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    Wrapping Wednesday: Micro Reviews for the Week of 12/6/17

    By | December 11th, 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.

    Agent 47: Birth of the Hitman #2
    Written by Christopher Sebela
    Illustrated by Ariel Medel
    Colored by Omi Remalante
    Lettered by Thomas Napolitano
    Reviewed by Gregory Ellner

    The story crafted by Christopher Sebela is a bit of a conundrum. While that of the rise of Agent 47, our protagonist from the Hitman games, is relatively generic and thus not much to write home about, that of our deuteragonist, a growing antagonistic force to the eponymous character, is far more engaging. The possible development of Diana Burnwood into an assassin in her own right who has been led astray by one of 47’s routine jobs runs her parallel to the bald hitman. More than anything, Sebela’s writing makes readers wait eagerly for the possibly inevitable revelation of how far off the mark Ms. Burnwood truly is in her targets.

    Ariel Medel’s illustrations are well done, with good use of shadows and light. In particular, the use of silhouettes in moments of intense, sudden violence helps to show how brutal the world of Hitman can be while simultaneously drawing further parallels between the two arcs.

    However, Omi Remalante’s coloring does leave some oddness. While the colors on the images work well enough, capturing an air of realistic shadows, each individual item seems to stand out significantly, with the gradient of shadows seeming to affect each item individually to a degree that they seem to be completely distinct from one another, possibly just a side effect of the linework meshing a bit off with the colors. This problem seems to be the most distinct in scenes during the daytime, and ones in the night work a lot better.

    On the whole, the issue works well enough, but perhaps some more focus on why we should care about Agents 47 and 6 would be appreciated.

    Final Verdict: 7.0- A decent video game tie-in comic, albeit not much to write home about except for the relatively original Diana Burnwood story.

    Astonishing X-Men #6
    Written by Charles Soule
    Illustrated by Mike Del Mundo
    Colored by Mike Del Mundo & Marco D’Alfonso
    Lettered by Vc’s Clayton Cowles
    Reviewed by Gustavo S. Lodi

    “Astonishing X-Men” #6 marks the end of the first arc (or Act I) of Charles Soule’s maxi-story featuring the battle between the Shadow King, Charles Xavier and his selected team of X-Men.

    Soule has weaved an intricate story since the begging of the series, slowly revealing the multiple layers on both Xavier’s and Shadow King’s side of the chess board. Readers will be happy to see that all of that scripting pays off on issue #6, as the double cheats and player’s cunning actions culminate into an epic battle where a clear winner takes it all. As it is common in stories like this, some characters naturally gravitate towards the spotlight (Xavier, Fantomex and Psylocke being chief among them), while others are delegated to a participant role in the ensuing battle (even Rogue and Mystique, key pawns on Xavier’s final battle plan).

    Artistically, issue #6 suffers from the same editorial decision inflicted on this series, that of a rotating cast of artists for each issue. Mike Del Mundo’s art is excellent, with an ethereal quality to it only compounded by the colouring technique, but it is jarring to see story elements, especially how characters are portrayed, changing so radically from issue to issue.

    The big reveal at the end paves the way for many interesting narrative choices going forward, even though some fans of past X-Men eras (especially Morrison’s contributions) might be less than pleased. Still, Act II cannot come soon enough for these developments to be expanded further.

    Final Verdict: 8.0 – “Astonishing X-Men” #6 was a great ending for Soule’s debut arc and fully delivered on changing the cast’s status quo. It remains to be seen how those events will shape the characters going forward, but readers should remain onboard for that.

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    Black Bolt #8
    Written by Saladin Ahmed
    Illustrated by Christian Ward
    Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
    Reviewed by Matt Sadowski

    It’s homecoming for the leader of the Inhumans as ‘The Midnight King Returns to Earth.’ But as the cover indicates, Black Bolt’s return warrants no celebration. This is the Marvel universe post-‘Secret Empire’ and trust is in short supply.

    Saladin Ahmed proved his mettle in telling a 6-part alien prison story, fully justifying Black Bolt’s first ongoing title. However, where the previous arc may have felt like a self-contained side quest in the grand scheme of things, the king of New Attilan’s earthly arrival opens up exciting possibilities with his fellow Inhumans and the rest of the Marvelverse.

    The real standout character here is Blinky, the multi-eyed alien child with telepathic powers. With Black Bolt effectively mute, Blinky becomes his voice and will hopefully remain his savvy sidekick for the long haul. Though the script somewhat circumvents Black Bolt’s muteness with third-person narration, expression and action do effectively act in lieu of word balloons. An annoyed dismissal of those who would heal him, a splash page hug with a reunited son, a dejected expression after familial rejection—these moments carry hefty emotional weight under Ward’s pen.

    Throughout previous issues of “Black Bolt,” Christian Ward has flexed his artistic muscles to phantasmagoric new heights. This trend continues here despite venturing away from the space prison’s cosmic setting. Page layouts are varied, and panels move with a kinesthetic fervor. Ward knows when to break the panel borders or use open panels to effectively highlight action and emotion (see: Lockjaw’s blissfully slobbery woof after his injuries are healed). Every panel is colored with an acidic edge, an optic shock to the brain. From the New Attilan sunset to Blinky’s psychedelic surveillance of Earth, the colors are a true sugar rush of eye candy.

    Final Verdict: 8.8 – Stellar art and saccharine colors help Black Bolt come home in style.

    Captain America #696
    Written by Mark Waid
    Illustrated by Chris Samnee
    Colored by Matthew Wilson
    Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
    Reviewed by Nicholas Palmieri

    Two issues in and Waid and Samnee’s “Captain America” collaboration has already resulted in some of the most pure, enjoyable superhero comics on the shelves.

    This issue sees Cap continue his cross-country trip in a one-off issue of finely crafted simple pleasures. Cap visits a small town, has ordinary conversation with some of the residents, and then has to stop a costumed villain from destroying a dam. It’s purposely a throwback to a simpler time, a time before ‘Secret Empire,’ a time before all stories were world-ending, a time before Cap was woken up from being frozen.

    The real joy of reading “Captain America” comes from Waid and Samnee’s craft and nuance. The two are each credited simply as ‘storytellers,’ which makes sense given how well they collaborate. Certain action scenes, like Cap jumping off a building and losing his clothes on the way down to reveal his costume underneath, were so visually thrilling and delicately framed that it was clear it wasn’t just Waid writing the moment and Samnee drawing it: they planned it out and executed it together. Really, that’s a microcosm of the entire issue. The two know when to let the other take over but never let one’s work overshadow the other’s.

    “Captain America” throws back to a simpler time, from story construction to the issue’s one-shot nature. At the same time, it contains all the knowledge of comics techniques available in 2017, including character development, thematic resonance, and artistic collaboration, to deliver the most engaging story possible.

    Final Verdict: 8.0 – A simple, effective one-off of pure superheroics.

    Doctor Strange #382
    Written by Donny Cates
    Illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta
    Colored by Jordie Bellaire
    Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
    Reviewed by Reed Hinckley-Barnes

    This is the second issue in the ‘Loki: Sorcerer Supreme” story arc, and while we get to see Loki: Sorcerer Supreme, the highlight of this issue is still getting to see Stephen Strange: veterinarian. When Doctor Strange is just dealing with the weirdness of having Dolittle-esque interactions with animal at his practice the issue is at its most fun. But, something like having Loki as sorcerer supreme cannot last for long, and so with this issue we see the beginning of the end, and the road back to the status quo.

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    Donny Cates does a good job in this issue of juggling the different tones contained here. There is the absurdity of Strange being a vet and spending time with a weary, talking dog named Bats, along with the comedy that comes from Loki trying to break into secret places in Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. But there are also parts of the issue that are truly, heart wrenchingly human, along with a pretty surprising twist at the end of the issue. Looking just at the plot, it seems like there would be some tonal whiplash, but “Doctor Strange” is able to make it work.

    A lot of this is due to the work of Gabriel Hernandez Walta, who does a wonderful job juggling the different tones. Walta is able to bring all the characters to life with both his facial work and body language. It’s always possible to tell what a character is thinking or feeling just from the art work and their expressions, even from Bats, the dog. Similarly, Jordie Bellaire’s colors give everything a sense of place, from the warmth that is given to Doctor Strange’s new office to the pale, raggedness of Loki as the sorcerer supreme.

    If there is a problem with this issue, it’s that it seems that it’s story is moving a bit fast. There have been a number of fan complaints toward Marvel at switching out it’s heroes, and I think this arc falls into some of those same problems, in that right now everything is moving at a pretty fast speed, and one has to wonder why they made Loki Sorcerer Supreme at all if it was going to be so transient. But, despite that, this is still a very enjoyable issue in an arc that seems like it might be done a bit too soon.

    Final Verdict: 7.7 – A fun continuation of ‘Loki: Sorcerer Supreme’ even if it feels like this arc might end up being a bit fleeting.

    Jem and the Holograms: Dimensions #1
    Written by Sophie Cambell and Kate Leth
    Illustrated by M. Victoria Robado and Tana Ford
    Colored by Brittany Peer
    Lettered by Shawn Lee
    Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane

    When the “Jem and the Hologram” series started up form IDW a couple of years ago, I did not expect too eventually read a book that designated stories as happening before or after other ones. Those designations don’t mean too much here, but it is an unexpected novelty. “Dimensions” is an anthology miniseries to tide readers over until the next main series begins. Anthology series can be a bit of a roller coaster, I definitely liked ‘Catnap’ – the Campbell/Robado story – the most, but there isn’t anything appreciably wrong with ‘Roll With It’ either. In both of these stories, they hit that core relationship centric nature of “Jem” mixed with the outrageous things that happen when you’re world famous pop idols and have a “magic computer witch in your house.”

    Sophie Cambell’s return to “Jem” is much appreciated, other artists haven’t gotten the right balance of crazy-cool hair design and emotional range as she did. Her strip plays into its condensed nature and is reminiscent of the heavy-handed exposition necessary to quickly justify conflict in the animated series. Everything is simple but, with a genuine emotional core surrounded by absurdity. Jem superfans (read: stalkers) see an opportunity to mess with Misfit superfans and steal Pizzazz’ cat. The strip is pretty much a downhill game of cat and mouse as they fight over Madmartigan and Clash deals with feelings of being left behind by Blaze.

    Being a downhill chase, everything is always in motion, which helps when several panels don’t feature backgrounds. Normally that sort of lack would be a bit of a knock, but it forces the emphasis on specific bodily motion versus tracking geography for a sense of motion. Cambell does a good job of keeping a sense of geographic coherence when necessary. This was a smartly composed strip that had the spirit of the original series.

    ‘Roll With It’ by Kate Leth and Tana Ford is one I wish had more pages. After a long day of traveling and touring, none of the Holograms are in the mood for much of anything. Except for the ever-working Jerrica. In a bid to Jerrica from doing that work, they end up busting out the D&D Starter Set. It’s the kind of setup that begs for more. The core emotional point of the strip, that it’s unfair to say Jerrica cannot work and stick her with being the GM, is sound and Tana Ford hits the right beats. However, there is a certain amount of emotional runway necessary to make those beats really land and when mixed with some happenstance elements it rings a little hollow.

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    Final Verdict: 7.0 – If you want more “Jem” adventures from an array of creators, this is the book for you.

    The Mighty Crusaders #1
    Written by Ian Flynn
    Illustrated by Kelsey Shannon
    Colored by Matt Herms
    Lettered by Jack Morelli
    Reviewed by Elias Rosner

    Archie comic’s superhero imprint returned this week with a new team book, “The Mighty Crusaders,” but I’m not totally convinced that this was a necessary addition to their stable of books. It’s a fairly traditional superhero team up book, reminding me a lot of the Image Comics superhero universe, only, you know, less ‘90s. There’s nothing ostensibly bad about the comic though.

    Shannon draws it well, giving everyone a distinctive, clean and shiny look, and imbuing every panel with tons of energy. However, this energy is expressed through extreme posing that hasn’t been earned and only seeks to artificially heighten the action of the opening fight and many of the mundane actions of the rest of the comic. Moreover, Shannon seems to have a hard time with the foreshortening of many of the character’s limbs, making The Shield’s arms and hands look comically large in one panel and then exceptionally tiny in another.

    However, my biggest complaint has to be that the comic feels like it published in the wrong era. The storytelling, layout and even the pacing all harkens back to an older time period without any of the introspection that occurs in a series such as “Black Hammer” or “Mister Miracle,” which uses an older style of narration to contrast the bleak, bleak narrative that King and Gerads are setting up.

    “The Mighty Crusaders” breaks the flow of the opening battle by cutting away to two pages of a different event that ties into nothing until the final page and, really, could have been placed at the end of the issue. It feels like a digression and because we only cut to it the once, there is no pattern of a parallel narrative to set up and the pages feel even more out of place.

    Additionally, this is the re-introduction of these characters yet we get very little in the way of character development or introduction. Everyone gets a little name box during the opening fight but, beyond that, I know next to nothing about these people. Not their personalities, not how they got together, not even their super-powers. We get more background on the history of the team than on the characters themselves. There is a lack of balance between action, character, and story and, unfortunately, the issue suffers for it. Not an auspicious start to a new book.

    Final Verdict: 6.1 – A boring opener to a standard superhero story that left very little impression on me. Nice, varied colors though.

    No. 1 With a Bullet #2
    Written by Jacob Semahn
    Illustrated by Jorge Corona
    Colored by Jen Hickman
    Lettered by Steve Wands
    Reviewed By Kate Kosturski

    Three days feels like three hundred years when someone inadvertently leaks a sex tape without your consent to the Internet. The fallout from that action reverberates throughout Nash’s life in this issue, from her girlfriend needing a break to company lawyers reminding her of a “morality clause” in her contract that now puts her job in jeopardy to the opinions of every talking head on television. Even a simple meal out with a friend is anything but, with cameras thrust in her face and her words twisted to get the best ratings possible. A chance encounter with one of those soundbytes provides an ally and Nash is empowered to out the man in that sex tape, who just happens to be her boss. Her video confession gets its fair share of trolls, but one commenter notices a shadow in the background…what’s up with that?

    The narrative is a cautionary and timely tale about the dangers of the internet that you’ve no doubt heard from well-meaning adults, but the star of this show is the panels and lettering. Steve Wands amplifies your sense of discord, fear, anger, and the general hyperactivity of our interconnected digital world by switching panel layouts from page to page: grid-style layouts on one page, full page panels on the next, and and borderless, overlapping panels on the next. Mixed in with this layout is social media iconography — blue text bubbles, emoticons on Nash’s video, comment threads — that complements the panel layout as needed without taking over. We’re in a dystopia where nothing is the same and everything changes faster than a New York minute, and you’re eyes can neither keep up with your Facebook feed or the action throughout these panels. Despite this being a cyberpunk apocalypse, everything is washed in bright color blocks. Think post-punk pastels and primary colors, much like Magdalene Visaggio’s “Kim and Kim” series — but this is more harsh on your eyes, and in spite of that, you can’t look away. Even the panels detailing Nash’s brunch adventure, while toned down from other colors, still feel overly bright, as if you are squinting at the world while hung over after a wild party the previous night.

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    I’m left wondering how Semahn’s story will adapt to our current reckoning of sexual harassment in the workplace. Based on this issue, Nash is starting to fight back against her revenge porn attack, and may women everywhere find inspiration in her battle.

    Final Verdict: 7.8 – Boundary breaking (literally and figuratively) lettering and layout, along with color style, takes a tale that has played out for many people before and gives it new life, helping readers see revenge porn through the eyes of the victim and understand the pain it causes.

    Sleepless #1
    Written by Sarah Vaughn
    Illustrated by Leila del Duca
    Colored by Alissa Sallah
    Lettered by Deron Bennett
    Reviewed by John Schaidler

    For me, “Sleepless” is that rare comic book that I knew nothing about before I picked it up. Honestly, after reading the first issue, I certainly know some things, but still have more questions than answers. So far, that lack of clarity doesn’t bother me too much, but it definitely puts a ton of pressure on the second issue to really drive the narrative forward. Linger too much longer and this story will never get off the ground.

    Visually, the book has a definite fairy tale vibe, albeit decidedly darker than the typical fare for young readers. Or should that be spelled f-a-i-r-e? Because the sets, costumes, faded color palette and other scenic elements look like they’d be at home in any weekend Renaissance Festival anywhere in the world. Still, with seemingly endless rows of skulls lining the first two pages and a melancholy, brooding knight with hollow, darkened eyes absently staring off into the distance, there’s just enough mystery to hook me in.

    Is everybody stoned? What magic or mechanism keeps the knights from falling asleep? Where in the heck is this kingdom, anyway?

    The main character, Poppy (also known as Pyppenia), offers a lot of intrigue and tantalizing possibilities, too. As a royal descendent of the recently deceased king, she somehow forces her way through the appropriate protocols to congratulate her uncle upon his coronation. Clearly, however, she’s not exactly thrilled with recent events and it seems exceedingly unlikely that she will remain a passive observer for long.

    Sarah Vaughn’s script is unhurried, with a deliberate, almost formalized pace that mimics the royal pageantry slowly unfolding around us. Fortunately, after plenty of world building and exposition, things finally explode. A sword fight erupts, blood is spilled and forces are marshalled, underscoring the kingdom’s newfound instability and brewing power struggle.

    There is an eerie stillness that bookends this premiere issue, a foreboding sense of calm that seems about to boil over on a grand scale. With continual talk of dreams and sleep and sleeplessness, together with snatches dialogue that refer to bending time or borrowing time or being bound to time, there’s enough to bring me back for the second issue. I don’t really have a clear sense of where things might be headed, but that unsettled dynamic seems to be working for now. This isn’t the kind of debut that throws you right into the action. In that sense, it’s unexpected. Hopefully things will accelerate in the coming issues, while answering some of the lingering questions that have arisen in the early pages.

    Final Verdict 6.5 There are some interesting possibilities out there. When and how they pay off is key. Hopefully the pace will pick up soon or interest will drain away.

    //TAGS | Wrapping Wednesday

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