23 Jun 2019

Mini Reviews 23/06/2019

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 not so good, and those that lie somewhere in between.

Writer: Frank Miller
Art: John Romita Jr., Dani Miki & Alex Sinclair
DC $7.99

James R: Superman and his origin story are the essential stuff of modern mythology. Even people who don't read comics are familiar with the story of the last son of Krypton, rocketed to safety to a new home from a dying planet, to be raised by childless and inherently good farm folk. The challenge then, is how to retell this story so it seems fresh and dynamic. After all, there have been some pretty stellar efforts down through the years: John Byrne's Man Of Steel miniseries, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's  Superman For All Seasons, and perhaps best of all Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely managed it in a single page of the superlative All-Star Superman. Frank Miller certainly has the pedigree to pull it off - Batman: Year One remains one of the greatest Bat-tales ever, and ended up providing the DNA for Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. He's also got a dynamite artist in the shape of John Romita Jr., (whose art is perfectly served by the oversized Black Label format here) so, how super is this new series? On the strength of issue #1, it's disappointingly under-powered. Firstly, as mentioned, this is a story that's so familiar, and Miller doesn't add anything new or illuminating to the tale. Whereas in Batman: Year One there was a freshness to the story (and the inspired choice to make the focus more on Jim Gordon than Bruce Wayne) but here, you will feel like you've seen these plot beats before. Famously, Superman is a character that never lets bullies win, but seeing Clark up against school bullies felt like a misfire. It may be due to the fact that I work in education (and hey, they might do things differently in Kansas!) but the line "Even teachers are scared of them" given twice made me roll my eyes. I'll buy a corrupt PD in the pocket of the Mob, but teachers being scared of teenagers is beyond the pale. Don't get me wrong - this is a handsome book, and it's a perfectly good introduction to Superman - but for those of us who have grown up and grown older with the Man of Steel, this first chapter is pedestrian when it should be soaring. 7/10

Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Art: Lalit Kumar Sharma, Jay Leisten & Java Tartaglia
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The Kingpin is now King of New York, using his new position of mayor to bring a sense of unity to the criminal underworld, with everyone getting their piece of the pie (even though there may be those who want more). The absence of Daredevil has helped facilitate this position, but Fisk misses the challenge Hornhead represents, and is setting his sights on a new, as-yet-unrevealed game. And Murdock himself? On the outside he's attempting to convince those who know that hanging up the mask was the best decision he ever made, but the reality is it's never far from the surface, which is perfectly encapsulated in a two-page finale that drills straight into the specific persistence and tenacity of the character in striking fashion. The art has a certain electric energy to it and Zdarsky is proving to be adept at zeroing in on Matt Murdock's tortured soul. This is quickly turning into the best run of Daredevil in quite some time. 8/10

Writer: Seanan McGurie
Art: Juan Frigeri
Marvel $3.99

Mike S: With the shadow of Hickman looming over the horizon, the Age Of X-Man staggers into its final act (or into the inevitable 'Omega' issue) and in the case of this title, I’m afraid it is with a sense of relief! Don’t get me wrong, I love Herr Wagner: always have, from the earliest appearances in Uncanny to the glory days of Excalibur, but this title simply hasn’t worked for me. I don’t know if it is because nobody knows who he is any more (is he a swashbuckler, a circus acrobat, a priest!?) or if it is the stifling constraints of the whole Age Of X-Man premise, but this title has lacked any recognisable version of him and seems to be a mediocre ‘What If?’ story, peppered with recognisable alternate reality versions of popular (ish) characters,  in what amounts to five issues of exposition heavy, action light storytelling. Seriously, all that happens is lots of teleporting away, lots of dialogue (LOTS!) and precious little else! At least, on the plus side, Frigeri shows some nice touches in the artwork which, in a dialogue heavy issue, is in itself an achievement! I wanted the dynamic, heroic Kurt promised in the solicits, not this angsty, exposition laden, watered down imposter. Here’s hoping Hickman does something to revitalise Kurt, making him into ONE distinctive version of his former selves that we can all get behind! Maybe if McGurie was given a run at the character unshackled from the constraints of this mammoth event, she might be able to get a decent crack of the whip but based on this run, I’m not convinced! An underwhelmed: 4/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Michael Gaydos
DC $3.99

Jo S: In case you haven't been following this series from the start (you really should, but that's okay if you haven't, I know you're a busy person), a quick summary: Pearl Tanaka is a talented tattoo artist and assassin, whose extensive family connections to the Yakuza have become clearer following her mother's death and her father's imprisonment. She's currently in Japan learning more about the business she has inherited, accompanied by boyfriend Rick (who is also a former mark). Anyone who has read any Alias/Jessica Jones will know that a Bendis/Gaydos collaboration is something more than a little bit special and, in Pearl, they are truly generating something quite magical. Bendis' intricate storytelling and subtle yet forceful characterisation shines out of every page: the relationship between the complex, tortured, hyper-talented Pearl and dogged, loyal, gentle yet lion-hearted Rick is beautifully wrought, with moments where the empathy between them radiates off the page almost tangibly. Gaydos' work is by parts dreamy, gritty, deeply complicated and elegantly simple; his use of photorealistic faces allows enormous subtlety of emotion and, a favourite artistic theme of mine, his detailed backgrounds underlying the story frames (maps! I love a map) give fascinating texture and atmosphere enabling the streamlining of Bendis' exposition. Pearl and Rick's attempt at achieving 'normality' in their unnervingly different new world is shown here in a way which amplifies yet louder that this comic is far from normal: Pearl is something exceptional. 10/10

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