Doctor Strange #8 Review

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‘The Last Day of Magic’ rolls on and with it so too does the superb writing of Jason Aaron. With Doctor Strange fighting the losing side of a battle against the crusading Empirikul this represented the tensest entry in the young series. Did it also represent the best?

From the word go this series, led by Aaron, has been a shining star on the Marvel landscape. Where other post-Secret Wars titles have avoided making bold leaps, aside from one recent one from Captain America, this has relished in the opportunity to take its titular hero in an entirely new direction. That direction has seen the good Doctor be stripped of his immense powers and forced into a corner against a, thus far, superior foe. It is in doing this that Aaron has created something truly special for fans across the globe.

This week’s offering saw Strange continue his efforts to fight back and reclaim the magic that is quickly dying out. For the most part, the action was contained to a mystical cave that housed a few of the last remaining magical weapons that Earth had to offer. It was this claustrophobic setting that allowed for the tension of this story to really shine through. Strange appeared to be trapped in the gloom, shadows closing in on him and danger present at every turn. Chris Bachalo really should be the one receiving the praise for this as he has done some of the best work with colours that you will see anywhere today. In the early issues he made things bright and vibrant whenever magic was involved, which was beautiful at the time but now it is made so much more poignant with the subdued colour palette he is using to signify the complete absence of magic. Such a clever touch is one that must be heralded and shows that this team have had a carefully laid out plan in place for this spectacular tale from the off.

What fans are given here is a more resourceful Strange who is being forced to use what he can find to battle back. He has allies still in the form of Talisman and Scarlet Witch but they are still at a distinct disadvantage yet Strange refuses to call in the likes of Tony Stark to help. The reason? He wishes to clear his own magical debt. To explain that a little better, for the entirety of this series the idea has been firmly implanted in reader’s minds that each magical act takes a toll on the host. This toll can take many forms and is more or less severe depending on the size of the spell at work. In this issue you find out exactly how Strange has been avoiding paying his own debt and it is a reveal that takes a very ugly, but possibly advantageous form.

The story doesn’t get that much closer to its conclusion with this issue but it does provide a great deal of excitement as you join Strange on his journey. Some may dislike the slightly prolonged, meandering narrative but it is something that has made a superhero tale seem far more important and consequential that most other arcs do. It has shown that the bad guys do not pop and get knocked down in a matter of pages but that these incursions are a threat to the heroes, they are fallible and as such this arc has given you a reason to worry for the lead character. It has become all too believable a possibility that he could very well die or at least magic could be irreparably damaged before things are laid to rest.

As mentioned earlier, Bachalo has been on fire for months now. His work her continues to impress for the reasons laid out above but there is one small gripe that others have expressed and that is the lack of detail in some of his panels. It is true that on occasion he can leave things a little lacking but that only adds to the charm of his work. The sense of absence is not all too palpable and his more detailed scenes more than make up for any that are missing a few brush strokes here and there.

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It should be no surprise to hear that Doctor Strange is still going strong as this current creative team are absolutely thriving in their roles. You can expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future as Aaron and Bachalo are showing no signs of stopping any time soon.

Score: 9.0/10.

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Doctor Strange #8 Review

X-Men Apocalypse Review (Spoiler Free)

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The latest instalment in the critically acclaimed ‘X-men’ series has at last landed in cinemas and it’s been met with decidedly mixed reviews. There doesn’t truly seem to be critical consensus on the action blockbuster but the general feeling does seem to skew towards the negative. Are people right to be quite so negative towards this film? No, and here’s why.

So the story set out in X-Men Apocalypse sees the heroes that audiences have grown to love, along with a few fresh faces, square off against the ancient En Sabah Nur, brilliantly played by Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron, ‘The Force Awakens’). En Sabah Nur, otherwise known as Apocalypse, is commonly believed to be the first mutant and is one of the most powerful, boasting a fascinating range of powers that are only lightly explored for the majority of this flick. Apocalypse, as his name suggests, is trying to bring about the end of civilisation as it stands today and the X-Men are trying to stop him. So far, so superhero movie. So what is the redeeming quality?

Well, looking exclusively at the story there isn’t much of one. In this respect many of the critics are right, this is a cut and paste superhero film that does little to deviate from the norm that everyone has come to expect. The thing is that there’s nothing wrong with that. X-Men never needed to create some visionary direction for itself and change the tone of films such as these going forwards, it simply needed to provide fans with what they’ve come to expect from the franchise and that’s exactly what it did. The pacing is tight and the story is very well told as each thread is picked up and dropped in a logical, easy to follow manner, with one scene flowing expertly into another without having any jarring effect on the audience. The action is suitably epic with fight scenes, particularly the obligatory end one, featuring shifting momentum and moments of extreme highs and crushing lows for both the heroes and the fans watching in the cinema.

More than all of that though is the humour that seeps out of every pore of this movie. Now, you shouldn’t go in expecting to laugh as much as you did in Deadpool as this is an entirely different creature. You’re not going to get anyone with the same wit or hilariously sociopathic stylings of Wade Wilson, what you will get though is a cast of characters who all offer something that makes you smile at the very least. Be it through a reference for the true comic book fans in the crowd, a pun that breaks some of the tension, or a bit of light slapstick from Nightcrawler, there is something here to amuse everyone in the theatre. What makes this even more pleasing is the way that it is juxtaposed by the high emotion that runs deep within the rest of the film. One such moment comes from a crushing loss suffered by Magneto, once again played by Michael Fassbender, where you can truly feel the enormity of his pain due to superior acting and some poignant script writing.

There is a long running theme in all X-Men media to address civil issues and that is absolutely present here as the public backlash towards mutants, which is mentioned throughout, serves as an allegory for racism and hatred of LGBTQ people around the world. It is not presented in the most powerful manner in this rendition, which does make one wonder why it was mentioned, but it is still nice to see such issues being tackled even if in a tangential manner.

The true reason for this film being as enjoyable as it was has to be attributed to one thing above all others though and that is the superb acting on display. At the top of that pile stands Oscar Isaac who takes a potentially cartoony looking villain and makes him every bit the terrifying threat that he proves to be in the comics. Isaac is unrecognisable in the role and not just because of the outlandish costume, it is because of the grit and gravity that he brings to the character in a successful effort to make Apocalypse seem as sinister as he is supposed to be. It’s a little hard to believe that this is the same man who starred in The Force Awakens and ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ due to the incredible transformation that he undertakes in order to bring this part to life.

Surrounding Isaac is an equally able cast that features such shining debuting stars as Olivia Munn (Herself, ‘Zoolander 2’) who plays Psylocke, Alexandra Shipp (Kimberley Woodruff, ‘Straight Outta Compton’) who plays Storm, and Ben Hardy (Peter Beale, ‘Eastenders’) who plays Angel. Angel and Psylocke receive precious little in the way of development which is a crying shame considering the talent portraying them but Storm is a central figure throughout proceedings and it must be said that Shipp does a fantastic job. She nails her role as a tough street kid, struggling with her fledgling mutant powers and looking for any way out of her squalid situation. Shipp has a natural charisma to her that makes it hard not to be drawn to Storm as a character. Even if you didn’t already know that she eventually turns to the good side as it were you will still likely find yourself routing for her simply due to Shipp.

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Standing at the head of the younger newcomers is a name that most will recognise and that is Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark, ‘Game of Thrones’) who portrays Jean Grey. Sophie said that the dark side to Sansa helped with this role and whilst that is likely true, it is a little difficult to draw parallels between the two. Sansa was always a little annoying in her naiveté and struggled in the role of an assertive figure whereas Jean is a much more confident individual despite being something of an outcast due to her untapped abilities. Essentially Jean is more akin to Arya than she is Sansa. Still, the ability to play the troubled youth so convincingly and endearingly earns Sophie a lot of praise, Jean is believable throughout her journey and the set up for her to take off as a major star of future instalments is a satisfying one.

Additionally, you also have the returning cast of more familiar actors; Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence etc. They all put in expectedly perfect performances and are given more of a chance to shine due to the self-contained nature of this film. There is no switching between the past and present, aside from the odd flashbacks, so they are relied upon more heavily to deliver in their roles than they perhaps have been in the past.

Another returning face who steals the show at one point is the always enjoyable Evan Peters (Tate Langdon, ‘American Horror Story’) who reprises his role as Quicksilver. It takes very little time for him to reestablish himself as the most reliable source of comedy in the franchise and a high point of the film comes from yet another slowed down scene where he zips through the mansion, entertaining you as he goes. It would not be surprising if the powers that be should look to Peters to become more of a central figure going forwards as it is hard as an audience not to latch onto him.

The negatives were, honestly, not that noteworthy as most of the perceived problems other reviews have spoken of are not inherently bad things. The unwillingness to break the status quo in terms of all of the character directions is a little galling as everyone knows who ends up doing what in the future so it wouldn’t hurt to steer towards those destinies with a little more commitment. There is also a wider problem in these films where you don’t feel a distinct enough level of suspense due to that fact that things almost always work out for the best and, in prequels such as these especially, the heroes are not going to die. That lack of risk makes it easier to switch off at times but that is why there are side characters without preset destinies as such, to keep you asking if one of those lesser mutants will meet their demise.

So, if you were hoping for something entirely different to what’s come before then no, this is not the film for you. If, however, you were looking for a fun superhero film with just enough heart and a wicked sense of humour then you’re going to be in for a treat. X-Men Apocalypse is just a good time that is begging to be enjoyed and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Score: 7.5/10

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X-Men Apocalypse Review (Spoiler Free)

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 Review

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‘The New 52’ has been one of the most polarising, divisive eras in DC history and with good reason. For every good move that was made, such as in the beloved ‘Batman’ comics from the mind of Scott Snyder, there were also a deluge of terrible ones that turned fans off in their droves. At long last DC have seen fit to attempt to fix what ails them with the much hyped ‘Rebirth’, are they off to a good start?

If you were to ask a long time DC fan about their main gripe with the New 52 the answer would probably come back as a complaint about the handling of iconic characters. There is an expectation of respect from writers towards their, and others, creations but all too often that seemed to be absent in the last half a decade of comics. Some big names were written out of history, cast aside as though they never mattered, others saw their roles reduced to that of a sideshow who didn’t matter to the overall story. In many cases relationships that fans had grown to love were done away with and in that move a lot of heroes lost their motivation and a good portion of their goodwill along with it. Due to all of this it was clear that something drastic needed to be done.

Enter Rebirth. Now, of course, it is early days what with this being the first glimpse at the revamped DC Universe but it is safe to say that it looks promising so far. This 66 page epic made great strides towards fixing the problems of the past and, as though to compound that feeling of moving forwards by looking backwards, the whole thing was narrated and underpinned by the long lost Wally West.

Wally is a character who many have missed throughout his prolonged absence and one whom a lot of people were calling for to return when this whole initiative was first unveiled to the world. How fitting it is then for him to be the one to guide the audience into this new era, and to do so by looking at it in essentially the same light as each and every one of them too.

He is a man on the outside of the current universe trying to break his way back in. That’s a feeling that a great number of readers have had of late as they yearn for more poignant storylines and a return of the grandiose nature of the characters. Wally is attempting to fix a gap in time in order to return the inhabitants of DC’s world to their former glory and, again, that is something that has lit up message boards ever since the toned down, underpowered versions of these icons were first wheeled out. This meta commentary is peppered throughout every page as Wally recalls a time when Green Arrow and Black Canary were an item, and when he and Linda were a married couple. With regards to the first of those pairings, fans will be happy to hear that movements were made in this issue to reunite the two lovebirds with one another.

To carry off such an ambitious issue, Geoff Johns had to have a great story to go right alongside all of the fan service. Thankfully, there was no let down in that department either as the narrative presented gives more than enough in the way of intrigue and excitement to keep the vast majority of fans satiated. Naturally a large amount of that is all in order to hype the upcoming relaunch titles but then the idea that all of this is playing into a larger story is no bad thing. The fact that the story isn’t entirely overt and won’t require the purchasing of every single title is another big plus as very few people have enough disposable income to justify such a reckless spending pattern.

The key idea to explain the return of Wally and the gradual shift back to an older continuity is that an extremely powerful being has literally plucked a whole decade of history out of the timeline and left the heroes and villains of the piece unable to recall their past selves. Watching those memories return and old events be rediscovered should be highly entertaining and it is something which will hook people onto these new books.

Due to the fact that this event did not see the immediate rewriting of history and scrapping of the current continuity it also means that all of the good work that has been done over the last five years, and there is enough of it, will not be lost forever. It will all stay as canon which allows for the best of the past and present to blend together, making for a much richer history for each character than they previously had. Some may complain about this as it could seem like a half-in approach but really it is far more logical than the alternative and it means you get to sit back and watch something important unfold as Rebirth continues to ripple through each book for the foreseeable future.

This comic was written in chapters and as such it had a very large artistic team with different people taking responsibility for each chapter. Those people were Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez, Joe Prado, Matt Santorelli, Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Hi-Fi, and Gabe Eltaeb. What is remarkable to note is that the sense of continuity throughout the book is unbelievable. Such a diverse range of talents shouldn’t be able to pull off a single issue that retains one set style for its entirety but somehow these brilliant individuals managed it here. In every chapter there is a human quality to the character’s faces and it helps to create this wonderfully resonant tale of loss and, to steal the title again, rebirth. Just one gaze upon Wally’s journey between sadness, hope, despair, and eventual relief is a whole story in and of itself.

There will always be naysayers who refuse to forgive DC for past failings and who just want to rubbish this new effort from the company. There are valid criticisms to be made by those people but ultimately this was a tremendous showing and one that should gave gotten you suitably hyped for the what is to come. Rebirth can certainly be called a success thus far.

Score: 9.5/10.

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DC Universe: Rebirth #1 Review

Batman/TMNT #6 Review

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Don’t cry that it’s over, smile that it happened. You probably don’t need to be told that since this series has had more than enough humour and likability to keep you smiling for its entire six issue run. Now though, it has come to an end. Did James Tynion IV sendoff Batman and The Turtles with a bang?

The overwhelming success of this run has always been due to its keen understanding of both Batman and The Turtles fan bases. There may well be a good deal of crossover between the two but they still both expect something very different from each set of characters and it must have been challenging to attempt to please everyone at once. Somehow Tynion and co. managed to do just that in every one of these issues and this finale was no different as the long awaited fight sequences perfectly represent both universe’s heroes and rogues.

For Batman there is that familiar sense of control and emotional detachment as he launches headlong into a war with the veritable army of species swapped villains held up in Arkham. He and Damian provide all of the bone crunching action that one could want or expect from this comic as they take down The Joker, who is now a snake, or Mr. Freeze, who is amusingly a Polar Bear. The villains themselves fight in their typically frenzied fashion as, like sharks smelling blood, they circle the caped father son duo.

As for The Turtles, they are written to be as plucky and noble as ever. Despite the fast fading Mutagen in their systems they still stay in Gotham to fight alongside their new friend. Something that Tynion does very well is highlight the learning curve that the four must go through as they fight with the new enemies. It is something that puts one in the mind of some of the earlier Turtles comics and TV shows as they prove themselves to be highly adaptable, reflecting the immense training that Master Splinter put them through. It is something that really shows the fantastic grasp that Tynion has on these characters and it does a wonderful job of increasing fan confidence ahead of his takeover of the Batman franchise.

Another facet of Batman/TMNT that has endeared fans is the sense of humour that is woven throughout every issue. Never is it more apparent than in issue #6 as, with the stress of their situation relieved, The Turtles and Batman can engage in a wittier back and forth than has been glimpsed previously. Alongside this you also have the serious note shown through the mutual respect so clearly held between these men/reptiles that makes for genuinely touching moment of emotional honesty that is quite the rarity for a character such as Batman but something that works so well for him when done as well as it was here.

Not to play the spoilers, Freddie E. Williams and Jeremy Colwell treated fans to yet more wonderful art work. For the entirety of the series their character depictions have been beautifully detailed and are a massive part of the success of this crossover, here though you also got a look at their fluid representations of the extensive fighting on offer. The best way to describe the colours is to call them wildly vibrant as they bring such life and illumination where appropriate though they are also not afraid to tone things down to a decidedly more Batman inspired shadowy sprawl when it is called for. Essentially, these two men have fused two disparate worlds together to make something quite gorgeous that fits both perfectly.

It is indeed sad to see the back of this series but everyone can be thankful that it happened. The hope will be that Tynion sees fit to revisit this bizarre but brilliant world down the line as it is hard to think of a better comic of this kind.

Score: 9.0/10.

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Batman/TMNT #6 Review

Spider-Man #4 Review

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You want lots of character building and dialogue coupled with next to no action? Well you got it. So that’s probably the wrong way to introduce Spider-Man #4 but it is essentially the truth. There is precious little in the way of actual action but then that is really what sets this series apart from all the other Spidey ones on the market right now. What it does do is capture the life of a modern teenager remarkably well.

So what do you get in lieu of all the fighting exactly? For the most part it’s a prolonged conversation between Ganke and Miles in which they debate which of them is the most oppressed in modern society, something that seems to be a very active competition amongst most teens. Ganke asserts that he gets the worst of it due to his weight whilst Miles contests that being black is more of a struggle. Neither one of them is willing to relent and look at things from the other’s perspective for just a moment, which again is typical of teens as they tend to only be interested in their own point of view and to hell with anyone else’s.

Bendis has already established a rich theme of tackling issues such as these in this series and he does a moderately good job of portraying the character’s concerns this time around too. Both of the boy’s gripes feel quite realistic to their station in life although the way that they are presented comes across as being quite shoehorned in. The argument itself is born out of nothing and seems entirely tangential to the actual narrative at play.

That narrative is the arrival of a new ‘hero’ at their school. A mutant known as Goldballs (Worst name ever) has joined their year and Ganke has something of a man crush on him which leads to some mildly off-putting gushing on his part. The escalating argument between the friends along with the new student leads to Ganke essentially betraying Miles and spilling his secret to Goldballs. It is a bit of a jaw dropper of a moment and one that allows this relationship to take a very interesting turn as you are left wondering how they can salvage the friendship and what the ramifications are going to be now that an outsider knows Miles is Spider-Man. The most likely answer is that ‘Balls will turn into an ally for a time but Bendis might decide to break the habit of a lifetime and steer things in a more original direction.

There is some action to be had at the very end of this comic as Hammerhead comes after Spidey on the orders of Black Cat. This is another element that should serve to greatly alter the life of young Miles and it promises to be a very engaging storyline, especially once it aligns with the Ganke/Goldballs saga that is unfurling alongside it.

Sara Pichelli, Gaetano Carlucci, and Justin Ponsor share the art responsibilities on this title and the end result is largely a success though there are some elements that appear to have been rushed just a little bit. The good comes in the form of Spidey’s fluidity of movement throughout the scenes with Hammerhead, he looks every bit the aerial acrobat that the character is supposed to be. The misses are less noticeable as they occur in the background of some scenes. Often the scenery is incomplete and rushed looking, most notably in the cafeteria. It is a relatively small gripe but one that you will notice and may well be irritated by.

Issue #4 is best described as a mixed bag. There is plenty to compliment but so too is there plenty to criticise and it makes for a middling reading experience. This is still better than Amazing Spider-Man but it falls just shy of the unexpectedly brilliant Spider-Man 2099. A little work could push it to the head of the queue though.

Score: 6.0/10.

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Spider-Man #4 Review

Batman #52 Review

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Batman has now officially left the immensely talented hands of Scott Snyder and found its way into the equally brilliant grasp of James Tynion IV. Due to the fact that this is the last issue in the series before Rebirth hits, there was never going to be too much room for the new team to put their individual stamp on proceedings but nonetheless it was interesting to see what they could do with the character that they will be chaperoning into a new era.

With the limitations that are inherent with essentially writing a one shot issue no one could expect this to be a standout Batman tale. It was always going to be slightly hamstrung but then the whole point of this from a fan’s perspective was simply to see what Tynion et al were capable of and how their run stood to fare. After this instalment it seems sensible to approach that Rebirth renumbering with some caution.

This was not out and out a bad issue at all. In fact, it had some very interesting elements such as the splicing of Batman’s current life with his childhood introversion following the death of his parents. Seeing the two play out side by side did a lot to inform the motivations of this character, though that is not something the audience really needs to be told about due to writer’s propensity to revisit the formative years of The Caped Crusader. Still, it did a lot to take Bruce Wayne from those petulant early stages of his journey all the way to this new stage of his life where is seems to have been afforded some clarity though not any reprieve from his self-sacrificing lifestyle. That journey involves crossing items off of a list detailing how to cope in life, each one more destructive than the last until he finally reaches the cathartic entry penned by Alfred in the hopes of saving him as a child.

All of this is going on whilst a very minor plot plays out in Gotham where Batman is chasing down a low level bank robber who can walk through walls. The robber, Crypsis, is a rather goofy looking character who would be more at home in a carnival. He offers precious little in the way of drama or entertainment value but he does facilitate Batman’s complete journey which began with Snyder’s issue #1 way back when.

The writing itself is perfectly good as one would expect from a creator as talented as Tynion. He has turned in some amazing work through collaborations on this very series with Snyder and with his excellent miniseries pairing Batman with the Ninja Turtles. So despite the lack of spark in this issue it is still easy to believe that the series is in good hands going forwards. It will be key that Tynion uses more dynamic villains and impactful stories than the ones on display here though. It must be said that the way in which he moved Batman on from being a broken wreck of a man to one who is a touch more contented and at peace with the loss of his parents was masterful and incredibly difficult to pull off.

Moving on to Riley Rossmo and Brian Level who have taken over the art from Greg Capullo. Those were some pretty big shoes to fill and sadly this pairing just couldn’t manage it. The drawings are weirdly angular and just jar too much with the sleek, stylised designs of before. Yes, they needed to put their own stamp on the title but this feels like the wrong way to go about it as even Batman doesn’t look as crisp as he did. The action is far less fluid and the settings do not carry the same sense of foreboding or oppression that Gotham should always hold. It’s far from the worst art around but it really leaves a lot to be desired.

Truly this series should have ended with #51 as it was the perfect way to sign off on the New 52 Batman. It was stretched to #52 for obvious reasons but that should be deemed a mistake as this proved to be an unnecessary entry. It did nothing different from Snyder’s last offering except to do it all slightly worse than he did. The future for Batman could still be very bright indeed but Rebirth will need to bring with it a complete change in direction.

Score: 5.5/10.

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Batman #52 Review

Lucifer #6 Review

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Lucifer has officially entered its second story arc and it is quite unlikely that anyone expected such a major departure from the first one. This comic marks a very brave move by Holly Black as the established characters are thrown to the side in favour of some entirely new faces. Did it work?

The first thing to say is not to panic, it is clear that this issue will tie back into the main story next time and you will be getting your fix of Lucifer soon enough. For now though, you get to see into the lives of Rosemary and Takehiko.

So who are they? Well Rosemary is a seemingly quite ordinary American college girl who is taking her boyfriend, Takehiko, home to meet the folks. That’s a time that would usually be fraught with anxiety but luckily her family belongs to a Satanist church and are remarkably laid back about all things having to do with the pleasures of the flesh. Takehiko, for his part, comes across as a rather awkward though affable young man who is suitably nervous about meeting the parents. All of that gets flipped on its head in the final act of the book but there will be no such spoilers here, even though that leaves so little to write about.

The danger in switching the cast so markedly for an entire issue is that fans won’t care to read about their lives and will instead simply wait for the next issue when their favourites return to the page. In order to stop that from happening you need to create an immediate sense of intrigue in your audience. Holly Black didn’t actually manage to do that as the characters initially come across as quite dull and lifeless. Neither of them gives much hope for this being a fun instalment and they certainly don’t jump off the page as hot new protagonists. In fact, it isn’t until the last act that either of them becomes the least bit interesting and by then it is too late to reel in anybody.

There are little moments that will keep fans of this series engaged as the book crawls along but those who aren’t fully invested will likely be turned off by the story on offer here. Thankfully something else is present to keep them flicking the pages… the art.

It is something of a theme in these reviews to praise most current artists but it so richly deserved this time around. Stephanie Hans is the guest this time out and she brings with her an amazing ethereal quality that suits the insipid tone of this piece so brilliantly well. Every scene has a mix of awe inspiring beauty and creepy foreboding, making for a read that sets your skin acrawl. Here is an example from the opening of the comic, undoubtedly you too will find its beauty quite apparent.

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So yes, this was not a sterling outing for Black as she put forth a middle of the road story that suffered greatly from having none of the characters you’ve come to know and love. That being said the ending does set up something potentially massive for the rest of this arc and everyone should look forwards to seeing it.

Score: 6.0/10.

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Lucifer #6 Review