20 Oct 2019

Mini Reviews 20/10/2019

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.

X-MEN #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Leinil Francis Yu, Gary Alanguilan & Sunny Gho
Marvel $4.99

Mike S: So the ‘brave new world’ of the X-Men launches in earnest with X-Men #1 and while it is a debut largely lacking in high octane action, bar an attack by four of the X-Men’s true powerhouses, it is refreshing to see the franchise return to a focus on character and interaction. Not only do we get a continuation of an element of HOX/POX with the inclusion of Orchis, but we also get to explore yet more of Krakoa: I have always loved Dr Reyes, so it’s nice that she hasn’t been forgotten. Hickman’s focus for issue #1 is firmly on the Summers clan, from a flashback to Cyclops receiving his ruby quartz lenses to an extended family barbeque in their new base on the moon, and this seems fitting. There are some interesting and refreshing character dynamics here and I liked Scott’s interactions with both Polaris (historically much under-utilised in core X titles) and Corsair. There is real engagement and conversation from characters who, while familiar, seem more energised than they have in years. Is it perfect? No. Although I loved Hickman’s writing and characterisation, the same cannot be said for Yu’s artwork. I guess he’s a marmite artist and for me it just doesn’t grab me: certainly not for a flagship title like X-Men. I am aware this might place me in the minority but while I liked the use of colour with a darker tone in the action scenes and a vibrant Krakoa with its endless possibilities, I just found Yu’s artwork disappointing and typically lacking dynamism. It’s not enough to stop me coming back but it certainly isn’t attracting me to the title. While this new world of mutants is different and new, Hickman’s writing reminds us that despite the fantastical, including living islands, endless clones and resurrections, the real core of the X-Men is family and it is this that will always draw me back to the World of X. 8/10

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

Jo S: Having taken a promising diversion from established Superman history, looking at his time in the marines and relationship with undersea sirens in issue #2, this third and final issue of Miller and Romita's series of oversize (and, to my mind, overlong) reworkings of Supes' early years comes back to places we know well already; meeting Lois (still a rescue, but in a highly improbable underwater adventure - it's tortuously hard to imagine realistically how Ms Lane got into the pickle she required rescuing from), arriving in Metropolis and landing work at the Planet, meeting nemesis Luthor, meeting Batman, meeting Wonder Woman, fighting kidnapping bad guys, forming the Justi… I could actually go on! There is so much packed into this issue: for me it was way, way too ambitious and ended up with what might have been superbly impactful plot points just lost in continual noise. I absolutely believe this was the wrong format for this story: the second chapter worked because it gave us new subject areas, rather than a resurfacing of well-trodden paths (but was still too long and lost drive), but I can't escape the feeling that all three would have worked much better given the opportunity for the multiple cliffhangers or denouements that would be offered by a, say, 10-issue miniseries. Wonder Woman is worst served by this: she appears five pages from the end in a double-page spread depicting her in an impossibly distorted stance, saves the day, suffers the indignity of falling in love with Superman in less than half a page (she asks for a kiss to remember him by and he kisses her forehead and leaves her crying, ugghhh) - it's so one-dimensional, it's a crime. There ARE good things here: aside from the one dreadful WW, the art is really superb - fantastic rainy action scenes, Superman himself is glorious, a gorgeous space scene at the end places our hero in front of his shadowy new nemesis - and there is great storytelling and humour - Clark Kent getting his 'disguise', the languid Joker lazily suggesting a way to bring down society in a stroke, a distinctly Spider-Man inspired way of dealing with chop shop criminals. There is a lot to love here but, gosh, this was not a super way to package it. 5/10

Writer: Dan DiDio
Art: Shane Davis, Michelle Delecki & Jason Wright
DC $3.99

Mike S: As a long term fan of the Metal Men, I enjoyed this issue which strived to offer something new for characters that DC have never seemed to know what to do with. Yes, it requires some knowledge of the whole Dark Nights: Metal monstrosity, but this was largely covered in captions and exposition. In a kind of horror-tinged Pinocchio tale which I really enjoyed, we explore the crumbling psyche of Will Magnus, yet another example of the ‘flawed scientist’ trope. This contrasts beautifully with Delecki’s dynamic, heroic and grandstanding artwork for the Metal Men, representing the inner conflict between heroism and fragility that lies at the heart of this title. This sense of grandeur is perfectly complemented by the bold and beautiful use of colour by Wright. If I were being critical, I might argue that there is a shortage of characters you want to cheer for, as the titular cast are sidelined to explore Magnus’ perspective: hopefully this will be addressed in future issues. True, this debut is not an action book, despite some exciting moments in Magnus’ memories, but it establishes an interesting status quo with which to move forward, particularly relevant in this post-Westworld existence, with its considerations of heroism, identity and sentience. 7/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Steve Lieber & Nathan Fairbairn
DC $3.99

James R: I realised whilst reading the latest issue of Jimmy Olsen, that I experience a deep joy every time I read an instalment. That may sound strange, but the truth is that Fraction and Lieber have crafted a series that's funny, smart and constantly surprising. It also pays off hugely for us life-long comics geeks, with each issue stuffed with nods to the past (this time, the DC direct market cover box from the '80s, and the infamous 'Save Robin'/'Death In The Family' scam). As for the plot itself, I'm full of admiration for how Fraction has structured this book - with each issue, he has weaved seemingly unconnected vignettes and mini-episodes into a story about legacy and revenge between the Olsen and Luthor families, whilst still being genuinely funny. I'm loving Steve Lieber's work too; his double page-spread of Jimmy explaining the past history of the Olsen-Luthor conflict via his sociogram is a joy to behold, and one of those sequences which can only work in the medium of comics. We're not even close to being halfway through on this one, but this is already one of the books of the year for me. 9/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Jason Howard
Image $3.99

Kenny J: Opening this sophomore issue of Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s return to Trees I was struck how instantly the latter’s use of elongated lines and awkwardly angled figures sets the tone for the entirety of the series. Like the eponymous structures that litter the landscape of our Siberian setting, everything is tall and slender. The Arctic landscape is desolate and empty but somehow Howard invokes this not just in the horizontal, with isolated outhouses and native flora, but also in verticality of his art. Although this issue doesn’t move the plot forward any discernible distance it is a masterclass in atmosphere, taking Nordic noir and spaghetti western tropes and infusing them with Ellis’ trademark mysticism-meets-bleeding-edge-tech. With its isolated setting and aforementioned clash between ‘the old ways’ and machines, it only takes one act of sabotage to heighten the feeling of unease. All this and there is a bit of philosophy thrown into the mix as well. Whether Trees: Three Fates will further the main story has yet to be seen but if we are getting smaller tales of this calibre to flesh out this world then I’m on board for the duration. 8/10

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