Brief Comic Book Reviews (September 6 through September 25, 2019)

This is the fourth set of comics from my pull-list that have arrived since my move to Pittsburgh. While I have visited a (localish) comic shop to hunt for back issues, I have not yet set up a pull-list because that shop is too far to be convenient for regular visits and the ones near me are not as much to my liking. I need to figure something out though because I don’t want to keep paying shipping for my comics. This also helps explain why these reviews are coming out over a month after these books were released. . . Well, that and other distractions, like the new puppy that made sure that instead of reading all my pull-list books over the course of two or three days, it took over two weeks to get through them.

Anyway, here are some brief reviews of those comics, all of which came out in the month of September, except for Power Pack: Grow Up! which came out the month before but I got late.

Agents of Atlas vol. 3, #2 (released 9/4)
Greg Pak (writer), Nico Leon & Pop Mhan (pencils, inks), Federic Blee (colors), Joe Sabino (letters)

I loved this issue. After the first one I wasn’t so sure (and to be honest, I am still not a fan of how they are drawing a Hulkified Amadeus Cho, who is going by the awful name “Brawn”), but the art was better this issue, and I am a sucker for the YA drama of young superhero relationships. Furthermore, the focus on Asian/Asian-American characters and the plot of the first arc tackling the notion of Pan-Asian community through a technology that allows people to pass freely between Asian communities throughout Asia and the world feels timely and has potential. Of course, the idea of disrupting borders and allowing people to pass freely between these communities is presented as potentially sinister or a problem, so we’ll see. Hopefully, Greg Pak won’t write too reactionary a comic book. The fact that refugees from Madripoor are not allowed to enter this new Pan-Asian zone (called “Pan”) is complicating the story in an interesting way. We’ll see what happens, but I am here for it. I just hope the comic takes the time to develop characters and their relationships similar to how Runaways does it.

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #12  (released 9/18)
Jeff Lemire (writer), Dean Ormston (pencils, inks), Dave Steward (colors), Todd Klein (letters)

The conclusion to the second Black Hammer 12-issue series was a disappointment. I wanted to write “inevitable disappointment” because that’s endings for you, but to be honest I had allowed myself to hope for something more, something transformative. Instead, the series ends unclear if this is the actual end for this set of characters of if Lemire and company are planning to return to them and take them elsewhere. The comic certainly seems final and that finality feels tragic in terms of the banality our heroes willfully embrace. Maybe that is the point. Maybe I just need to sit with it longer. Maybe the sense of defeat beneath the way the heroes convince themselves to basically go back to where they started and be happy about it is the point. Maybe superheroes really don’t belong in the world, and that is the “Doom” the title speaks of. This is not the end of the Black Hammer universe. There will be other series set in the world and there was even a deal made recently for a TV series and maybe even a movie. So there is more to look forward to. . . Beginnings are better than endings.

Black Hammer / Justice League #3 (released 9/11)
Jeff Lemire (writer), Michael Walsh (pencils, inks, colors), Nate Piekos (letters)

This comic uses a lot of repetition in a six panel grid to provide a sense of time passing and the relentless interrogation of the Black Hammer crew by the remaining members of the Justice League as they try to figure out what happened to their core members (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Cyborg).  The wall clock without hands in the top left corner of the panels featuring those being questioned reinforces that lost sense of time. Meanwhile Colonel Weird is hanging out with John Stewart exploring the Parazone and then some other place that Weird can’t account for and then things get even weirder. I am not sure how to feel about this mini-series. It is definitely well done but not sure that Black Hammer, which is essentially a riff on DC Comics benefits from coming into contact with the actual DC universe. At the same time, I appreciate how this story confuses any sense of continuity in the main series (when did this happen? did it really happen? is this an alternative DC universe? an alternative set of Black Hammer heroes?). DC Comics work best as a mess and each Crisis has just ended up making it messier. So maybe this series doesn’t need a good explanation. Lemire has an ear for dialog, and Walsh’s art has style. I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out because I won’t be able to make a final decision on it until it is over.

Die #7 (released 9/4)
Kieron Gillen (writer), Stephanie Hans (pencils, inks, colors), Clayton Cowles (letters)

I don’t know about this series. It has been on the bubble since I started it. Sure, there are lots of interesting things going on, but the comic itself? I just really don’t like the art 90% of the time. It isn’t bad. It just seems one note in tone and shade, and the character design needs work. RPG characters need to be visually iconic and this is doubly the case in a comic. Furthermore, the structure of the comic leaves me wanting. Maybe it is just that my favorite part of RPGs are the fights, not the amateur thespian emo stuff. At the same time, the fights need to have stakes for them to matter and to provide the narrative tension that grabs a reader. This books skips that stuff. In one panel a titan shows up and the suggestion is that this is going to be a difficult fight, a real challenge for one of our protagonists (the biggest asshole of the group), but in the next panel we see him walking away, holding his bloody sword aloft. The titan has been defeated. Big whoop. Back to being a self-deceiving asshole who embraces his shallowness. The character is actually interesting. . . but the interactions and goals, less so. Die remains on the bubble but this Mountain Dew is going flat.

Future Foundation vol. 2, #2 (released 9/4)
Jeremy Whitley (writer), Will Robson, Paco Diaz (pencils and inks), Danielle Orlandini (inks), Greg Menzie, Chris O’Halloran (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

I tried out this series because I loved Matt Fraction and Mike Allred’s FF (from 2015) and because I love Power Pack and half of that team of siblings is on this team. However, after the first issue I immediately decided to drop it. Mostly it’s the art. I just don’t like it at all. It has that kind faux-anime look which, in my opinion, does not fit American superhero comics very well. Secondly, the pacing and structure of the story felt off. Perhaps that was just a consequence of it being the first issue, but it didn’t work for me. I am not a fan of when a series that emerges from complex and convoluted continuity knots assumes the reader is familiar enough to make sense of motivations, characters, and relationships. Now, it isn’t impossible to jump right into a series like this and clear things up as you go along, but the action and the stakes and the character voices need to be on point to pull that off. This doesn’t do it. The second issue (the one I am purportedly reviewing here) does not get any better and the introduction of Julie Power’s atrocious new Future Foundation uniform doesn’t help. The only reason I ended up with this issue is because I missed the cut-off date for removing it from my pull-list, but it is dropped now.  One last thing, it looks like this series has already been cancelled. It was recently announced that issue #5 will be the last one. I feel bad about that because given Jeremy Whitley’s success on series like The Unstoppable Wasp, I did have some hope this one could take off, even if it turned out not to be for me. That said, I did my part. it looks like Marvel’s decision to cancel the series was based just on the sales of the first issue, and I bought that issue. What else can a reader do? Like I said, I am sad about that, but not surprised. Who are the people clamoring for a Future Foundation book, anyway?

Miles Morales: Spider-Man #10 (released 9/11)
Saladin Ahmed (writer), Javier Garrón (pencils, inks), Cory Petit (letters)

I loved this issue. Yes, I have my complaints (and I will get to them), but overall the framing of Miles’s adventures as Spider-Man within the context of his on-going trauma from simply being a superhero, having an understanding family and friends, and just growing up, feels like it is clicking in a way that it hasn’t since the series started. It almost felt like an issue of Ms. Marvel (and you know how much I love Ms. Marvel). When Miles and his dad have a heart-to-heart about why Miles has his mother’s surname and what a piece of shit his paternal grandfather is, it felt like a kind of maturation that both shapes the character and provides elements for identifying with the kid. Or maybe that is just me over-identifying with troubling family legacies. Javier Garrón’s art is not always to my tastes (he can’t draw Peter Parker – who makes a cameo – to save his life), but here it is the best it has been. The issue feels intimate and dynamic. Curiel’s colors are on point this issue, too. As for my complaint, well, the Spanish still ain’t great. At one point Miles’s mom tells her son and husband “Vamanos!” Except she is not included in the going (it is the command form of “Let’s go”). She should be saying “¡Veté!” No disrespect meant to Saladin Ahmed but “Vámanos” to mean “get going” is a very gringo thing to say. This just seems like the kind of thing that could very easily be addressed by an informed editor or by checking in with a bilingual friend. Heck, I would do it for free. Call me, Saladin!

Oh! The issue ]contains a back-up story also penned by Ahmed but with Annie Wu on pencils and inks and Rachelle Rosenberg on colors. It depicts the origins of Miles’s sometimes ally, Starling, the anti-hero biracial granddaughter of the Vulture. I liked it, and I liked the art, even if the panel structure was fairly straightforward.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #47 (released 9/25)
Brandon Montclare (writer), Alitha E. Martinez (pencils, inks), Tamra Bonvillain (colors), Travis Lanham (letters)

I’ve enjoyed this series since it began, but lately it feels like it has been in a lull. While I try to keep in mind Lunella’s age and to think of her as belonging to a a kind of a fey archetype who cannot be expected to follow usual human social niceties, but prefers conflict and chaos instead, and exudes hubris. I also have trouble with the repetitive stories in which she just keeps acting like a brat. The tension between her (lack of) emotional immaturity and her genius intelligence is a great one to explore, I am just not sure Brandon Montclare has any more ideas left on how to explore it. Instead, we just get Lunella repeatedly insisting she is the smartest there is and thus doesn’t have to listen to anyone. While I have no problem with her showing up Mr. Fantastic and being stubborn about admitting her limitations, I also have to wonder where is Lunella’s capability to love and be loved? To have fun? To have friends? To care? Sometimes she seems like the villain of the book. . . well, “villain” is too strong a word. . . but she seems more like Namor than Spider-Man, if you get what I mean. But wait! My complaints are meaningless because I just noticed that this is the final issue! Despite my intention to put this series on the bubble, now that I see that it is over I feel sad that the choice is out of my hands. It also makes this issue even more of a disappointment. The big showdown of the big brains against Reed Richards feels anti-climactic. Nothing is learned. Nothing is changed, and, despite Alitha Martinez’s art being adequate, they didn’t even get Natascha Bustos back to do the final issue. My hope is that we will see more Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur books in the kids graphic novel market and that they will maybe give someone else (a black woman, maybe?) a chance to write it.

The Magnificent Ms.Marvel #7 (released 9/18)
Saladin Ahmed (writer), Joey Vasquez (pencils, inks), Ian Herring (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

Road trip! And thank goodness because things are tough for Kamala at home. Sure, the complications of her parents knowing her identity as Ms. Marvel have been conveniently solved thanks to an unasked for mindwipe at the end of the previous arc, but if it turns out that such a change is connected to the incurable disease her dad is now suffering from, will it be worth that price? Of course not. There is also no indication that these two things are connected – sometimes the world is just capricious and cruel – but I’d connect them if I were the writer. Regardless, it is painful to see him suffering and her family suffering because of it (even as they are drawn closer together). So yeah, a roadtrip with her girlfriends to see some of New Jersey’s most (dubiously) notable sites seems like just what the doctor ordered. That is, until they stumble upon the white kid supervillains that never go away. One (Josh, aka Discord) is a former classmate, who blames everyone but himself for his bad choices, including being rejected by his would-be girlfriend when she came to terms with being gay. The other (Becky, aka Lockdown) was a bad choice protege of Captain Marvel during that whole forgettable Civil War II fiasco. I don’t mind these characters, but any reminder of that event is one too many. My only complaint about this issue is that the art, while adequate, pales compared to what we got in the previous series with art by Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa. My hope is that a more fitting artist with a distinct style will become the regular artist for this series.

Power Pack: Grow Up! #1 (released 8/28)
Louise Simonson (writer), June Brigman (pencils), Roy Richardson (inks), Tamra Bonvillain (colors), Joe Caramagna (letters)

This one-shot was a delight and if not for the developments in how comics are colored and the quality of the paper this issue could have fit right in with the beloved original Power Pack series from the 1980s by Louise Simonson and June Brigman. They are back and it shows. The comic seems set back in the 80s. No cell phones. No internet. Alex gets CDs (Lila Cheney, of course) for his birthday! There is even the requisite appearance by Kitty Pryde and Wolverine. Not sure how much appeal this issue by itself would have to someone not already prone to feel nostalgic about Power Pack (though it really is a great, if sometimes problematic, series) but it is easy to imagine that this would have been a two to three issue arc if it appeared back then. A multi-issue arc could allow Simonson’s pitch perfect voices for this kids and Brigman’s ability to draw them (as we see in this one-shot) with Simonson’s ability to craft serial superhero narratives like few others can. The issue contains a follow-up back up story which is also written by Weezie, but with art by Gurihiru, who worked on two different Power Pack limited series in 2005 and 2008 and has a more manga style.I hope we get more stories like this, set back in time.

Second Coming #3 (released 9/18)
Mark Russell (writer), Richard Pace (pencils, inks, colors), Leonard Kirk, Andy Troy (finishers), Rob Steen (letters)

Look, if you aren’t already reading Second Coming you should be. If you are religious or irreligious, Christian or Zoroastrian, you should read this book. (If you are Muslim you might take issue with the visual depiction of God, I guess). As I have often said, if there is a God and he is as great as they say, are you telling me he can’t take a joke? That he doesn’t understand satire? That seems more absurd than the very idea of god as a bearded old man in the sky. This series is thoughtfully written and the art is perfect for it. Solarman and Jesus are separated during the story, so the comic uses different “finishers” (inkers, colorists) for each character’s part of the story doing a great job of making a distinction between those parts. When Jesus is wandering a world full of the cruelty of people claiming to follow his teachings (but not recognizing him), the art is full of earth tones. It has a dreariness of melancholy. Meanwhile, Solarman suffers the struggles of a superhero who can throw tanks but can’t help his vulnerable grandma with dementia and can’t afford to get her the care she needs. On those pages, the more traditional looking superhero art is a sharp juxtaposition with the subject. Look, this is a great book. Get it. As for the text pieces and short stories Ahoy Comics includes in the backmatter, that is another issue entirely. As much as I admire their attempt to do something different in their comics, the stories are weak and those pages seem wasted. I would prefer story notes or sketches. Or better yet, a backup feature showing stories from the bible in the irreverent perspective of the comic.

Wonder Twins #7 (released 9/11)
Mark Russell (writer), Stephen Byrne (pencils, inks, colors), Dave Sharpe (letters)

I love this series. The art is bright and colorful and expressive, having a kind of gleeful cartoonishness that belies the deeper questions about incarceration, recidivism, and the way superheroes help maintain an ethically dubious status quo. That said, this issue did have a moment that I felt potentially undermined its willingness to exist in the ambiguity of the superhero genre, by reducing ethical action to individual efforts and intent, which seems like a cop-out. However, one moment is not enough to undo all the great work this comic is doing and with more issues to go there are plenty of opportunities to question the whole endeavor of superhero comics while making a great superhero comic! This is at the top of my list of books I look forward to the most each month.

Wonder Woman vol. 5, #78 & #79 (released 9/11 and 9/25)
#78: G. Willow Wilson (writer), Tom Derenick (pencils), Trevor Scott, Norm Rapmund (inks), Romulo Farjardo, Jr (colors), Pat Brosseau (letters)
#79: G. Willow Wilson (writer), Scot Eaton (pencils), Wayne Faucher, Jose Marzan, Jr (inks), Romulo Farjardo, Jr (colors), Pat Brosseau (letters)

I am guessing based on the banners on the covers of these two comics that they are somehow connected to some kind of line-wide event—”Year of the Villain”—but thankfully, rather than be tied too closely to some convoluted meta-narrative, the story is written in such a way to feel like its own thing. I guess, the question will really be put to rest if the story is resolved within the Wonder Woman title and not in some event book. The fact that it looks like Lex Luthor is behind Cheetah’s sudden power-up and access to the suped-up God Killer sword doesn’t fill me with confidence, but I’d love to see Diana take on Superman’s greatest foe in her own book. The story follows what happens after Aphrodite has been killed and love suddenly evaporates. People throughout the world lose that bond and many start harming each other either intentionally or through simple negligence of our social duty to each other. At the same time, however, other fundamental abstract notions of human life still exist, like duty, and honor, and shame. . .so while a lot of people are having a hard time finding the motivation to go on without love (including Diana), it is not impossible to be motivated by other means. It is just the kind of challenge I associate with Wonder Woman, so I like the story. As for the art, Tom Derenick and Scot Eaton both have some gorgeous moments in each issue but neither is as good as the Xermanico-penciled issues. The colorist working on both issues does provide some sense of visual continuity, and Faucher and Marzan’s inks offer some lovely shading and sharpness that the other team does not quite achieve. Wonder Woman feels like it is perpetually on the bubble and close to going off my pull-list, but these two issues have me thinking I will stick around for a bit.

Dropped/Cancelled or Finished: Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Captain Marvel, Future Foundation, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, Paper Girls, Shuri.
On the Bubble: Die
Current Pull-List: Ahoy: Second Coming; Dark Horse:  Black Hammer / Justice League; DC Comics:  Wonder Twins, Wonder Woman; Fantagraphics: Love and Rockets; Image: Bitch Planet, Bitter Root, Die, Fix, Monstress; Lion Forge: Quincredible; Marvel: Agents of Atlas, Miles Morales: Spider-Man, Magnificent Ms. Marvel, Runaways.

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