Brief Comics Reviews (June 12 through July 3, 2019)

These reviews are for my first batch of comics after my move from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh. I switched to using my NYC comic shop’s mail order service to plug the gap until a get a pull-list set up at a local shop, once I find one I like. I have to admit, however, that I am spoiled by the service I got at Midtown Comics, which had a lot more flexibility than the vast majority of stores in terms of what and when I can put things on my pull-list, including a pretty comprehensive website for managing the list. I want to support the little guy, but the way the direct market is set up means the best way to get what you want and only what you want is to shop at a larger, more stable store that can afford to absorb some loss. It seems like when it comes to monthly books either the store gets screwed or the customer gets screwed or both.  The comics industry sucks, but I still love comics.

Chances are, because of this change, I am going to become even pickier about which books I put on my pull-list and more strident about putting things on the bubble and/or dropping them altogether.

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #11 (released 6/19)
Jeff Lemire (writer), Dean Ormston (pencils, inks), Dave Stewart (colors), Todd Klein (letters)

I hate to say this about this book because I generally really love it and all its spin-offs, but this iteration really feels like it has been spinning its wheels, just kind of re-telling us what we already know over and over. If the characters can’t develop because they keep getting rebooted then the plot has to move forward somehow, and it doesn’t seem to be happening. Instead, it feels like it is in waiting pattern for the next reboot and thus the next Black Hammer series.

The World of Black Hammer Encyclopedia (released 7/3)
Jeff Lemire, Tate Brombal (writers), Tyler Crook, David Rubin, Wilfredo Torres, Christian Ward, Tonci Zonjic, Matt Kindt, Emi Lenox (artists), Dave Stewart (colors)

This one-shot is one I ended up getting because it was automatically included in my mail order pull. I am not sure I would have bothered with this if I had flipped through it at the store, but you never know. Anyway, this book is a riff on the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe series from the 1980s, with entries on all the characters, places, vehicles, etc. . . It feels like an unnecessary gag and a lot like the world of Black Hammer becoming too much like the comics it is simultaneously homaging and critiquing. The one-shot doesn’t even do anything clever with the format in order to disrupt it and get us to rethink it. Insert Hercules “Disappointed” clip here. Worst of all, the art for the entries isn’t all that great. You can skip it, unless you are a completist.

Captain Marvel vol. 10, #6 (released 6/19)
Kelly Thompson (writer), Annapaola Martello (pencils, inks), Tamra Bonvillain (colors), Clayton Cowles (letters)

This issue was the conclusion to a two-part War of the Realms tie-in, though it easily could not have been. The tie-in part is incidental. However, because the story is built on the event, it is lazily written, leaning on the cliche of the body-swap (Carol and Doctor Strange switch bodies and Black Widow is unfortunate enough to be present for the ensuing whining) and not doing much to use the well-worn conceit to show us something new about either character. The issue felt perfunctory at best and at two-issues, too long. Annapaola Martello’s art seems hurried and does nothing to improve the by-the-numbers beats of a nothing story. I guess I’ll try the next Thompson-penned arc (the original artist is coming back), but if it does not build on the promise of the first arc I will be dropping this. Definitely on the bubble. Event crossovers ruin everything. I want to go back to just skipping those issues, but pull-lists being what they are (see above), that seems like a more difficult strategy.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man #7 (released 6/19)
Saladin Ahmed (writer), Ron Ackins (pencils), Dexter Vines, Alitha E. Martinez, Vanesa R. Del Rey, Javier Garrón (inks), David Curiel, Erick Arciniega (colors), Cory Petit (letters)

I like this kind of story. It is just one day in Miles’s life told from the perspective of different people in his life, his sometimes supervillain uncle, his parents, another teen superhero who may be crushing on him, and so on. Each section is done by a different inker, and despite using the conceit of the issue to account for the distinctions in visual style, some pages just look better than others. This is a fun book, but I think Saladin Ahmed tries a little too hard with the slang and when to throw in Spanish (though I know he means well). When Vita Ayala guest wrote two issues of Shuri a few months back and Miles guest-starred in one of them, Ayala got the voice and the Spanglish perfect. I want to see more of that.

Monstress #23 (released 6/19)
Marjorie Liu (writer), Sana Takeda (pencils, inks, colors),  Rus Wooten (letters)

I say the same thing about this series with every issue I review. It is gorgeous and haunting but also dark and complex and hard to follow month to month. I want to re-read the whole thing from the beginning. Maybe if I do that and I write about it I can finally discern what it is about the series that is so appealing to me. Heck, I even accidentally skipped issue #22 (I own it, but in the complications of my move I didn’t get around to reading it and then forget where it was packed) and didn’t even notice!

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #44 (released 6/26)
Brandon Montclaire (writer), Alitha E. Martinez (pencils, inks), Tamra Bonvillain (colors), Travis Lanham (letters)

Martinez is a good fill-in for Nastascha Bustos (the regular artist on this book), but let’s hope she is just a fill-in, given how perfect Bustos is on this title. Bonvillain’s colors help grant the book some consistency as well. As for the story, it is a very typical time travel story, where Lunella learns that despite her desire to fix the injustices of the past, making those changes can have huge consequences for the present. I am tired of time travel stories, especially those that tacitly support the status quo and thus justify that past injustice. In this case, the event in question whether or not Lunella’s grandmother took a test to go to a special school in the 60s or not. In the original timeline, she did not have the confidence to go through with it. At first Lunella convinces her to do, but then sadly has to discourage her. Of course the book also runs into the problem of the sliding Marvel timeline, because when Dr. Strange shows up in the 60s Lunella comments, “he’s old, but not this old.” In other words, if Stephen Strange had actually been around in the 60s (like he was in his original stories), he’d be in his 80s at the least! So it is explained as an alternate reality Dr. Strange.  Anyway, as a one-shot story for kids, this might be an interesting tale, but I want writers to stop using time travel plot devices until they can come up with different and creative ways to make use of it in their stories.  It is part of the reason why Avengers: End Game was so disappointing. It was more like a Back to the Future sequel than a good superhero story.

The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #4 (released 6/26)
Saladin Ahmed (writer), Minkyu Jung (pencils), Juan Vlasco (inks), Ian Herring (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

Not sure how I feel about this plot. I have no issue with Ms. Marvel having adventures in space, but having her parents around seems like a wasted opportunity to spend more time in Kamala’s actual community and letting her dad (who having just found out her secret identity, objects to it and wants her to quit) see what being Ms. Marvel means to her and to Jersey City. While Ahmed seems to be using the conflict on this alien planet as a way to show him something similar, much like Spider-Man is best when embedded in his city and community and spending time with his supporting cast, Ms. Marvel thrives in that context. Having her parents follow along worried about her and boys when they are in a war zone in an alien environment seems a little overdone. Still the story of Kamala dealing with her supposedly destined role to these people is fun.

The Magnificent Ms. Marvel Annual #1 (released 7/3)
Magdalene Visaggio (writer), Jon Lam (pencils, inks), Msassyk (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

I might not have picked this up if it did not come with the books that arrived in the mail. Annuals have a rep as not so good (though there are notable exceptions), but I liked this one. I guess Marvel is doing some series of one-shots for this year’s annuals called “Acts of Evil,” where heroes face villains associated with different heroes.  So for example, in this issue Ms. Marvel faces off versus the Super Skrull (one of my all-time faves), who is usually a foe of the Fantastic Four. At the back, there is an ad for “Punisher vs. the Brood Queen.” You get the idea.  They did something similar back in the 80s with the “Acts of Vengeance” event. The art in this issue is not to my taste (very anime inspired look), but I did like Sha-Bang, a minor villain who seems to be the Shocker-lite with Boom-Boom’s style. She robs vintage stores. I do like any time Kamala gets to demonstrate compassion and empathy and moves past fighting as the only solution. Her speech at the end, however, about “the past being the past” and “moving forward” may be true, but is also a formula for erasure and injustice. I only know Magdalene Visaggio’s name from Twitter, but I’d be interested in reading more of her comics if she can match her style and flair to a more nuanced perspective that I associate with the character. Still, I like the sympathy the story allows us to have for Super-Skrull. I also appreciated that the story calls back to the destruction of the Skrull Throneworld, when devoured by Galactus; an event I remember well from reading Fantastic Four religiously in the 1980s.

Runaways vol. 5, #22 (released 6/26)
Rainbow Rowell (writer), Andres Genolet (pencils, inks), Michael Garland (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters), Niko Henrichon (art for final page only)

I probably have said this before, but Rowell’s Runaways issues could just be about these characters making lunch or cleaning the house or paying their cellphone bills and I’d still love it. It just feels and looks right. Sometimes it gives me Claremont X-Men vibes and other times Love and Rockets or Blue Monday feels. Just so so great to read every month. I don’t know what was up with that final page. I hope it is not a preview of the next issue because the art by Henrichon was off and startlingly different from the rest of the book and its visual style. It looked like the kind of superhero art I actively dislike. My hope it was a scheduling issue and not because he is going to draw a whole issue for #23. I appreciate that the change in artist corresponds with a change in setting (from the real world to the inside of Doombot’s mind), so that the visual abruptness has an in-story reason, but the art is just not right for this book.

Shuri #9 (released 6/19)
Nnedi Okorafor (writer), Rachael Stott (pencils, inks), Carlos Lopez (colors), Joe Sabino (letters)

Leonardo Romero’s art gave this series so much of its delight and Rachael Stott’s art here does not have that same energy. Nor does Lopez’s colors. Or maybe I am nitpicking on the art because the ‘Space Lubber’ story has gone on too long and has not provided good character beats for the last couple of issues. I recently found out this series is ending (or at least, Nnedi Okorafor is leaving as writer and the book is no longer being solicited in Previews), which sucks, but right now the title is only working in a way that a long-running serial can (planting seeds for a future), not as a limited series with a determined ending.

War of the Realms #6 (released 6/26)
Jason Aaron (writer), Russell Dauterman (pencils, inks), Matthew Wilson (colors), Joe Sabino (letters)

I wanted to like this series, but it seemed to abandon the little it had going for it and fell into the same tired patterns of “event books.”  On Twitter, a few months ago, I wrote about how despite not being able to call War of the Realms “good,” what I liked about it was that “War of the Realms is not a time-travel story, a story where the superheroes fight each other or one of them goes bad or ‘mad.’ It is not an alternate reality or even a revised world story (like Age of Apocalypse), nor does it involve alternate versions of established characters.” Of course, in its final issue it becomes just that, a story where time-traveling alternate versions of Thor team up to defeat Malekith. The worst part is that this is something Aaron already did as part of his God-Butcher storyline. So, not only is he repeating himself, he is doing so in a way that pales in comparison to the tension, drama, and execution of the first time he did it. Furthermore, the weird change in tone to patter-heavy quips that I complained about back when I ended up dropping the current Thor series is present in this event book in a grating way. I do want to make clear, however, that as usual Russell Dauterman’s art is fantastic, and Matthew Wilson’s colors are among the best in the business, but that doesn’t make this a series worth collecting. I broke my “no event books” rule (that I instituted after Age of Ultron, though I should have known better for even that one) to get War of the Realms and it has cemented the need for that rule.

Wonder Twins #5 (released 6/12)
Mark Russell (writer), Stephen Byrne (pencils, inks, colors), Dave Sharpe (letters)

I love the way Mark Russell writes a comic. He just seems to know how to ambitiously tackle pertinent issues while leaning into the form’s cartoonishness. He has also benefited from working with great artists every time. This series seems dedicated to examining the degree to which the superhero genre is about maintaining the status quo, an inherently unjust status quo, and what it means when we start looking at supervillain motives as counter to injustice. Anyway, this is great fun. I highly recommend it.

Wonder Woman vol. 5, #72 (released 6/12)
G. Willow Wilson (writer), Jesus Merino (pencils, inks), Tom Derenick (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), Romulo Farjardo Jr (colors), Pat Brosseau (letters)

Generally speaking, the art on this book remains fantastic, but at the same time the plot seems to be lagging, treading water. The battle choreography could be better in an issue focused mostly on a fight with a minotaur. There was way too much decontextualized “action” for any of those dramatic moments to actually feel valuable.

Wonder Woman vol. 5, #73 (released 6/26)
Steve Orlando (writer), Aaron Lopestri (pencils), Matt Ryan (inks), Romulo Farjardo Jr (colors), Pat Brosseau (letters)

You’d think given my feelings for the previous issue that I’d see this flashback story at the threshold of the underworld – “Dimension Chi” – where the previous issue left off as more treading water, but no. . . I have never read a Steve Orlando comic before, but I like how direct his approach is in this parable. Some readers might think it didactic, but I see the story as a kind of mythic fable, meant to teach a positive lesson in a way that resonates with the faux Greco-Roman material the comic book frequently mines. In addition, the book is lovely to look at. Gorgeous work by the guest art team.

Dropped/Cancelled or Finished: Astonisher, DC Nation, Exiles, Fantastic Four, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, The Quantum Age, West Coast Avengers, X-23
On the Bubble: Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman
Current Pull-List:  Dark Horse: Black Hammer: Age of Doom; DC Comics:  Wonder Twins, Wonder Woman;  Fantagraphics: Love and Rockets; Image: Bitch Planet, Bitter Root, Fix, Monstress, Paper Girls; Lion Forge: Quincredible; Marvel: Miles Morales: Spider-Man, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Magnificent Ms. Marvel, Runaways, Shuri

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