Brief Comic Book Reviews (August 22 to Sept 5, 2018)

What follows are brief reviews of comics on my pull-list that were released between August 22 and September 5, 2018. There are several series that I am continuing to love, a few that remain on the bubble and thus might soon get dropped, and at least one I am definitely going to stop following until I hear I should be doing otherwise from someone I trust. You can see previous reviews here. Furthermore, if you like this content and want to support it and help work towards there being more of it, consider pledging to our new Patreon (which has very reasonable tiers of support)!

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #4 (released 8/22)
Jeff Lemire (writer), Dean Ormston (pencils, inks), Dave Stewart (colors), Todd Klein (letters)

This was some good shit. Beautifully drawn and colored, and paced perfectly to bring the reader to the edge of suspense and then providing a series transforming reveal in the final panel. If adults want a superhero comic that makes them feel like superhero comics used to but doesn’t tell the stories in the same way as they used to, without resorting to gonzo gore and/or sex, you can’t go wrong with Black Hammer. I love when a single issue leaves you jazzed, satisfied with what you read but eager for the next issue to come out.

Black Panther vol. 7, #3 (released 8/22)
Ta-Nehisi Coates (writer), Daniel Acuña (pencils, inks, colors), Joe Sabino (letters)

I am enjoying this series much more than I am Coates’s Captain America (see below), and I think the difference is one of scope. This galactic story of resistance to empire with spaceship battles and stories of legendary heroes that have been passed down for eons seems to work better for his style, even if Acuña’s art – well, mainly his paneling and dynamic storytelling – is flat here. It is too fragmentary. Everything feels more like a greatest hits “scenes” of a battle than an actual dynamic and moving visual narrative that can be followed. That is sad because Acuña can be a great artist, but this is not cutting it. Not for a superhero action/adventure book, that’s for sure. Still, I am putting this on the bubble. Two years worth of Coates’s promising – but only promising, never fulfilling – Black Panther is more than enough for me. I feel like I have given him more than enough of a chance to come into his own in this medium and genre.

Border Town #1 (released 9/5)
Eric M. Esquivel (writer), Ramon Villalobos (pencils, inks), Tamra Bonvillain (colors), Deron Bennett (letters).

This shit is weird, both visually and in terms of the plot and setting. While some of it seems typical – new kid at school has to prove himself to the local bullies by beating the shit out of one of them – the explicit themes of ethnic/racial identity and undocumented immigrants as protagonists while remaining raw and irreverent in a way that does not make that stuff the target of the humor, demonstrates that this is going to be a different comic than what we’re used to. The presence of a curtain through which one can travel to an Aztec spirit world of monsters and the dead, and from which such monsters emerge to take the form of the greatest fear of whoever is observing them is wild. This means the monsters can look like cops, like stereotypical Mexican banditos, like ICE, like Bane (from Batman), etc. . . This is a Vertigo book, so while it makes winking allusions to DC Comics, it does not take place in the DC universe (I am assuming – I guess some Vertigo books like Sandman do take place in the DC Universe, or at least adjacent to it). I’m looking forward to what direction this goes in. The art by Ramon Villalobos seems different from the style I am used to from him, but it fits the tone and subject, having something of an underground comics look, just colorized. It has been a long time since I tried out a Vertigo book. The DC imprint is not what it used to be when Karen Berger seemed to have the Midas touch, but I’m down to give this some time to evolve.

Captain America vol. 9 #3 (released 9/5)
Ta-Nehisi Coates (writer), Leinil Yu (pencils), Gerry Alanguilan (inks), Sunny Cho (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

This comic is just not great. It is not even good. And as far as I’m concerned, it isn’t even passable. It firmly moves into the “dropped” category with this issue. It is visually boring, chromatically dull, and written with turgid cliche dialog and narration. Steve Rogers has no distinct voice of his own that is not generalized bourgeoisie platitudes about country, duty and freedom. If this comic were written by anyone else I might expect it, but from Ta-Nehisi Coates? It is a sad, safe perspective that regurgitates Greatest Generation cliches when Steve should have learned something since he was unfrozen, not doomed to always return to retrograde ideas that dull any complexity present in thinking about these concepts and notions of national identity. The most “controversial” choice is just having Cap work so closely with Black Panther to pull-off operations on U.S. soil (given that T’Challa and the Dora Milaje are foreign nationals). Worst of all, it attributes to the Hydra fascists that took over in Secret Empire a peaceful and plentiful time when people had jobs and pride and a sense of community. Thankfully, the people waxing nostalgic for fascism are white people, but this stuff is framed like the litany of New York Times articles trying to look into the hearts of Trump voters to find economic anxiety, while never sufficiently or explicitly identifying the parallel racial anxieties that drive these encoded economic concerns. It could be that some future issue will address this, but I doubt it and Coates has not yet earned my confidence when it comes to comics to keep paying $3.99 a month for a story that turned my stomach with its third issue.

Exiles vol. 3, #7 (released 8/29)
Saladin Ahmed (writer), Rod Reis (pencils, inks, colors), Lee Ferguson (pencils, inks), Joe Caramagna (letters)

This series continues to deliver. While this issue had a little bit of old continuity returning in the form of a couple of Blink’s former Exiles buddies and dealing with their past, like the best serialized comics of this type, it was unnecessary to have read the old series to understand the relationships and their emotional stakes, and that’s what counts. The fill-in artist Rod Reis (Lee Ferguson did pencils on pages 18-20) is doing a great job in the absence of Javier Rodriguez and his art felt particularly fitting for the alternate Wild West Marvel Universe setting. Oh, and I really liked the crazed fire and brimstone mind-controlling old-timey preacher version of Professor X that served as the villain. Above all, however, Lil Wolvie is catapulting to the top of my list of favorite current characters and is my third favorite Wolverine-related legacy character after X-23 and Honey Badger.

Marvel Two-in-One vol. 2, #9 (released 8/29)
Chip Zdarsky (writer), Ramón K. Perez (pencils, inks), Federico Blee (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

This was a strong issue built around re-establishing what we love about these characters and demonstrating that their heroism does not stem from their powers but exists despite their powers. I am still not much of a fan of Ramon Perez’s art here. The coloring is nice, but everything has a sketchy, almost unfinished look. While I admit there is something about it that works for the setting it ain’t great for a mainstream Marvel book. I say this as not someone against experimentation on a book (Sinkevietz’s New Mutants work is among my very favorite comic art period), but I’m not sure it adds anything to this story or these characters. Nor, is it exactly “experimental,” more like scratchy and raw. I liked this issue, but I won’t be too sad when this series is done. It just very quickly lost the humor and energy that a Marvel Two-in-One book should have.

Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur #34  (released 8/22)
Brandon Montclare (writer), Natacha Bustos (pencils, inks), Tamra Bonvillain (colors), Travis Lanham (letters)

I continue to love this comic book. The latest development – Devil has turned into a 9-year old human boy named Devin that Lunella is passing off as an exchange student from Canada – is fun and fresh within this context. Connecting this to the ongoing plot of the Kingpin’s adopted daughter, Princess, and her brattiness and rivalry with Lunella makes it even better. The use of thought-bubbles in this issue (something you hardly ever see these days) really helps reveal Princess’s insecurities and I think this story is meant to show us how her unacceptable behavior is driven by narcissistic obsession with being “special” and the center of attention. Bustos’s art continues to be delightful.

Ms. Marvel vol. 4, #33 (released 8/29)
G. Willow Wilson (writer), Nico Leon (pencils, inks), Ian Herring (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

This issue was fine, but in the big picture it felt like some padding for story really built around explaining the nuts and bolts of Kamala’s power to grow, stretch and shrink. I think that is a pointless mistake. Who needs an explanation? It is a Terrigen mist instigated Inhuman power. What more do you need to know than that? Furthermore, while I like Shocker as a B-grade villain on loan from the friendly Spider-Man neighborhoods of New York City, there is nothing about how he is using his powers that makes it so he couldn’t be any B-grade Spider-Man villain. On the other hand, I really did like the Mouse Trap style obstacles meant to delay and restrict Ms. Marvel’s arrival in his jury-rigged headquarters, however, the fact that traps of this sort are not associated with the character reinforce his generic use here. Still, they were rendered with energy and movement by Nico Leon, which sold it.

Paper Girls #24 (released 9/5)
Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Cliff Chiang (pencils, inks), Matt Wilson (colors), Jared K. Fletcher (letters)

Look, this comic never disappoints. Yes, I got to a point where I felt like I needed to go back and reread the issues involving the girls in prehistoric times and their connection to Wari to better understand what was going on, but in terms of the pathos and characterization the comic was as sharp as ever. As always Cliff Chiang’s art and Matt Wilson’s colors are flawless. This comic is so great. I want everyone to read it. It’s what Stranger Things would be if people actually demanded their 80s nostalgia to be creative, challenging, and critical.

X-23 vol.4 #3 (released 8/29)
Mariko Tamaki (writer), Juann Cabal (pencils, inks), Nolan Woodard (colors), Cory Petit (letters)

While I am enjoying this series as an extension of Tom Taylor’s All-New Wolverine series because Mariko Tamaki seems to have gotten a good grip on Laura and Gabby’s voices right out of the box, this issue felt way too decompressed and not enough happened either plotwise or in character development to make it seem worth $3.99. In fact, there is an egregious two-page spread near the beginning that while well-drawn, reminds me of  the stalling tactics of those awful 90s artists like Rob Liefeld.  The thing that turned me off and ultimately made me drop Tamaki’s She-Hulk series was that sense of nothing happening at any level in that comic, and I worry that that might be direction of this series if it turns out that she has a Bendis-like inability to construct engaging narrative arcs within the single issue.

Dropped: Captain America
On the Bubble: AstonisherBlack Panther, Fantastic Four, Marvel Two-in-One.
Current Pull-List:  Dark Horse: Black Hammer: Age of Doom, The Quantum Age; DC/Vertigo: Border TownDC NationMister Miracle; Fantagraphics: Love and Rockets; Image: Bitch Planet, Fix, Monstress, Paper Girls; Lion Forge: Astonisher; Marvel: Black Panther, Exiles, Fantastic Four, Marvel Two-in-One, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Ms. Marvel, Runaways, X-23.

One thought on “Brief Comic Book Reviews (August 22 to Sept 5, 2018)

  1. Pingback: Brief Comic Book Reviews (Dec 19, 2018 to Jan 16, 2019) | The Middle Spaces

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