves and packs a latex-gloved punch of a story too. Like Spider-Man, Catwoman demands enormous skill from the artist - her movements must be just different enough from what a normal human could be capable of for us to believe that she is superhuman and marvel at her capabilities whilst maintaining the credibility of the action as physically possible. As well as delivering a nuanced, sensitive story here, Jones also carries off the artwork with panache - she was clearly born to this role. 9/10

James R: I followed Selina's advice on the cover, and read Batman #50 before diving straight into this new start for the Cat, and it was a fantastic counterpoint to the grandeur of the wedding issue. Joëlle Jones' first issue oozes confidence and intelligence - plunging Catwoman into a murky tale of mistaken identity and a mysterious double. I'm a huge fan of the Brubaker/Cooke run on Catwoman from 2002, and this immediately feels like a worthy successor - it's a book that seeks to redefine the status quo for Selina, whilst giving us the precarious morality of Catwoman's world. I'm going to resist the urge to describe it as 'purrr-fect', but reading this issue was a fantastic first chapter (again) for one of my favourite characters. 8/10

DEATH OF THE INHUMANS #1
Writer: Donny Cates
Art: Ariel Olivetti & Jordie Bellaire
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: Despite the horror of the TV series and what feels, to me, like a lukewarm response to the franchise from other comics fans, I have put a couple of Inhumans books high on my favourites list in the last 18 months or so. The title of this, then, doesn’t make any bones about the content, and the cover lets you know this is not a metaphorical death we’re talking about here - the Inhumans are about to… well, I was going to say “Meet their maker”, but that becomes suddenly more meaningful than I had intended it. The Kree are on a mission to reclaim their creations, the Inhuman tribes, or to destroy what they cannot own once more. Black Bolt and his queen are travelling a great distance to meet with the five tribes, and the horror that greets their arrival is only a taster of what is to come. Cates’ storytelling is fast-paced and brutal - a closing shock brought my heart into my mouth. There is some contrivance in the structure which I can see was necessary but which felt a little forced for me, but I like that the Inhumans can carry such a range, from the cartoony comedy of the recent Lockjaw series to this hard-hitting war story, and I’ll be back for further issues. 7/10

THE QUANTUM AGE #1
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artists: Wilfredo Torres & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse Comics $3.99

James R: I worry that I'm getting too repetitive, always starting my reviews of every new Jeff Lemire title with "The Canadian genius is my favourite creator in mainstream comics" but damnit, it's true! With The Quantum Age, he does it again - the Black Hammer universe is proving to be a rich and fertile ground for a series of books. Quantum Age is a wholly different beast to the recently concluded Doctor Star, and not what I was expecting at all. Lemire's take on the the Legion of Super-Heroes shifts between two eras, one featuring the Spiral City of 3016, with the Quantum League facing a Martian invasion, and one set twenty-five years later as a stranger seeks to reunite the now-disbanded League. If there's a theme to be pulled from the different Black Hammer titles, it's the effect of time - all the protagonists are people who have been marked by the ravages of time (whereas the the characters in the main Black Hammer title remain frozen and immune to change). It's an immediately involving read, and once again, Lemire has an artist who is a perfect fit for the story - Wilfredo Torres' clean style reflects the youthful optimism of the Quantum League. If this series - and the promised future spin-offs - continue to be of this quality, Black Hammer will be one of the great accomplishments of 21st century comics. 8/10

DOCTOR STRANGE #3
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Jesus Saiz
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Possibly my favourite of the relaunched Marvel titles so far because it’s been such an unexpected delight, full of invention and adventuring of the highest order. Taking the Doc into the cosmos could seem a cynical move to cause a brief flutter of interest in the marketplace (‘Your favourite character… IN SPACE!’) but in Waid’s hands it offers endless storytelling possibilities, remaining true to the character but allowing the new setting to bring a fresh sensibility that’s as smart as it is fun. And it is a heck of a lot of fun. Here Strange winds up on a Skrull planet, but Waid imagines the shapeshifters as allowing their abilities to manifest as a constant, with regular humanoid forms barely in evidence. It’s thais kind of approach that makes this book so appealing, and with Saiz’s bold, exuberant artwork lighting up the pages, the whole package proves to be a complete amalgamation of wit, thrills and creativity. Well worth boldly going where no Master of the Mystic Arts has gone before. 8/10

No comments: