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28 Jul 2019

Mini Reviews 28/07/2019

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.

HOUSE OF X #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Pepe Larraz & Marte Gracia
Marvel $5.99

Mike S: Hickman promised something spectacular and based on issue #1, I don’t think he’s going to disappoint! As a HUGE fan, it is so good to find a writer who truly gets the X-Men: Hickman’s love of the title, the concept, oozes through this issue. We have some excellent world building, some clarification of historical concepts (I now know who and what an Omega Level Mutant actually is) and feel like I have entered a bright and wonderful new world for Marvel’s mutants. Pepe Larraz delivers some stellar artwork: his characterisation is strong and his use of setting, especially Krakoa, is breathtaking. With every page, I became more engrossed and excited - this is how the X-Men ought to be: even though most of ‘MY’ X-Men were relegated to minor appearances, I loved the use of a range of characters from Toad and Mystique to the Cuckoos and, of course, Magneto. House Of X is bold and hugely important: I read it with a growing sense of joy and hope that, finally, Marvel might have got something right! 10/10

Jo S: When I first showed Star Wars: A New Hope to my son, we watched it twice within a couple of days; the first time he sat in wide-eyed silence, the second with a stream of questions, mostly "Who's that?" and "Why's he doing that?" Reading House Of X #1 put me in that same position: not just because I've read (it seems) relatively little in the expansive X-Men field, but also because Hickman seems intent on bringing so many characters and so many teams into this. Trying to put aside a rising panic that so much seems to have changed so quickly while I wasn't watching (everyone is young and skinny and their uniforms are retro; he's working with them again - I thought they were sworn enemies; isn't he dead? You know, the usual comics stuff), I instead tried to let all the complication just wash over me, and opted to enjoy it without too many questions the first time. Between the first and second reads, I also read Mark Waid's History Of The Marvel Universe #1, with unexpected positive results - several elements of House Of X fell into place on the second read as a result (could they have planned it this way?!). I won't deny, taking the effect of the book as a whole, I have so many questions I barely know where to begin, but some observations which do occur: the design of this book is stunning - the pages of technical information are immensely clever, Garcia's colours are eye-poppingly rich and Larraz handles everything from space vistas down to micro-expressions perfectly, and can draw a flowing cape like almost no other. I am totally sucked in to this story immediately and can't wait, both for the next episode and for an opportunity to discuss this with those who have a better handle on X-history than I do. 9/10

James R: Blockbuster stuff. There are lots of things you can say about Jonathan Hickman as a writer, but one thing that's undoubtedly true is that the man thinks big. In runs on both Fantastic Four and Avengers there were always big ideas at play alongside sweeping storylines. House Of X marks his grand return to the Marvel Universe - and, as you might expect, he brings the same epic energy to the mutants that he did to both Marvel's First Family and their Mightiest Heroes. This issue is the first time I've seen art from Pepe Larraz, and he hits the mark immediately (one plot reveal concerning the new organisation Orchis is presented brilliantly.) There's also a generous helping of Hickman's famous infographics that give even the most casual reader a state-of-play for the X-Men (and some juicy new details about Damage Control for us Marvel zombies). I was hoping that this book would get me back on board with the Children of the Atom, and Hickman has delivered in spades - I'm already looking forward to Powers Of X on Wednesday. 8/10

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #1
Writers: Jason Aaron & Al Ewing
Art: Cafu & Jesus Aburtov
Marvel $3.99

Mike S: War Of The Realms left us with a transformed Jane Foster and this new status quo is another excellent development in her ongoing journey. I know the ‘She-Thor’ wasn’t to everyone’s taste but I loved it and loved the character and pathos that was brought to Jane/Thor as she battled on every level, not only to survive, but to do so empowered. Thus I am thrilled to see Jane’s character trajectory continue to soar with this new title, new job and new role within the greater Marvel Universe which was stressed well by having Valkyrie interact with established villains, grounding her in the familiar and allowing us to join her as she discovers her new abilities. What was especially interesting was the distinction made between being a Thor and being a Valkyrie, something that Jane is going to have to come to terms with rapidly, it seems. My only issue: why the insistence that she is the LAST Valkyrie? Unless I missed something, Danielle Moonstar is still a Valkyrie – or was in the War Of the Realms X-Men crossover. As a fan of Valkyrie (from Defenders to now) of long standing, I thoroughly enjoyed this new take on the character, which was made all the more enjoyable thanks to some beautiful artwork that managed to balance perfectly the statuesque heroism of Valkyrie with the more vulnerable Jane Foster as well as some powerful combat sequences. If you were a fan of either Jane’s run as Thor, or the character of Valkyrie, I would strongly recommend this book: it is a fitting tribute to both and the perfect follow-up for any fans of the Goddess of Thunder. 9/10

HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Javier Rodriguez & Alvaro Lopez
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: It's the end of time, and the final beings in the galaxy are Franklin Richards and Galactus. Franklin wants to remember before the universe dies, so Galactus begins to recount - you guessed it! - the History of the Marvel Universe. And it's insane! Mark Waid weaves in so many mind-boggling details from so many different storylines and manages to create something cohesive and linear. If you thought the X-Men: Grand Design books were impressive for stitching together often seemingly incomprehensible continuity, this is on another level entirely. The Celestial hosts, the Skrulls, the Eternals, Apocalypse, the Ancient One, Dracula, The Hand, Fin Fang Foom... and that's not even half of it! Waid's encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel lore is exceptional, and the way he paces the retelling of all the seismic events that helped shape this fictional cosmos is extraordinary. Rodriguez brings a style to the page that feels both modern and reverential, the bright colours ensure the imagery is eye-popping all the way through ... and then there are thirteen pages of annotations which are almost as incredible as the story itself! This debut issue takes us from the Big Bang through to the end of the 19th century, so we've not even reached the true Marvel Age as yet, and if the rest of the series is as thorough, entertaining and informative as this, it will be a required purchase for anyone who has ever gawped in wonder at the unbridled creativity of the House of Ideas at its peak. 9/10

FEARLESS #1
Writers: Seanan McGuire, Leah Williams & Kelly Thompson
Art: Claire Roe, Nina Vakueva, Carmen Carnero, Rachelle Rosenberg & Tamra Bonvillain
Marvel $4.99

Jo S: Subtitled 'The Fiercest Ladies of the Marvel Universe Unite', this compilation has an unusual structure, like an annual but still promising to be a series. Three stories are bundled together in this outset, starting with McGuire's 'Campfire Song', which is a prelude to a longer story, introducing the Gloriana summer camp, to which three of our favourite superheroes have been invited to contribute to 'female empowerment'. The first chapter is necessarily brief, which actually works neatly to increase the mystery surrounding the camp, its employees and its attendees. Roe's artwork has some inventive structure, but certain peculiar facial representations jarred me out of the magic, unfortunately. The second and third stories seem to be one-and-done: Millie Tthe Model stars in a piece about the value of supporting those who are new to your industry; it works incredibly hard to spin a story about fashion models into something empowering and Vakueva's visuals are lovely, but it's a tough fight to win given the limitations of the character and, for me, it just didn't manage to shake off its slightly vacuous heritage. Kelly Thompson and Carmen Carnero fix everything, though, with the final story, 'Unusual Suspects': a perfect jewel at just three pages - the first two featuring a glowering Elsa Bloodstone and a smouldering Jessica Jones, followed by a final splash page that made me snort coffee through my nose. Bravo, fierce ladies of Marvel! 6/10

LAZARUS RISEN #2
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark, Tyler Boss & Santi Arcas
Image $7.99

James R: At the back of this issue, Greg Rucka says the creative team are "continuing to work out the kinks and reorient ourselves to this new format." Well, those kinks must be minuscule, as this is still the gold standard for mainstream comics! Lazarus Risen gives us two distinct chapters in this issue; the first is the face-off between Forever and the Lazari of the D'Souza and Morray clans, before switching to the next developments in the escalating global war between the families who now dictate global events. We have been advocates of this book since issue #1, (six years ago now!) and I don't believe there has been an arc or an issue which has not been superb. A special mention this time for Michael Lark, who delivers one of the best, kinetic action scenes I've read in an age - the new format and schedule for Lazarus has allowed him to make Forever's world even richer. There is a sense that the events of this book are building to a final climax, but Rucka is a master of misdirection - I hope that there are still many more tales to come from this beautifully realised (and terrifyingly real) world. 9/10

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