5 Jan 2020

Mini Reviews 05/01/2020

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.

STAR WARS #1
Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Jesus Saiz & Arif Prianto
Marvel $4.99

James R: I thought I was finished with Marvel's main Star Wars line when Jason Aaron stepped aside from the core title (personally, I felt it was the last time it captured the magic of George Lucas' universe) however, with this relaunch, it's clear that the right man now has the reins. Charles Soule is a terrific writer, full stop (I was an early advocate of his great OGN Strongman, illustrated by Allen Gladfelter), but he brings a tangible magic to his Star Wars work, managing to add to the rich tapestry of a Galaxy Far, Far Away while never being derivative. Soule is also one of the architects behind this year's 'Project Luminous', a series of interconnected books and comics that might signal the future of the Star Wars movies. This first issue wisely sees the focus moving from the adventures post-A New Hope and centring on the events immediately after The Empire Strikes Back. The narrative also introduces us to a new nemesis for the Rebels in the shape of Imperial Commander Zahra, along with the welcome return of Shara Bey and Kes Dameron (Poe's parents, first introduced in Greg Rucka's Shattered Empire in 2015). Soule also puts Luke front and centre here, and his doubt over what he should do following Darth Vader's revelation will clearly take up a lot of the narrative to come. Jesus Saiz does a fine job on the art, managing to capture the likenesses of actors associated with the characters while still imbuing them with his own style. All told, it's a fine first chapter, and I'm very much on board to see where Soule takes this story. 8/10

THOR #1
Writer: Donny Cates
Art: Nic Klein & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $4.99

Mike S: Following the legendary run of Jason Aaron cannot be easy but Donny Cates seems to be totally un-phased by it and is enjoying telling his own distinctively epic tale of the Thunder God. He shows in this premier issue a real love and respect for Thor while, at the same time, turning the character on his head as he points him in a new direction that sits well with my expectations: fables of the Norse Gods should be epic and bombastic, and Cates certainly doesn’t disappoint. The art, from Klein and Wilson, is grandiose and powerful, as befits the Norse myths, with strong action scenes paired with some expressive and powerful face work. The use of captions by Cates, in itself quite old school (which I love), seems to add to the epic feel of the issue, as if it is a legend that will be told for eons in taverns overflowing with mead. Cates establishes a great deal in the first half of this issue: the assorted realms, Thor’s status within the Avengers, Mj√∂lnir’s power and Thor’s response to his changed situation. The second half explodes with action and a real game-changing moment which pushes Thor along a new path, both cosmic and ambitious in a way that is worthy of the character and his legacy. This is exactly the type of story I have been hoping to see for Thor: something on a totally new scale and with a mammoth scope. 9/10

HAWKEYE: FREEFALL #1
Writer: Matt Rosenberg
Art: Otto Schmidt
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: Like a kid waiting for an expected Christmas present, I had some anxiety about this book, worrying that I'd built up my excitement to the point where ripping off the wrapping would inevitably result in overwhelming emotions and potential disappointment. With a huge 'phew' I can report that I needn't have worried; Rosenberg has whipped up a feast of wisecracking self-deprecation, fast-paced action and intriguing storyline with a side order of demon hoods and mysterious Ronins. Hawkeye (the boy one, not 'my' Hawkeye, Kate) tangles with the Hood initially, leaving our hero with a bad taste in his mouth regarding the legal system and his place within it, so that his mood when he's then accused of misdeeds attributed to the wearer of the Ronin suit is less than open. Otto Schmidt's art is new to me but he's great with character expression and action - I especially liked his Winter Soldier, and his colours in a night time fight scene, lit by flaming vehicle. One of the things that struck me about this first issue is how New York features in the characterisation - not in the landscape exactly, but in the details: Barton seems perennially to have a coffee (I want to say 'cawfee' here) in his hand; the Hood is eating Chinese food from a take-out carton, each new chapter is specifically located, sometimes to the street - Rosenberg brings his hometown lovingly into the story. A number of sly comments are dropped about how Hawkeye isn't a 'proper' Avenger, that he doesn't have actual powers and so on, and Rosenberg utilises an internal monologue to keep us up to speed with Clint's journey, initially cocky and laid back, later frustrated at injustice and inequity, soon angry at a lack of trust: he's being set up with all the elements you could need for a great story. In all this was exactly as good a start as I'd hoped for and I'll be down to the shop like a shot for issue #2. 9/10

X-MEN #4
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Lenil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan & Sunny Gho
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The cover indicates this issue means business with Professor X, Magneto and Apocalypse suited and booted, walking through the room like a trio of high rollers who mean business. The contents justify the pinpoint intent of that image, resulting in the best issue of the series so far, by far. When it debuted it felt like X-Men would pick up the central conceit of House Of X/Powers Of X with other titles moving into slightly different spheres, but the first three issues didn't seem to be travelling in that direction and the clarity of concept wasn't as strongly felt as it was in either of the miniseries. Issue #4 is far more in keeping with Jonathan Hickman's 'Dawn Of X', as further lines are drawn between humans and mutants, the threat of escalation always present and sometimes manifesting itself through action. It's tense and expertly paced, Lenil Francis Yu along with Gerry Alanguilan (likely his last Marvel work before he sadly passed away last month) and Sunny Gho produce art that conveys the seriousness of the scenario with often minimal action, relying instead on looks and gestures (although when the Cyclops/Gorgon lead action sequences get interspersed with the talking heads, it's hugely effective). It feels like this issue should have come earlier in the run but it's certainly welcome now and shows that Hickman still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve as the humans vs mutants situation gets more fractious. 9/10

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