9 Dec 2018

Mini Reviews 09/12/2018

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.

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Dale Eagelsham & Mike Atiyeh
DC $4.99

Matt C: Shazam (the original Captain Marvel, lest we forget) hasn't been the easiest sell to the capes and cowls audience since he was absorbed into the DC Universe; finding the right balance with the character has escaped many a creator. Geoff Johns was the one writer in modern times who really nailed the duality of Billy Batson and Shazam, and his back-up tale in the Justice League book during the early run of the New 52 launch was something special. He's back here without the artist from the short-lived stint - the supremely talented Gary Frank - but Dale Eaglesham proves to be a worthy replacement, bringing an impressive level of detail and dynamism, plus an engaging wit, sprinkling it all with a pleasing Silver Age flavour. The writing's fine - few can match Johns' innate love and understanding of DC's icons - but it feels like it's skewing towards a younger audience than the previous volume. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm not going to be that middle-aged guy complaining that the story of a teenage boy transforming into an adult superhero wasn't written specifically with him in mind, but I didn't get the instant connection with storytelling the way I did with the Johns/Frank iteration. The back-up feature is nicely done but I'm not convinced this will be a keeper on my pull-list at this stage. 7/10

Writer: Kyle Higgins
Art: Rod Reis
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: I'd missed early information about this new book, probably because Bucky Barnes has so far not been in my list of heroes to follow, but I spotted some sample art from Rod Reis on Twitter which really caught my eye, and wasn't disappointed at all by this nicely independent story of redemption. The Winter Soldier, having been a wrong ‘un for so long, has been pardoned following his work fighting Hydra and is now on a mission to help others escape their own lives of crime, violence and corruption. Higgins wastes little time in this first issue getting that set up and rolling, and as a plot device it's potentially a clever and credible means to bring variety to a series and to a character who has perhaps been a little one-dimensional previously. Reis’ art is a treat, by turns gritty, rainy and gloomy, then dreamy and trippy, setting Barnes up as an action hero, a biker loner and a sympathetic counsel by stages and Higgins manages to crack a little humour out of his usually dour demeanour as well. 8/10

James R: Higgins and Reis are two-thirds of the creative team who fashioned one of the greatest (and most criminally undervalued) books of the century so far, the brilliant C.O.W.L. I'll pick up any book that sees Higgins and Reis work together, and this first chapter in the continuing adventures of James Buchanan Barnes certainly sets a great pace for the series to come. Winter Soldier sees Bucky acting as a one-man witness relocation programme and the A-Team rolled into one - looking to atone for his past sins by helping others escape lives which have taken a wrong turn. The pitch has a lot of promise, and this issue does what all good debuts should - it made me want to read more. I've read virtually nothing from Marvel this year; the two books I had high hopes for (Avengers and Fantastic Four) fell short for me, so it's nice to read a quality book from the House of Ideas again. Not Marvel's most high-profile release of the year, but certainly this is one of the best. 8/10

Writer: Mat Groom
Art: Eduardo Ferigato & Marcelo Costa
Image $3.99

Matt C: A decent debut that hurls a strong and effective curveball as it gains momentum, Self/Made may receive somewhat warranted criticism for venturing a little too close to ideas being played with in a current high profile TV series. While there is validity to that criticism, it would be a tad unfair, as it has a lot to offer in terms of set-up and characterization, pitching itself as a mythical hero's quest that feels slightly off-kilter. The artwork possesses a sense of the epic, as well a firm grasp of expression and framing, and the writing builds up some interesting connections between the cast. But all is not what it seems, and there's enough here to indicate there's potential to do something different with familiar elements, not least in the inventive way it moves towards it reveal. Promising. 7/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Rafael Albuquerque
Image $3.99

Matt C: The second book to come out of Millarworld's joint venture with Netflix, Prodigy sees a strong high concept coupled with an excellent artist, delivering impressive results. Of course, several Millar projects in the past have started off brilliantly but then failed to live up to their promise, so it's always worth committing with caution. The protagonist here is a super-genius - Tony Stark and Reed Richards combined and multiplied by 10 - and therefore difficult to sympathise with, although fortunately Millar doesn't take him into full asshole mode; we get a sense of his near-unlimited talents before the hook is thrown in to keep us coming back for more (and it's a pretty decent hook, at that). Albuquerue's art is tense and energetic, and while his previous collaboration with Millar, Huck, was one of those aforementioned series that didn't live up to its early promise, that doesn't mean Prodigy will suffer the same fate; the potential's there for this one to click into place. 7/10

Writer: Tom King
Artists: Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornés & Jordie Bellaire
DC $3.99

James R: There's even more to enjoy than usual in this week's Batman: firstly, it's great to see the guest art from Jorge Fornés. I've been a fan of Fornés' work since his work on the brilliant Magnus miniseries from Dynamite, and here he's on great form, channelling David Mazzuchelli's iconic work on Batman: Year One. Secondly there's the next stage in King's overarching narrative, which sees Bane's long game unfold, and Batman's balance between justice and rage becoming ever more precarious. Finally, there's a huge reveal on the final page that would seem preposterous in the hands of lesser writers, but you know Tom King will use this pivot to tell another enthralling story next month. Every month has felt like Christmas on this book of late - Batman rounds off the year in breathtaking form. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Gary Frank & Brad Anderson
DC $4.99

Matt C: The Man of Steel is fully in the spotlight at last, and although the world considers him (ironically) exempt from the so-called 'Supermen theory' that's causing political unrest across the globe, his core need to do the right thing finds him inadvertently being pulled into the fray. Doctor Manhattan doesn't make an appearance here but we've already had ample evidence provided to know that he's involved in all the madness, although the ultimate purpose remains a mystery. It's another dense read, one that will clearly need to be absorbed again, and while the appearance of Vladimir Putin was slightly disconcerting, the entire issue grips like a vice as it rapidly speeds ups towards its conclusion. There are few creative partnerships as perfectly suited to Superman as the Johns/Frank combo, and they effortlessly capture the timeless appeal of the character and his supporting cast here. It continues to be an utterly beautiful book to look at and while there's still so much of the narrative architecture yet to be revealed, it's an undoubtedly important work. 9/10

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