Friday, July 15, 2016

BRIEF REVIEWS: For comics on sale July 13, 2016


It was a small week at my local comics shop, Zimmie's, in Lewiston, Maine, with just four books arriving from my regular pull list. For the record, those were CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, NEW SUPER-MAN, WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES, and WONDER WOMAN. Next week is going to be huge, with enough new product coming in that I won't be able to buy it all and still limbo under the $30-per-week limit set by Sainted-Wife Sheila. 

So, I should have banked some coin for next week, but I just could not bring myself to leave the ol' LCS with just four comic books. So, I grabbed a few things off the stands that I had not pre-ordered. And that's how HAL JORDAN AND THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS: REBIRTH, No. 1; MICKEY MOUSE SHORTS: SEASON ONE, No. 1; and NIGHTWING: REBIRTH, No. 1, ended up being part of this review. 

Oh, I also picked up a copy of ASTRO CITY, No. 31, that I somehow seemed to have missed when it first came out, but that's not covered here.

Full retail on the books I am reviewing came to $23.93 (an average cover price $3.42), but after my 20 percent pre-order discount and 5.5 percent sales tax, the actual damage came to a $20.24. I guess I have some wiggle room to argue for spending more than $30 next week, after all.

Anyway, here's what I thought:



CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, No. 6
(Archie Comics, 44 pages, $3.99)

"Familiars"
[29 pages — 168 panels — 3,111 words — read time: 22:00]

"Witch Pitch"
[6 pages — 38 panels — 495 words — read time: 2:45]


I have the first five issues of Sabrina but have not gotten around to reading them. I thought I'd wait and devour the first arc in one session, but then they ended up being so few and far between, I now can't seem to find the earlier issues. So, this was a good test of whether this series can be picked up anywhere along the line and followed without too much trouble. Well, turns out, not such a good test after all, as this is pretty much a stand-along tale, featuring the origin of Salam the cat and the cobras, Nag and Nagaina. Both stories are pretty much straight-ahead plots, with no real surprises, but each is genuinely chilling in its own way, and well drawn by Robert Hack. That was particularly true in the first half, I thought, although some of that may have been due to a slightly more faniciful color palette used by him for the mideast scenes. Sabrina herself only makes a cameo on the last page, but, like The Spirit in some of his better tales, only needs to be present as a reason for the true story to take place around her. Combined with the text page by writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and a classic Sabrina story from the Archie vaults — which features a quick-to-swoon Sabrina that nicely compliments the hormonal lovelorn version briefly seen in the main story — this book is easily the best entertainment value of the week, taking nearly 30 minutes of time to digest and giving a good trade on the dollar in quality, to boot. My one and only critique: I wish they had told as were the classic Sabrina story was originally published. GRADE: A

**FRIGHTFULLY RECOMMENDED** 



HAL JORDAN AND THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS: REBIRTH, No. 1
(DC Comics, 44 pages, $2.99)

"Forged"
[20 pages — 68 panels — 1,061 words — read time: 8:30]

The Rebirth issues are supposed to be jumping-on points, and in that regard, this issue — by writer Robert Venditti and artist Ethan Van Sciver — fails, utterly. I mean, why is Sinestro old? Did he get old at some point in his own title, which I did not follow, or does this story, as seemingly intimated by his dialogue, take place in the far future? I have no idea. We get some explanation for the state Hal Jordan is in at the start of the tale, but then I get lost. He mentions not knowing were anyone is — not knowing if they even still exist — but then we see them appear in panels that seem to imply they emerge from the strike of his construct-hammer against a chuck of his willpower given physical form. I interpret that to mean Hal somehow pulled off a Superboy-Prime punching-the-universe deal. This supposition seems reinforced by a subsequent panel that appears to be corps members warping back into reality. But, still, I'm not sure if that's actually what's happening, or if we're just getting random panels of supporting cast members elsewhere at the time and, yet, somehow sensing Hal's work at forging a new ring for himself. Now, we do get some history of Hal and the Corps, albeit in exposition form as Hal recounts things he already knows. I guess that's him trying to hold onto his sense of self and not get lost in the willpower energy. But this history has something new, and I'm not sure if it's intentional, or an editorial error. Hal only mentions having one brother — Jim. So, what happened to his other brother, Jack? [UPDATE: Venditti advised my on Twitter that "Jack died a while back." I guess I missed the funeral.] But really, my biggest issue with this story is that there is no story. It's really just a 20-page prologue that could have accomplished the same amount of business in four or five pages at most. Worse, the main business of this prologue is to reset the stage, so it's no story at all. You know, a GL Corps books doesn't need to concern itself with any past continuity, not in my book. What I want is something much, much simpler. Think: "Hill Street Blues in Space." That's it. Take that concept and just tell me a  good yarn each outing. Anyway, this book was an impulse buy. There was nothing here that would entice be to jump on board for the ongoing series. GRADE: C-

**NOT RECOMMENDED**  




MICKEY MOUSE SHORTS: SEASON ONE, No. 1 (of 4)
(IDW Publishing, 36 pages, $3.99)

"Dog Show"
[6 pages — 43 panels — 294 words — read time: 1:55]

"Tokyo Go"
[6 pages — 47 panels — 287 words — read time: 1:50]

"Flipperboobootosis"
[6 pages — 43 panels — 291 words — read time: 1:40]

"Futebol Classico"
[6 pages — 46 panels — 275 words — read time: 1:25]

"Third Wheel"
[6 pages — 46 panels — 320 words — read time: 1:45]

There's a difference between cartoons and comics, a difference that's on prominent display in this book. This limited series adapts the new Micky Mouse animated cartoons that began in 2013. Some of the drawings have a Ren and Stimpy vibe to them, but that's okay. I'm not married to the classic Mickey style sheet. The real problem is that the five stories here are not merely comic book interpretations of the new shorts, they appear to be actual frames lifted directly from the digital animation "cels" and arranged on the comic book page. But what was probably laugh-out-loud funny on the screen falls flat on paper. The second story, "Tokyo Go," in which Mickey tries desperately to change lines on a crowded commuter train in order to make work on time, is particularly dependent on movement for its jokes, and just doesn't translate at all, at least not the way it's done here. That's because of the layouts. The panels are arranged in a more or less static grid of tiers with backgrounds that feel flat and somehow not in the same plane as the characters. This arrangement robs the stories of their punch by skipping all of the tricks of camera angle. story pacing, panel compensation, and line weight that make for good comics. There's a reason Carl Barks and other masters of the Disney oeuvre excelled. It's because they recognized that comics and cartoons, although they easily exchange the same characters, are completely distinct art forms. What works in one does not work in the other. My other issues is that the total read time of these five stories is just a little over eight minutes. That makes a $4 comic book pretty steep in terms of entertainment value. GRADE: D+

**NOT RECOMMENDED**




NEW SUPER-MAN, No. 1
(DC Comics, 44 pages, $2.99)

"Made in China: Part One"
[20 pages — 100 panels — 1,998 words — read time: 14:00]

An okay book. Nothing spectacular. In truth, it feels a lot like any standard DC super-hero launch of the mid-1980s. There's nothing particularly wrong with that. Certainly, at 14 minutes, we get more story for the dollar that just about everything else in the DC line these days, and the characterizations and storytelling of penciller Viktor Bogdanovic and inker Richard Friend are quite charming, at least in the first half. The story breaks down on the south side of the four-page Snickers ad, however. The way Kenan is shepherded into testing by Dr. Omen does not strike me as believable at all. Sure, Kenan's dad was busy elsewhere, but even in China, even with the Ministry of Self-Reliance, could a minor really just sign off on making himself a lab rat, subject to potentially deadly testing? Meanwhile, and this is my biggest complaint, the comparison to a standard '80s book is so palpable in part because nothing about this story strikes me as remotely Chinese. This story could have been set in Metropolis, or Gotham, or Central City, as easily as Shanghai. Sure, I get that Shanghai is among the most westernized parts of China, but I would have expected writer Gene Luen Yang to have focused more on making the setting a significant character in its own right, detailing the differences between American and Chinese cultures. That might have given the standard super-hero origin story seen here a compelling twist. But, as it is, even in the parts that are well done, there's really nothing here we haven't seen before from 1,001 other comics. Still, I'm not so sure how much Yang actually knows about China. There were stories before this issue dropped about how the main character's name had to be changed because he got something about it wrong, and based on what little I know about the Chinese education system — based on interviewing exchange students over the years, and a quick Google search just now — I find it very unlikely Kenan and Lixin would be attending the same high school, or senior secondary school, as it's know in China. That level, for students 16-18, would have probably directed Lixin to an academic school and Kenan to vocational education long before this story opens. And, as I understand it, most secondary schools in China are actually boarding schools. I don't know how different Shanghai schools are, but I expect they'd be a lot closer to the Chinese model than the typically American depiction we get here. Oh, one other thing — I found the white lettering on red caption boxes kind of hard to read. GRADE: C++

**TEPIDLY RECOMMENDED**  




NIGHTWING: REBIRTH, No. 1
(DC Comics, 44 pages, $2.99)

"Nightwing Rebirth"
[20 pages — 80 panels — 2,105 words — read time: 15:05]

This is a book that doesn't seem to get the point of "Rebirth." Less the launching pad for a new series of adventures, maybe even a whole new directions, this whole issue acts more as a epilogue to the previous GRAYON series. As someone who dropped that title after its second issue, most of what we get here, then, is meaningless to me. I don't know if Tim Seeley was writing the GRAYSON series over its last few issues, but whoever was should have been given instructions to wipe the slate clean and do the goodbyes there, for the benefit of those who were reading that book. Instead that's what we get here as the Grayson cast is ushered off, stage right, in a series of vignettes, while other lose threads are tied up. But me, I have no idea who Tiger Tony and Keshi are, or Lincoln March, for that matter, making it hard to work up too mach passion for his passing. And, once again, all this bidding adieu to Agent 37 means nothing to me as I had nothing at all invested in that identity. What I would liked to have known, was exactly HOW Dick got his secret identity hack. I mean, how does that happen? How did the whole world just forget?! Finally, not having been in on the Court of Owls' scheme to put a bomb in Damian's head, taking it out provides no closure for me. Actually, I've always hated Damian. I'd kind have preferred if they had left the thing in . . . and blown it! Oh, well, at least the artwork of Yanick Paquette is real nice to look at. GRADE: C-

**NOT REALLY RECOMMENDED**  




WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES, No. 733
(IDW Publishing, 44 pages, $3.99)

Mickey Mouse in "Night of the Living Text!"
[16 pages — 78 panels — 1,482 words — read time: 8:35]

Donald Duck in "Swallowed Whole"
[10 pages — 70 panels — 747 words — read time: 4:00]

Mickey Mouse in "Night of the Living Text! Part Two"
[14 pages — 58 panels — 1,276 words — read time: 6:05]



The Micky story, reprinted from a 2011 Italian comic book, is pretty fun. In it, Mickey & Co. are attacked by comic book caption boxes come to life and have to work their way through a host of comic book storytelling conventions before chancing on a way to end the narrative tyranny. Of course, caption boxes like the ones our heros face have long been out of vogue in U.S. comics, so any young reader here — being, I presume, the target audience — might be forgiven for not automatically getting some jokes that are clearly inside baseball. Still the art by Andrea "Casty" Castelian is fun, even if I think they would "read" better on newsprint than the hi-gloss paper this book is printed on. I do wonder about the translations by Joe Torcivia, however. In many places the English dialogue is not as long as the space provided in the balloons for the original Italian-language script. I tend to think it might be better to just go ahead and rewrite a little bit here and there in order to fill the available space, rather than leave jarring blank areas due to a literal translation. Sadly, while I'm usually more of a Duck man than a Mouse aficionado, I didn't think much of the Donald story, originally published in Denmark last year. It's by William Van Horn, but clearly not his strongest work. He is 77 now, after all, so maybe that's not too surprising. I'm just glad I looked to see who the artist was before writing this brief review, because my original instinct was to label both story and art "amateurish." Clearly, that's not the case. But, as with all great comics artists, the final years are not always the best. GRADE: C

**RECOMMENDED FOR YOUNG READERS**  




WONDER WOMAN, No. 2
(DC Comics, 44 pages, $2.99)

"Year One, Part One"
[20 pages — 68 panels — 1,063 words — read time: 8:15]

This is a prime example of decompressed storytelling in modern comics. In the parallel tracks Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor take during the year or so before their first meeting, we get a script that is very well written, and drawings that are just exquisite, but almost no plot at all. It's just a bunch of day-in-the-life scenes leading up to the legendary plane crash that brought man to Paradise Island. We get a page of Steve and his buddy hanging at the firing range, and an entire page that's just Princess Diana riding a horse, with lots of insights in the character of what will be our main protagonists, but, in the broader scope, nothing really happens.There is a bit with Diana discovering some big-ass weird tree, where she's bitten by a snake and takes ill for an indeterminate period of time, and maybe writer Greg Rucka will reveal something about this that will end up being significant later on, but for now it's just something that happens, taking up three pages for no apparent reason. Thankfully, the artwork of Nicola Scott is gorgeous to look at, especially as nicely complimented by the colors of Romulo Fajardo Jr., which add mood, and depth, and shading, without announcing the work with fancy tricks that district from the story . . . such as it is. GRADE: B

**PLOTLESSLY RECOMMENDED**  


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