This is the first set of reviews I’ve done in 2018. As I have mentioned before, doing these review posts always seems to take more time than I expect, but at the same time writing these reviews helps keep the events of these serialized comics fresh in my mind. You can read previous reviews here.
Astonisher #5 (released March 14)
Alex De Campi (writer), Pop Mahn (pencils), Al Barrionuevo (inks), Bryan Valenza (colors), Tom Napolitano (letters)
I don’t know what is different but the art in this issue is a big improvement over the previous issues, even if the paneling falls flat once or twice. This series is getting better, and I am glad I stuck with it. While, like a lot of these comics, it has a penchant for introducing new characters with powers without a lot of (or any) context, the action is great, the powers are cool, and there is some careful exploration of mental illness and ideas of “normality.” I am genuinely invested in seeing what happens next.
Black Bolt #11 (released March 7)
Saladin Ahmed (writer), Christian Ward (pencils, inks, colors), Clayton Cowls (letters)
I am upset that this series is ending though I will get my dose of Saladin Ahmed’s gorgeous writing with his upcoming Exiles series. As the title nears its conclusion Black Bolt and his unlikely friends, Blinky the child-alien and Titania, the widow of his former cellmate, the Absorbing Man, are all being made to deal with what is at stake when you love and care for people and face down your mistakes. It may be that I am a sucker for stories about well-meaning, but shitty dads because I only had half of that equation in my own life, but this writing is emotionally affecting, and Ward’s art remains dreamlike, almost fluid in its inattention to setting. It perfectly captures the disaffected sense of the series. Great stuff.
So I missed out on this series because my LCS forgot to pull it for me until the final issue, and I didn’t pay enough attention to the preview lists to realize this was a different series than The Comic Book History of Comics. Anyway, this issue explains the invention and eventual dominance of the direct market, the Image mutiny, the collapse of the market, Marvel’s bankruptcy, and as the cover suggests, the pervasiveness of illegally scanned comics. I’ve never done this personally but I may make an exception for DC’s Doomsday Clock. This comic is full of Van Lente and Dunlevey’s usual flare for humor, with the latter’s visual flourishes really making the jokes work. It is a little too wordy in places, but Van Lente is doing the best he can with complex and sometimes dry material. As usual, their stuff is a great primer but not a replacement for more in-depth reading on the subject of comic book history, both its culture and its commerce.
Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Tomorrows #1 (released March 7)
Jeff Lemire (writer), Max Fiumara (pencils, inks), Dave Stewart (colors), Nate Piekos (letters)
Like Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil, this limited series takes place in the same world as Black Hammer. I guess these comics are supposed to hold us over until the main title returns, which honestly can’t be soon enough. It is not that these comics are bad, they are actually quite good in terms of execution, but they also feel superfluous, like born out of a completist urge that sometimes accompanies world-building. However, it is often the gaps that make a world feel more full and real. Black Hammer works because of what it suggests and evokes of previous eras and common tropes of the superhero genre. It doesn’t need the details of the past filled out. Nevertheless, this is still a good read that is reminiscent of DC’s 1993 The Golden Age graphic novel (though hopefully will be better than that overrated book), and there are some lovely layouts by Max Fiumara including a great two-page spread that uses the backdrop of a blueprint to create a framework for an otherwise panel-less series of images.
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #3
(released March 7) Mark Russell (writer), Mike Freehan (pencils), Mark Morales (inks), Paul Mounts (colors), Dave Sharpe (letters)
With this issue this series seems to have finally hit its stride. It was a delight to read. With the backdrop of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, Snagglepuss finds himself entangled in the dramas of the Joe DiMaggio-Marilyn Monroe-Arthur Miller love triangle. He also introduces Huckleberry Hound to the Stonewall, where the blue dog hooks up with Quickdraw McGraw, here a corrupt gay cop on the take. While the paneling is fairly static and conventional, the art is otherwise lovely, effectively evoking the wry emotions of queer intellectuals navigating a heteronormative world, despite the limits of the anthropomorphic animal faces. Good stuff, even if I am not sure who this comic is meant to appeal to. Also, the book should have just been named “The Snagglepuss Chronicles.” It is too long.
The Fix #11 (released March 7)
Nick Spencer (writer), Steve Lieber (pencils, inks), Ryan Hill (colors), Marshall Dillon (letters)
The Fix has lost its charm, even if Steve Leiber’s art hasn’t. Not sure what is going on with this series’ future but the way the story is shaking out I would not be surprised if the next issue is the last one. (Looking at the Image Comics website it looks like it will go at least 13 issues, so I guess I am wrong). I’d put this on the bubble but I have already collected it this long; it seems a shame to stop now. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, I know.
I really like this book. While I am seriously considering dropping Zdarsky’s Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, my deep love for the Fantastic Four (should I just give in and call them my all-time favorite superhero team?) keeps me tuned to this book, which is essentially a lead up to a Fantastic Four revival. I mean, at least that is what it seems like and I can’t imagine anything else coming from it. There hasn’t been a Fantastic Four title since 2015, as I wrote about in “‘Lo, There Shall Be An Ending:’ Meditations on the End of the Fantastic Four,” but this is filling the gap for now. Focused on Johnny and Ben trying to find Reed and Sue and their kids out in the multiverse, this is the first issue where we find them actually traveling to alternate worlds. I’m going to designate this one Earth-185 and seemingly, like all alternative versions of the FF, this one has actually been beset by the tragedies that always threaten to befall the 616 originals. The Fantastic Four’s adventures are so foundational to the Marvel Universe that to change one is to invite cascading consequences. Sometimes alternate universes can seem cheap (like alternate futures), because they just give creative teams a chance to depict the things they normally couldn’t or wouldn’t. This usually takes the form of lethal violence against beloved characters and frequently unlikely relationships (my favorite of these is the universe where Hercules and Wolverine are a couple deeply in love). And we see that here in what seems like a coupling up of She-Hulk and Logan (why is it always Logan?), but the premise of the change satisfies that part of me that still loves riffs on continuity and, most importantly, the characters are well-written so the story becomes less important than the emotional beats. Despite losing Jim Cheung on art, Valerio Schiti does a fine job filling in, helped by Frank Martin’s fine job on the colors.
This book. . . This book turns everything into an existential nightmare. It makes the banality of lived experience akin to some cosmic chasm where light and darkness blend into a shadow that emulates actual living but feels like death. The relentlessness of the nine-panel grid. The repetition, the absurdity and the constant threat of irreversible violence are all ponderous, giving this issue’s tale of Big Barda giving birth in the most everyday and human way – in some suburban hospital, with its adherence to obscure rules and performatively cheerful but aloof staff – a Sisyphean quality. This book hurts. I love it.
Monstress #15 (released March 21)
Marjorie Lie (writer), Sana Takeda (pencils, inks, colors), Rus Wooton (letters)
This book is hard to follow month to month. There are just too many characters and too many factions to keep straight. I’d like a map. Both a character map and geographical one would help with the gaps between issues. Still, it is gorgeous to look at and the intrigue is so well executed that even when I don’t know people’s motivations the anticipation is delicious. I need to make a point to re-read this whole series from the beginning again, maybe before the next issue comes out.
Ms. Marvel vol. 4, #28 (released March 21)
G. Willow Wilson (writer), Nico Leon (pencils, inks), Ian Herring (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)
Despite the ending to this otherwise fantastic arc being a little disappointing in the way that the endings of stories can often not live up to the promise of the narrative in action, this series continues to be one of Marvel’s top five comic books. Easy. Wilson’s writing remains fresh and sharp, and Leon is another in a line of great visual matches with the series that they’ve made since Adrian Alphona left. It is also nice to finally see Kamala and Carol Danvers make up after the stupid events of Civil War II. May we now be able to forget it ever happened.
And now our heroes get down to the business of trying to be a family, though having access to shady magic makes getting around some of the more troublesome inconveniences, like Molly having to have a legal guardian, a lot easier. This comic is gorgeous and Rowell’s dialog in the character’s mouths just seems right. Yes, there is a little bit of necessary catch-up, characters addressing their unspoken history, but it is done naturalistically without a need to go into too much detail about continuity (thank god). The fact that they have feelings and how they navigate them around and with each other is more important that the details of how these feelings developed or were hurt. I highly recommend this series and is just more evidence of my feeling that often superhero books are best when about teens and young adults.
Superb #8 (released March 21)
Sheen Howard and David Walker (writers), Ray-Anthony Height (pencils), Alitha Martinez (pencils, inks), Lebeau L. Underwood (inks), Veronica Gandini (colors), Tom Napolitano (letters)
This was probably my least favorite issue so far of a series I have been liking quite a bit. The problem is that the whole issue is taken up by one superhero punch-up involving superpowered teens, which is fine except the action is not rendered very well. The sense of perspective and the relative location of actions in space and organized via panels depicting the passage of time do not flow at all. In other words, if you are going to devote pages and pages to a fight, it should be visually arresting, kinetic, have something clear at stake, and this falls short on most of those levels. My hope is that next issue we will get a chance to spend more time with the characters as people and that as this arc ends the comic is brought a recognizable status quo that serves as a foundation for the ongoing story.
The Mighty Thor vol. 2, #705 (released March 21)
Jason Aaron (writer), Russell Dauterman (pencils, inks), Matthew Wilson (colors), Joe Sabino (letters)
Despite the fact that Jason Aaron gave Jane Foster a hero’s end that resonates perfectly with the epic Norse source material that Marvel has riffed on and beyond for the last 50+ years, this is still a bitter end for me. Yes, to have a character around sans reboot for as long as Jane has been around (three and a half years) is quite an achievement these days, but Jane Foster Thor deserved more. She deserved 10 or 25 years of stories, a chance to be Thor unquestionably, to have stories far removed from her identity as “Lady-Thor” and her battle with cancer. Look, this comic is great. Majestic. Touching. Ass-Kicking. It is beautifully drawn by Russell Dauterman who has consistently done amazing work in this series with the help of Matthew Wilson’s colors. I wouldn’t want it to end any other way, I just don’t want it to end. Alas, the cis-white-heteropatriarchal demand of continuity assures that the “original” versions of these characters (always straight white dudes) must always come back.
I was really bummed to hear this title is getting cancelled and Laura Kinney would be abandoning the title of “Wolverine” to make room for the return of Logan. Sigh. She will have a new series but no longer written by the delightful Tom Taylor. Anyway, I am enjoying these comics while I can, and there is a lot to enjoy. The most recent arc, “Orphans of X,” has done a great job exploring the consequences of violence for the families of the victims of those who mind-controlled Laura to be a killer back in the day. In this issue, she and the daughter of one of those victims go hunting the man who ordered the killing. There is some irony, however, that this meditation on the wages of violence also encourages violence in the form of payback on the guy responsible. Yes, they make him into a evil fuck of a Big Tobacco lobbyist channeling money into neo-Nazi organizations so we can’t feel too bad when they make use of their special “Nazi-stomping boots,” but not sure if the genre’s dependence on violence as the go-to method for resolving conflicts will ever allow for a really deep examination of those wages. Djibril Morissette-Phan’s art is not what I was used to for this book but is still pretty damn good. The layouts and expressions were wonderful, but his inks are too heavy with too much shadowing.
On the Bubble: Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, Terrifics
Current Pull-List: Boom: Abbot, Dark Horse: Black Hammer, Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Tomorrows*; DC: Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, Mister Miracle, Terrifics; Image: Bitch Planet, Fix, Monstress, Paper Girls; Lion Forge: Astonisher, Superb; Marvel: All- New Wolverine*, Black Bolt*, Black Panther, Marvel Two-in-One, 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.