13 Oct 2019

Mini Reviews 13/10/2019

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: Jeff Loveness
Art: Lisandro Estherren & Patricio Depeche
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Jo S: Loveness is probably best known for screenwriting Rick And Morty, which may seem an unusual pedigree for a story about Stasi agents in 1973 East Berlin, but he clearly has the required chops. An agent identified only as Herring is aiding the violently foiled escape of a small group of East Berliners over the wall when he is witness to a dramatic incident also seen by thousands across the city on both sides. Shady contacts set him the mission of finding out more about the incident, which has been immediately shrouded in secrecy. While Loveness executes a clever mix of shadowy historical secretiveness and unnerving science fiction, in the proud tradition of Cold War storytelling, Estherren's artwork moves it into a whole new realm; dingy alleyway meetings, stark post-war architecture lit by searchlight, fresh horror further twisting faces lined by daily horrors; all contribute to an atmospheric piece which requires my further attention. 8/10

James R: This was a title that jumped out at me from the pages of Previews, and the first issue certainly delivers on the promise of the pitch - in 1973 East Berlin, the Soviets are covering up the truth about a mysterious crash landing. A double agent is sent in to find out the extent of the threat, and soon finds that he's locked in a bunker with both whatever fell from the sky and the Stasi inspector skilled in flushing out spies. I find the whole era of Cold War Berlin fascinating anyway, and it's produced some great culture (the movie The Lives Of Others and the Anna Funder's book Stasiland spring immediately to mind). Strange Skies looks like it might be a worthy addition to that list - Lisandro Estherren's illustrations mixed with Patricio Delpeche's moody and muted watercolour palette really gives the book a terrific period feel, whilst Loveness' script finds a great blend of science-fiction, horror and espionage. The creative team should be applauded for finding a fresh take on what should be some well-worn tropes, and I loved every page of this debut issue. Hopefully, the rest of the series will now build on the promise of this first chapter, but this was a surprising and assured read. 8/10

Writer: Christopher Cantwell
Art: Salvador Larroca & Guru FX
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The ruler of Latveria gets his own series and his blend of arrogance, benevolence, cruelty and wisdom is strongly conveyed in this opening issue. A cure for climate change, spearheaded by Messrs Richards and Stark, involves a black hole on the moon, and the biggest dissenting voice is, of course, Doctor Doom. But is this just Doom's jealousy over his arch-nemesis' talent clouding his judgement, or is he onto something? And what happens when a terrorist attack occurs and all signs point to Doom as the architect, even when he's as clueless to what's unfolding as everyone else? This is a brilliant take on the super-villain/dictator, and his inherent belief that the world would be better off with him in charge - which manifests itself here in visions of a Doom-led utopia - is portrayed as something that weighs on him constantly. Super-villain or misunderstood hero? He's not a good guy but any writer that gets that there's genuine motivation (both selfless and selfish) to make the world a better place at Doom's core is on solid ground, and Cantwell has a firm handle on the character judging by what he does here. Salvador Larroca is always good value for money, expertly capturing Doom's majesty and menace, and throwing Kang into the mix is the icing on the cake of an excellent opening chapter. 8/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Bryan Hitch, Kevin Nowlan & Alex Sinclair
DC $3.99

Jo S: Whilst I'm completely absorbed in the main Batman book again now, it's a thrill to switch over to another phenomenal Bat-team and find that this takes our caped hero back to his detective roots. The twelve-part series nature of Ellis and Hitch's new presentation is obvious from the start: elements such as the book title itself and a team of identikit tattooed toughs are introduced but the main story of this first issue is a straight up murder mystery, albeit one solved with the help of some super-clever bat-tech. Ellis writes an eloquent Batman, thinking aloud as he carefully breaks down the clues in a case the GCPD do not have time for. I found a conversational exchange with Alfred a little stilted, though I accept this might have been deliberate - later context will tell. Hitch's work - perfectly inked by Nowlan and with Sinclair's sepia tones managing to give substance without a feeling of the antique - is just stunning: his be-muscled Bruce Wayne is perfectly proportioned; fight scenes are dynamic and nicely weighted; all are parcelled with a classic rooftop cityscape brooding-with-swirling-cape splash page. This is such a generous book from all involved; it has jumped up my list immediately. 9/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: R.B. Silva, Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia & David Curiel
Marvel $4.99

Mike S: So we reach the end of the HOX/POX bubble and it’s been one hell of a ride. I am thrilled that, rather than undoing any of the previous events, Hickman has just added further layers to his already rich tapestry with this grandiose, beautifully presented concluding issue. The ideas are as intelligent as we have come to expect and the artwork from Silva and Larraz is stunning. We jump from era to era, location to location, visiting places and scenes from earlier in this event, but the most interesting aspects for me revolve around the deepening of characterisation and some seeds for future plots that are potentially explosive. The revelations from Moira and Charles regarding their respective offspring were a great twist and the setting up of a huge potential Mystique-related conflict makes perfect sense, threatening to blow a Destiny-shaped hole in this seemingly Utopian society, as well as adding yet more complexity to Mystique - something I always appreciate! I really like this new, richer dynamic between Magneto (always good value), Moira and a now radicalised Xavier: there is so much potential for development here that I am even more excited for where the X-Universe is heading next. 10/10

Writer: Kelly Sue Deconnick
Art: Emma Rios
Image $3.99

Kenny J: Taken from the vast prairies of nineteenth century prospector America to the giant backlots of golden era Hollywood, it was halfway through this issue that it became apparent that the new setting allows Emma Rios to apply her kaleidoscopic style to a gumshoe detective story, and one that drips with Chandler or Ellroy cool, whether it's amongst the attic bedsits or a water field sound stage. The differences between time and space are deftly represented in Jordie Bellaire's change of palette; light pastels for the west and oppressive greens and browns for the rain soaked Los Angeles. More and more, I find that if I am enjoying the way in which the colours enhance a story I can be sure it's Bellaire's work. Although dealing with characters in a time almost one hundred years removed, Deconnick's work feels very relevant, with ambitious but washed-up directors manipulating young women all woven into the established lore of reapers, Death and familiars. The combination of metaphysical and philosophical ideas with a murder mystery that drives the book forward while honouring the original volumes' essence. 9/10

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