Brief Comics Reviews (11/1-22, 2017)

I have not done many brief review posts in 2017.  This is only the fourth this year. The last set I posted was back in April, about March comics. It is highly doubtful there will be a fifth before the year is up. This number of review posts is down significantly from last year when I did eight, or 2014 when The Middle Spaces had 14 posts dedicated to comics reviews. I like doing them because they make me slow down a bit when I read and thus I absorb the comics better, think them through a little better. But like anything else I write, writing them becomes an investment of time, and in the case of reviews that is time I’d rather spend on other projects. I am not so good with “brief.” This is all to say, expect them to  continue to be sporadically posted. At least as sporadic as The Middle Spaces newsletter, which I keep meaning to send out.

These reviews are for comics that came out between November 1st and the 22nd, except for Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil, which came out back in October.

Astonisher #2 (released 11/8/2017)
Alex DeCampi (writer), Pop Mahn (pencils, inks), Jessica Kholinne (colors), Tom Napolitano (letters)

I have been trying to support some of the Catalyst Prime books being putting out by Lion Forge, because I really respect editor Joe Illidge’s  mission for creating a superhero world that more reflects our own in terms of diversity. I probably would not have gotten this series which features the typical conceit of the white billionaire playboy tech visionary superhero, but when I saw that Alex DeCampi was writing it, I knew I’d at least try it. (She wrote the recently, and very regrettably, cancelled Image book, No Mercy). I like Astonisher‘s take on using superpowers to help the afflicted, and entering into monstrous mindscapes of people under the influence of a malevolent alien power. What I am not as big a fan of is the art, which is that weird mix of kinetic panels with very static images, with lots of bleed and no gutter. The coloring in some of the mindscape scenes is amazing though. This series is still on the bubble, but I am leaning towards giving it a chance.

Black Bolt #7 (released 11/22/2017)
Saladin Ahmed (writer), Frazer Irving (pencils, inks, colors), Clayton Cowles (letters)

I love this comic, and this issue, despite having a guest artist, was no exception. It is weird, and kooky, and creepy, and menacing and emotional. It took me awhile to get used to Ward’s art, but now I find myself appreciating that Irving’s own style fits into what Ward has established for this askew look at the Inhuman king’s life. I don’t think I have had a book go from being on the bubble to being a favorite in so short a time.

Black Panther #167 (released 11/22/2017)
Ta-Nehisi Coates (writer), Leonard Kirk (pencils), Marc Deering (inks), Laura Martin w/Matt Milla (colors), Joe Sabino (letters)

Look, I don’t even know how to categorize these comics with the so-called “Legacy” numbering. It certainly is not part of the first Black Panther volume by Jack Kirby. So until I think of something better, the number itself will have to do. Anyway, Kirk’s pencils with Deering’s inks are a VAST improvement over either Stelfreeze or Sprouse. Also, I am loving the attempted redemption of Thunderball, but unfortunately, I am not loving this colonial history that Coates is suddenly saddling Wakanda with. Sure, I understand what he may be trying to do, to have us challenge and rethink our acceptance of our national and cultural origin stories, but Wakanda is already that in a positive way that I think is a lot more productive than making it parallel to the history of European powers.

Mister Miracle vol. 4, #4 (released 11/8/2017)
Tom King (writer), Mitch Gerads (pencils, inks, colors), Clayton Cowles (letters)

This comic does some of what King’s run on Vision did in terms of the sense of dread and its inexorable crawl towards tragedy. At the same time, the cosmic scope makes that existential dread reverberate at the molecular level, something I think the strict adherence to the 9-panel layout helps to accomplish. And somehow, the references to the banal aspects of everyday life – the veggie plate for guests, the arrival of an Amazon package mid-trial – add to that sense in a chilling way. Gerads’s art is perfect. This is the only DC comics book I am buying right now, at least until Snagglepuss comes out next month.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #25 (released 11/22/2017)
Brandon Montclare (writer), Natacha Bustos (pencils, inks), Tamra Bonvillain (colors), Travis Lanham (letters)

I love this comic. Sure, nothing much happened in this issue save for the grumpy guest appearance of Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm. . .oh yeah, and the Silver Surfer and Galactus show up at the end. . .but it is still a delight. Beautifully rendered and full of energy and expressiveness. I also love how the comic is addressing the meta-concern of an absence of  the Fantastic Four, to the point that many of Lunella’s schoolmates don’t seem to quite know who the FF are because they were too young when they disappeared. As one kid says of a stack of FF comics Lunella brings him, “They stopped making [the comics] when the Fantastic Four were killed. . ” It will be interesting to see how this “Fantastic Three” story arc goes, but I will say, I miss Devil and the cover for this one (by Bustos) is weak.

Ms. Marvel vol. 4, #24 (released 11/8/2017)
G. Willow Wilson (writer), Diego Olortegui (pencils, inks), Ian Herring (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

The second part of a two-part story featuring the return of the Red Dagger, and the two young Muslim heroes trying to stop a runaway train. I like stories that try to change up the challenges that superheroes have to face, and don’t completely rely on cheesy villains and fisticuffs to give their characters different opportunities for quick thinking and heroic action. I really like Olortegui’s art here. This comic remains one of Marvel’s best ongoing titles, even if it loves New Jersey a little more love than it deserves.

Noble #6 (released 11/1/2017)
Brandon Thomas (writer), Roger Robinson (pencils, inks), Juan Fernandez (colors), Saida Temofonte (letter)

This is one of three of the Lion Forge Catalyst Prime books I am trying out and trying to support. However, despite reading this since issue #1, I feel confused by it and am having a hard time following it, keeping the characters straight, and understanding what is going on. Part of this is because the story frequently jumps around in time without clear indications through some form of visual continuity regarding who is who. I am also not a fan of the art style, though this issue was a definite improvement. Despite this, this title remains on the bubble and I will give it at least through this arc to win me over some more. There is pleasure in being a little confused and trying to piece together what is going on. And while it can stand to be a little less decompressed, the relationships are interesting and the book does a good job of providing a sense that we are just now looking in on a story that has been going on for quite some time. I am going to have to sit down soon and re-read this whole series from the beginning. As a side note, I do find it interesting how Lion Forge is providing two sets of numbers for these books. The overall issue numbering, and then a numbering that indicates what issue this would be in the bound volumes that eventually come out. Thus, this issue is also labeled as Volume 2, #2.

Paper Girls #17 (released 1/11/2017)
Brian K. Vaughn (writer), Cliff Chiang (pencils, inks), Matthew Wilson (colors), Jared K. Fletcher (letters), Dee Cunniffe (flats)

Finally this book provides some background and context to what the fuck has been going on, but. . . to be honest. . . I don’t care. I love this book either way. The art, the energy, the colors, the characters, the 80s and 90s nostalgia, it all comes together into a beautiful mess, the cognitive dissonance of being displaced by war, but a war across time.

Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man vol. 2, #6 & #297
#6 (released 11/1/2017): Chip Zdarsky (writer), Michael Walsh (pencils, inks), Ian Herring (colors), Travis Lanham (letters)
#7 (released 11/15/2017): Chip Zdarsky (writer), Adam Kubert (pencils), Juan Frigeri (inks), Jason  Keith (colors), Travis Lanham (letters)

I still haven’t decided about Zdarsky’s PPtSSM. I know when he was writing Howard the  Duck, my favorite part was his take on Spider-Man. However, this is not that Spider-Man. This is a Spider-Man that has to adhere to continuity and make use of specific elements of it to build stories. Furthermore, Adam Kubert’s art has been. . .well, just adequate. It is fine, but Joe Quinones is who I want, but he is busy drawing America, a comic book I wish I could love but dropped fairly quickly.  Anyway, issue #6  as a stand-alone story is great. And I think Michael Walsh as fill-in artist is a big part of why. He has a clean line style, takes advantage of the nine-panel grid as a bedrock pacing approach, and the only weakness is when he uses the more contemporary long “cinematic” panels with overlapping images obscuring the gutter. He loses a lot of his detail. The issue features Spider-Man being interviewed by a fallen J. Jonah Jameson, rejected by the Daily Bugle and reduced to keeping a blog no one reads. The story does a great job of mining what is an emotionally volatile history between them. It works in part because it is unafraid to be real about its emotions, while still winking a little about the genre necessities – as when Spider reminds JJJ that he is behind the creation of Scorpion and the Spider-Slayer robots. Going by this issue alone, I’d say that if Zdarsky’s goal is to capture the feel of the mid-80s Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man back when Bill Mantlo was writing it, while giving it a more modern feeling, he has succeeded. Let’s hope the issues to come succeed as well. As for issue #297? Wait? Why is there a 291-issue jump? Because part of Marvel’s Legacy promotion is going back to old numbering, just to further confuse what they have already confused with endless re-launches of new #1s. The horses are gone. If you close the barn doors, what good is it, except to make it that much harder to get the horses back in. Sigh. The pace of #297 is great, but Kubert’s panel breakdown is uninspired. That said, there are some great single panel action shots. Still, the change of pace between the two issues works, as the overall rhythm of an arc is important to serialized graphic storytelling. This series remains on the bubble, however.

Power Pack  #63 (released 11/1/2017)
Devin Grayson (writer), Marika Cresta (pencils, inks), Chris o’Halloran (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

This is one of the Marvel Legacy one-shots Marvel put out that imagines one more issue of titles cancelled back in the day. While I considered getting the Master of Kung Fu #126, I only picked up this one. I considered getting the June Brigman incentive variant cover, but I would never pay $20 for a comic, especially not for just a particular cover. This is a strange and ultimately depressing story that imagines Katie Power (the youngest of the Power siblings) in school – perhaps 6 or 7 years after the events of the original series, as she seems to be in 6th or 7th grade – and talking over with her teacher a story she wrote. The story is a fictionalization of a Power Pack adventure, but Power Pack is no more. Julie’s in college. Jack goes to high school now, and Alex is off having adventures in space with Future Foundation. Katie is all alone, and while her look back at the “good times” of family closeness and the traumas they suffered together is poignant and heartwarming, there is also a sense of real loss. The writing is no Louise Simonson, or even Jon Bogdanove, but I can imagine Grayson warming to the voices; too bad this is a one-off. The art is pretty good, too – but the colors are a little too brown and dark for the book, making it less pleasing to the eye, while accomplishing nothing for the tone. I wrote about Power Pack once, here.

Runaways vol. 6, #3 (released 11/8/2017)
Rainbow Rowell (writer), Kris Anka (pencils, inks), Matthew Wilson (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

I was never into Runaways. I missed it the first time around, checked out Joss Whedon’s run on it and kinda liked it (though the “real fans” I know scoff at his run), and then checked out the Runaways/Young Avengers series that was part of Secret Invasion, and that turned me off to both groups of hero kids for a long time. But when I found out that Rainbow Rowell would be doing this new series and that Kris Anka would be doing the art, I was intrigued. I’ve never read anything by Rowell, but my wife is a YA writer and talks about her with some frequency, so I thought “why not?” I am so glad I did because unlike some other novelists turned comics writer, she seems to have a knack for it. Anka’s experience probably also helps with the visual narrative aspect of it. His art is great, and having my favorite colorist, Matt Wilson on the book is also a big plus. Anyway, in some ways this issue reminds of the Power Pack Marvel Legacy issue in that it puts you deep in your feels about a family now broken apart, but make you think it might be for the better.It accomplishes this more deftly, however, than the Power Pack issue does. The Power Pack issue traded on nostalgia. This issue gives you enough of a sense, even for me who is not all that familiar with these characters, that these are changed relationships, and evokes the pains of growing up and growing apart. I love it, and can’t wait for more.

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil #1 (released 10/18/2017)
Jeff Lemire (writer), David Rubin (pencils, inks, colors, letters), Kike J. Díaz (flats)

I wasn’t sure I was going to get this. As much as Black Hammer is one of my favorite books right now (I reviewed it for the Los Angeles Review of Books over the summer), I was not sure I needed that world expanded at all, and I definitely wasn’t sure about a different artist with such a distinct style (even though it is a style I like). But reading one issue I am now worried that I missed issue #2 and might have a hard time finding it next time I make it to the comic shop. Rubin does an amazing job, and there are some gorgeous scenes, including the two-page spread of Lucy visiting Mectoplasm in Spiral Asylum. Lemire continues to show his deft ability to build suspense even as he relies on familiar tropes of superhero comics to keep the need for exposition low. I highly recommend this.

All-New Wolverine #27 (released 11/22/2017)
Tom Taylor (writer), Juan Cabal (pencils, inks), Nolan Woodard (colors), Cory Petit (letters)

I continue to be amazed that I like this comic as much as I do. First of all, it is a “Wolverine” comic that does not even feature Wolverine but features what to my mind is an example of his over-saturation of the Marvel Universe (even in death), and this particular arc also guest stars Daken, Wolverine’s evil son. I never cared for the character, and I thought Logan maybe drowned him? Anyway, despite being a bad guy, he and Laura Kinney (X-23) have a good relationship, somehow. Here’s the thing though, and I know I come back to this in these reviews a lot, but if the comic is well done, none of that stuff really matters. Here is a really beautifully drawn and colored comic, with a sense of real urgency, fear, and pathos, and a dash of humor. Sure, I wish that it would feature more “downtime” stories with Laura and Gabby (and Jonathan, the actual wolverine), but I am liking what we’ve been getting for over two years now, and I hope the imminent return of  Logan (who should stay dead) won’t ruin a good thing.

On the Bubble: Astonisher, Noble, Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man

Current Pull-List: Dark Horse: Black Hammer, Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil*; DC: Mister Miracle; Image: Bitch Planet, Fix, Monstress, Paper Girls; Lion Forge: Astonisher, Noble, Superb; Marvel: All- New Wolverine, Black Bolt, Black Panther, Mighty Thor, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Ms. Marvel, Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, Runaways.

* This is a limited series, or a discontinued series I have not yet caught up with.

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