Mini Reviews June 2021

Jun 28, 2021
It's been a while but because you demanded (well, some of you asked nicely, at least) we're returning with our Mini Reviews! Expect this monthly rather than weekly going forward, and we'll aim to highlight the best books currently being sold at all good comic book stores.

Cover of Nightwing #81

Tom Taylor, Bruno Redondo, Adriano Lucas
DC $3.99 (15/06/2021)

Matt: The buzz was there right from the moment the new creative team took over the title with issue #78. Personally, I'd never been an especially keen follower of original Robin Dick Grayson's solo adventures but it was immediately obvious from that opening chapter that this was going to be a special run. Whereas the main Bat titles often feel bogged down with having to outdo what's come before in terms of more outlandishly overpopulated storylines, here we have something more focused on a smaller cast with a lot more room to breathe. Tom Taylor provides some delicious interplay between his cast (especially evident in Dick's relationship with Barbara Gordon), switching from funny to affecting with ease. 

The new villain is intriguing and the various plot threads all intermingle in often surprising ways. And then there's the art. Bruno Redondo's dynamic compositions are full of energy and emotion, the choreography between the the panels is frequently stunning, and Adriano Lucas' colours give everything an extra pop. There are moments where I'm reminded how very influential Matt Fraction and David Aja's run on Hawkeye remains to this day, but Nightwing is reforging its own identity as one of the best superhero comics on the stands (and I'm only not saying it's the best because I don't read everything else!).

Cover of Wonder Girl #1

Joëlle Jones, Jordie Bellaire
DC $3.99 (18/05/2021)

Jo: I make no secret of my excitement whenever absolutely anything from the magical pens of Joëlle Jones appears - honestly she could illustrate a catalogue of plumbing supplies and I'd pore over every square millimetre - but her design for Yara Flor, first visible as a Wonder Woman of the Future State event, is absolutely next level. Yara is more feisty than Diana, more impetuous in her youthfulness, a little more sneaky, perhaps, but still embodying the principles of the Amazons (although in this first issue she doesn't seem to be fully aware of her heritage). 

The initial pages are utterly beautiful, the images showing a group of Amazons trying to protect a child from attacking forces, while the text creates dissonance with an entirely different theme; the juxtaposition is exquisite. I'll mention Jordie Bellaire again later, but in these pages her colours absolutely blaze - a daring combination of near silhouette for the action with a fiery background, highlighting the bright golden eyes of the child. 

Yara's return to her homeland in Brazil having grown up thousands of miles away triggers a series of events - a disturbance in the Force, if you like - and Jones expertly uses this as a device to place our new hero at the epicentre of the DC Universe. This is my favourite book of the year so far, and I think I may have a new favourite hero. 

Cover of The Department of Truth #9

James Tynion IV, Martin Simmonds
Image  $3.99 (26/05/2021)

James: Without doubt, this is the book that captures the current zeitgeist perfectly. We live in an era where disinformation, often spread online, is king and where the US capitol was besieged by people inspired by a big-top conspiracy theory. These are strange days indeed, and James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds have captured this looking-glass world to perfection with Department Of Truth. Now well in to its third arc (Matt talked about the debut issue here), this book takes the notion that the more people believe in an idea, the truer it becomes, and runs with it to some dark and compelling places. Through agency inductee Cole, we learn of the machinations of the Department of Truth, and virtually every conspiracy of the twentieth century (and before!): JFK's assassination, Flat Earthers, the Satanic Panic of the 80s, Men in Black - it's all here.

Tynion's script would make this an essential read as it is but, in Martin Simmonds, he has a co-creator who fits the material perfectly - creating a world that exists in a world between dream and nightmare, the feeling that you're reading a book that is playing with the definition of reality is on every page. This is the comic that I absolutely cannot wait to read every month; it's essential in every way.

Cover of Heroes Return #1

Jason Aaron, Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales, Matthew Wilson
Marvel $5.99 (23/06/2021)

Matt: Marvel's recent habit of recycling titles of famed event series of the past continues with Heroes Reborn, thankfully having nothing to do with the 1996 storyline of the same name. After seven issues, the eighth goes under the designation of Heroes Return for the finale of the tale, and it's largely been an absolute blast. The series has seen writer Jason Aaron in full blockbuster mode, taking a not unfamiliar concept (the world is different and only one person knows it's not how it should be) and running with it, reimagining an Earth where the Avengers never came together and instead the Squadron Supreme became the mightiest heroes of the age.

The Squadron are of course an analogue of the Justice League (although they were on the scene way before it became a trope), and there a definite hint of  The Seven (from The Boys) about them, with their somewhat fascistic approach to crime-fighting. Bar the first and last, each issue has zeroed in on a specific member of the Squadron, which has allowed Aaron to pair with artists you wouldn't readily associate with an event series from the Big Two (such as R.M. Guéra and James Stokoe), and this has been a large part of its appeal. Ed McGuinness (working with Mark Morales and Matthew Wilson) has provided the sturdy artistic framing for the overall story, and while it's not doing anything particularly unique, it delivers fully on its remit as well as dropping in scintillating threads to be picked up at a later date.

Cover of The Nice House On The Lake #1

James Tynion IV, Álvaro Martínez Bueno, Jordie Bellaire
DC $3.99 (01/06/2021)

Jo: I claim a tiny air of justified smugness regarding this one: the title was an immediate grab when this appeared in Previews, and the social media flutter I noted in my Previews write-up of it quickly turned into a storm when the book finally landed - and with justification. A tough one to do justice to in a spoiler-free way, so you'll have to trust me to some extent that Tynion's story holds invention a-plenty. Initially told from the perspective of Ryan, 'The Artist', the first issue is both packed with information about the group of friends, acquaintances and loosely interconnected... well, specialists might be the right word, all brought together by the shadowy Walter, and also a bundle of loose ends crying out to be picked at. 

Bueno's graphical art style is perfect for this, and if, like me, you thirst for those little background details (unusual statues, striking wall-art), you'll find an oasis here. Jordie Bellaire's colours take a starring role too, elevating everything yet further. One word of warning though: if you are a relentless pursuer of Easter eggs, in-jokes and sneaky references, give yourself plenty of time to tumble down the rabbit hole of world-building here. Spotting a name I recognised (coincidentally mentioned elsewhere in this article), I lost half an hour researching every other scrap of detail I could find. But maybe that's just me!

Cover of Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters #1

Charles Soule, Luke Ross, Neeraj Menon
Marvel $4.99 (02/06/2021)

Reb: Roughly half the fun of being a Star Wars fan is the fact that the huge gap between the original films, their prequels and the more recent sequels provides ample fodder for extra stories, character development, and general space fun. Perhaps that’s why, even after the films go through the inevitable hype-hope-hatred-honour cycle, there are still fans – because there is still plenty of the expanded universe to explore.

Boba Fett is a great example of this: the character was deemed ‘too cool’ for his untimely death in the Sarlacc pit, and therefore has clawed his way back into canon. There’s plenty to wonder about within Boba’s tale, and War Of The Bounty Hunters #1 picks up straight after he has picked himself up a freshly-frozen Han Solo.

Charles Soule helms this miniseries once again, and dare I say he is quickly proving himself to be to the Star Wars comics what Dave Filoni is to small screen. I had previously enjoyed his Star Wars: Obi-Wan And Anakin miniseries, finding him a master of capturing characters and their relationships, guiding us smoothly through patches of development occurring behind the main spectacle. Luke Ross provides a fantastic range of expression – not easy considering our main man is helmeted throughout – but familiar faces are expressive, and balance is struck between plenty of background detail and too much distraction. Boba himself strikes plenty of  dynamic poses worthy of their own full spread, and in fact he pushes his way out of the boundaries of the panels to extend himself to his full capacity. From the kick-off, Fett does exactly what we want him to do: turns up to take names, and no amount of nonsense. However, he seems to have lost his precious cargo. But who would dare steal from Boba Fett…?!

I want to keep a few surprises back for you, as this series becomes a mighty-mega crossover event with the rest of the Marvel SW canon, but there is a superb last-minute reveal that will certainly whet some appetites. Expect to see some familiar faces: I am intrigued by the introduction of a Quorum of Hutts, whose strange grip on most of the known galaxy remains to be fully explored.


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