23 Sep 2018

Mini Reviews 23/09/2018

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.

BATMAN: DAMNED #1
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Lee Bermejo
DC $7.99

James R: This is one of those issues where there's so much to write about, I seriously considered doing an extended article on it (as it is, I'm going to wait and see how this and the next 'Black Label' release shape up). There's a lot to consider beyond this as a standalone, out-of-continuity Bat-tale though - DC have had a big think in 2018, and 'Black Label' represents a new strategy along with the Walmart exclusive books (damn you, American supermarket exclusive titles!). The Walmart books are an attempt to keep comics alive and in the hands of the next generation of readers, where Black Label is marketed at readers like me, who have been reading comics for decades, and are always looking for a fresh and exciting take on characters like Batman. As an individual issue, Damned #1 is fine - it looks as good as you'd expect from Lee Bermejo, and Azzarello's script gives us the Dark Knight meeting the dark elements of the DCU in the shape of John Constantine and Deadman. However, I'm not sure it justifies the oversized format and the price pointl. It also doesn't help that it's a Batman story released at a time where the main Bat-book is so strong, so to me this felt enjoyable if a little unnecessary. This is a luxury item - nice if you can afford it, but it's not an essential (and I got through the whole review without mentioning Bat-wang!) 7/10

Matt C: DC’s first release from their new ‘Black Label’, and it ain’t cheap! It’s a lavishly produced package, the over-sized prestige format helping to give the impression this is the comics connoisseur's choice, although clearly the belief is still in place that connoisseurs prefer ‘mature’, ‘dark’ and ‘edgy’ material. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of approach, but it’s a bit of a narrow view of what appeals to the older reader, with Batman often appearing to be stuck in a continuous loop ever since The Dark Knight Returns was released over three decades ago. Obviously the character suits a darker environment but there’s always the risk of repetition when working with such a limited palette. And so it goes here, as the narration aims at profound but hits on ponderous instead, to the point where it distracts from the plot. Talking of distractions, clearly that scene, rendered in that way, was going to draw attention, so it’s a shame the issue as a whole isn’t strong enough to reclaim that attention. Bermejo’s art is muscular and dynamic, packing a genuine punch with its mix of realism and gothicism, but Azzarello’s script doesn’t shift any gears, staying in gloom mode for the duration. When the main Batman book is as good as it is right now, an exercise in moroseness such as this can’t really compete. 5/10

MISTER MIRACLE #11
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
DC  $3.99

James R: The content of this issue wasn't a surprise - Scott Free and Barda had been preparing for the face-off with Darkseid for the entirety of the last issue - but still, as befitting the World's Greatest Escape Artist, Tom King and Mitch Gerads manage to throw in enough surprises and twists to make this a deeply satisfying penultimate chapter. By now it's a given that this series has been one of the highlights of the year - consistently smart, funny and subverting expectations at every turn, there's only one question left to ask of Mister Miracle: will the final issue stick the landing? On the evidence of this and the other ten issues, I'd say it was a dead cert. After Sheriff Of Babylon, and now this, King and Gerads have established themselves as a creative team that demands the attention of the discerning reader. Whatever they plan for their third act, I'll be there. 9/10

IMMORTAL HULK #6
Writer: Al Ewing
Art: Lee Garbett & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: I confess I keep flip-flopping on this series, often within a single issue, and I'm developing not exactly a love-hate relationship with it, more an odd indifference one minute followed by billowing excitement the next. This issue opens interestingly, with Banner’s observation of the Hulk in his mirror becoming more complicated as Hulk, trapped beneath the Banner personality during the day, fights to break through, but it took a dive for me with shady General Fortean, who feels like a rather worn trope of the arrogant ‘my predecessor messed this job up but I'm going to succeed where that idiot failed’. That all changed in the latter part of the book though: Fortean’s solution brings a whole additional set of players to this story, and a final page packing a hulking great punch. I particularly enjoyed the sight of Banner wearily walking an Iowa country road, thumbing a lift, reminding me of the '70s TV series - or am I thinking of The Littlest Hobo? No matter, the nostalgia alarm sounds and I'm wistfully humming the series theme. 7/10

BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #5
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse $3.99

James R: So the secret of Rockwood and Hammer Farm is revealed: rather than an alternate dimension, or the distant past, the heroes of Spiral City have been in an elaborate fantasy world created by Madam Dragonfly, whilst kept safe aboard Colonel Weird's ship. From the first issue, this series has been Lemire's love letter to the history of comics, and my brief summary gives a sense of just how well he's fused the tropes of Golden Age science fiction with ideas you'd expect to find in a Vertigo book. I'm also knocked out (as usual) by Dean Ormston's work - he constantly portrays the varied locations of Black Hammer brilliantly, whilst giving the pages a look and feel that's unique. Finally, I love how this book has never meandered; it's a perfect example of balancing plot and character development, and in my eyes, it's still flawless. 10/10

BATMAN #55
Writer: Tom King
Art: Tony S. Daniel, Danny Miki & Tomei Morey
DC $3.99

Jo S: Regular readers may feel this is becoming something of an oft-repeated refrain, and for that I apologise, but once again I've had to be redirected back on to this magnificent series having strayed off it after the astonishing 'Cold Days' trio completed. I had fallen for “It CAN'T stay that good, surely?” and with my constant battle to keep my pull-list under remortgaging size, I let it go briefly. I've needed therefore to catch up #54 and #55 together this week. I recommend this! Tom King spins a complex story of a beautiful relationship, filled with all the complicated emotions of a family, albeit an unusual one: his skill for depicting the way real people interplay emotionally is so unparallelled for me that it feels as if he knows MY life; humour and resentment, camaraderie and dependency, all so close together and so very real. I adored the artwork throughout this issue too - Daniel and Miki clearly have an excellent eye for the Bat and his ward; their physiques showcased superbly in page after page of graceful action, lit with street lighting through rain to give fantastic atmosphere. What a magnificent example of what Batman can be. 9/10

James R: After the last issue, which felt like a light-hearted sorbet to clear the palette after the full-bodied (and perfect) 'Cold Days' arc, I was expecting this issue to be more of the same, with Dick Grayson continuing to try and lift the spirits of Batman. I was wrong, oh so wrong - and it's one of the sharpest and shocking reads of the year. I don't want to give anything away, but I'm surprised I hadn't seen anything about this on social media (maybe the storm over Batman: Damned deflected some attention). If 'Cold Days' was 12 Angry Men in Gotham, this first part of 'Beasts Of Burden' is perhaps The Day Of The Jackal in Gotham. It has the best work I've seen from Tony Daniel on Batman - his style captures the small and subtle moments well, along with the big sweeping action that's his trademark. Absolutely stellar in every way, I'm really hoping that someone at DC can convince King to stay beyond his planned 100 issues. 9/10

Matt C: More action from the Dynamic Duo as Bruce and Dick team-up for a night-time patrol while, elsewhere, a familiar-looking character arrives from the East with a very specific, very sinister agenda. The heroes have their own approaches to dealing with rampant villainy – Nightwing banters while Batman grunts – but there’s an overwhelming feeling of affection between them that resonates from the page, their repartee perfectly realised. The artwork is lively and exciting, the nine-panel grid once again used to thrilling effect, and King is so much in his element now that even in a week that’s seen a high profile Bat-release garner a lot of attention, it still can’t overshadow the brilliance of what’s being done here. 9/10

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