Below are brief reviews of some comics that came out between December 21, 2016 and January 11, 2017 (so we’re about a week behind). The holidays made it difficult to find time to go pick up my books, so there were a lot waiting for me. This wasn’t even all of them!
There is at least one panel in this issue that feels like further evidence for my claims about Coates’s intentions in his approach to Black Panther in my review at the Los Angeles Review of Books, in that he seeks to challenge certain ennobling assumptions about Wakanda that are in their own way racist stereotypes born of a colonialist mindset. This is a strong issue because it deftly brings together a bunch of threads and points them towards the arc’s climax, and yet the results feel so inevitable that I have to hope there there is some twist coming I cannot foresee, despite wanting what I assume will be the conclusion. This is an issue where the static talky style of the writing and art actually work, because the ideological and emotional stakes need to be clearly delineated.
Champions vol. 2, #4 (released 1/4/2017)
Creative Team: Mark Waid (writer), Humberto Ramos (pencils), Victor Olazaba (inks), Edgar Delgado (colors)
So far most issues of Champions have felt like much doesn’t happen in them. Issue #4 feels that way, too. But that’s just because there is no plot to move forward, instead Waid is providing us with a series of encounters that simply allow the characters to breathe and gel. I like it. It feels like an old school book in that way, because it seems meandering, not concerned with providing a measly apportioned piece of plot decompressed across a whole issue. It is fun to read [time-displaced young] Cyclops and Ms. Marvel develop a respect and friendship. I like Miles Morales’s quips. I even like Viv and Nova. Good stuff. The art is vibrant and the sense of movement in the figures and panel work is energetic. Still, I am thinking of dropping this book just to save some money.
The Flintstones #7 (released 1/4/2017)
Creative Team: Mark Russell (writer), Rick Leonardi (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Chris Chuckry (colors)
Despite having a fill-in artist (Rick Leonardi! I don’t think I’ve bought a comic with his art since the late 80s!), The Flintstones manages to keep its look, but the tone seems a little different. This is probably because it is narrated in the form of report by the Great Gazoo to his home planet (in this version of The Flintstones, the Great Kazoo is a space-cop/anthropologist that is meant to watch them, but allow “natural evolution” by only getting involved to prevent contamination of the culture by other aliens). As such, there is neat juxtaposition between his cynical pessimistic (if true-sounding) report on humanity’s likelihood of destroying itself, and a story that is about human beings struggling to be moral, while continuing to be selfish and lazy. Against this backdrop, Fred, who is a kind of moral compass for the capacity of humanity to be good, is working to save the life of a worker buried on some fallen rocks. This issue seems the least critical of civilization of the title so far, and I am not sure yet if it is an improvement or not. I will say that I plan to stick with the book.
Hulk vol. 4, #1 (released 12/28/2016)
Creative Team: Mariko Tamaki (writer), Nico Leon (pencils, inks), Matt Milla (colors)
Now that Bruce Banner is dead (killed by Hawkeye in Civil War II after finally being cured by Amadeus Cho, the new Totally Awesome Hulk), Jennifer Walter is now the only Hulk left (well, if you don’t count Amadeus Cho, I guess), and thus having awakened from her Thanos-induced coma, she has dropped the “She.” She is now the Hulk. Or something. . . It might just be an advertising gimmick. Anyway, this new series finds Jen getting back to her lawyerly life and suffering the consequences of deep trauma which trigger her transformation. Except, uh. . .she doesn’t transform in this issue. She nearly does, but manages to hold it off. The whole issue is designed to reinforce mental strain and psychological distress as a result of her trauma, but I hope this series makes room for the fun-loving energetic She-Hulk, too. Trauma and PTSD are not simple on or off conditions.
Ms. Marvel vol. 4, #14 (released 1/11/2017)
Creative Team: G. Willow Wilson (writer), Takeshi Miyazawa (pencils, inks), Ian Herring (colors)
I continue to love this comic. It does what serialized superhero comics used to do so well, develop characters through a sense of setting and relationships, while simultaneously trying to profit off of whatever are the current fad, if by “current” we mean, at least two years old. In this case, Kamala’s adventure starts as a result of some weirdness with her World of Warcraft guild. Miyazawa does a great job with the art duties, with Herring’s colors being the perfect compliment.
Monstress feels like a slow book, but the slow burn works for the material, especially given the gorgeous detailed art. However, there were some portions of this particular issue where the art felt too dark and cluttered. It may have been the coloring, but everything for a good four pages was obscured. The action was hard to decipher. It was hard to follow the scene and made the narrative hiccup in a way it has not in the previous eight issues. My confusion might have have also been a result of it being hard to keep track of all the secondary characters month to month, and thus not being sure for a second if something was a flashback or happening simultaneously somewhere else. Still despite this, I enjoyed the issue and look forward to the coming adventure on the mysterious Isle of Bones.
Occupy Avengers #2 & #3 (released 12/21/2016 and 1/11/2017)
Creative Team: David Walker (writer), Carlos Pacheco (pencils), Rafael Fonteriz (inks), Sonia Oback (colors)
I wasn’t sure about the first issue, but the second and third won me over. I like the idea of a kind of traveling team-up book. I could do without Hawkeye being the focus, but if it means more people will read it and, like a lot of team-up books back in the day, give a place for second tier characters that deserve more “screen time,” like Red Wolf and Nighthawk, then I am all for it. I also found it simultaneously funny and sad, how some young native brothers in issue #2 rely on popular Native heroes and pop culture characters (like Sitting Bull and Billy Jack) as models of ethical action in absence of others in their world. Pacheco’s art is great, fluid and expressive. Generally, I like Walker’s writing, but I think he should pull back a smidgen on Hawkeye’s schtick.
Power Man and Iron Fist Annual vol. 3, #1 (released 1/11/2017)
Creative Team: David Walker (writer), Scott Hepburn (pencils, inks), Matt Milla (colors).
Power Man and Iron Fist Sweet Christmas Annual #1 is a motherlovin’ great comic! It literally made me have feelings about the arrival of Santa Claus that were as close to what a young version of me might have felt about Santa before realizing that pre-Whoville transformation Grinch was to be admired. Anyway, this comic is a helluva lot of fun and includes both Spider-Woman and Son of Satan, who are among my favorite characters. The art has a lot of joy and movement, though I think the inks and color choices in some panels made things muddier than they should have been. Still, an A+ comic.
Power Man and Iron Fist vol. 3, #12 (released 12/21/2016)
Creative Team: David Walker (writer), Sanforde Greene (pencils, inks), Lee Loughridge (colors).
This series is great. There is a great sense of setting, a great dynamic between protagonists and supporting cast, despicable villains, and great fluid and expressive art by Sanford Green. I want this to last at least 125 issues like the original series did.
Rom vol. 2, #6 (released 12/28/2016)
Creative Team: Chris Ryall, Cristos Gage (writers), Paolo Villanelli (pencils, inks), Alessandra Alexakis (colors)
I wish the art in this comic looked more like the art for the ad for the first ROM trade paperback collection on the inside back cover; perhaps then I’d feel less of two-minds about this. I can’t say I am in love with it, but at the same time, if there is a ROM story going on I want to know what it is so I can’t bring myself to drop it. This remains on the bubble.
Sam Wilson: Captain America #16 & #17 (released 12/21/2016 and 1/4/2017)
Creative Team: #16: Nick Spencer (writer), Angel Unzueta w/ Szymon Kudranski (pencils and inks), John Rauch (colors); #16: Nick Spencer (writer), Paul Renaud (pencils, inks, and some colors), John Rauch (colors)
At this point I am not sure if this book is good, but I am sticking with it because I find Spencer’s attempt to address the fractious discourse of American politics, especially around race and national belonging, fascinating. The art doesn’t really do it for me, and there are elements in both these issues that leave me feeling ill at ease, but I get what this title is trying to do and I want to see it unfold even if it must inevitably fail. In issue #16, a Misty Knight focus one-off, she faces off against The Slug, a small-time villain, a slimy Kingpin from Miami, who uses LMDs (Life Model Decoys) of supervillain women to make sex tapes. He is about to start a new line of videos featuring superheroines (including She-Hulk and Storm) when Misty stops him. Misty also beats up a lot of the creeptastic dudes spreading this revenge-porn fantasy crap on the internet. I guess this issue is supposed to provide some catharsis, watching Misty beat-up dudes who are rarely brought to justice for doing such things in real life, but mostly it comes off as skeevy and unnecessary. It mostly recapitulates the idea that women are particularly vulnerable because of their sexuality, not because of dudes who are turned on by exploiting people. In issue #17, the enemies end up being college-aged progressive terrorists who attack a right-wing pundit (basically an Ann Coulter stand-in) speaking at a college, while spouting corny-ass lines like “This is a safe space, except for you!” and “Consider this your trigger warning!” I guess there was some backlash at Spencer for writing this crap, and I get it. He does set up a kind of false equivalency, especially since there are no instances of violent college age terrorists on the progressive Left. The story slides into a reactionary feel, not because of the attitudes of the heroes, who act reasonably to the threat, as most people would if such attackers existed, but because the story reproduces right-wing talking points as a weak joke. Then again, Nick Spencer is the kind of person who chooses “don’t punch Nazis” as his hill to die on.
Silver Surfer vol. 8, #8 (released 12/21/2016)
Creative Team: Dan Slott (writer), Michael Allred (pencils, inks), Laura Allred (colors)
This is a cute little story that is made magnificent by Allred’s art. This series is so much fun and so endearing. It isn’t afraid to be dumb and smart at the same time. I’ll stick with this for as long as it’s around to be got.
Spider-Man vol. 2, #11 & 12 (released 12/28/2016 and 1/11/2017)
Creative Team: #16: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Sara Pichelli (pencils, inks), Gaetano Carlucci (inks), Marte Gracia (colors); #17 Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Sara Pichelli (pencils, inks), Gaetano Carlucci (inks), Justin Ponsor (colors)
If I had not acquired both issues at once, #11 would have been the last issue of this series I would get. Pichelli’s art is great, but this recycled Spider-Man’s dad is a SHIELD agent thing undermines what could be great about this serial (one that Marvel seems dedicated to continuing for the foreseeable future), characterization. Issue #12 is better, I particularly like a technique Bendis uses interspersing Miles’s telling of his story to Ganke and Goldballs, while showing us the story unfold, using elements of dialog to echo each other in ways that evoke the sense of the kind of questions the reader might ask. Despite this, this series is just mostly boring talking that doesn’t really do much to develop a sense of the characters and their relationships. I bet Mark Waid would do a good job with this book, or better yet someone new and fresh.
The Mighty Thor vol.2, #15 (released 1/11/2017)
Creative Team: Jason Aaron (writer), Russell Dauterman (pencils, inks), Matthew Wilson (colors)
This title continues to deliver. This is especially true of issue #15 because a) Russell Dauterman is back on art duties, and b) he is amazing at drawing a battle scene. Here the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (in the person of mohawked Superman-analog himself, Gladiator) show up to assault Asgard and arrest Thor. The fighting is rendered amazingly, though I think Aaron writes the Shi’ar as a little too powerful in relation to the Asgardians. What’s the point of Heimdall’s reputation if people seem to always find their way into Asgard. I don’t mean to lower myself to schoolkid “who would win in a fight” rhetoric, but I don’t think there should be anyone who can defeat Heimdall when he is at his place at the Bi-Frost on their own. I like the action, but the issue also includes a bit of Asgardian political intrigue and complications for Jane Foster in hiding her identity as the new Thor, which was compelling.
Unworthy Thor #3 (released 1/4/2017)
Creative Team: Jason Aaron (writer), Olivier Coipel (pencils, inks), Kim Jacinto (pencils, inks), Matthew Wilson (colors).
Aaron writes good Thor. This series has got some grit, and while it veers too close to a kind of cosmic Marvel stuff I tend not to like (on the other hand, give me DC cosmic shit all day long!), I can stand cosmic when it’s a Thor comic. I love the helhound pitbull, Thori. Are we to assume that it is one of Thor’s nephews and Loki fathered him? I know Loki has fathered horses, so it wouldn’t be a surprise. I may have misread, but it is now my head canon.
I have a confession to make. I only bought this comic because of the variant cover. I knew nothing about this series, except it seemed like a gimmick to let Marvel have 50 different variant covers to sell. Except it must have been at least 51, because while I was buying my comics I spotted a variant featuring White Tiger, where she is called “Avenger of Puerto Rico,” and set against the backdrop of a Puerto Rican flag, and I just had to get it. As I said on Twitter, “mi orgullo got the best of me.” White Tiger doesn’t actually appear in the comic. It is about Sunspot, Roberto DeCosta, leading a new initiative of Avengers in his recently acquired role as leader of A.I.M. It’s complicated and not very good. It seems a bit over-designed to appeal to a very small audience of comics readers in what I’d called the Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men demographic, what with its references to Tom Selleck and call back to Cannonball’s catchphrase “I’m nigh invulnerable when I’m blastin'” and wearing a Lila Cheny t-shirt, and so on. I get nostalgic about that stuff too, but I don’t need it regurgitated in a new book. It isn’t great. I like the art, but Ewing’s writing has always been underwhelming to me. The issue features a floating volcano fortress invasion force by the now not-so-Secret Empire, and a General Ross clone transforming into Red Hulk that is trying out new catchphrases. Oh, and any non-ironic use of the name “Iron Patriot” (which was originally a supervillain con) is garbage. Essentially, it is a comedy book, but it is not my kind of humor. I won’t be getting the next issue.
Wonder Woman vol. 5, #13 & #14 (released 12/28/2016 and 1/11/2017)
Creative Team: #13: Greg Rucka (writer), Renato Guedes pencils and inks), Romulo Fajardo (colors); #14: Greg Rucka (writer), Nicola Scott (pencils and inks), Romulo Fajardo (colors)
Wonder Woman #13 was as bad as Wonder Woman #14 was good. All through #13, which has a fill in artist for Sharpe between two arcs, all I could think of was how dreary it all was, how static and grim. There are some fine panel layouts and some nice active scenes, but Steve Trevor is drawn to look like a strung out Green Arrow. Throughout the issue Wonder Woman herself is out of it, in a daze of some sort. It had been so long since I’d read the issue leading to this that I can’t remember why, but I didn’t care and it didn’t matter. All this issue reminded me was how throughout “The Lies” arc, that has been interspersed with the “Year One” arc, we have not seen Wonder Woman do one wonderful thing yet. There is no joy in this comic story, and I don’t mean that to mean ” sad story,” I mean to say that it feels burdened with unnecessary homage to the fucking mess that is the Woman Woman identity narrative. I never wanted to read another of these comics again as I closed #13, but there was #14 acquired at the same time, so I flipped through it and quickly started it over to read it more carefully. In the past storyline, we see Wonder Woman facing down Aries for the first time, we see the Greek Gods come to her aid in the form of animals, we see Wonder Woman submit and make a sacrifice to save others, we see her fly around the Earth with a shirtless Steve Trevor saving people from the terrorist attacks of Aries followers, while onlookers cheer. We get a clever little explanation for why she is called Wonder Woman. And the art is a thousand times better. I don’t know exactly how the next set of arcs will go, but from now on I am gonna skip the stories set in the current timeline.
On the Bubble: Champions, ROM, Wonder Woman