Wrapping Wednesday: Micro Reviews for the Week of 10/21/15

By | October 26th, 2015
Posted in Columns | 4 Comments

There is a lot to cover on Wednesdays. We should know, as collectively, we read an insane amount of comics. Even with a large review staff, it’s hard to get to everything. With that in mind, we’re back with Wrapping Wednesday, where we look at some of the books we missed in what was another great week of comics.

Let’s get this party started.

“The Beauty” #3
Written by Jeremy Haun & Jason A. Hurley
Illustrated by Jeremy Haun
Reviewed by Stephenson Ardern-Sodje

Image’s picture perfect police procedural takes a turn for the conspiracy theorist’s dream. Haun and Hurley may only be three issues into their first arc but they clearly know just when to ramp up the scope of their story.

Detectives Foster and Vaughan are pinned down under heavy fire and their only hope lies in the hands of the last people you might expect to save them. That’s pretty much all I can give away in terms of spoiler free plot for this issue, as Haun and Hurley really dive head first into a maze of pharmaceutical cover-ups, political pay-offs and double-agents that really opens up the more straightforward world they pegged out in their first two issues. I was really impressed with how they’ve managed to expand on their story in a way that is both completely surprising for their protagonists and yet seems like it’s been their plan all along. We’re introduced to a whole slew of new characters and it feels as though this first arc finally almost all the players it needs on the board for the story to start ramping up. However, as with all good detective fiction, there’s still a lot left unanswered, specifically with the mysterious character who bookends this issue with a presence that is at once both enigmatic and magnetic. While this book is clearly by and large rooted in reality (apart from the eponymous virus) there are a couple of larger than life characters who crank up the comic-book element of the issue without making it feel disjointed at all.

Although he may be pulling double shifts, Haun’s art is some of the best, most fit for purpose work I’ve seen in a long time. He has an impressive eye for constructing panels, giving each of his pages a balanced feeling that allows for quick, pacey reading. There is a sleek, clean simplicity to his panels that helps the story barrel along, unfettered by anything unnecessary to the plot. However, he’s also able to slow pages down to a crawl when the time is right, best evidenced during a tense standoff between the two detectives and their saviour/captor in the middle of this issue. Haun’s faces are probably the strongest element of this book, visually speaking. There’s a subtlety to his expressions that feels controlled but never mask-like, allowing for a more nuanced emotional range than most artists aim for. This style is the perfect accompaniment to Haun and Hurley’s tough, no-nonsense characters, and it only helps to build a sense of hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck-raising unease as these disparate groups of people struggle to find common ground with one another.

Special mention should also be made to John Rauch’s instantly recognisable colouring. His smooth colours and heavily light-influenced shadows give this book a tone that could be recognised at a single page. What’s more, his understated highlighting of the ‘Beauties’ of Haun and Hurley’s society, colouring them is such a way that they seem to almost glow, helps to create a stronger ‘us and them’ tonality to all Beauty/non-Beauty interactions than any amount of overworked dialogue could have done.

I loved the sound of this book when I saw the first few pages in an Image preview a while back, but I completely forgot about it until this issue and had to go back and pick up all three issues in one go. I’m almost happy that I did, because I feel like, although the initial concept is slick, socially relevant and self-aware, there’s more to this book than meets the eye, and it takes a few issues to really get to grips with it. If you liked what the first couple of issues had to offer then this one opens up the story in a magnificently menacing fashion, and if you’ve not read a single issue of “The Beauty” yet, then it’s not too late!

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Final Verdict: 8.5 “The Beauty” is a top quality mystery that is every bit as infectious as the virus that shares its name.

Book of Death: Fall of X-O Manowar #1
Written by Rob Venditti
Illustrated by Clayton Henry
Review by Ken Godberson III

There has been a pattern I’ve noticed with these “Fall of” tie-ins to “Book of Death” in the ways they were released. Each had their own way of approaching the death of their titular characters. “Fall of Bloodshot” was a broad biography of the character before his death. “Fall of Ninjak” was more focused on that final event. “Fall of Harbinger” dealt with the death and a bit of the aftermath. But here, this issue deals more with the fallout with the death of Aric of Dacia than the death itself.

Rob Venditti does not make Aric’s death a bombastic final stand against some great enemy, but it is a very quiet one with his loved ones, looking back on the good he has done. To see his people finally have a home after literal centuries of time. And to know that his legacy will live on. Speaking of legacy, it’s a bit of a misleading title because, while Aric dies, X-O Manowar awesomely lives on.

Clayton Henry has been a favorite in many of the Valiant books since 2012 and he continues to evolve. He has such a smoothness to his characters in terms of ‘movement’ and he is without a doubt the best artist at Valiant when it comes to character expressions. Able to convey sadness, joy, rage and laughter in ways that other artists would come off as less authentic

Final Verdict: 8.3- Venditti and Henry take less a look at Aric’s final end but rather the legacy he built to great effect.

Dr. Fate #5
Written by Paul Levitz
Illustrated by Sonny Liew
Reviewed by Brian Salvatore

“Dr. Fate” is DC’s attempt at catching the Kamala Khan magic in a bottle, and trying to revive a classic DC character in the process. This issue, more than any other, really position him as a hero – he’s saving lives, making choices that put others before himself, trying to find the right solution to the world’s problems – and it is starting to work. The problem is that, 5 issues into the series, it may be too little too late.

The most intriguing parts of each issue are the covers; Sonny Liew is doing such extraordinary work when not encumbered by a co-creator to lead his vision. This cover, presented as panels, is far more visually interesting than anything found within. That’s a problem, but also an opportunity – perhaps Liew is an artist that would work far better ‘Marvel style,’ aka being presented an outline and shaping the story visually first and scripting it later, than working with a straight script. Liew’s style is a great fit for this book, however, and adapts well to having his characters bent in half, sucked backwards in time, and flung across the city.

The action, the entire ‘hero figuring out his powers’ thing, that’s all been working. The personal elements of the book, while there, have felt more forced than not, but this issue starts the turn the tide. There is a page near the end of the book that shows the four women in his life, all pulling him in different directions, and all that appeal to him – romance, family, culture, and profession – but he chooses heroism over them all.

That’s a comic I want to read, but I don’t know if most people stuck around past the second or third issues when things were getting a little mundane and dull. Hopefully, Levitz and Liew can pull an ancient rabbit out of a hat and make an audience for the book appear.

Final Verdict: 7.2 – A book that is starting to find its footing, and has potential to be truly interesting.

Giant Days #7
Written by John Allison
Illustrated by Max Sarin
Reviewed by Jess Camacho

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Now that “Giant Days” is an ongoing, it feels much less like an adventure of the week comic book and more like an ongoing saga. The pacing has changed and I like that. “Giant Days” #7 finds Susan, Esther and Daisy back at college getting ready for exam but for Esther, this is proving to be a problem since she hasn’t studied. Susan meanwhile has a secret she’s hiding that she’s worried about her friends finding out. “Giant Days” #7 is a lot of fun because despite the pacing change, the dialogue is just as quick and witty as before. The book is very English but accessible to everyone. The slang and different terminology isn’t a bad thing because there’s plenty of context within the story. Allison has really developed these characters well by this point so the drama with Susan’s secret is something you end up emotionally invested in. “Lumberjanes” and “Giant Days” have a lot in common in regards to this and they each take time to tackle adult issues but “Giant Days” does it in a way that targets an older audience and that’s why this issue in particular is so refreshingly great. It features sex without shame, crushes and plenty of relatable school stress.

Max Sarin takes over as the regular artist on this series with Whitney Cogar remaining on colors. Sarin still brings a very cartoon like quality to the book but he also adds a bit more humanity to the way characters move. There’s a very small amount of sexiness to Susan’s new relationship but it’s more playful and romantic than anything else. The character expressions are big and dynamic and I love that Sarin understands building backgrounds. Cogar’s colors remain bright and vibrant but she can also change the mood accordingly.

Final Verdict: 8.0 – “Giant Days” #7 is another great issue in this series and I’m so glad it’s sticking around for the long haul.

Justice League #45
Written by Geoff Johns
Illustrated by Francis Manapul
Reviewed by Keith Dooley

The mind-boggling talent that is artist Francis Manapul is the guest artist on this month’s “Justice League” #45. He’s a perfect fit for Geoff Johns’ sprawling epic that is the “Darkseid War” and, along with co-colorist Brian Buccellato, Manapul brings a different yet similar sensibility to the book as regular artist Jason Fabok. The introduction of iconic heroes as “New Gods” melds the powers of Johns and Manapul without being too jarring from previous issues. With impactful splash pages as well as cinematically-in-size action and conversations within dynamically utilized panels, Manapul and Buccellato bring the same excitement and importance to non-stop revelations that Fabok would have supplied in yet another jam-packed issue.

Seeing certain superheroes transforming into God-like beings is exciting in the hands of Johns. The story could have devolved into something devoid of heft and been simply used for titillation. His script for “Justice League” #45 is lighter on the dialogue and heavier on the action yet still has the weight of importance and devotion to characterization. Johns is clearly having fun with each JL member and their transformations. His talent and enthusiasm for this tale has not waned with this fifth chapter of the “Darkseid War”. With six one-shots devoted to six all-new iconic heroes on the horizon in the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see where other creative teams take them for these side stories.

If there had to be another artist to fill in for Fabok, then Manapul was clearly an appropriate choice. His expressive and unique style is needed for something this grand in order to keep the story still grounded and relatable. His heroes are larger than life yet contain emotions we are so familiar but on a grand scale and on a grand canvas. Manapul and Buccellato’s colors are bright and pop brilliantly off the page. Even when Superman is depicted as black and white, there is an electricity that simply crackles off the page.

“Justice League” #45 is the beginning of the next stage of the “Darkseid War”, so jumping on with this issue isn’t confusing at all. After reading this issue, you’ll want to find out why many, including this reviewer, believe this is the best arc of “Justice League” of the dawning of the New 52 so far.

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Final Verdict: 8.0 – Although it feels lighter weight than previous issues, “Justice League” #45 continues the unique story that is “Darkseid War” and has Francis Manapul firing on all Boom Tubes.

The Shield #1
Written by Adam Christopher & Chuck Wendig
Illustrated by Drew Johnson
Reviewed by Kevin McConnell

I have always found reboots/reimagings to be tricky in presentation. On the one hand, you are trying to improve on something that was already successful. On the other, you are looking to put your own stamp on the product. The success hinges on how well someone can find the balance between those two elements. In the case of “The Shield”, this is a lukewarm approach that leaves no lasting impression whatsoever.

The first introduction to The Shield is a two page wordless spread that takes place in the past. The action is tense, giving off real danger to the proceedings. Rather than give an explanation, Adam Christopher & Chuck Wendig throw the reader right into the present with no transition. Victoria Adams, aka The Shield, is in a police station in Washington, DC having done something to garner attention. Adams is be tracked by an mysterious agency and she is not sure who she is or why she is here.

That is the whole issue in a nutshell. Christopher & Wendig really throw caution to the wind with this first issue. The opening salvo is a great introduction to Adams, but the smash cut to the present is jarring. There is very little context given to what Adams is all about. There are many balls in the air that are thrown up, with little to no regard for if they logically fit in the plot. Adams does not even get an actual name until near the end of the book, which seems a little silly when I say it out loud. There are many people who are coming to this reboot of “The Shield” for the first time. I am one of those people, so I know next to nothing about the character. After this issue, I really can’t say that I know a lot more aside from the fact she is an older character.

Drew Johnson does not assist in making things any more exciting. Aside from the above mentioned opening, there is nothing special about the art. Johnson plays things incredibly safe throughout the issue. There isn’t anything that stands out in terms of the plot or locations. Washington, DC being a location for architecture and history, Johnson makes everything look generic. The faces of the characters look the same, the buildings have no uniqueness to them and even a little action later comes and goes. Johnson might not be fully to blame here, since the script doesn’t allow him to flex any artistic muscles.

For a relaunch of a new line for Archie Comics, “The Shield” is a huge step back for the publisher. I do not think there is enough of a hook to bring me back for a second issue as it stands right now. The idea that the reader should know who The Shield is without context was not a wise decision. A new #1 should give enough information to leave you wanting more. In this case, I am left with a lot of questions and a lot of head scratching. In context, this book was delayed multiple times and I wonder if this was the final version from the start. If so, maybe an additional delay to reevaluate might have been in order.

Final Verdict: 4.1 – The potential for success here was dashed after page 2. Hardly the dark & edgy story Dark Circle Comics was going for, unless they meant for it to be in a dark hole. Color me disappointed.

Tokyo Ghost #2
Written by Rick Remender
Illustrated by Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
Reviewed by Matthew Garcia

“Tokyo Ghost” has been channeling an 80s cyberpunk romance, but it also has adopted an 80s mentality. This second issue finds Debbie Decay and Led Dent going to their boss to try to get out of their contract, only to be given one last job, in Tokyo. Scripted by Rick Remender (“Fear Agent”) and illustrated by Sean Murphy (“Joe the Barbarian”) with colors by Matt Hollingsworth (“Selina’s Big Score”), “Tokyo Ghost” #2 languishes and stutters through its full duration.

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The art’s not bad, but it’s pretty weak for Murphy. He’s always bore a sketchy, jittery style: rough, but somehow still precise, filled with well-realized detail and set dressing. In this book, though, he gets so caught up in the spectacle, he sort of forgets we’re supposed to be looking at anything. He throws in these huge double spreads pulling back to show a location, which would normally be okay, except he chooses to do this right in the middle of an action sequence. There’s nothing that exciting or lively in the artwork, and the panel-to-panel experience is nearly incomprehensible. More than a few times I had to stare at a page for a few minutes just trying to figure out what’s going on.

Remender’s script is overwritten and stagnant. He makes some broad attempts at going for character development — in this issue, in particular, to show the genesis of the relationship with Debbie Decay and Constable Dent — but it’s lazy, generic, and somewhat misogynistic. I think Remender likes to set his stories in the 80s, or gives them a big 80s vibe, because it allows him to broadcast his own prejudices but laugh it off as being consistent with the period: both this and his other Image series, “Deadly Class” with Wes Craig, for instance, bear grim similarities in their approach to any of the characters who aren’t the straight male leads. He doesn’t offer anything original in the story — from the plot to the themes to the setting; his narrative boxes only go to describe what’s going on in the picture and offer nothing else to add to the narrative; the script is structurally all over the place; and he and Murphy never settle into a rhythm or beat so the pacing comes off like they’re trying out a defibrillator on a beached whale.

The book promises to look at “our growing addiction to technology and triviality,” but it’s from the perspective and voice of an older generation who doesn’t understand what they’re dealing with so they immediately assume it must be detrimental to society. This voice might be the only consistent tone in the entire book and it’s completely condescending and smug: any value or points Remender might theoretically raise is undone by his YouTube troll tone.

Not much in this book comes together. It’s not exciting. It’s not interesting. It’s sort of insulting. (I didn’t even get into Debbie’s costume or how Murphy and Remender seem to think that having a man walking around naked is compensation for her objectification.) Murphy is capable of so much better (“The Wake,” “Punk Rock Jesus.” that “American Vampire” story he did): even his phoning-it in-art (“Chrononauts”) reads so much better than anything he’s turned in here. “Tokyo Ghost” #2 just doesn’t do anything.

Final Verdict: 2.3 – If you’re jonesing for a Murphy fix, find one of his other books.

//TAGS | Wrapping Wednesday

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