Sunday, December 17, 2017

QUICK HITS: December 2017, Week 1

Hey, gang, because my full reviews are so inrcredibly long form, I can't possibly review ever comic book that way. So, I also bang out these "Quick Hit" reviews of just a paragraph or two, each with a recommendation and grade.

For the first week of December 2017, I came away from my local comics shop with five books:

• AVENGERS #674 — Marvel, $3.99
• CAPTAIN AMERICA #696 — Marvel, $3.99
• GREEN LANTERNS #36 — DC, $2.99
• PAPER GIRLS #18 — Image, $2.99

I should have come away two other comics from by pull list, DC's BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT #3, and Archie's MIGHTY CRUSADERS #1, but my retailer said Diamond Distributors shorted him on the latter, while he simply spaced (somehow) and forgot to order any copies of the latter. Both are on back order and those reviews will be added here just as soon as I am able.

As for the rest, here's what I thought . . .

[edited 12/27 to include MIGHTY CRUSADERS #1 review]

Marvel Comics
, $3.99, 28pgs.

"Worlds Collide, Part V"
21 pages, Read Time: 8:15

by Mark Waid (writer) and Jesus Saiz (artist)

Despite being part of an Avengers/Champions team-up, this issue is just about a Viv Vision solo story. Unfortunately, it has a lot of the same problems folks are assigning to the new Star Wars movie, in which the rebels are retreating at the beginning and still on full retreat at the end. But in that case, at least, there's a lot of action in between and I was fully entertained throughout. Here, we start with android Viv confused, having just been made into a real girl, and we end with android Viv confused, having just been made into a read girl. In between she meets up with and chats with High Evolutionary Jr. who has a tale to tell (being all tell and no show), and Viv apparently sacrifices herself to keep Earth and Counter-Earth from colliding. The balance of the Avengers and Champions teams are mostly relegated to non-speaking rolls fighting Ani-men that might as well be captioned, "Meanwhile, back at the ranch." Sadly, there is zero sense of impending doom from the imminent collision of worlds, and even the ani-men isn't all that exciting. Having giant beasts leading smaller ones on leashes seemed odd, I thought. Overall though, this arc has seemed like a six-part story with plot enough or three, except that three issues won't fill a trade paperback collection, so fill, baby, fill! ***MECHANICALLY RECOMMENDED***


COVER: 8.25 | PLOT: 6.75 | SCRIPT: 8.25 | LAYOUT: 6:50 | ART: 7:75 | EDITS: 6.00

DC Comics
, $3.99, 32pgs.

"Cold Dead Hands, Part 2: News in this City Breaks Without Pity"
22 pages, Read Time: 12:30

by Tony Isabella (writer) and Clayton Henry (artist)

I'm very happy to have Tony Isabella back on BL again, and happier still that he chose to retcon the retcon and lose the teenage kids. I'm surprised TPTB let him do that, given that the kids are an integral part of the upcoming CW show. And, althogh BL references an earlier career, this is not a reboot back to Isabella's last run, as he's crossing paths with Tobias Whale for the first time, and a color-swapped on at that. Not that I mind, it's been 40 years since BL's debut series, and I do like the updated Whale. I'm also happy that Isabella is soft-peddling his politics, as I feared coming this might devolve into progressive pandering applied with a cinderblock mallet. And there's some of that. Black Lighting complains there is no money at the local school for breakfast, while the lunch programs is in danger of cuts. But if the district is as poor as he says, then just about all of lunch (and breakfast too) is funded by the USDA School Lunch Program and not in danger of any cuts from local politicians. Tony also has BL wonder how a police take-down he observes might've been different if the drug dealer had been black. It's a valid question, but any racist musings are muted by the fact that one of the officers is black. And, later, it's a black officer who shoots wildly endangering bystanders and a white one who chastises his errant peer. So, it seems that Tony is going for a more thoughtful dialogue on the topic that merely using his comic to have a foolish, "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" sign — foolish because the rally 'round Michael Brown is built on a false narrative, not at all because black lives don't matter.

Still, Black Lighting was one of my first heroes when I was a kid, and I'm glad Tony has ditched decades of grim 'n' gritty stylings the comics industry has given us to make him a true hero once more, and accompanied by nice, clean art from Clayton Henry, to boot. This series is a revelation for this Bronze Age Baby, I must say. And sure, the plot doesn't move a lot this issue, but there is enough going on, and enough really nice character moments, that nothing feels like filler trying to stretch a story to fill a minimum page count for the collected edition. ***ELECTRICALLY RECOMMENDED***


COVER: 9.25 | PLOT: 9.0 | SCRIPT: 9.25 | LAYOUT: 9.0 | ART: 9.50 | EDITS: 7.50

Marvel Comics
, $3.99, 28pgs.

"Capture the Flag!"
20 pages, Read Time: 6:45

by Mark Waid (writer) and Chris Samnee (artist)

My full review for this issue is here, but the bottom line came to this: It's a nice little story, well-told and well-drawn, but far too quick a read to be anything close to worth the $4 paid for the privilege. Sadly, the story does fall apart a bit if one thinks about it too hard. For one thing, there a town in the shadow of a giant dam that'll be washed away of the flood gates are opened, but flood gates are designed to be opened form time to time. And the villains sword does vibraniam alloy tricks when the story calls for it to, but is otherwise inert. Plus, I'd have liked more from The Swordsman, who comes off as a typical 2-D Marvel movie bad guy, while the usually super-dependable Samnee lets me down in a couple of key places.  ***FISCALLY RECOMMENDED***


COVER: 6.0 | PLOT: 7.0 | SCRIPT: 8.25 | LAYOUT: 7.75 | ART: 8.50 | EDITS: 5.25

DC Comics
, $2.99, 32pgs.

"Oh, Bolphunga, Where Art Thou? Part Two"
20 pages, Read Time: 14:20

by Tim Seeley (writer) and Ronan Cliquet (artist)

I have really, really enjoyed Tim Seeley's run on this title. So, I'm very glad I did not drop it as I had initially intended to do when he came on board. Not that I dislike his work. Far from it. It was more like, "But what has he done for me lately?" thing. Plus my interest in this series was starting to wane, so a change or writer's seemed a good jumping off point. However, I forgot to remove this from my pull list at the change, and figured, aw, heck, I'll stick around for a few and see how it goes. Well, it's gone great. Seeley is introducing cool concepts and characters at a Weisingerian pace, and I'm lovin' it. That said, this has been the weakest issue of Seeley's four so far. The older alien getting sudden-onset Alzheimer's didn't really work for me and kind of derailed the denouement, I thought. Also, with the change of artists, he looked different than last time, and got a wheelchair he did not have or need before. So, I spent much of the story distracted by the differences, which sort of got in the way of everything else that was going on. Oh, and the cover is a sad fail. The way it is colored, and with our heroes' hands and the logo in the way of the nose, you would absolutely never know that's supposed to me a giant mouth they are falling in to. In fact, I only realized it when I looked more closely to try and figure out why Simon seemed to have an extra arm. ***GRAVITATIONALLY RECOMMENDED***


COVER: 3.25 | PLOT: 6.75 | SCRIPT: 8.25 | LAYOUT: 8.50 | ART: 9.0 | EDITS: 6.75

Archie Comics
(Dark Circle), $3.99, 28pgs.

"Heroes for Today"
20 pages, Read Time: 8:35

by Ian Flynn (writer) and Kelsey Shannon (artist)

I was pleasantly surprised by this issue. To be honest, I only ordered it on a lark, because I have been on a kick lately of collecting Archie's Red Circle comics from the mid-1980s. I did not per-order anything after #1 of this new series, because I didn't really expect it to be any good. But after reading the debut issue, I'd certainly consider following this title regularly. Problem is, it's kind of a special order at my shop, and my local retailer is not likely to have ordered subsequent copies of this series for the shelf. I'll have to ask if he can get a re-order from Diamond. 

Question is though, is it worth the effort? Sure, this issue was decent, but that's due in part because, in my mind, I'd given it a pretty low bar to clear. At a tick more than 8 1/2 minutes, this was kind of a quick read for $4, and I'd likely drop it from my pre-order as not worth the money in a few issues anyway. It's not surprising the issue costs so much — it has not a page of advertising (but for a lone CW RIVERDALE spot) and the interior pages actually seem to be of a heavier paper stock than the cover. Archie really ought to focus on getting its super-hero books out with as low a cover-price as possible, to try and fill the market niche of young readers Marvel and DC have left behind. And by young-readers, I don't mean write down to kids, but make every issue a place any new reader can jump on, with stories that are fun and engaging. Still, while Archie has found some success by abandoning young readers in its regular line, it seems to me its super-hero books should be something every retailer can confidently push to every kid, and every parent looking for comics for their kid, who walks though the door. Of course, that same approach could also be used to lure in older readers like me looking to recapture some of that Silver and Bronze Age magic.

In that regard, this issue fails to a certain degree. As someone who has not yet read any of Archie's Dark Circle hero comics, I had no idea of the backstory on any of these characters. I got the idea the new Shield is somehow actually older than the original Shield, but writer Ian Flynn really could have filled me in more on how that all works, in the "Data File" profile of the original Shield that followed the story, if not in the story itself. And how is the Original Shield still tied to World War II but looking no older than 50, or so? How does that work? And hasn't the big whoop of Dark Circle been the new Black Hood. Why is he not around here, or even mentioned?

We don't get much this outing on any of the Crusaders other than the two Shields, although Flynn does do a good job of filling us in on personality traits of each member. Of course, that's done mostly in a sequence that features the two Sheilds sitting at a desk talking — a scene that lasts six pages! Yes, nearly one third of the book. Add in another two pages of New Lady Shield chatting up New Web and almost half the book is talking heads. Thankfully, Kelsey Shannon's layouts are dynamic enough that all this yapping is visually interesting. Shannon has clearly studied his HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY, in which Stan Lee and John Buscema show how to handle a scene like this. Now, I can say with confidence, most artists at Marvel should study Shannon.  Of course, while these pages read really well so far as I'm concerned, I question how interesting all that talking would have played to any younger reader. I fear that after Dino-Man was dispatched, the rest of the issue might seem so much yada-yada-yada. ***CAUTIOUSLY RECOMMENDED***


COVER: 7.50 | PLOT: 7.00 | SCRIPT: 8.50 | LAYOUT: 9.50 | ART: 8.75 | EDITS: 6.25

Image Comics
, $2.99, 32pgs

22 pages, Read Time: 8:35

by Brian K. Vaughn (writer) and Cliff Chiang (artist)

Boy, this issue came along just in time (no pun intended). I was on the verge of dropping this title for the same reason I finally bailed on another Image book, BLACK SCIENCE — the story just kept going on and on and on with no real development and not really enough plot movement in an one issue. This issue is still kind of a quick read, but there was a lot going on to hold my interests, from the aged time groupie, to the giant robot battle, to the introduction o Tiffany's future goth husband. And, man, that was a twist from waaaay out of left field, one that threw me almost as off-kilter as the characters, but in a good show-me-more kind of way. It was also way cool the way Vaughn revealed the connection between the ancient cave baby Jahpo and the far-future director who appears to be the brains behind this entire narrative. And, wow, does that open up a lot of questions and conjecture story possibilities and where this is all going. So, after a brief bout of malaise, I have renewed my membership in the American Newspaper Delivery Guild . . . I just wish I could figure out if the lettercol writers are real or totally made up. Still, this remains my prediction for the comic book title most likely to be the next WALKING DEAD superstar in other media. ***RECOMMENDED***


COVER: 6.25 | PLOT: 8.25 | SCRIPT: 9.0 | LAYOUT: 9:50 | ART: 8:75 | EDITS: 8.00

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