More comics reviews. This time, comics from every week in July 2018, which I picked up on July 26th.
This is an unsatisfactory comic book both as the end of the arc that began with issue #1 and as a transition to a new writer with the next issue. It just seems like a big letdown to have this comic about economic privilege, mental illness, and monstrous mindscapes come down to a fight in orbit with a wrench and a harpoon gun. Our protagonist’s, Magnus, powers remain ill-defined. . .making it hard to know what to make of his challenges or what to expect down the road. I’m not sure if the art team will change when Christopher Priest comes on as writer, but I kind of hope so. This is my first real complaint about the writing/plotting, but throughout the series so far the art has been marginal for me. This is going on the bubble.
Captain America vol. 9, #1 (released July 4, 2018)
Ta-Nehisi Coates (writer), Leinil Yu (pencils), Gerry Alanguilan (inks), Sunny Gho (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)
I am not a big fan of Leinil Yu’s art. Though it really depends on how it is inked or colored, ultimately I find the way he panels a page and overly relies on landscape “cinematic” style panels is visually boring and not very inventive. Coates’s comic writing has improved in his Black Panther work, but here it once again feels too slow, too flat. Not explaining everything clearly is okay if you are going for a mystery, but there is no mystery here. Clearly, Coates is using the fallout from the Secret Empire Hydra-Cap event to explore the current state of broken American politics. While the president is never named, it is clear we are not meant to trust whoever the Trump stand-in might be and consider the degree to which complacency by Americans allowed for our government to be “taken over.” In the case of the Marvel Universe it was taken over literally. In the case of our own world, however, what modicum of agency we have has been lost through the manipulation of our malfunctioning democracy. (Or maybe it is functioning the way it was meant to and that is the problem.) The narration for this issue in Cap’s voice remains a little too American Exceptionalism 101 for my tastes, but my guess is that Coates is easing into the more subversive perspective on these politics. The hints are there. For example, in this issue we discover that Russia has become a retreat for the remaining fragments of Hydra, trying to spread its influence globally (only to be defeated by even worse evils, like soul-sucking vampire, Selene), while back home the White House is making use of former criminals who turned against Hydra in its final days (like Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker), suggesting what we should already know, that the U.S. is not actually as concerned with moral principles as it is with maintaining power. It may be too much to ask for Coates’s Captain America to radically challenge the very premise of the character and his title, but that is what I want and if that doesn’t happen in the next issue or two (and it should have happened immediately in the very first issue) I will drop this book. I guess it is on the bubble. Oh and one last thing: the fact that they keep referring to Hydra-Cap as an impostor, or Hydra “using Steve’s face” instead of actually being Steve (which it was) does not fill me with confidence.
The thing with cosmic multi-dimensional time-traveling superhero plots is that the resolution of the reality-devouring threat seems to almost inevitably be disappointing. Despite how much I am loving Exiles, it is no different. Despite reading the comic closely, the truth is the explanation for how to stop the Time-eater/Kang doesn’t make much sense, nor does the reason why this approach means that our protagonists will be forever forbidden from going back to their native realities (aside, of course, the narrative necessary of keeping the title going). All that being said, Ahmed and Rodríguez continue to give us a great book. The art is vibrant and evocative. The characterization fresh. Lil Wolvie being unkillable by virtue of his own naive optimism is a thousand times more interesting than a healing factor, and Ahmed managing to make Khan, the alternate dark future version of Ms. Marvel, into a suicide bomber in order to save her group, was an amazing moment. I think it really underscores the moral hypocrisy of stereotypes of Muslim people by demonstrating such a stereotypical act in a heroic framework. Honestly, if I had known about this turn of events ahead of time I wouldn’t have known what to think, but it works. I don’t know enough about Age of Apocalypse or any version of Sabretooth that could be a “good guy” to make sense of his cameo here, and speaking selfishly, I hope Ahmed keeps him out of the book in the future, because I am not big on sadistic villains known for their sexual violence being redeemed into a good version of the character. I know Ahmed didn’t start that, but I would prefer if he didn’t continue it. Still, a great book, and I look forward to the next arc.
This issue had a Black Hammer feel to it. Ben and Johnny trapped in a different dimension and hiding out in a rural town. Two months have passed since they were abandoned here by Dr. Doom and Rachna Koul and they have basically lost their powers (as they have been slowly doing since this series began). Johnny is having a hard time coming to grips with having to be afraid of heat and fire. Ben has a flirtation going with a local waitress (more Black Hammer vibes) and they are working with this dimension’s Amadeus Cho to send a signal out to the multiverse to find the rest of the FF (which Ben knows are dead). When Johnny finds out the truth he and Ben have a fistfight and end up burning their own house down. Meantime, a fucked up alternate version of the FF shows up and we are left there in cliffhanger mode. The problem with this issue (aside from the art, which I did not care for, especially the over-heavy inks) is that Zdarsky seemed to be going for a thoughtful and poignant look at these two characters dealing with loss and isolation, but it falls far short. It either needed to go deeper somehow or the whole Ben/Johnny conflict could have been a one-page deal and the evil alt-FF could have been introduced sooner. I am putting this on the bubble and depending on how I like the new Fantastic Four series and how these titles interact, I may stick with it or drop it before the next issue comes out. We’ll see.
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #33 (released July 25, 2018)
Brandon Montclair (writer), Natacha Bustos (pencils, inks), Tamra Bonvillain (colors), Travis Lanham (letters)
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur remains a delight. I don’t know what else to say about it, except that I keep it near the bottom of my new comics stack in order to save the best for last. The current plot involves the Kingpin’s daughter going to Lunella’s school and the unforeseen consequences of Lunella trying to keep her brain swap with Devil Dinosaur happening again.
Ms. Marvel vol. 4, #32 (released July 25, 2018)
G. Willow Wilson (writer), Nico Leon (pencils, inks), Ian Herring (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)
This remains one of the best comic books going right now. As we move on to a new plot arc, Wilson demonstrates her talent for bringing the book back to a status quo that allows for new stories (or new iterations of familiar stories) while developing her characters. Leon’s art here feels a little looser and more playful. More cartoony in a way that works with the content. This is especially true in the scenes involving this month’s antagonist, the Shocker. I feel bad for people who just don’t get how great Ms. Marvel really is.
I’ve got seriality on the mind because of an entry I am writing for a future book called Keywords in Comics Studies. One of the things I write about in my entry are the different forms of serialization in terms of how they shape the narrative possibilities. Paper Girls is a continuous serial. In other words, each issue takes up exactly where the last one left off. There is no down time, no episodes, no gap between action except that which we as readers experience waiting a month for the next issue to come out. As a result, it can feel like this book is just turning its wheels and not getting anywhere, but fuck that because the whole idea that a serial has to “get” somewhere is ridiculous. Anyway, having made their way to the far future of the time travelers they have been trying to evade throughout most of the series, our heroines split into two groups. One group is looking for a way back to 1988, while the other seeks out a cure for the leukemia that Mac seems destined to die from in her own future. The comic remains rollicking and unpredictable and confusing and I like it like that. The letters page of this issue was also a delight. People wrote in with their memories of Y2K New Year’s since a recent issue featured a timeline where the Y2K really did seem to knock out the world’s power grid. . . or maybe it was the out of phase invisible time-traveling giant robots that did that. You know what? It wasn’t clear. There is also one letter from a reader complaining about Brian K Vaughan’s politics, calling Yorick from Y the Last Man and Marko from Saga “beta-male[s]” and saying that Paper Girls is turning into “just another lesbian story” and that what would be “radical” in “today’s climate” would be to just let girls have close friendship. Um. . . Both are not only possible, that is exactly what is happening in the book. I also love how the fictional future robot that responds to the letters dismissed the dude out of hand, quipping that people like him have luckily died out in the future. Let’s hope that’s true.
I didn’t even know this was coming out! It just arrived in my pull-box. It is yet another mini-series by Jeff Lemire taking place in the world of Black Hammer. This one is in the future and is something of a dystopian Legion of Super-heroes pastiche. Here we have a version of Black Hammer who calls herself Hammer Lass. Is she Lucy Weber or her descendant? Since the story takes place in 3041 A.D. I’m assuming the latter. I wasn’t too sure about this book at first (which is kind of how I have felt about all the Black Hammer spin-offs), but by the end of the first issue it had drawn me in (kind of like all the Black Hammer spin-offs). In fact, this might be the best one yet. I love Wilfredo Torres’s art and Dave Stewart’s colors are lovely. I am eager to know what happens next and what happened to get the world how it is in this future.
Runaways vol. 5, #11 (released July 18, 2018)
Rainbow Rowell (writer), Kris Anka (pencils, inks), Matthew Wilson (colors), Joe Sabino (letters)
Rowell and Anka keep rocking it. This was a quiet issue paralleling two characters with body issues (Victor who doesn’t have one and Ger who is zaftig, still sixteen years old, and on a team with model-thin young adult superheroes) and is smart enough to not treat it like something that can be resolved in one story. Instead, realizations are made, some ritual shopping is done (this is America after all), and a friendly Doombot unafraid to apologize for its social gaffs comes to dinner. Life is weird and the Runaways is ultimately about that. Oh, and I like that they tied up a loose end. Klara, a character introduced in Joss Whedon’s run (which is how I was introduced to Runaways) and that I had been wondering about, appears in an epilogue. I hope she gets to keep her happy ending. She deserves it.
Thor vol. 5, #3 (released July 11, 2018)
Jason Aaron (writer), Michael Del Mundo (pencils, inks, colors), Marco D’Alfonso (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)
So I flipped through this comic book before I bought it, like I said I was gonna do, but I was accompanied by an old friend I had not seen in nearly 20 years and a little distracted. The art looked kind of amazing and stylized, so I said “fuck it” and bought it. However, upon getting home and actually reading it, I felt like a sucker. Sure it looks beautiful, and that is important to comics, but is also kind of crowded and busy and hard to follow in a way that is exacerbated by the fact that all the voices all wrong for a Thor book taking place in Asgard. Suddenly, the Asgardians are all quipping anachronistically like rejects from a short-lived Joss Whedon show. Perhaps the word “anachronistic” is not right, since why should Asgardians speak in faux-Shakespearean English as they usually do? But that’s what I’m used to. That faux-Shakespeare stuff is a good stand in for whatever actual Norse language they speak (or at least that is what I always imagined it to be). It is a way to signal difference while evoking a certain regal attitude that even the lowest of the Asgardians adopts. Of course, it is not just language, it is the monster truck, the body language, the overall disorientation that arises from the dissonance between the content and the form and the voice. Part of the events of the issue is an explanation of why Hela and Balder will be getting married (over Karnilla’s objections, of course), but rather than evoke the feelings of emotional turmoil and political necessity, the danger of the coming forces of the Queen of Cinders, it all just seems too goofy. I mean, even goofier than the premise of Norse space gods. It makes me sad because ever since Jason Aaron started on Thor back in 2012 I have followed and loved his run, but now it seems that I will be dropping the book even before the conclusion of the overarching “War of the Realms” arc that has been going on for literally years. Sigh.
X-Men: Grand Design Second Genesis #1 (released July 25, 2018)
Ed Piskor (writer, pencils, inks, colors, letters)
I saw someone on Twitter describe this whole project as the oral history of X-Men with only one interviewee, Uatu the Watcher. This is not the kind of book you read for a narrative or characterization, but to get a bird’s-eye view of streamlined continuity with an indie feel emerging from a self-conscious attempt to evoke the materiality of Bronze Age comics. It is Hip Hop Family Tree, but about mutants. And just like Hip Hop Family Tree I wonder about some of Piskor’s choices even as I love the book overall. I will admit, however, that it takes me some time to get into the rhythm of the book, because it is very much an “and then and then and then” kind of thing, except for certain moments he chooses to spend a little time on, like the X-Men at the Hellfire Club just before Jean Grey goes all Dark Phoenix. Piskor takes his liberties. How could he not? There is only so much you can fit into a a four-issue series meant to cover 25 years of X-Men, the notoriously most complicated comic heroes out there. But as I said before, some choices are strange to me. For example, he chooses to not have the Beast with the team when they battle the Shi’ar Imperial Guard on the Moon. My only other complaint (this sure does seem like a lot of complaints for a book I really like) is that in a few places the art looks a little rushed, something that was not apparent in the first two issues of the project, and his Dark Phoenix looks a mess – a little too demonic in the face. Still, this is a must have kind of thing if you like X-Men, especially if you love X-Men of this era. I own the first two issues both as singles and in the treasury size and plan to the do that with these latter two issues.
On the Bubble: Astonisher, Captain America, Marvel Two-In-One
Current Pull-List: Dark Horse: Black Hammer: Age of Doom, The Quantum Age; DC: DC Nation, Mister Miracle; Fantagraphics: Love and Rockets; Image: Bitch Planet, Fix, Monstress, Paper Girls; Lion Forge: Astonisher; Marvel: Black Panther, Captain America, Exiles, Marvel Two-in-One, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Ms. Marvel, Runaways.