Tuesday, February 28, 2017

QUICK HITS: Reviews for comics on-sale Feb. 15, 2017

Well, I'm a couple of weeks after release with this batch of mini-reviews, but better late than never, right? The good news is I will soon be in a position to reviews comics (DC Comics, anyway) BEFORE they are actually released. How's that, you ask? I'll tell you soon. I mean, I could say now. It's not a secret or anything. Still, I'd prefer to wait until after the first few pieces are posted before celebrating myself too much. Don't wanna jinx it. After all, every good Legionnaire knows, you never step out of a rocket ship onto a new planet left foot first.

Anyway, on to the reviews!


AQUAMAN, No. 17
(DC Comics, 32 pages, $2.99)

"Warhead" (20 pgs)
Story by Dan Abnett
Art by Scot Eaton and Wayne Faucher

I get that Abnett wants to beef up Aquaman's Rogues Gallery with a new villain, but Warhead just sort of shows up out of nowhere, for no apparent reason. There's milking te mystery, and then there's just not giving readers enough information to care. We can suppose Warhead appears on a college campus for some reason, but why is really not made clear except for one bit of insta-exposition given by one of the (researchers? professors? students?) he has under semi-mind control. I suspect there was a lot in Abnett's script that did not translate onto the page. Meanwhile, Eaton's art lacks the dynamism needed to make the talking head panels resonate, such that both the scenes with Aquaman's secret service detail (good add to the supporting cast, though it is) and his U.N. speech, fall flat. The U.N. address, in particular, is more confusing that anything else, as it seems the ambassadors are either ignoring Aquaman, or else distracted by the vision only he is presumably able to see.

GRADE: C–     **WETLY RECOMMENDED**



BATMAN, No. 17 
(DC Comics, 32 pages, $2.99)

"I Am Bane, Part Two" (20 pgs)
Story by Tom King
Art by David Finch and Danny Miki

I read the last issue. I know I did. And yet I could not remember a bit of it as I sat down to read this one. Maybe that's why it left me with nothing but questions. Batman is putting his past partners on ice to protect them why? Who is the guy shot in the opening scene, who shows up again as a prisoner of Bane at the end? Is it Bronze Tiger? The head of Arkham is actually Alfred in disguise? Is that a new thing, or part of the Rebirth canon I've missed? Who is the woman Alfred is using the Psycho-Parate to cure? (note: I realized after re-reading past issues it's Gotham Girl) What is he trying to cure her of? The Pirate needs his mask for his powers to work now? I thought his powers were always on and the mask only served to keep people from feeling his every expression. Does Alfred need four days to effect the Pirate-cure because Batman asked Superman to hold his pals that long, as it appears by the order of the scenes, or is it the other way around? Who is the bird guy who captures the woman we can later assume to have been Catwoman? Isn't it a crow that goes "caw, caw," not a hawk? Was the double-page spread of Batman by a clock tower (while cool) at all worth two pages at the expense of the narrative? What was the point of the panel of Gordon's blank smart phone screen? Was there supposed to be some kind of wording or image there? Is the guy in the Bat-armor not unlike the one Gordon briefly wore the black kid with my name? If not, who is he? And, in either case, why is he sporting this new suit? Why is Bane capturing all of Batman's pals and how did the two know where the other would be at 11:52 p.m.? And, finally, in a story that's only 20 pages long, is there any meta reason we need three pages of "caw-cawing," one of them a full-age headshot of Bane? I have a sneaking suspicion that King's scripts go on for pages and pages with all of this and more explained. Unfortunately, so little basic info, much of it of storytelling necessities, makes it to the printed page. But I knew that, which is why I dropped Batman from my March pre-order.

GRADE: C-     **NOT RECOMMENDED**



CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE, No. 5
(DC Comics, 32 pages, $3.99)

"Night Pudding" (22 pgs)
Story by Jon Rivera and Gerard Way
Art by Michael Avon Oeming

"Super Powers" (2 pgs)
Story and Art by Tom Scioli


Okay, let's just dispense with the Super Powers feature first. Apart from the fact that I just don't get it, the ultra-small grey-on-yellow text is just to impossible for my aging eye to read. As to Cave, despite the fact that I so much want to love this book, I don't. Unlike DOOM PATROL, it actually has a comprehensible narrative, so that's a plus. Problem is, while the relationship between Cave and his daughter Chloe mines some emotional depth, the balance of the book is plot-by-numbers. Meanwhile, the art really leaves me cold. There's really nothing too it. I don't mind linework that is semi-spartan, or characters that are stiffly posed, but this is really Discount Mike Allred. I also can't figure out why Wilddog is part of the cast. That just seems so random to me. Other points of protracted randomness — the swear words, which seem utterly out of place in a book like this, which seemingly would have played well to my 10-year-old self, underground cities and all, but for the few words that would have cause my mother to rip the book from my hands had she seen them, and that damn cybernetic eye. Despite it being a part of the logo, Rivera and Way seem to have all but forgotten over the last couple of issue that Cave even has a cybernetic eye. Everything put together, this book just doesn't seem worth $4 a pop to me. The first issue or so, there was enough quirk — including the seeming mystery of the eye and how it got in Cave's head — that I thought maybe things would play out in a new and innovative fashion that would make the whole thing a worthy read, but it just doesn't seem to be happening. Or at least not happening fast enough to keep me from dropping this book from my May pre-order. So, that's three up and three down from DC's new imprint for me. Seems the Young Animal line is busy eating its young.

GRADE: C     **NOT RECOMMENDED**




DOCTOR STRANGE, No. 17
(Marvel Comics, 28 pages, $3.99)

"State of Misery" (20 pgs)
Story by Jason Aaron
Art by Frazer Irving


Far and away the best book this week! I'm not super wild McCrazy for the artwork. It served the story well enough, and the painted style is neat enough that I'd probably be a fan if it was the usual tone of this series. But its quite a departure from the style of series regular artist Chris Bachalo. I also was drawn out of the story a bit on some pages which seem to become a game of Guess What Bearded Actor Irving Used as Reference for this Panel? The rest of the book is all there though as Arron feeds every gosh-wow demand of my inner 12-year-old, from new creatures that feed the imagination (my younger self would be writing fan fic about the Googarrii and the Duvvugoo right now!), sets us up with compelling villains (a guy made out of all the pain and misery Doctor Strange has ever had to channel as a result of using magic), and captivating problems (dudes a brain surgeon who now has to cut into living brain tumors that actually fight back!), treats us to high-value Marvel Universe cameos (hello, Wanda, my love! And, um . . . Man-Thing?!), makes us actually care about the supporting players (oh, no, poor Wong!! Zelma, she's so cool!) revels in cool settings (not the least of which is The Bar With No Doors), and, in the bar fight, gives us at least one bit of business that is introduced, explored, and resolved under the cover of this one issue, even if the greater plot plays on, providing us with a complete reading experience. Well done!

GRADE: A     **HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**




GREEN LANTERNS, No. 17 
(DC Comics, 32 pages, $2.99)

"Darkest Knights, Part Two" (20 pgs)
Story by Sam Humphries
Art by Eduardo Pansica and Julio Ferreira

This issue is better than the previous one, where, for some reason, Humphries started handling Simon Baz' gun mania with all the subtly of a brick to the head, while he and Batman matched detective skills by seeing who could jump to a conclusion the fastest. Here, Batman and Simon become BFFs, although it's unclear why John Stewart and Kyle Raynor are left off the list of previous GLs Bats couldn't work with. My biggest complaint this issue is that, for all the internal monologuing we get from him, the Scarecrow ends up being almost a non-entity in this story, his defeat coming as a fait accompli of Trek-babble that, realistically, only exists as to get us to the Bat 'n' Baz palsy-walsy epilogue. There is some interesting stuff about how Simon's fear is not that his ring will fail, but that he will, but he overcomes that pretty easily, while his decision to drop the gun from his arsenal seems fairly dripping with political overtones. Frankly, his fear is not invalid, and I see no reason he wouldn't switch to some less lethal backup, like a TASER, stun gun, or Manhunter baton.

GRADE: B     **COWARDLY RECOMMENDED**



JUSTICE LEAGUE, No. 15 
(DC Comics, 32 pages, $2.99)

"Timeless, Part 1" (20 pgs)
Story by Bryan Hitch
Art by Fernando Pasarin and Matt Ryan

This book was not on my pull list. However, little Quislets on the omnicoms told me it had a Brainiac 5 cameo. So, Legion fan that I am, I gabbed a copy off the stands when stopping by my LCS this week to pick up my weekly order. And I'm glad I did. Sort of. The whole Then/Now style of storytelling is so way overplayed in comics — the the point where Issue No. 3 of KILL OR BE KILLED made light of it, with the main character there wondering to himself, if he did it again a third time, would be be stuck in that narrative mode forever? Here, the problem is that the incongruity creates discontinuity, as it becomes a little unclear (to me, anyway) what is happening when in the now and what when in the then, as we seem to get before and after references in both timespans. I also get the impression that Superman and Batman (or Batman, at least) is running a parallel-yet-separate plot thread, as Batman meeting unseen antagonists may or may not connect to his teaming with Supes, which, in turn, does not seem to have Superman playing directly from the timejump he and the other characters take later in the issue. My other fear is that while Hitch has shown me a talent for creating scenarios that genuinely seem to require the attention of the entire League, without resorting to worn-out end-of-the-universe/save-the-planet cliches, his set-ups often deliver a lot more than the payoff. So, we'll have to see where this goes. The art is quite nice however and very much in line with how I like my super-hero team books to look. 

GRADE: B     **CAUTIOUSLY RECOMMENDED**



KILL OR BE KILLED, No. 6
(Image Comics, 36 pages, $3.99)

[no title] (24 pgs)
Story by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

This one I'm going to have to skip. The story of a serial killer, in which he is the rather sympathetic hero of his own story, is just fantastic, and I really don't want to give anything away. Of course, if you are not familiar with Brubaker and Phillips by now from series such us CRIMINAL, FATALE, and THE FADE OUT, then brother, you gots a lot a great reading to catch up on! So, instead, what I'd like to do in this same is take the time to rag a little more on Cave Carson. Now, one complaint I skimmed over in Cave review above, is the language. My issue there is that there is simply no reason for it. Apart from a few swear words, Cave could easily be an all ages book. So, a fu*k here, and a fu*k there does not make it a mature readers title. There's really no need for the swearing there at all, and having it only serves to draw me out of the narrative by calling attention to itself. But here, I don't mind it at all, because the entire tone, theme, character interaction and dialogue, is much more deeply rooted in reality (the occasional sacrafice-demading demon excepted). Here, the sensibility is that this is how people in the real world would really talk, and really act, if this kind of thing was really happening. In books like Cave though, my answer to, "But that's how real people talk," is, "Yeah, but real people don't drive giant mole machines and fight algae men in underground kingdoms." It's a double standard, maybe, but I thought I should try to explain why I can rate one "mature" title so highly, and the next so low, based on the language used therein. 

GRADE: A+     **HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION**




MANIFEST DESTINY, No. 26
(Image Comics, 36 pages, $2.99)

[no title] (24 pgs)
Story by Chris Dingess
Art by Matthew Roberts, Tony Akins, and Stefano Gaudiano

I've been a fan of this series, about what really went down during the Lewis & Clark expedition, since it began, in no small part because of the many fantastic creatures the crew has faced, with Dingess deftly mixing in what seems to me period-accurate reactions. So, the final page of this issue is really the King Kahuna of all last-panel reveals. Of course, it won't pack much of an emotional wallop if you have not read the previous 25 issues. But, in case you have, I dare not reveal what happens. Apart from the high adventure and creep-o-riffic thrills, however, this series expertly mixes in deep-rooted human-scale drama, from the self-conflict of a soldier wondering if he really has become a murderer, to other men arguing over whether or not to kill someone who may or may not be sick, just in case the disease, if present, spreads, to concern of woman living in the wilderness and the trauma of frontier childbirth, to the intrigue of dealing with conflicting native tribes. There's more to both think about and wonder at in each issue of this book than in whole six-issue arcs in most mainstream titles. Oh, and as an aside, is it me, or does that totally look like a Tom Mandrake cover? 

GRADE: A–     **WILDLY RECOMMENDED**



THE MIGHTY THOR, No. 16
(Marvel Comics, 28 pages, $3.99)

"The Asgard/Shi'ar War, Part Two: The Challenge of the Gods" (20 pgs)
Story by Jason Aaron
Art by Russell Dauterman

One of the other best books of the week. Also written by Jason Arron. Strange coincidence that, eh? Of course, being a Legion of Super-Heroes fan, I'm always down for a little Imperial Guard action. Why DC and Marvel can't team for a LSH/IG crossover is beyond me. The IG was mostly a function of last issue's need to bring Thor and the Shi'ar gods face-to-face, though, and they're dispatched with pretty quickly this time out. Instead, this issue, the focus is a god-eat-god face off between the Shi-ar and Thor, with Shadrak, god of daffodils and documentation (from Aaron's very first Thor arc) acting as judge. One thing Aaron does well is to fold in all the gods of many faiths from across the universe, while weaving a tapestry of crossed threads out of near-absurdist myth and maybe-just-super-science supposition. It's not entirely clear exactly why the Shi-ar gods want to prove themselves better than Thor, in particular of all the gods in the cosmos, at creating natural disasters and plagues, but no matter. Ours is not to question the will of the gods, merely to enjoy their legends and stories. And with all the Norse gods coming to Thor's aid, next issues battle should be a tale for the ages! DC really should try to poach Aaron from Marvel.

GRADE: A–     **RECOMMENDED**


Also out this week, but left stranded in my pull file for later purchase: ARCHIE, No. 17.

Finally, SUPER SONS, No. 1 also was part of this week's four color booty. For that one, you can read by full 10-point review here.

Until next time, take care and happy reading!

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