Wrapping Wednesday: Micro Reviews for the Week of 01/15/20

By | January 20th, 2020
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

There’s 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.

Avengers #29
Written by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by Ed McGuinness & Paco Medina
Inked by Mark Morales, Ed McGuinness, & Paco Medina
Colored by Jason Keith
Lettered by Cory Petit
Reviewed by Quinn Tassin

Jason Aaron is one of Marvel’s biggest writers for very good reason. He regularly writes epic stories with cool, new concepts, strong characterization, and compelling themes; there are few better formulas in storytelling, particularly in comics. “Avengers” has largely hit similarly strong notes throughout Aaron’s run. In this Starbrand Reborn arc, though, Aaron has hit a bit of a stumbling block. There are a lot of good ideas, but they’re all stuffed in such an abrasive way that it’s all a bit difficult to digest. In “Avengers #29,” that bloat is on full display, but so is all of the fun at the foundation of this run on the book.

“Avengers #29” sees Earth’s Mightiest Heroes split up and fighting off an assortment of characters from Marvel’s cosmic side as they work to find the new Starbrand. The War Widow (Black Widow in cool Iron Man armor) and Blade (who’s wearing Boy-Thing as armor) fight off Silver Surfer while Ghost Rider recharges in his car in a very fun sequence. Meanwhile, She-Hulk, Captain America, and Brood Thor fight Terrax while Captain Marvel goes to battle with Firelord. It’s all perfectly fine but there’s not a ton of substance to anything going on here. At the issue’s end, Gladiator shows up as the new Starbrand, a pregnant human woman, emerges.

Ed McGuinness’s art is solid here, though it doesn’t quite fit the cosmic scale of the story Aaron is telling. He, along with Paco Medina and Mark Morales, do a perfectly competent, solid job illustrating the story here. They just don’t elevate it beyond its okay-ness, nor do they take advantage of the fact that they’re the art team for a story that takes place in space. The details in the background are largely scant, and the action is too generic to feel particularly interesting or impactful. When Blade stabs Silver Surfer from behind in a full-page spread, for instance, it doesn’t carry much weight, and that’s a problem.

On the whole, “Avengers #29” is just okay. The action is fun but won’t make you lean forward in your seat. The art is decent, but nothing eye-popping. The turn at the end is intriguing, but overall this story has proven to be pretty half-baked. Luckily, half-baked Jason Aaron is still a pretty fun read.

Final Verdict: 6.3 – “Avengers #29” is a lot like your favorite friend in college, messy but a good time.

Bloodshot #5
Written by Tim Seely
Illustrated by Brett Booth
Inked by Adelso Corona
Colored by Andrew Dalhouse
Lettered by Dave Sharpe
Reviewed by Matthew Blair

If it wasn’t for EXTREME characters like Cable, Deadpool, and Spawn roaring onto the scene in the early ’90s, I like to think that Valiant characters like Bloodshot would have become the titles that defined the comic book zeitgeist of the time. He’s got big muscles, big guns, a pre-programmed lack of morality, and enough of a tragic backstory to give him all the angst and drama you could want. While that is tragically not the case, at least we have books like “Bloodshot” #5 to show us what could have been.

“Bloodshot” #5 takes the reader to the part of the story where we can take a breath and get to know our characters a little better. While Bloodshot is away training and working with a clandestine organization, Bloodshot’s enemies are taking some time off and recovering from the beating that he gave them. Writer Tim Seely does a great job showing the human side of the high tech mercenaries that kill people for a living alongside a bunch of cool-looking tech and weapons that would look great on an action figure. Aside from some clunky expositional dialogue and some eye-rolling costume choices, it’s a well written and relatable script.

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The artwork on “Bloodshot” #5 continues to be excellent and a highlight for the series. Brett Booth’s pencils evoke the angular, incredibly dynamic, and almost lifelike proportions and feel of comics in the early 1990s, complete with unnecessary spikes, muscles, weird bits of machinery sticking out of people, and lots of big scary looking guns. The difference is that the comic knows when to reign in some of the more over the top aspects of that particular time period in comic book art, and that the script isn’t laughably bad. Considering the type of person Bloodshot is and the circumstances that surrounded his creation and debut way back in the early ’90s, the art style is an inspired choice and is perfect for the character and the story at hand.

“Bloodshot” #5 is a very good version of a style of comic book storytelling that would normally elicit nothing but groans and annoyance. If you’re feeling a bit nostalgic for that particular time period, it’s definitely worth checking out

Final Verdict: 8.2 – The ’90s may be gone, but Bloodshot shows us what could have been.

Gears of War: Hivebusters #4
Written by Kurtis Wiebe
Illustrated by Agustin Padilla and Wagner Reis
Colored by Sean Lee
Lettered by Shawn Lee
Reviewed by Gregory Ellner

“Gears of War: Hivebusters” has been a bit of a bumpy ride. Filled with new characters and little reason to be concerned for veteran fans of the Gears of War franchise, readers were probably right if they were to be worried about the latest installment. However, writer Kurtis Wiebe manages to make a sharp turn for “Gears of War: Hivebusters” #4 toward something much simpler and sadder, bringing the audience straight to protagonist Mac’s tragic backstory on the hellish world of Sera. Even newcomers to the series are likely to be sympathetic to his rather mundane desire to see his family as Wiebe cuts away the majority of the complexities of the Swarm War (such as they are) to show a tale that can just as easily apply to a vast majority of stories of warfare.

While Agustin Padilla and Wagner Reis both illustrate pages (with one example of overlap), the styles seem virtually indistinguishable from one another, so similar that they mesh together perfectly into a cohesive style that works as a whole. Portions of moving from one dream to another, or from a dream out into the real world, seem a bit stretched out as if emphasizing the violent nature of wrenching Mac from one world to another. The facial expressions and overall body language are extremely detailed, though not to the point of photorealism. This kind of emphasis on facial features helps to show the monstrosity of the Swarm as much as the vulnerability of the Gears. Furthermore, the use of faces shows the burdens of war, from the harsh lines that mark Mac’s face to the softer and smoother structure of his relatively innocent son’s own expression.

Sean Lee’s colors are most likely the key reason why the two illustrators have such an apparently singular style. Using expert shading to demonstrate the variable sources of light, Lee crafts a beautiful terror, a magnificently disgusting scenario that the audience can’t turn away from. From the stars in the sky to the simple light of a young boy’s room to the darkness and dim shimmer of a Swarm hive, everything feels at once realistic and otherworldly, drawing special attention to hell that is war and the peace that it forces its soldiers to be separate from in order to protect what remains.

Final Verdict: 8.0 – Beautifully illustrated, marvelously colored, and tragically written, “Gears of War: Hivebusters” #4 serves as an excellent look into the rising Swarm War for newcomers and veterans alike.

Glow vs. the Babyface #3
Written by Aimee “Death Hug” Garcia and AJ “Half-Pint” Mendez
Illustrated by Hannah “Saurus Rex” Templer
Colored by Rebecca “The Deadliest Crusher” Nalty
Lettered by Christa “The Barbearian” Miesner
Reviewed by Joe Skonce

I began the show Glow before I got into pro wrestling. One of the reasons that I liked it was its handling of (what I later learned was called) “kayfabe.” To those not into wrestling, kayfabe is the idea that the matches, rivalries, and personas of the performers are a reality, that the matches aren’t staged and rehearsed, that the performers aren’t portraying characters. Glow made the decision to showcase the women behind personas, showing their hopes and dreams and making you care about them both in and out of the ring. “Glow vs. the Babyface” #3 tells a story that does right by the characters, at least as far as the dialogue is concerned. The art tells a different story.

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Aimee Garcia and AJ Mendez do a good job writing the dialogue. “Glow vs. the Babyface” #3 feels like an episode of the TV show. The dialogue is fast-paced and funny, you can imagine the actors reading the lines, but it’s also able to capture some of the drama of the show. There’s a touching story of Melanie becoming confident as a caregiver or Yolanda dealing with the pain of being left for someone else. If this was an episode of the TV show, I would have been happy.

The problem, then, lies in the art. Hannah Templer’s art is fun. It feels inspired by Manga, with emotions being represented by radical art shifts and impressionistic representations of emotions. This is most true in the Yolanda story, her rage showcased by a ball of fire surrounding her. The colors are also bright and cheerful; it’s a fun comic to look at. But the problem is that it changes the way the characters are viewed. The dialogue, much like the characters on the show, is complex and blends humor with deeper emotions. The art almost makes them feel like caricatures, which is a shame. That style created a disconnect that felt distracting, taking the kayfabe of the wrestling ring and replacing it with the heightened reality of a cartoon world.

Final Verdict: 6.2 – “Glow vs. the Baby Face” #3 features some good writing, but the art diminishes the overall effect.

The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #2
Written by Jeff Lemire
Penciled by Denys Cowan
Inked by Bill Sienkiewicz
Colored by Chris Sotomayor
Lettered by Willie Schubert
Reviewed by Alexander Jones

“The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage” #2 keeps the momentum of the cliffhanger from the previous issue intact. After investigating corrupt politics in the last issue of the title, protagonist Vic Sage caught up with Richard Dragon who brought Sage to Hub City. Author Jeff Lemire seemingly takes joy in disorienting the reader and Vic Sage in the follow-up issue of the title. Lemire, penciler Denys Cowan and inker Bill Sienkiewicz tell a pulse-pounding story that Sage struggles to fight through in Hub City.

The way “The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage” #2 approaches issues like culture and politics is surprisingly honest. The issue packs a few visceral gut punches when Sage attempts to save a local townsperson named Booker. The simplistic nature of this direction for the story allows for Lemire to forge a strong emotional direction between Sage and Booker. The issue is transcendent and when readers catch back up with Sage in the present day at the end of the issue, the emotional weight and context are powerful. It is incredible to see just how versatile this story for the second installment is to survive a drastic genre change and come out even stronger.

Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz depict a minimalistic art direction where everything on the page really matters. The scenes of intense violence in the issue capture a disturbing psychological direction that makes the emotionally bleak script even more powerful. Cowan and Sienkiewicz also find emotionally striking facial expressions that will stay with readers even after they turn the page. It is also fascinating to see just how well Cowan and Sienkiewicz adapt to the genre change in Lemire’s script so easily. The entire creative team has no issues pulling the rug out from underneath readers.

Whenever a comic book can issue a true emotional response from the reader the medium of comics can feel transcendent. “The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage” #2 combines strong art and script to immerse readers in Booker’s tale.

Final Verdict: 8.5 – “The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage” #2 presents a horrifying lesson for Vic Sage to learn about himself.

The Red Mother #2
Written by Jeremy Haun
Illustrated by Danny Luckert
Lettered by Ed Dukeshire
Reviewed by Christa Harader

“The Red Mother” #2 draws Daisy deeper into the mystery of her hallucinations, and the strange spectral figure that’s haunting her vision. Haun and Luckert set a measured pace, with just enough visual interest to help wind tension even higher in their second issue.

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We don’t know what Daisy was like before the traumatic event, and that can make her a little difficult to relate to. Haun adds a few more details about her previous life in issue #2 – her profession, her relative ease and awareness of that ease – to help boost that sympathy, and her reactions to her “hallucinations” begin to dismantle that barrier as well. Luckert gives Daisy a lot of sympathy as well. She’s drawn gently, in a lot of comfortable layers with tendrils of hair framing her face, and her expression is often soft and vulnerable.

As for the horror, Luckert picks a sinister red wash for Daisy’s visions and does the nameless specter in spindly, terrifying textures. This issue features a scene between Luke and Daisy that appears as if it’s underwater, and the floating panels in the middle of the page are a nice touch that doesn’t err on the side of precious. Dukeshire picks a font with interesting curves on the Ns and Ks and adds a touch more air to the balloons to support the narrative’s unmoored quality.

Overall, “The Red Mother” #2 builds on the previous issue with good tension, a bit more insight into Daisy’s character and more of the restrained, effective visuals that made issue #1 successful.

Final Verdict: 7.5 – “The Red Mother” #2 deepens the mystery and adds necessary depth to Daisy’s character.

Tales from Harrow County: Death’s Choir #2
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Naomi Franquiz
Lettering by Tyler Crook
Reviewed by Kobi Bordoley

Spinoff series, perhaps even more so than sequels and prequels, run the risk of being the worst kinds of stories: derivative, uninspired, running on the fumes of exhausted nostalgia; you got the point. Luckily, “Tales from Harrow County: Death’s Choir” rises above, and the second issue of this most recent “Harrow County” spinoff has a lot of heart and great art to boot.

Tyler Cook has handled the pictures on nearly every venture into the world of Harrow County, but for this run, the creative team has passed the brush (literally, in this case) to the capable hands of Naomi Franquiz, whose lush watercolors are perfect for a folk horror story like this one. The style here falls somewhere between Jill Thompson in “Beasts of Burden” and Dustin Nguyen’s iconic paints. This kind of art might be more niche in comics, but given the names just mentioned, it’s a hell of a good place to be. Franquiz effectively envelops “Tales from Harrow County: Death’s Choir” #2 in a fine haze that obscures reality enough to let the specters in but is not so abstract or distorted enough to cause stress. The world here is one that feels haunted but not depraved, dangerous but not (yet) deadly. It’s a fun emotional space to play in, thanks to Franquiz’s attention to color and detail.

The story itself is straightforward, and while it’s not the most profound offering, Bernice remains an empathetic protagonist. The stakes are still pretty low, which is fine — but especially okay for a story that seems, at least so far, to be more contemplative and restrained than other iterations of Harrow County. Bernice is still finding her footing, and the portions of this second issue that narrate her life from the omnipotent third person are the strongest. In those moments, we’re on the outside looking in, eager for Bernice to succeed.

The feeling we get when reading “Tales from Harrow County: Death’s Choir” #2 is warmth. Fans of the franchise, once on board with the new art, should feel at home, and newcomers, while they shouldn’t expect a titillating, full-throttle horror story, will find something different to round out their reading list.

Final Verdict: 7.9 – Soft but spooky, a perfect story for a warm night in a cold winter.

Undiscovered Country #3
Written by Scott Snyder & Charles Soule
Penciled by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inked by Daniele Orlandini
Colored by Matt Wilson
Lettered by Crank!
Reviewed by Luke Cornelius

With “Undiscovered Country” #3, Dr. Ace Kenyatta, the Americana expert on the expedition team, takes the spotlight. While his expertise appeared to be the reason for his place on the team, in this issue the truth for his inclusion is revealed through flashbacks that punctuate the issue. Ace wants to prove to himself and Warren that he isn’t crazy, that his theories are correct, and, so far, he’s succeeding. Despite this though, there’s still an edge of unpredictability with Ace and this only serves to increase the tension on the mission.

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Snyder and Soule have been successful in growing and maintaining a wealth of mysteries in a short amount of time, but the real success has been in doing so while giving us new information. There’s fairness between reveals and further mysteries exemplified by Ace’s currently known theories proving true, but then leaving the question as to what other theories Ace has, what messages did he receive from the U.S.A., or adding another layer of intrigue, believe he received from them. It doesn’t feel that we’re swamped with unanswered questions though, instead, each little piece of the puzzle we’re given only leaves us desperate for another.

It’s not only the writing duo who are performing at their peaks in this issue though because Camuncoli’s pencils, inked by Orlandini, give the world a realistic depth. Camuncoli designs the Destiny Man’s mobile marketplace with incredible detail that forces you to stop and gaze at what remains valuable in this strange U.S.A. Equally, there’s an eccentricity given to the Nemo Jammer server, despite only appearing in four panels of the issue. Crank!’s lettering makes all of the dialogue easy to follow and never feels as though its crammed inside smaller panels or obscuring any details. Finally, Wilson’s colorwork in this issue is astounding and it morphs with the situation that Ace is in; when he’s in the peaceful Neo-Canadian wilderness, his bright red t-shirt breaks the color palette, suggestive of his radical ideas; when he’s in his padded cell, where the walls are canonically meant to change color, Wilson colors the room to visualize the shifting power dynamic between Warren and Ace.

Overall, “Undiscovered Country” #3 is an excellent continuation of a series, building upon the multiple layers of mystery and intrigue already established, illustrated with detailed artwork to match.

Final Verdict: 8.5 – “Undiscovered Country” #3 will leave you no choice but to get strapped in for the long haul.

//TAGS | Wrapping Wednesday

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