9 Feb 2020

Mini Reviews 09/02/2020

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.

Writer: Greg Pak
Art: Raffaele Ienco & Neeraj Menn
Marvel $4.99

James R: I will start with one of my semi-regular declarations: I love Star Wars. Virtually all of it (Caravan Of Courage and the infamous Holiday Special are the exceptions) but truth be told - I love anything to do with the tales from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far, away. I say this, as of late it seems the online Star Wars discourse has become incredibly negative and hate-filled, and I for one find it pretty distasteful stuff. The last few years as a Star Wars fan have been a delight for me, and I've loved both the continuation of the Skywalker Saga, and the vast majority of the expanded universe stories in both books and comics. This week, Greg Pak and Raffaele Ienco give us another example of why Disney-era Star Wars shouldn't be dismissed out-of-hand. Following on from Charles Soule's superb run on Darth Vader (and keeping with the new Marvel focus), this issue takes us inside Vader's head as he reacts to Luke's refusal of an alliance at the iconic climax to The Empire Strikes Back. The thing that I enjoyed most of all here was that Pak (like Soule before him) is using the comics both to enhance the Prequels and also to create new layers for the iconic characters. The stand-out sequence for me was Vader watching Luke fall through Cloud City, and seeing his figure replaced first by Padme, and then by Shimi, his mother. Pak and Ienco use the language of comics beautifully here, and it immediately sold me on the title. It's not an absolute smash by any means - I felt the action sequence at the end felt a little too 'by the numbers' and even though I like Ienco's work, I don't love it like I did Giuseppe Camuncoli's art in the last iteration of the book. However, it's definitely a strong start, and with Soule's run on the main Star Wars title, this makes for a compelling double-header, and will certainly give me my Star Wars fix until Disney+ (finally!) launches here next month. 7/10

Writer: Becky Cloonan
Art: Luca Pizzari, Jay David Ramos
Marvel $3.99

Jo S: One of two books for me this week which toy with historical record to tell a story through the eyes of women of the era in question, Dark Agnes is founded in 16th century France (while Henry VIII was working his way through wives galore over here). It opens with a fairly stock but well told last-minute gallows rescue followed swiftly by the kind of back story catch-up artifice that made me think I must have missed recent stories about her, but no: Agnes is an existing Robert E Howard character, but he finished less than three stories about her all told, leaving Cloonan with the task of adapting her previous experience of Howard's oeuvre (she has drawn Conan in 'Queen of the Black Coast' and is a big fan of the Conan mythos) to an essentially new character. This first issue is tightly constructed; we meet Agnes through the egotistical yet somehow lovable rascal Etienne, with whom she has a bizarre partnership and friendship, and discover that, having escaped some terrible goings-on in her childhood (some of which is recounted by a quite acceptably cinematic dream sequence), she is now a brilliant sellsword, with both heart and ferociousness in spades. Pizzari's artwork is perfect for the story with lively faces, swirling medieval costumes and weaponry, effective changes of mood and lots of detail. I have developed immediate affection for Agnes (and Etienne, I'm a sucker for a rogue) and will be back for issue #2. 7/10

Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Art: Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Dexter Vines, Karl Story & Laura Martin
Marvel $4.99

Mike S: Chip Zdarsky is fast becoming one of my favourite Marvel writers, following his work on both Invaders and Marvel 2-In-One; I have always loved the artwork of the Dodsons and both the Fantastic Four and X-Men are favourites of mine, so this miniseries was a must-have for me. Following the events of HoX/PoX, Zdarsky returns to the FF characters of 2-In-One to explore the puzzle that is Franklin Richards: child of the Richards family whose mutant heritage has finally become an issue. We get some really strong character work in this issue, setting up not only the clash of teams but also ideologies, as the nature of mutant isolationism is examined when the mutant in question is not the child of average, fearful parents. Zdarsky skilfully captures these views, complimented by expressive, beautifully rendered art from the Dodsons (with some inking help) and colours from Laura Martin. I hugely enjoyed this debut as it set up interesting ethical choices and dilemmas and, for the first time, allowed the X-Men to interact in a non-violent way with other Marvel characters, thus further establishing their place in this new Marvel Universe. Using Franklin as the catalyst is a great idea as his natural teen-rebellion, seen in the current FF run, is paired with a natural teen desire to strike out on your own, making the morals of this tale even more blurred. My only negative? I am disappointed that this is only a miniseries: someone get this team on a regular X-book and fast! 9/10

Writer: Lavie Tidhar
Art: Paul McCaffrey
Titan Comics $3.99

Jo S: My two review picks this week have a fair amount of commonality - both feature strong female leads and both are based in historical settings - but Titan's new offering, Adler, is a kind of compound of history, literature and imagination, that slightly peculiar brand of fiction which draws characters from eminent works and puts them into the same world, in this case Irene Adler from Sherlock Holmes fame, added to Lady Havisham, Jane Eyre, Amazon queen Ayesha, little orphan Annie… Set in the kind of Victorian London which might easily be assumed to be a steampunk world, the story is, well, so far, so odd, as Jane Eyre returns from the Boer War where she served as an ambulance driver (I know, pretty unlikely) and ends up being recommended to Irene Adler as a roommate by Miss Havisham, gets embroiled in what seems to be a plot to assassinate Adler and eventually is connected with one of the few (actual real) female scientists who got a foothold in the history books. It's all a bit far fetched, if I'm honest, though I suppose I shouldn't grumble, I probably wouldn't have picked it up if not for the Conan Doyle connection (I do love a Sherlock-flavoured spin-off) but what does really elevate it above the ordinary for me is the art; McCaffrey is a master of colour and texture, giving rich density to costumes and lavish Victorian decor, believable scenes of gore and war, and frightening dark alleys with murderous coves. It's his faces which really make this book for me: all have huge expressive eyes, pulling the reader in and drawing sympathy for characters which might otherwise be a little thinly developed. It's still a bit of an odd combination - but I may come back, at least for more of McCaffrey's work. 6/10

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