Brief Comics Reviews (6/13 to 6/27, 2018)

While I have picked up my comics several times since the last set of reviews back in March, I have not felt like or had time to write reviews. Sometimes, I just want to read comics without jumping up to write a review between each one, so this time I did it a little differently and read several before reviewing them.

Something I noticed in this crop of mostly Marvel Comics was the return to previous numbering or adopting of new numbering, but with an “LGY#” or “Legacy Number” beneath the main issue number. I am not sure what Marvel thinks this clears up actually. These numbers mean nothing to people who don’t already know what they mean. Better they should keep making new number ones than have multiple numbers on the same issue.

Astonisher #8 (released 6/13)
Alex De Campi (writer), Pop Mahn, Al Barrionuevo (pencils, inks), Bryan Valenza (colors), Tom Napolitano (letters)

Despite art duties being split between two different pencilers/inkers (with each doing 12 pages of the 24 page story), I would not have noticed if I had not looked at the credits. While the art style in this book is not always to my taste, I do appreciate the consistency in the style and how it fits the content. I’ve dropped the other Catalyst Prime books by Lion Forge comics I was reading but am sticking with this one because I find the story and action compelling. I know Alex De Campi is moving on after issue #9, but since her replacement is the legendary Christopher Priest, I am not too upset about losing one of my favorite current writers. I will be checking out whatever she works on next. As for the story itself, this issue rackets up the tension towards some kind of close of the current arc, and I am here for it.


Black Hammer: Age of Doom, #3 (released 6/20)
Jeff Lemire (writer), Dean Ormston (pencils, inks), Dave Stewart (colors), Todd Klein  (letters)

Lemire’s riffs off existing comics become even more obvious in this issue which includes a feast with faux-Endless from DC’s Sandman. This second series’ focus on Lucy, the new Black Hammer is great and while I was skeptical at first, I am coming around to the expansion of the Black Hammer world, as we learn these various realities are an amalgamation of stories (which contributes to the Sandman feel, too). We’ve known for a while who is behind the farm world and the mystery and maybe even the death of the original Black Hammer, though the reasons remain shrouded. This issue promises that the next will reveal all, but my guess is the reason behind these actions will reveal a deeper mystery or challenge for these characters. Dean Ormston’s art continues to delight.

Black Panther vol. 7, #2 (released 6/27)
Ta-Nehisi Coates (writer), Daniel Acuña (pencils, inks, colors), Joe Sabino (letters)

I find the premise of this Black Panther series fascinating. Here we have a Galactic Empire of Wakanda in what appears to be an alternate reality, that explores the authoritarian and oppressive nature of empire and even has a slave trade. A mind-wiped version of T’challa becomes a rebel freedom fighter after being saved from captivity by Nakia and M’Baku, who don’t know who he is in this version of the world. The fact that Coates uses recognizable names from previous volumes of Black Panther and more importantly, the recent movie, gives the series some sense of continuity and knowing what to expect from the characters despite the very different (nonetheless still afro-futurist) setting. The fact that everyone in this comic is black is also an interesting choice. Daniel Acuña’s art is a little uneven. Like his work on Captain America: Sam Wilson it is made a little too dark by the coloring, and in some places it is difficult to know exactly what is going on. Part of this has to do with the fact that he is drawing space battles, which needs special attention to make sense in the comics medium, but he doesn’t seem to do anything to make use of the qualities of the form to convey the dogfights in anything but the most generic way. It is a wasted opportunity. Speaking of wasted opportunities, it is also a sin that so far the only role Storm plays in this series is back on Earth 616 where she is laying next to a comatose Black Panther and asking him repeatedly to “come back.”  Presumably, this means that T’Challa’s consciousness is in this other self and having space adventures but it must also mean that time works differently, because two years pass between issues #1 and #2.  Despite my criticism, I do like this enough to keep with it, despite my original plan to drop this book with the new volume.

Exiles #4 (released 6/13)
Saladin Ahmed (writer), Javier Rodríguez (pencils), Álvaro López (inks), Chris O’Halloran (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

This is far and away the best book in my stack for these weeks and might be the best current book I have read this year. Making use of one of my favorite obscure bits of Fantastic Four trivia (the time the Thing became Blackbeard the pirate), Saladin Ahmed creates an alternate reality where the Thing never left, is joined by other superhero counterparts of the 18th century and works to disrupt the transatlantic slave trade. At the same time, Ahmed continues to develop the characters lovingly, especially the Tessa Thompson-inspired Valkyrie and Lil Wolvie.  Javier Rodríguez’s art is fantastic and one two-page spread in particular makes amazing use of the set piece itself to construct panel borders organically, allowing for a simultaneity that conveys the whole scope of the shipboard fight and the beat-by-beat actions. I love it and can’t wait for more!

Marvel Two-in-One #7 (released 6/27)
Chip Zdarsky (writer), Ramón K. Pérez (pencils, inks),  Federico Blee (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

How come the alternate reality hopping plot of Zdarsky’s Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man is so boring and a similar premise of the entire run of Marvel Two-in-One is so much fun and sometimes moving? It must be the characters and their voices and a much more interesting supporting cast, even among the alternate reality doubles. Pérez’s art also probably has a lot to do with it. I’ll definitely stick with this book. It is no Exiles, but Zdarsky has got Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm down pat. Anyway, I imagine this series will soon end to make way for the return of the Fantastic Four.

Mister Miracle #9 (released 6/13)
Tom King (writer), Mitch Gerads (pencils, inks, colors),  Clayton Cowles (letters)

Reading this comic feels like a punishment but like in a good way. I am not sure how else to describe its ability to take the mundane details of life, both the most intimate and personal, and the global politics of negotiating peace, and reveal something burdensome about existing at all. In some ways, this comic feels like it is about what happens when its protagonist, Scott Free, stops trying to escape and dives head first into the deep monotony that is evil. The comic is rife with the dread that no matter what Mister Miracle does he cannot escape doing harm. The visual reliance on repetition and the tight grid probably are more responsible for this oppressive affect than the story itself. I love it.

Monstress #17 (released 6/13)
Marjorie Liu (writer), Sana Takeda (pencils, inks, colors),  Rus Wooten (letters)

I was fairly disappointed in this issue. It just felt like a mess. Most of it is taken up by one giant fight, but the darkness of the art and the haphazard panelling makes it all very hard to follow to no apparent narrative end. Perhaps it is the part of me that wants to see a battle play out strategically and understand where the different forces that are attacking the city are coming from and to be able to clearly identify who is who, but I really wanted Takeda to take advantage of the comics form to show us a more geographical take on what was going on as a context for the emotional stakes of the fight between ancient god/demon things and the effort to get the city’s magic shield working again. I guess any ongoing series is going to eventually have a stinker, but this is the first time Monstress has had a bad issue.

Ms. Marvel vol. 4, #31 (released 6/27)
G. Willow Wilson, Saladin Ahmed, Hasan Minhaj, Rainbow Rowell (writers), Nico Leon, Gustavo Duarte, Bob Quinn, Elmo Dondoc (pencils, inks), Ian Herring (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

This 50th issue (across two volumes) celebration is a kind of old fashioned comics jam, where multiple writers and artists work within a framing story. In this case, the usual team of Wilson and Leon give us the slumber party conceit that brings Kamala and her girlfriends together, while other writer/artist teams tackle the various superhero emergencies that keep drawing her away. This is a sweet celebration and the conclusion of the framing story was a long time coming, but like any project like this, the success of the sub-plot stories vary, though the art is great and inventive throughout. The cover is terrible, though. A 50th issue deserves something better than a generic “Girl Power” cast pose.

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man vol. 2, #305 & #306 (released 6/13 and 6/27)
#305: Chip Zdarsky (writer), Adam Kubert (pencils, inks), Jason Keith, Andrew Crossley (colors), Travis Lanham (letters)
#306: Chip Zdarsky (writer), Adam Kubert (breakdowns), Juan Frigiri (breakdowns, finishes), Jason Keith, Andrew Crossley (colors), Travis Lanham (letters)

What happened to Joe Quinones? I thought he was supposed to take over art duties permanently? Did I misunderstand? Did something change? Is he coming on board later? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter anymore. I feel like I have given this series more than enough time and money, and its charm has worn thin without whatever magic Quinones brings to Zdarsky’s style. These issues felt boring, belabored and visually too dark. Adam Kubert’s art is marginally better than Juan Frigiri who finished up Kubert’s breakdowns and did some of his own line art for issue #306, but neither of them have the lightness and cartooning ability of Quinones. The stories here are typical alternate dark timeline shenanigans that can make it hard to care what happens. Then again, since alternate timelines are the premise of both Exiles and Marvel Two-in-One, both of which are clicking on all cylinders right now, it is not the premise that is the problem. It may just be that Spider-Man is never going to be my book again. The character just doesn’t do it for me on his own anymore, and he needs some better and more down to earth stories if it is gonna hold my interest. And by the time I was paging through #306 I could feel my attention waning. I am dropping this book.

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual vol. 2, #1 (released 6/20)
Main Story: Chip Zdarsky (writer), Michael Allred (pencils, inks), Laura Allred (colors), Travis Lanham (letters)
Back-up: Mike Drucker (writer), Chris Bachalo (pencils, colors), Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, Wayne Faucher, Livesay, Tim Townsend (inks), Travis Lanham (letters)

Despite the weird cover where it looks like a giant J. Jonah Jameson is about to take a big bite out of Spider-Man’s ass, winning me over to a comic is not so hard if the Allreds are on art duty.  The main story is of the type that Chip Zdarsky excels at. It is mostly humor (with a failed rival newspaper publisher getting Arcade to build him a “Jonah-slayer”) but has a couple of sentimental touches in flashing back to when JJJ first hired Peter Parker to be a less than stellar newspaper photographer. If the main series was more like this and featured an artist with a style I find more in line with this take, I would not be dropping it. There isn’t much to the back-up story. The art is very stylized, which I like, but it is more a day in the life type thing, with Spider-Man reflecting on how no one really knows him, makes assumptions about him, and are frequently disappointed in the results of his efforts to help. If you know me, you know that I think the best Spider-Man is the Spider-Man everyone hates, so I liked this story’s take, especially the negative comparisons against C-lister Moon Knight.

Runaways vol. 5, #10 (released 6/20)
Rainbow Rowell (writer), Kris Anka (pencils, inks), Matthew Wilson (colors) Joe Caramagna (letters)

I doubt we’ve seen the last of Molly’s would-be BFF, Abigail, but in this issue the “Best Friends Forever” arc seems to come to a conclusion. The way the story paralleled Molly and Julie Power’s experiences as young girl superheroes, but also made them distinct in ways that really aid in characterization is part of what continues to astound me about Rowell’s take to serial comics. She is a natural. I recently heard her say on a podcast that she grew up reading X-Men comics, and it more than shows. She is building and improving on the approach of those classic Claremont comics with Kris Anka’s help. Furthermore, the way she handles Julie’s relationship with Karolina is heartbreakingly real. If Rainbow Rowell wrote a Spider Family book, I’d read the shit out of that. Anka’s art is the perfect complement to Rowell’s plot and words, and the opening flashback featuring the Enchantress makes especially good use of Matthew Wilson’s always flawless colors. This is my favorite book right now. Wait. Did I say Exiles was my fave? Whatever. I contain multitudes.

Thor vol. 5, #1 & #2 (released 6/13 and 6/27)
Jason Aaron (writer), Mike Del Mundo (art), Marco D’Alfonso (color assists on #1), Joe Sabino (letters)

These comics read like Jason Aaron has made a very conscious decision to change the tone and voice of his previous Thor books, and it doesn’t work for me at all. Mike Del Mundo’s art is amazing in places, but I don’t see why his more loose and stylized approach (that reminds me of something you might find in Heavy Metal in the 1980s if it had more blood and boobs) has to be paired with jarring anachronistic elements, like Skurge and Balder driving around Hel in a monster truck and the goblin engineers driving the Hel-train listening to a Niffleheim-inflected version of Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours.” These elements might have a certain charm, but amid the war of the realms storyline it feels off. I am not against any of this in principal, but in execution and as an extension of what came before it? It is an easy choice to drop this book and save some money. If it were a new writer with a new storyline, I might be more tolerant, but as a choice in tone and characterization by the existing writer? It feels cheap, like it is trying to appeal to the audience for MCU’s Thor: Ragnarok without considering the results. The coloring choices and inking in several places in the main story of Thor #1 doesn’t do much to sell the art either. It is much better in Thor #2 and is the only thing that gives me pause about dropping the book. Oh, fuck it. I’ll put it on the bubble and flip through #3 before making my final choice, though if the book double-ships, that will push me towards dropping it. Christian Ward’s art in the otherwise weak back-up story in Thor #1 is amazing, btw, and I wish he were the regular artist.

On the Bubble: Thor
Current Pull-List:  Dark Horse: Black Hammer: Age of Doom; DC: DC NationMister Miracle; Fantagraphics: Love and Rockets; Image: Bitch Planet, Fix, Monstress, Paper Girls; Lion Forge: Astonisher; Marvel: Black Panther, Exiles, Marvel Two-in-One, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Ms. Marvel, Runaways.
Dropped: Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man

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