1 Dec 2019

Mini Reviews 01/12/2019

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: Simon Spurrier
Art: Aaron Campbell & Jordie Bellaire
DC $3.99

Mike S: Being a latecomer to the Constantine phenomenon, I was a little torn over this title. I loved the earlier stuff from Vertigo when I picked up the trades but felt that Justice League Dark watered him down a little too much, possibly based on his CW representation from Legends Of Tomorrow, so I was thrilled to see that Spurrier is definitely returning the character to his Vertigo roots. He perfectly captures the cynical, dark humour of Constantine and the moral ambiguity in shades of grey - not black and white - is abundantly clear to see. Also, while many books have settings that are generic and nondescript, making them instantly transferable, this one simply oozes London, even down to the vaping trend, as well as the range of accents. Contrary to the current trend, this is a first issue that is less about setting up stories than throwing us straight in at the deep end! Campbell and Bellaire on art duties really elevate the story to a whole new dark and gritty level, as befits such a character and the Black Label format. It is creepy, horror-tinged and so reminiscent of the artwork of the original series that it provokes a real sense of nostalgia in me, prompting me to dig out my old trades. Bellaire deserves particular praise for the use of colour both in terms of shadow and light: it really is stunning! Hopefully the team remain with the book for a long time and this is just a taste of what they have in store for John under the Black Label banner: if it is, it’ll be a treat! 9/10

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Art: John Paul Leon
DC $5.99

Jo S: A lesser story than this would have surely lost something in the long delays to later issues (the first of the four appeared a full two years ago!) but I found no problem picking this up where it left off, as Wainwright's complex relationship with his mysterious, shadowy version of Batman raced headlong into destruction. This final episode is narrated in part by the steadfast Robin, as her role as Bruce's assistant modulates into that of a proxy for the ailing Uncle Alfred, and partly by Bruce himself. Bruce is out of control, using the Batman persona less and less for good and more to express his own rage, paranoia and frustration. Busiek treads a very narrow line here: the blurring of fact and fiction regarding the nature of the Bat is put at risk, in my mind, when Robin and Alfred apparently see Bruce transform into his alter ego/dead brother/guardian angel, but then as his self-destructive behaviour spirals out of control, culminating in an unforgivable assault on Robin, we swing back to the possibility that this is instead a treatable illness, in Bruce's tortured mind alone. Busiek's work here is nothing short of astonishing; I had deep concerns about the wrap-up being lame, a weak ending to such a complex and absorbing narrative, but I guess this is why I'm not a comics writer! The termination is satisfying, fully worthy of the build-up and this final episode doesn't disappoint at all: it's packed with twists and feints, and Leon's inky darkness and claustrophobic structure packs in the horror, the ambiguity and the unreliability of the storytelling. Todd Klein's lettering is a masterpiece here too, allowing layers of narrative to interlock seamlessly. Totally worth the wait. 9/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Sean Phillips & Jacob Phillips
Image $3.99

James R : This is less of a review, and more of the latest in a series of salutes to the Criminal creative team. With each iteration, I think 'This is their best one yet...' and then Brubaker and Phillips somehow raise the bar again. The C'ruel Summer' arc is all about payoff - for those of us who have been down these mean streets from issue #1, and the 'Coward' arc, it's a treat to see some long-hanging plot threads finally being pulled together, whilst it's just as much fun to see Brubaker positioning the disparate plotlines towards an inevitable yet utterly compelling finale. A special mention this month to the brilliant colour work by Jacob Phillips. Elizabeth Breitweiser left some huge shoes to fill, but ever since his debut on My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, he's really excelled - this issue, he captures the neon and the grime of the city at night and the underworld perfectly. He's forging a terrific artistic relationship with his father, whose work remains terrific as always. There are two chapters left of this story, and the next one is the fateful heist of which Brubaker says "I have been dying to get to it" - and when a writer of his calibre is excited to tell a story, you know it's going to be a must-read issue. 2019 finishes as it began, with Criminal being, by head and shoulders, the best crime comic on the stands, and one of the finest continuing series of the 21st century. 9/10

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