Reviews for the last two weeks of August

9-1-15

Let’s try something new. Every review this week (or at least most of them) will include my pick of the best moment in the issue.

ASTRO CITY #26 (DC, 2015) – This was a sweet tribute to Kurt’s first Astro City story, but I didn’t think it was nearly as deep or complex as other recent Astro City stories. And the ending was kind of abrupt. Best moment of the issue: the incidental reference to the Sledgehamsters. I kind of hope we actually get to see the Sledgehamsters someday, but maybe it’s funnier if we don’t.

RAT QUEENS #11 (Image, 2015) – After having been effectively ignored for quite a long time, Betty, my favorite Rat Queen, is the star of this issue. The plot has more to do with Hannah and her father, but the cliffhanger scene suggests that we’re finally going to find out more about Betty and her past. This is also Tess Fowler’s first issue as artist, and so far I like her better than Stjepan Sejic. Best moment of the issue: Dee tucking Betty into bed.

RUNAWAYS #3 (Marvel, 2015) – This series has only one character in common with the original Runaways, though it’s the best character. Yet the series clearly deserves to be called Runaways because it has exactly the same vibe as the original series. It’s about a bunch of kids who are hiding from the authorities, who are constantly in mortal danger, and whose goal is to make up for their bad upbringing. Amadeus Cho’s line “It’s not his fault he was programmed to be bad. So were we” expresses the essential idea behind this franchise. This series has been really good so far and I hope it continues after Secret Wars in some form. Best moment of the issue: Val getting all excited about her missing tooth.

MANIFEST DESTINY #16 (Image, 2015) – This issue starts to unravel the central mysteries of the series, as we get hints that the arches are portals to another world. Meanwhile, we also get some even more obscure hints about what’s going on with Sacagawea. I’m excited about the next issue, but also very nervous that that brave kid (not Sacagawea, the one who climbs the arch) is going to get killed. Best moment of the issue: “Good fortune to you!” “But you will most likely die!” “Yes! Most likely!”

SECRET WARS: SECRET LOVE #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This is probably the best Marvel comic book of 2015. The roster of talent in this issue is truly impressive – Katie Cook, Felipe Smith, Jeremy Whitley, Michel Fiffe, etc. Of the five stories in the issue, all of them are at least reasonably good. The Michel Fiffe story has some gorgeous art, though I think his art looks worse on glossy paper. The Katie Cook story is as adorable as usual and is full of visual puns. The Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel stories are not quite as good, though at least they’re funny. But the gem of the issue is Jeremy Whitley and Gurihiru’s story about Iron Fist and Misty Knight. I’ve never particularly cared for either of these characters, but this story is a tender, sweet, and realistic portrayal of an interracial marriage – maybe the best such portrayal in any Marvel comic. I obviously can’t verify this from personal experience because I’m not married, but this story feels like an authentic portrayal of what marriage and parenthood are like. And the “black people makeup” line and the hair braiding scene suggest that Jeremy is not making stuff up or relying on stereotypes, but is instead drawing upon his own experience of being married to a black woman. There is already some talk of expanding this story into an ongoing series, and I really hope that will happen. Best moment of the issue: Bantu knots.

WEIRDWORLD #3 (Marvel, 2015) – After three issues, I think this series is more impressive in terms of artwork than writing. Arkon is a very flat character and the storytelling in this series is overly decompressed, so the real excitement in this comic comes from Mike del Mundo’s artwork. However, I do think the Forest of the Man-Things is an awesome idea and I’m curious to see more of it. Best moment of the issue: the map.

ARCHIE #2 (Archie, 2015) – Mark Waid has been in a slump lately (see reviews of Daredevil in later posts) but this issue was funny and entertaining, and Fiona’s artwork is as brilliant as usual. I don’t remember Archie ever having been such a klutz before. You’d almost think he was a descendant of Groo, except I can’t imagine Groo ever reproducing. Best moment of the issue: the Rube Goldbergian way in which Archie causes the house to collapse.

REVIVAL #32 (Image, 2015) – This issue focuses on the sibling rivalry between Dana and Em, and also provides some effective insight into Dana’s rebellious past. The final reconciliation between the two sisters is surprisingly effective. Best moment of the issue: the “you’re all I’ve got” moment.

DESCENDER #2 (Image, 2015) – I forgot to order this when it came out, but it was either reprinted or offered again, so now I can get caught up on this series. As a general comment to this and the other issues I will be reviewing below, this is a very exciting series. I haven’t liked everything I’ve read by Jeff Lemire, and this comic is somewhat lacking in depth, but at least it has no dramatic flaws. I assume the main character’s appearance and age are a deliberate homage to Astro Boy, and his creator reminds me of Dr. Tenma. The best thing about this comic is Dustin Nguyen’s artwork. It’s impressive that he has the versatility to move to this project from Batman: Li’l Gotham, and he reminds me of José Luis García López because of his ability to draw anything at all and make it look plausible. Best moment in this issue: Trinket Tocket and His Tin Rocket.

INVINCIBLE #122 (Image, 2015) – A boring and forgettable issue in which nothing important happens. Maybe the reason for the upcoming reboot is that Kirkman can’t think of any interesting stories about Mark and Eve raising Terra. The problem, as is well known, is that stories about parents raising young children tend to be rather boring except to other parents, hence the prevalence of Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. Best moment of the issue: the shapeshifting beggar.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND THE MIGHTY DEFENDERS #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I don’t think Al Ewing is a particularly exciting writer. This comic is worth reading just for the Faiza Hussain appearance, and it has some interesting premises, including a world that’s a Marvel version of Mega-City One. but the writing is excessively basic, with few memorable moments or lines. Alan Davis’s artwork in this issue is good, but I’ve read so many of his comics that an ordinary Alan Davis comic is no longer impressive to me. Best moment of the issue: Prowler not knowing what spider-sense is.

GIANT-SIZE LITTLE MARVEL: AvX #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This is the exact same thing as the A-Babies vs. X-Babies one-shot, and it’s composed entirely of gags with no overarching narrative. But it’s funny and beautifully drawn, which is all I was really expecting. The two twins at the end are an obvious metatextual reference to the custody battle between Marvel and Fox over Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Best moment in the issue: Magik giving a fist-bump to Bob the Limbo demon.

THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ #7 (Marvel, 2009) – This was the work that established Skottie Young’s reputation. I’ve reviewed other issues of these Oz miniseries before, so I don’t have anything new to say about this one. Best moment of the issue: the “bran-new brains” line. L. Frank Baum was responsible for this, not Shanower or Young, but I still think it’s an awesome pun.

SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #248 (DC, 1979) – This was one of the only issues of this series I hadn’t read, but unfortunately it’s by the worst Legion writer ever. Gerry Conway had little understanding of what made the Legion unique; his characters were interchangeable except for Wildfire, who I can’t stand; and his plots ranged from boring to ridiculous. This issue falls into the boring category. While cleaning up the wreckage left by Earthwar, the Legionnaires fight a giant swamp monster who knocks Shadow Lass unconscious, and that’s it. Best moment in this issue: there really isn’t any, but Brainiac 5’s indifferent reaction to Shady’s injury is actually a clue that he’s going insane. This is a lead-in to the Omega two-parter in #250 and #251.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #33 (IDW, 2015) – I didn’t love this issue, but I liked it better than the last one. The apple menace is still impossible to take seriously, but Twilight’s solution for dealing with it is creative and funny. And there are some cute moments, including Spike describing the giant apple creature as strangely handsome. The problem with this story is that the apples are depicted as sentient creatures, albeit evil ones, and the ponies kill a bunch of them by draining their juice. The writer, Thom Zahler, neither acknowledges that the Mane Six are committing homicide (or fructicide, I guess) nor attempts to justify it. Best moment of the issue: the names AppleDrac, Twilight Sparkling, Drinkie Pie, Nosfurarity, and Rainbow Bite. I wonder if the last of those is an intentional reference to Roller Girl.

HOWARD THE HUMAN #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This one-shot is very similar to Thors, which I’ll discuss later, in that the humor comes from the complete tonal contrast between the genre of the plot and the characters involved. This is a hard-boiled detective story where all the characters are funny animals, except Howard himself – that’s the other joke. If this were an ongoing series, I would get tired of it very quickly, but since it’s just a one-shot, it’s very funny. Similarly, I don’t much like Jim Mahfood’s style of artwork, but I’m fine with it at this length. Best moment of the issue: the ending where Howard takes Pete hostage so he can have the egg.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #5 (Dark Horse, 2015) – So far I’ve found this series to be much less impressive than other relatively recent Groo comics, which is why I’ve allowed myself to get four issues behind. This issue is an okay Groo story, though. The humor comes mostly from Groo’s resemblance to Grooella, which allows her to disguise herself as him. Best moment in the issue: Grooella having a man severely beaten because he points out that she looks like Groo.

GIANT DAYS #6 (Boom!, 2015) – This morning I saw an undergrad student with a mustache and I was like, hey, it’s that guy from Giant Days. Though otherwise they didn’t look anything alike. The plot of this issue is that the girls go to Northampton over winter vacation (surprisingly I don’t remember any Alan Moore references) and the usual hijinks ensue. As with many Boom! Box titles, every issue of this series is basically the same as every other, but that’s not exactly a problem. Best moment of the issue: “You hugged me so hard that I’m now pregnant.”

DESCENDER #3 (Image, 2015) – See the review of issue 2 above. The only thing I forgot to mention there is that the “dog”’s name, Bandit, is probably a Jonny Quest reference. In this issue, Tim has a dream about some undead zombie robots, which is odd because robots can’t dream. As of issue 6, this plot thread has not been mentioned again. Best moment of the issue: Bandit’s use of smileys as facial expressions.

FANTASTIC FOUR #357 (Marvel, 1991) – The problem with DeFalco’s FF is that it was a complete ripoff of Lee and Kirby’s FF. This expressed itself in multiple ways. First, DeFalco’s dialogue was awful. He wrote in the same style as Stan Lee but was worse at it, and that style of dialogue was no longer fashionable anyway. Second, DeFalco was unwilling to make any lasting changes – every change he introduced, like turning Franklin into a teenager and killing off Reed, was later reversed – and he also reversed the changes to the status quo introduced by earlier writers. This issue is a good example of that, as it ends with the shocking revelation that Alicia Masters Storm is a Skrull, which means her marriage to Johnny was a sham. On top of that, this issue has a glaring plot hole. When Ben discovers that Alicia is an impostor, he doesn’t tell Johnny this. Instead he rushes into the room and yells “I’M GONNA KILL YER WOMAN!” Understandably, Johnny assumes that this means Ben is being possessed by the Puppet Master, and a big fight ensues. I suppose this is reasonable behavior for Ben, but clearly the only reason Ben behaves in this way is so that a gratuitous fight scene can be introduced and the revelation of Alicia’s identity can be delayed until the end of the issue. Best moment of the issue: the cute scene with Franklin wearing footie pajamas and carrying a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doll.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #24 (Marvel, 1974) – I was reading this while watching the Hugo ceremony online (I think that’s what it was) and so I was distracted at the time, but even if I’d been able to give this comic my full attention, I would not have enjoyed it. The guest star is Brother Voodoo, an embarrassing joke of a character, and the plot is as formulaic as you can get. Also, the artwork, by Jim Mooney, is boring. Best moment of the issue: the splash page with Spidey drawing glasses and a mustache on a billboard of J. Jonah Jameson.

CASTLE WAITING #8 (Fantagraphics, 2007) – This only sort of counts as a comic book I’ve read. I acquired it at Comic-Con the year before last, but never read it, and then I read the hardcover volume that contains this issue, so I decided to remove this issue from my to-be-read boxes. There is no real reason to own both this comic book and the hardcover volume, other than completism: the comic book contains no material that’s not in the hardcover, besides the cover art and two ugly sketch pages. Also, Linda Medley’s art looks better at the smaller size. Best moment of the issue: Sir Chess being tricked into holding the baby.

IT WILL ALL HURT #3 (Study Group, 2013) – I read The Wrenchies after reading issue 2. I hoped that reading The Wrenchies would help me understand this series better, but it did not. I think that this comic just fundamentally does not make logical sense and does not have a coherent plot. That is not necessarily a crippling flaw, because this comic is beautifully drawn, and it at least seems to be exploring some of the same questions about childhood that are addressed in The Wrenchies. Best moment of the issue: Honestly I can’t remember. I like the visual appearance of the little robot dude.

HARLEY QUINN AND POWER GIRL #3 (DC, 2015) – I suppose I enjoyed this issue when I read it, but it’s mostly vanished from my memory now. I’ve described the regular Harley Quinn series as a guilty pleasure before, and that also applies to this miniseries. Best moment of the issue: I guess Vartox’s Freudian explanation that he wears his costume because of childhood insecurities and a tumultuous relationship with his mother.

BLACK CANARY #3 (DC, 2015) – This is another comic that I completely forgot about after reading it. The main thing I’m enjoying about this series is Annie Wu’s art, and even that’s starting to lose its novelty. I don’t much care about the plot. It’s weird that Dinah’s ex-husband is named Kurt Lance instead of Larry Lance. Best moment of the issue: the enigmatic reference to Pomeline.

DESCENDER #4 (Image, 2015) – This is a seriously excellent comic, but I’ve already explained why. Best moment of the issue: all of Driller’s dialogue.

ANT-MAN #4 (Marvel, 2015) – I lost interest in this series because of Nick Spencer’s insulting treatment of Cassie Lang. This issue is a case in point: she spends the entire story unconscious, being used as an unwilling organ donor, and her dad has to rescue her. Other than that, this is a fairly good superhero comic, and I really like Ramon Rosanas’s artwork. It has a crisp, almost Clear Line sensibility. Best moment of the issue: the person who mistakes Ant-Man for an exterminator and asks if he does raccoons.

BATGIRL ANNUAL #3 (DC, 2015) – It took me a while to understand what was going on here, but it gradually became clear that this annual was a series of crossovers between Batgirl and other characters from the Batman family. The annual is a single story, but it consists of four segments, each of which is drawn by a different guest artist and has a different guest-star. The Grayson section takes up over half of the annual. It was kind of annoying to me because I’m not a Babs/Dick shipper and I have little interest in Dick in the absence of Kory, but at least it was well drawn. Similarly, I would have cared more about the Spoiler section if I had had more fond memories of that character. The Batwoman section is better, and the Gotham Academy section is the clear highlight of the issue, especially due to the artwork by Mingjue Helen Chen (I assumed it was Karl Kerschl until I checked). Overall this issue is an enjoyable package of material, although the plot threads that link the four segments together are very flimsy. Best moment of the issue: all the scenes involving Maps, especially the last page where she decides to start a superhero club. I want to see a Maps Mizoguchi/Molly Hayes crossover.

SILK #6 (Marvel, 2015) – Yet another comic I don’t remember much about, except that it was probably a very quick read. I enjoy Silk but it doesn’t have the same substance to it as other current Marvel titles (e.g. Ms. Marvel and, though it feels odd to say this, Squirrel Girl). Best moment of the issue: the caption “the end of the world, probably.”

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