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Wrapping Wednesday: Micro Reviews for the Week of 4/19/17

By | April 24th, 2017
Posted in Reviews | % 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.

Archie #19
Written by Mark Waid
Illustrated and Colored by Pete Woods
Letters by Jack Morelli
Reviewed by Alexander Jones

“Archie” continues to impress this week with another issue centered around the relationship between Archie and Veronica. The new version of Veronica for Mark Waid’s “Archie” series is a very complex character. She’s entitled but readers aren’t supposed to view her for just that one character trait. As the issue and series progress, more layers behind her character start unravelling. However, Veronica still has a hard-coated edge of privilege that makes it difficult for her to relate to others. Waid writes this storyline increasing well, showing how Veronica has changed since this series has progressed.

This issue in particular features Waid wrapping up “Archie” in a ball and sending him off so he can literally go focus on other characters in the issue. The switch is an over-the-top feature of a comic book that can be on-the-nose and extremely unsettling at the sametime. My only complaint about this story is that it would have been great to see more of an emphasis on Jughead’s relationship with Lodge. The writer continues to deliver on Archie and Veronica’s relationship, picking up on the wedge that drew them apart in previous issues and examining what happened between them and why the chemistry was there in the first place. The issue continues to mostly explains why and how these character beats happen in a concrete manner that gives both of the individuals in this story a nice set of motivations.

There’s only the slightest hint that the two of them think alike in some aspects and are mutually interested in each other’s well being. While Jughead does have his own ongoing series, it feels like this is something the series has been battling since the debut issue…a cliche. Jughead’s wacky “Archie” antics and passion for food don’t bring out any character elements that are past the surface level of these characters. In the meantime, Archie and Veronica feel like fully-formed, interesting individuals. The final few scenes give a tiny hint at what’s next for Jughead and I hope Waid can find something to say about one of the most interesting “Archie” supporting cast members.

Pete Woods continues to be an excellent addition to the slate of “Archie” artists. His attention to detail and loose figure work is the perfect artistic complement for this series. The artist is a chameleon in tone, making sure to deliver on strong character beats of both humor and drama without making any one character seem too particularly bleak.

“Archie” is definitely still in some good hands here even though it would be nice for Waid to have a stronger emphasis and more interesting things to say about certain supporting cast members. While the new “Archie” typically has an interesting, if not great main story, side players aren’t given stories that are as interesting or well defined as the main series tend to be. Thankfully, the strong artistic talent and main story from Waid and Woods still makes this comic a pleasure to read through from a writing and drawing standpoint.

Final Verdict: 7.0: “Archie” delivers a good story marred by small blemishes and a lack of ambition in the series’ 19th installment.

Assassin’s Creed: Uprising #3
Written by Alex Paknadel and Dan Watters
Illustrated by Jose Holder
Colored by Marco Lesko
Lettered by James Bettancourt
Reviewed by Gregory Ellner

“Assassin’s Creed: Uprising” continues to be a real treat, both for longtime fans of the franchise and for newcomers. While there is little to no focus on the historical part of the narrative, Alex Paknadel and Dan Watters’s writing makes the modern day portions of the story so intense and action-packed that it becomes hard to miss that element of the mythos. Even moments without action are given high drama and apprehension, adding to their dramatic presentation.

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Jose Holder’s use of light and shadow, aided by colorist Marco Lesko is very interesting, especially when contrasting between the corporeal world and that within the Animus. The latter has emphasis on light and the quasi-supernatural, while the former emphasizes the shadow, the “dark to serve the light” philosophy of the Assassin Order. Another group that seems to have a focus on light is the Instruments of the First Will, which further demonstrates their disillusionment with the current reality. The paneling is also very interesting, such as when someone becomes lost in the Animus, with the panels seemingly drifting off into the distance as if to show a loss of focus.

James Bettancourt’s lettering helps to emphasize the difference between the Animus and reality, further showing its alien nature and that of the people whose technology inspired it.

On the whole, this issue was an excellent look into the growing intrigue of the three-pronged shadow war, a very interesting way to move forward with the story on both a verbal and visual front.

Final Verdict: 8.0- A compelling story that gives a hefty dose of suspense on every turn, with a few bonuses thrown in for franchise fans.

Curse Words #4
Written by Charles Soule
Illustrated by Ryan Browne
Colored by Michael Garland and Ryan Browne
Lettered by Chris Crank
Reviewed by John Schaidler

The Biblical character Samson got his strength from his hair. Wizord, the hipster wizard-for-hire hero of “Curse Words,” on the other hand, derives his puissance from his beard.

Wait – what? Hold up. What the heck is puissance?”

To be honest, I didn’t really know either. I had to look it up. But it’s definitely the kind of word that Wizord loves to use. More importantly, though, it’s the kind of unexpected flourish – and well crafted detail – that makes “Curse Words” so compelling.

In truth, from the very start this series has been built upon a pretty straightforward plot: Wizord, a notoriously heartless bad guy from a distant, magical planet is sent to destroy the earth. Instead, he becomes enamored with humanity’s imperfect beauty and changes his mind, putting him in mortal danger with his all-powerful boss, Sizzajee.

Thankfully, throughout “Curse Words” #4 (as with the previous books), writer Charles Soule’s consistently clever dialogue and sometimes snarky verbal descriptions mesh perfectly with artist Ryan Browne’s incredible line art and vibrant, almost neon color palette to transcend this fairly boiler plate set-up. Frankly, if you’re looking for a wildly imaginative plot with unexpected twists and turns, this book may not be for you. If, on the other hand, you’re totally down with a book that takes the wistfully nostalgic, Tolkienesque tropes of yore and stands them on their ear, this book is as fresh as it gets.

In fact, do yourself a favor. Before you even read one word of “Curse Words” #4, flip through the pages front to back and watch how Ryan Browne strikes the balance between sweeping, cinematic scenes and efficient, well-timed close ups that deftly ground the action in human emotion, simultaneously keeping the story entirely relatable and pretty damn cool. Page by page, panel by panel, watch Wizord visually transform from the sulking, moody loner who’s lost his magical mojo back to the bearded hipster in sunglasses and a tailored suit who’s mighty incantations can stop a tsunami with a simple “shazoom” and tell me that’s not totally badass.

This is Swords and Sorcery for the new millennium, exploding across the page in bold strokes and brilliant colors, punctuated with witty dialogue and wry verbal descriptions.

And seriously, keep and eye on those luxurious chinlocks (as writer Charles Soule artfully describes them in response to one fan’s letter in the back of this very issue). They’re some kind of visual battery meter for the ebb and flow of Wizord’s puissance and a definite harbinger of things to come.

Final Verdict: 8.0 – Well-crafted verbal flourishes and incredible art elevate this tale of a modern day wizard.

Deathstroke #17
Written by Christopher Priest
Pencilled by Joe Bennett
Inked by Norm Rapmund
Colored by Jeremy Cox
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Lettered by Willie Schubert
Reviewed by Kent Falkenberg

Beast Boy drops by “Deathstroke” #17 just long enough to tell Power Girl that her new bestie is the world’s deadliest assassin. The cameo is great tie back to Deathstroke’s history with the Teen Titans, while also weaving in some threads that will inevitably lead into the ‘Lazarus Contract’ event that’s upcoming. It’s really indicative of how deftly Christopher Priest brings characters and plot lines in and out of his complex tapestry. Priest and Joe Bennett are cinching all the strings of the ‘Twilight’ arc into a gordian knot that can only end with a blade and some degree of violence cutting to the hearts of all involved.

With Slade’s identity revealed, Power Girl quickly shuffles Beast Boy out the door with a jumbled excuse of an excuse, “Oh – Deathstroke. Thought you said Def Jam. Yes, of course I know who that is. I’m pretending to help him figure out his plan”. Then, there’s a silent panel as she leans against the wall and looks back at the man she thought was an ally. Bennett captures a world of hurt, betrayal and fear in her eyes. It’s a thunderhead of how-could-I-have-been-so-wrong and how-could-I-have-been-so-stupid. With a near effortless precision, Bennett telegraphs this entire gamut of emotional distress.

And not two panels later, there’s a close-up of Wilson’s face, with much the same framing. Only, his eyes are hidden behind glasses. His expression cold, statuesque. It’s such an impressive contrast to see a face so expressive in one panel; and in the next, one so unfeeling. In this simple moment, “Deathstroke” 17 really nails home how calculating Slade is. He’s always mapping the trajectories, plotting his next manipulation, and it’s always occurring beneath a still surface that belies nary a hint of what he’s actually thinking.

But on top of everything, Priest and Bennett make sure that we never forget – and it’s been said before, it’ll be said again, but maybe not as loudly as it is here – Slade Wilson is a bastard.

Slade Wilson is a dog-murdering bastard.

Bennet gives a masterclass in framing, paneling and pacing in “Deathstroke” #17. Something as innocuous and natural as taking a knee to pet a dog turns threatening, to sinister, to worse. The tight framing of Slade with the dog creates an inescapable, claustrophobic tension as the panels are repeated over and over while Priest’s dialogue takes an innocent gesture down darker and darker turns. The stress is palpable as the realization seeps in as to what Wilson’s intending.

And then, snap. Willie Schubert’s letters takes us the rest of the way there.

The worst part is that Priest’s characterization makes us understand exactly why he did it. Showing that it was for Power Girl, for her to be able to turn her back on him without ever second-guessing that he might be redeemable makes total sense for him as a character. And it’s almost sympathetic, in a sick sort of way.

The rest of the “Deathstroke” #17 – yeah, it’s great too. Bennett’s art is consistent throughout, punctuated by the occasional flourish like a cutaway roof to show the route of a chase through Power Girl’s hideout. And Priest hits emotional beats for all his characters, while leaving the entire cast on a crash course for a wedding issue that will close out this arc. Seriously, I can’t think of any other book right now that weaves silly superhero tropes, dense family drama, and the most morally complex anti-hero this side of Walter White quite like this.

Final Verdict: 8.5 – Fantastic issue, in its own right. But as a lead in to the arc’s finale? I’ve never been this excited to read a wedding not written by George R. R. Martin.

Ms. Marvel #17
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa
Colored by Ian Herring
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Reviewed by Nicholas Palmieri

My favorite part of this volume of “Ms. Marvel” has been its insistence on covering a modern socially relevant topic. In the past, the team has covered gentrification, justice through profiling, and voter apathy, and now we come to internet issues: etiquette, privacy, and harassment.

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These themes would mean nothing if we didn’t care about the characters, so it’s a good thing Wilson starts the issue with a multi-page sequence in which Zoe enters school afraid of what people think of her after a privacy breach. Miyazawa enhances the loneliness she feels by framing Zoe as an outsider, with the other students talking about her in the background, placed far away. It becomes all the more touching when her friends come to comfort her, filling her foreground and stopping the isolation, in the nearly dialogue-free scene.

That opening scene was by far the best part of the issue, although, there are a few minor problems going forward. This was the first time where I felt this arc got a little unrealistic and preachy. While wonderfully rendered by Miyazawa, the video game sequences felt a bit forced when the characters started purposely doing nice things for other players. Wilson was clearly aware of this, as there’s a wonderful comedic moment before this where the players wonder how Kamala isn’t skeptical about the concept, but it still falls a little flat in execution. In any case, I did appreciate the sentiment. It may seem like a goofy concept, but imagine how many problems we wouldn’t have if people were just nice to each other on the internet.

The other problem had to do with the abrupt ending. Every scene leads up to a final battle which lasts for one punch in under two pages, and there is no aftermath. After all of the thematic and character work earlier in the issue, I’d have expected a stronger wrap-up.

In all, issue “Ms. Marvel” #17 has a few flaws, but none too strong to take away from how strong the character beats were. The thematic beats also worked well, with some great dialogue from Wilson and appropriately creative art from Miyazawa. This was just one of those cases where the cheesy solution truly is the most realistic.

Final Verdict: 7.8 – Extremely strong character and thematic beats save this slightly anticlimactic arc-ender.

Monstress #11
Written by Marjorie Liu
Illustrated and Colored by Sana Takeda
Lettered by Rus Wooton
Reviewed by Forrest Sayrs

“Monstress” tries to raise the stakes this week with battles between gods and mind-shattering revelations. In the heart of the mysterious and deadly Isle of Bones, Maika finds someone with answers to her questions and guidance on what she needs to do next. Or to put it another way, the same stuff that’s been going on for the whole arc.

Marjorie Liu seems to be bringing the ‘Isle of Bones’ sequence to a close with a muddled combination of climactic conflict and unresolved mysteries. The advertised big reveal fails to live up to expectations, filling in some blanks about Maika’s history but leaving other questions frustratingly unanswered. Credit is due; however, to the strong cast that helps carry the issue through the muddy plot. Maika’s violent response to the incomplete info dump is one of the most satisfying scenes of the issue and could indicate Liu’s awareness of her own pacing problems. At the same time, a series of flashbacks give insight into the greater mythology Liu is building, and provides Sana Takeda a chance to show off.

Takeda’s wonderfully detailed panels continue to be the primary reason to read “Monstress.” She never fails to impress with the level of detail and consistency she brings to both the environment and her characters. This arc has featured a lot less of the steampunk and Art Deco filigree that dominated the first few issues. Instead, #11 showcases the Lovecraftian, true form of Monstrum; all tentacles and disturbingly misplaced eyes. No less intricate, but entirely different from the glittering precision of the human lands. The two styles would seem to be at odds with each other, but Takeda somehow bridges the gap with complexity. Even the distortions of motion blur in the action sequences is precise and beautifully realized.

In spite of the lack of real resolution, “Monstress” is always worth picking up, if only to drool over the artwork. It’s hard to overstate how good this book looks. Liu has another issue to bring this arc to a more satisfying conclusion, and #11’s impressive closing panel, a god-possessed fox burning with eldritch fire, is incredibly tantalizing. The biggest problem going forward is breaking out of the current cycle of exposition and minor conflict. Strong world building is important, but “Monstress” needs to refocus on moving its story forward. As of #11, it’s coasting on the strength of Sana Takeda’s art.

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Final Verdict: 6.8 – The Status may be Quo, but that’s not always a bad thing when the art is this good.

Ninjak #26
Written by Matt Kindt
Illustrated by Stephen Segovia
Colored by Ullises Arreola
Lettered by Dave Sharpe
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane

Is it possible for something to be satisfyingly unsatisfying? Normall,y that kind of feeling is evoked from Coen Brothers irony, or a really good noir, not a comic bout a ninja themed superspy/mercenary. Because that’s what comes to mind when considering “Ninjak” #26, the capper to ‘The Seven Blades of Master Darque.’ It is the end of Matt Kindt’s run, but not the end (technically that goes to #27). The mission is complete, Master Darque is no more, but Collin King is without satisfaction. All of these and more tangible details would normally point the reader to a reader conclusion that the book was an unsatisfactory experience, and yet I am satiated.

I suppose, a portion of satisfaction comes down to how Kindt and artists Stephen Segovia and Ulises Arreola tell this concluding chapter. This arc has been predicated on a series of elliptical narration told to Ninjak from Neville, Roku and Sandria Darque. Now Ninjak gets to tell his own unreliable narrative. This narrative by Ninjak is actually a really effective tool at cutting to the chase and condensing things so that we get to the actually important stuff fast. Normally I find Valiant’s four issue structure to be somewhat frustrating but this structure plays with and uses reader expectation just right.

How Kindt uses the story Ninjak tells Neville and himself, versus what story he tells the reader is a concluding statement that is in line with everything his series has told us about Collin Kink aka Ninja-K. He is a reflexive sadomasochist, the strong sadist proving himself by domineering his weak flesh. Never able to be the man for long without disrupting that stability and repeat the cycle. Kindt also uses this narrative prominence to do some interesting things to reveal the workings of agency in these kinds of stories.

For all the “seriousness” I’ve heaped upon this book, it isn’t unknowingly self-serious. Tonally it is like good modern James Bond, it takes itself seriously but with a playfulness. Kindt and the art team come together to use comic onomatopoeia (one of the unique tools of comics) to finish Ninjak’s explanation on what happened to Master Darque that is one of the funniest, smart, and satisfying moments I’ve read in a good while. Overall the art and construction of the book is fine, on par with what they’ve been doing previously. The fact they manage to ring yet another Ninjak-Roku fight out and have it not feel perfunctory is a sign of their craftsmanship and the narrative context Kindt has helped build.

Final Verdict: 8.0 – ‘The Seven Blades of Master Darque’ is true to Kindt’s run overall and a satisfying conclusion for a character who is perpetually dissatisfied.

Sex Criminals #18
Written by Matt Fraction
Illustrated, Colored, and Lettered by Chip Zdarsky
Reviewed by Jake Hill

“Sex Criminals” is one of those books that is so consistently good that it gets hard to think of new ways to say so, but I will try. After an uneven publishing schedule (to say the least) and some forward momentum, this issue finally slows things down enough to check in with members of the supporting cast.

First there’s Robert Rainbow and Rach. Honestly, it had been so long since we had checked in with these two, I had forgotten what they were going through together, but that didn’t matter. Their breakup here is painful, a little funny, and goes to some places you never see in any sort of media. They have a frank discussion about anal sex, different kinds of panties, gynecology, and the expectations of interracial relationships. Zdarsky doesn’t let Fraction take the whole spotlight, and does awesome panel work, speeding up and slowing down the conversation by messing with the size and numbers of panels per page.

Which brings us to Dr. Kincaid, who returns to her old stage name of Jazmine St. Cocaine. She’s out of a job, and needs money fast, so she agrees to sign autographs at a porn convention, in what ends up being the issue’s most arresting scene. Her getting ready routine happens in an intense 64-panel spread. That’s on one page. It’s incredible. The convention itself is a nightmare of mostly unremarked-upon misogyny. After a big page packed with tiny Zdarsky in jokes, he manages to fit another 24 panels onto two pages, showing Dr. Kincaid’s parade of misery.

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This finally brings us to the book’s main couple, Jon and Suzie. Jon is trying to add zest to their sex life with toys, which aren’t specifically shown on page. He wants Suzie to feel like he’s making a special effort for her, and Suzie feels like Jon is trying to turn her into something that she’s not. After a few missed chances at communicating, they finally have a heart to heart in the Quiet. A third honest conversation probably sounds really boring, but the difficulties of good communication is at the heart of this book, and it’s sprinkled with plenty of dirty jokes and a weird meta-joke about the difficulty in licensing song lyrics if you have trouble with straightforward emotional rawness.

Fraction and Zdarsky knock it out of the park. The last page gets the ball rolling on the larger plot again, but this was a necessary catch up with our cast of sexual misfits. Ultimately, you’ve heard it all before. Nobody writes about mental health better than Matt Fraction, and nobody can fill a page with more dick jokes than Chip Zdarsky. It’s another fantastic issue for this fantastic series. My biggest complaint is how long we sometimes have to wait between issues, but when the book is this consistently good, I’m happy to wait.

Final Verdict: 9.4 – “Sex Criminals” is one of the best books in comics from two of the best creators in comics.

Witchfinder: City of the Dead
Written by Chris Roberson
Illustrated by Ben Stenbeck
Colored by Michelle Madsen
Lettered by Clem Roberts
Reviewed by CLA Bindery

“City of the Dead” is the story of a Victorian detective delving into the unusual death of a dead grave robber that leads into a larger mystery intertwined with the occult and vampires, as well as the domination of the entire human race. Roberson presents Sir Edward as a hardened occult detective who is not easily startled by the unusual roadblocks he is facing, which is different than previous stories where Grey was still a novice new to his profession. This is complimented by the detail Ben Stenbeck puts into Grey’s facial expressions throughout the book. When reading the story you truly feel Grey’s intensity as well as every emotion that Grey is feeling from apathy to annoyance and even to anger. I have to say that there were numerous times that I looked into Sir Edward’s eyes and felt his rage for the antagonist coming through the page almost directed at me.

Roberson also brings to the table a great understanding of the Sir Edward Grey character and the Mignola Universe that he uses by tapping into aspects of greater mythology, reintroducing us to characters from past stories, and showing us nuances of Grey’s life that we have never seen before. I was very happy to see Roberson bring back Grey’s greatest nemesis, the Heliopioc Brothehood of Ra, which is a secret society that has not been seen in the last few storylines. Here, Grey is forced to collaborate with the Brotherhood to solve the mystery of the undead and defeat the vampire leader Giurescu. Roberson also brings in new peripheral characters that increase the richness of the Witchfinder world. My favorite new character is Grey’s butler Baily, who is shown sporadically throughout the story, and appears to be relied up by Grey heavily.

One constant theme I noticed in the story was a subtle humor that Roberson brings to this horror tale. The humor is minor to the story, but a welcome addition with the weight of the horror Grey is dealing with in vampires are trying to take over London. In an early part of the story we see a fight scene where a mortician being attacked by a corpse. In this scene the mortician is shown in complete panic and fear, and Grey quickly intervenes by partially decapitating the corpse. Afterwards the levity comes from Grey almost non-acknowledgement of what happened by saying “For pity’s sake, Lewis, pull yourself together,” as if a corpse coming to life and attacking someone is an everyday occurrence.

I was also very impressed with Ben Stenbeck’s recreation of late 1800’s Victorian London that gave me an eerie feel of the city with every turn of the page. A great example of this was at the end of the story when Grey was in the sewers under London looking for Giurescu. In these few pages Stenbeck’s pencils of sewer coupled with Michelle Madsen’s colors presented a dismal place and gave me a cold, wet feeling as I watched Grey slowly moving through the tunnels.

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While Stenbeck did a great job with the backgrounds, one area that I would have liked to have seen him put more emphasis into was the visuals surrounding the Guirchu character. As leader of the vampire hoard, he is supposed to be ominous and foreboding with evil permeating from his essence. However I felt that Stenbeck’s interpretation of this character showed only a traditional villain with less power than should have been presented.

Final Verdict 8.0 : A great detective story that is a perfect jumping on point for new fans. For dedicated fans of the Hellboy universe, this a top notch story with numerous tie-ins to the bigger mythology that you will love.

World Reader #1
Written by Jeff Loveness
Illustrated and Colored by Juan Doe
Lettered by Rachel Deering
Review by Matt Lune

“World Reader” is a book about exploration. It begins by tackling the big question we have about the vastness of space – are we alone? – and proceeds to present a scenario that is infinitely scarier than if we are or aren’t, instead it poses the question: what if we weren’t alone but now we are? The “World Reader” of the title is Sarah, one of three astronauts we see on the graveyard of a once populated planet, who can somehow psychically connect to the apparently endless line of now decimated worlds that surround us. Loveness does a good job early in the issue of not only establishing her powers but providing a healthy dose of skepticism from her comrades in order to ground the most fantastical element of the plot.

This is a fairly sparse debut issue, with more time dedicated to the history of the world Sarah is linking with rather than with the present day cast. How or why Sarah and her team are on this planet, what happened to all of these worlds, even what year the story is set in are all mysteries yet to be explored, but by throwing us straight into the story as Loveness does, he’s declaring those questions as irrelevant compared to what Sarah is experiencing. What happened to this world, and all worlds is the only relevant topic for “World Reader” #1, and as such that feeling of urgency is brought to the forefront of the plot.

Juan Doe’s art is almost ethereal and dreamlike, his use of bold, vibrant colors in stark contrast to the cold vastness of space his pencils are depicting. As Sarah steps into her psychic bond, the world around her disappears and is replaced with a lava lamp effect of warped landscapes and white spaces. The backgrounds are all awash with a single color, forever changing, her vision fluid and blank as she inserts herself into a narrative not her own. Loveness provides very little narration in these scenes, choosing instead short sentences, snippets and moments that fragment Sarah’s experiences and lean heavily on Doe’s art to tell the rest of the story.

“World Reader” #1 is an intriguing premise for a series, and by the end of the issue, we’re presented with an enemy that will propel the story forward into the next issue and beyond. The high concept and unique approach help set it apart from other science-fiction comics, and Doe’s colorful panels make it stand out from the crowd.

Final Verdict: 7.6 – A strong start to an engaging and unique new sci-fi series.

//TAGS | Wrapping Wednesday

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