12 Aug 2018

Mini Reviews 12/08/2018

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.

FANTASTIC FOUR #1
Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Sara Pichelli, Simon Bianchi, Skottie Young, Elisabetta D'Amico, Marte Gracia, Marco Russo & Jeremy Treece
Marvel $5.99

James R: Following their withdrawal from the Marvel Universe at the end of Jonathan Hickman's Secret Wars, it's always been a matter of when, not if, Marvel's First Family would return, and now, with a bumper-sized issue, they're back! Sort of. This debut issue feels, if anything, like a continuation of Chip Zdarsky work on Marvel 2-In-One, with the Thing and the Human Torch front and centre. I can see that Slott is looking to emphasise the role of family here and highlight the interpersonal relationships before the Big Science ideas that were the hallmark of the Fantastic Four, but it did not make for a thrilling first issue. I wanted to be reminded of what made the Fantastic Four such a great read, and I didn't see that here. Sara Pichelli does a fine job on the art, as does Simone Bianchi on the Doctor Doom story, but Dan Slott's script didn't leave me wanting more, or feeling that great things were coming. It's great to have the Fantastic Four back, I just hope there will be a tale worthy of their legacy soon. 6/10

Jo S: One of my early lessons in comics resulted from my asking “but they died, didn't they?” As I quickly learned, and you already knew, death, disappearance and donuts don't last long in any comic book universe and we would probably have known all along that Family Richards would find their way home eventually, even without multiple hints from various quarters. It has been a long break though, making it unsurprising that Ben has decided it's time to take the next big step in his life, moving on without his former best friend and those he'd considered family. Slott doesn't give it up easily though, tenterhooks snag the reader and hold them fast through the main story of the three here. Personally, I would have been tempted to reorder the first two: the flow is disturbed a little for me in this arrangement, with a moment where I found myself with a lump in my throat immediately losing momentum. There's no doubt that this team has an emotional grab though and so, like Mr. Impossible, I'll be watching you, Marvel! *POP* 7/10

Matt C: Marvel have pulled this kind of stunt before, removing a character or team from active publication for a period of time (most notably Thor just over a decade ago), which creates a demand for their return. Although there may have been company politics at play that led to these particular superheroes' absence (for reasons that are no longer relevant now that Disney has bought 20th Century Fox), keeping them off the table has worked very effectively. Everyone wanted to see a Fantastic Four comic back on the stands! We've had an FF book of sorts available for the last few months in the form of Marvel 2-In-One, and to be honest it's the successful representation of the characters in the title that causes this much-hyped debut to mostly miss its mark. The problem is, it's covering the same ground as Marvel 2-In-One, but without the same level of incisive wit and invention. There are some nice touches here but there also things that don't work (Johnny singing??) and while it's clearly lovingly put together it fails to hit that sweet spot that only Marvel's First Family can reach. It's great that they're back together (or heading that way at least) but personally I'm connecting far more with Marvel 2-In-One's portrayal of the characters and will be sticking with just that book for now. 6/10

BLACK BADGE #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Tyler Jenkins & Hilary Jenkins
BOOM! Studios $3.99

James R: Here at the PCG, we were early champions of Kindt and Jenkins' Grass Kings, the atmospheric and rich murder-mystery published by BOOM! Studios. My sadness at that series coming to an end was tempered by the fact that the creative team were soon to be reunited on Black Badge, the story of an elite group of boy scouts charged with sub rosa missions around the globe. The pitch can't help but elicit a laugh - spy scouts! - but I thought if anyone could make it work, it would be Kindt, whose work on Mind MGMT was so spectacular. This first issue feels like somewhat of a misfire - obviously, we spend a lot of time learning who makes up the Black Badge squad, and as always with Jenkins' work, it looks great. But whereas Grass Kings immediately pulled me in, Black Badge felt a little pedestrian; I was hoping for something new, something unique. That may come in later issues, but this first chapter was an amble rather than a sprint. 6/10

Jo S: Admittedly sceptical regarding a storyline surrounding an elite band of boy scouts, I gave this a shot because the Kindt/Jenkins/Jenkins combination produced such astonishingly beautiful work on Grass Kings. I have raved at length about the exquisite watercolour work in that series, and how the images conveyed deep emotion, far beyond what the written word alone could achieve. Sadly, the first issue of this new collaboration didn't click with me in the same way at all. The artwork is a little simpler, is given less story to tell, and I couldn't connect with the characters: I couldn't shake the feeling that the troop of scouts, ostensibly straying from the tourist route in South Korea but actually on a key mission, were all a bit too serious. Willy’s story of how he qualified for the group is nicely done, in a different style from the rest of the book: unfortunately, there just wasn't an emotional connection here for me to come back for next time. 6/10

THE DEAD HAND #5
Writer: Kyle Higgin
Art: Stephen Mooney & Jordie Bellaire
Image $3.99

Matt C: The twisty narrative of The Dead Hand results in a thoroughly compulsive read, with the unexpected turns meaning the reader has to keep constantly on their toes because there's no telling what's about to come round the corner. Cold War paranoia seeps into the 21st century as choices made way back when have dire consequences now, and connections between characters become increasingly strained as the situation revolving around a youngster named Roger gets more perilous by the day. It's a brilliant set-up that reveals scintillating details at a measured pace; Higgins' expertise at conveying interpersonal dynamics coupled with the claustrophobic imagery from Mooney and Bellaire result in a dark, deceptive highlight for 2018. 8/10

CATWOMAN #2
Writer: Joëlle Jones
Art: Joëlle Jones & Laura Allred
DC $3.99

James R: As sure-footed as a feline, Joëlle Jones' second issue of Catwoman shows that this is a title that's an essential read. What's so good here is how quickly Jones has established the tone and feel of this book, and it's a perfect fit for Catwoman. Selina finds herself caught up in a case of political intrigue masterminded by the mysterious Raina Creel. Creel has hired an army of Catwoman lookalikes... but why does she want to frame Selina Kyle? I've mentioned before my love for Ed Brubaker's time on this book, and already Jones feels like the natural successor to that run. Her art is brilliant too - her eye for action is as sharp as her take on a high-class party. Jones shifts between worlds as effortlessly as Catwoman does, and after only two issues, this is shaping up as another great run from DC - the publisher are really back on form. 8/10

Jo S: This second episode opens with Selina fighting her grief and her demons in physical manifestation as she does battle with multiple Cat-a-likes. Struggling to free herself from the grip of her loss, she whips, kicks and swipes like a woman possessed. Jones’ deep love of her character rings off the page: even in a room full of identically black-clad masked women, our cat is immediately distinguishable, as Jones perfectly captures her unique composure and her fluid movement. Villa Hermosa harbours a rotten core, and Selina looks to be pacing the edges of a trap, a corrupt police force and a politician’s wife with violent methods and an unscrupulous plan lie around the corner: Jones uses just enough connection to recent Bat-history to give Selina a driving reason to make enough noise to drown out the buzz in her brain whilst generating an independent story of her own - I'm very much looking forward to the next installment. 8/10

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