Gumballs #4 Featured Reviews 

Wrapping Wednesday: Micro Reviews for the Week of 12/13/17

By | December 18th, 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.

Coyotes #2
Written by Sean Lewis
Illustrated, Colored, and Lettered by Caitlin Yarsky
Reviewed by John Schaidler

“Coyotes” first caught my eye when illustrator Caitlin Yarsky teased the cover of the debut issue. Based on that image alone, I took a chance on the series and absolutely loved the first chapter. Arguably, the second cover is even better. (It’s certainly more macabre and therefore more reflective of the blood and gore that lurk within.) As for the story, hell yeah, that gets better too – even if it’s not always clear exactly what’s going on.

As you may already know, in the southwestern United States a coyote is a person who smuggles illegal immigrants across the U.S. border for a fee. On top of that, in the folklore and sacred stories of many Native American tribes – especially in the desert Southwest – the coyote is a trickster or even a demi-god with supernatural powers that often include shapeshifting. Mix in the Eurocentric werewolf tradition and suddenly there’s quite an array of imagery and archetypes flowing through, intermixing with and informing this larger-than-life narrative.

Helpfully, this issue begins with some intriguing exposition that not only helps to frame the central premise, but rapidly escalates into its own momentary climax – with great lettering and gripping action, to boot.

A few panels later, however, in a gorgeous double-page spread, the main protagonist (Red) slyly undermines most of what’s just been said with her own internal monologue. “No fear of ‘coyotes,’” she muses. “We don’t respect them enough to call them wolves…. They are weak and hunt in packs.”

From that moment on, Yarsky’s incredible art takes charge, driving the story forward to the end of what suddenly feels like a whirlwind chapter in a much larger epic. Her character work is outstanding, with highly engaging expressions that immediately resonate on an emotional level. Her colors are understated and the color palette constrained, but Yarsky strikes an excellent balance between the hot, dusty environs in which the physical action takes place and the strange, otherworldly Victorian fantasy land created and populated by The Duchess and her collective. Underneath it all, Yarsky’s paneling truly excels. Her layouts are innovative yet organic, deftly intermingling curves, inset panels and a variety of panel sizes to strike an incredible balance between character close-ups, setting and action.

The central story is a rush, though admittedly, at times, it takes some careful reading to really get a handle on things. Thankfully, after the main event, there’s a 5-page backup story that adds additional insight and helps fill in some blanks. It also helps you wind down after the cliffhanger.

Final Verdict: 8.8 – Driven by Caitlin Yarsky’s incredible artwork and a cast of strong female characters, this multilayered, epic story is only getting started. Can’t wait to see where it goes.

Detective Comics #970
Written by James Tynion
Pencilled by Joe Bennett
Inked by Salvador Regla, Ricardo Regla and Marcia Loerzer
Colored by Jason Wright
Lettered by Sal Cipriano

The Victim Syndicate is back in the horror-themed cover and interiors of “Detective Comics” #970. Even after the return of Tim Drake, the team’s problems don’t seem to be over as the spooked former Batman sidekick is having difficulty adjusting to his new lease on life. Joe Bennett’s naturally uneasy pencils give this issue the spooky, horror-tinged vibe of James Tynion’s lethal script. Melding the creators on the book lends the title a strange elusive notion even during the slower, more character-based script.

A slower issue of “Detective Comics” at this point is needed after the massive conclusion of ‘A Lonely Place of Living’ rocketed up the tension to a boiling point. This issue, in particular, is exceedingly bleak with Drake lying to Stephanie and having endless trouble adjusting to life after the panic he felt of death. Given the last arc of the series, it is interesting how you can read into some of Drake’s character beats here. Basil Karlo’s prison visit is another low point of “Detective Comics” that has a resounding sadness tearing into his psyche. Even with the darkness, “Detective Comics” is still able to employ a tone similar to “Batman: The Animated Series.”

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The feeling of despair exuding from this installment of the comic is encapsulated perfectly from Bennett who draws huge facial expressions. The last couple of moments with Karlo and the twist closing out the comic is particularly eerie. Karlo’s shifting proportions and character dynamics is one of the most visually distinctive aspects of the title that still looks as great as ever before. The nervous energy from Drake’s expressions also spills into the page, which is a much-needed addition to the title. Jason Wright’s muted color palette also helps the production value and vision for the art direction in the comic start to come together beautifully.

Even with the deliberate pace of “Detective Comics” #770, the strong character work from Tynion still makes the installment easy-to-read and full of depth that builds upon previous stories. The writer has such a great voice for each member of the bat family featured in the issue. The reformed Victim Syndicate still retains the more personal feeling of the team as several plot threads throughout the series are weaved together here. The prose throughout the comic is gingerly paced and carefully written as well.

Final Verdict: 7.1 – “Detective Comics” #770 is a bleak, deliberately paced issue packed with surprises and strong character beats.

Falcon #3
Written by Rodney Barnes
Illustrated by Joshua Cassara
Colored by Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Review by Reed Hinckley-Barnes

Right now, “Falcon” seems like two books coarsely blended together, with neither ingredient quite mixing into the other. On the one hand, there is the story of a gang war in Chicago that Falcon and Patriot accidentally started, and with that story is all the baggage that comes with it. The themes of race, poverty, inner city gang violence. On the other hand, there is the story about Blackheart trying to take over Earth using demons while Doctor Voodoo assists in stopping him.

One of the problems that often arises when trying to use a superhero to tackle real world issues is that these issues end up trivialized. Who cares about gang violence when the son of the devil is trying to take over Earth? It removes the actual problems that these communities are facing, making something real, like gangs, into something that is being caused by a supernatural force. And as ‘Take Flight,’ the first arc has moved forward, it has been moving further and further away from the actual problems, and more and more into demons and devils that Falcon, Patriot, and Doctor Voodoo can punch.

That being said, there are a number of good things about this issue. The opening flashback and monologue fit together with the Joshua Cassara’s art and Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors really well. There is a grimy quality to the artwork of this series, which works really well when it is in its more grounded mode. And in the few quiet moments, Rodney Barnes’s dialogue between Falcon and Patriot shines.

The problem is, these smaller, grounded moments are becoming fewer and further between as this series progresses. The art, dialogue, coloring could all work well in a story about Falcon trying to deal with gang violence. But Cassara’s figures are too stiff in a number of the action scenes, and Barnes’ quippy action dialogue comes off as forced. With the cliffhanger at the end of this issue, it seems like “Falcon” is just going to keep moving further away from the parts of the series that are working.

Final Verdict: 6.0 – The best parts of “Falcon” are being shoved aside in service of a standard super hero story.

Grass Kings #10
Written by Matt Kindt
Illustrated by Tyler Jenkins
Colored by Hilary Jenkins
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Reviewed by Matt Sadowski

A bumblebee hovers over blades of grass in the issue’s opening two-page spread. The colors are warm and idyllic, non-threatening. The bee’s stinger is not visible, but a stinger it does have. And when it inevitably stings, it’s only a defense mechanism against those that would do it harm. This opening scene is a metaphoric microcosm—and clever bit of foreshadowing—for the “Grass Kings” story: the Thin-Air Killer floats among the Grass Kingdom with purpose and belonging, hiding its stinger until threatened. King Robert ought to tread lightly before poking its hive.

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Cargill runaway, Maria, and Grass Kingdom mainstay, Shelly, are the focus of #10 as they investigate what really happened to Jen Handel. “Grass Kings” has always been an ensemble piece, further fleshing out the town’s inhabitants with every issue. Just as in “Dept. H,” Matt Kindt brings his vast array of characters to the forefront to enrich both mystery narratives. Maria and Shelly bond over their history of domestic abuse and their subsequent escape from it. With Hilary Jenkins on watercolors, escape is purple. It’s the color of Shelly’s Barracuda she uses to distance herself from home. It’s the color of Maria’s jacket and the evening waters she must traverse to flee Cargill.

The Jenkinses’ art remains the perfect complement to Kindt’s writing. Characters and places are inked with an unkempt feel, ruffled and windblown like the Kingdom itself. But it’s the brilliant watercolor work that really helps achieve the rustic vision of this town at the edges of society.

Midway through #10, three consecutive pages break the traditional panel structure as Maria’s recent past is further exhumed. Maria’s dive arcs down into the center of the page into what are simultaneously the lake and the sky—Maria’s world has been upended. Similarly, the Kingdom is on the precipice of a major transition. The issue grows progressively darker until the final page is mostly shadow black. The truth is about to be revealed and the Grass Kingdom will become a much darker place for it.

Final Verdict: 8.4 – Strong character work and pastoral watercolors keep this rural murder mystery compelling and fresh.

Gumballs #4
Written, Illustrated, Colored, and Lettered by Erin Nations
Reviewed By Kate Kosturski

Erin Nations returns with another collection of vignettes and colorful characters: stories of the trans experience, stories of growing up as a triplet, stories of Tobias and the other quirky characters in his day to day life. In this collection, we have snippets of childhood, as Erin and his sisters find out one of their favorite board games seems to be possessed and a backyard water war. Erin also shares more of the trans experience, such as the awkwardness of using the restroom and talking with insurance companies regarding procedures. There’s a rather amusing interlude of an artist’s retreat, a few more personal ads, and some ups and downs of Tobias navigating first love.

I had the privilege of interviewing Erin last month, and that chat has made me appreciate this issue even more. Artwork shows both influence of early Simpsons episodes, but with their own avant-garde block style and intense eye to detail. Bright colors add a touch of whimsy to each story, even the more serious ones. His storytelling finds humor in even the toughest of situations (such as calling an insurance provider to get coverage for a mastectomy) while gently educating the reader on the trans experience. Panel styles range from traditional grids to full page artworks to fit each narrative beautifully, and the block lettering and square word balloons add to the overall cartoon aesthetic.

I’m grateful that Erin shares his art and his life with us, and continues to break boundaries as the first trans cartoonist with a professionally published autobiographical comic. It’s only uphill from here!

Final Verdict: 8.2 – Educating and entertaining in equal measure with stories everyone can relate to on some level.

Kid Lobotomy #3
Written by Peter Milligan
Illustrated by Tess Fowler
Colored by Lee Loughridge
Lettered by Aditya Bidikar
Reviewed by Nicholas Palmieri

What happened, “Kid Lobotomy?” And I mean that in both the literal “I don’t know what I just read” sense, as well as the “I was enjoying this title before, so how did I so not enjoy this issue” sense.

Milligan, from where I stand, took the joyous obliqueness of previous issues and ratcheted up the discombobulation to the point where very little flowed and very little made sense. We have a few plotlines happening here, including one about a ghost tour crew scoping out the hotel we’ve come to know and another about Kid working his way through a metamorphosis. But I have no idea where those plots went or how they ended up where they did. There’s a beginning, and there’s an ending, but then there are about eighteen pages in between where even the panel-to-panel progression made little sense. I’m usually a fan of the oddities Milligan produces, given that they have a nice flow and some sort of internal logic or structure off which they can branch out on tangents. This instead felt like a bunch of random odd words and visuals thrown together for little reason.

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Fowler and Loughridge provide something nice to look at, even if the visuals don’t have the effects they should because of the disconnected story. Fowler’s character designs are unique and expressive, and a lot of the panels do try to maintain a welcome sense of visual continuity to accompany Milligan’s non-sequiturs. Loughridge keeps his colors unsaturated, leaving everything in a bleak gray haze. I especially like his take on black panel gutters, which, instead of being colored a solid black, leaves Fowler’s black marker strokes in place and uses the tiniest bit of dark color to fill in the few small gaps. The result is something that looks appropriately grungy, hanging around the edges of every panel.

By all means, I wish I liked this issue more than I did. There were too many pieces with too little logic that were kept too disjointed from one another. The art team does a good job with what they can, but unfortunately that can’t save the unintentional lack of logic in the script.

Final Verdict: 4.5 – Milligan has lost his flow, even if Fowler and Loughridge do their best to keep up.

Mister Miracle #5
Written by Tom King
Illustrated by Mitch Gerads
Colored by Mitch Gerads
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Reviewed by Gustavo S. Lodi

What to say of “Mister Miracle” that hasn’t been said before? In five issues, this series has already proved that it is brilliant. One of those situations where script and art meld, disappearing as individual components.

Let’s focus on what makes it brilliant, especially on issue 5’s motif: opposites. Opposites partners, opposite feelings to a single event, opposites decisions. The reason Tom King’s script is great is that it works both on an obvious level – the last date between husband and wife – and on a deeper, existential one. By following Scott and Barda’s day, readers learn how differently they experience Earth (pay attention to the pond scene) and how deep Scott’s pursue of escape takes him to understand reality.

The same play of opposites is used to demonstrate the most intimate of a pair’s relationship in two perspectives: passion and yearning. It is touching and conveyed so effortlessly that it takes one aback just to take the art in.

Speaking of that: Mitch Gerads once again takes full helm, with art, finishing and colors. And it shows. Everything is there to tell the story, from the rigid paneling, the distortion effects and one of the best (only?) full-page splash told in a 9-grid shape. Character expressions are just as excellent, especially Barda’s: if readers avoid dialogue altogether, and just base her character’s evolution on facial details, they’d probably still get the full picture.

Final Verdict: 10.0 – “Mister Miracle” #5 is a book that should be shown at art schools to demonstrate how to do mature comics right. It explores what the medium is capable of, but never losing sight that it exists to serve a story.

”Port of Earth” #2
Written by Zack Kaplan
Illustrated by Andrew Mutti
Colored by Vladimir Popov
Lettered by Troy Peteri
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane

The first two thirds of this issue are excellent examples of comics craftsmanship, with the creative team showing off several tonalities. There’s the produced, narrativized, TV special about the Port and its history and the tense investigation by George and Eric in the sewers. In both of these sequences the creative team show command of paneling both as pace and symbolic descriptors. It’s the final third where things fall apart, a frantic chase through a marketplace, “Ghost in the Shell” that section is not. The chase is supposed to be chaotic and confusing, but lacks the measure to make it feel that way and still be readable. The spatial geography as George and Eric get separated is fuzzy to say the least, due to a mixture of artists Andrea Mutti’s nondescript designs and the normally excellent use (or lack thereof) of color from Vladimir Popov. Why those artistic decisions were made is understandable, but come together in this instance to for a confusing several pages that undermine what is an otherwise solid second issue.

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Generally, having a better idea of our leads by this point would be preferable. But in the world of “Port of Earth” the anonymous nature of George and Eric works towards the seething class anger running through this series. This is a world of few ‘Haves’ and many ‘Have Nots,’ evident by the non-descript but derelict environmental design and by Eric’s quasi-screed as they hunt the alien through the sewers. That screed is thus far the key defining trait of Eric McIntyre. Otherwise they are both drawn by Andrea Mutti as anonymous henchmen for a larger corporate machine. While their hair color is different, Mutti has them locked in so much heavy shadow they could be anybody.

While everything isn’t shades of grey in this issue, Popov’s color pallet is so muted it may as well be. Reds come out as browns in this book. It’s a very European way of doing things, and helps the book stand out amongst its sci-fi contemporaries. It also reinforces the divided and hopeless current to the book. There’s nothing to too bright and shiny about because the world is trash.

Final Verdict: 7.0 – “Port of Earth” has some quintessential ideas running through it and most of the execution to make them land, but am otherwise still a bit uncertain everything will completely work.

Under: Scourge of the Sewer #1
Written by Christophe Bec
Illustrated by Stefano Raffaele
Colored by Christian Favrelle
Translated by Mark McKenzie-Ray
Reviewed by Elias Rosner

“Under: Scourge of the Sewer” is the first of a two part, B-movie inspired story that is concerned with that very topic, setting us in a future mega-city that seems to have a problem with the creatures that inhabit its massive sewers. This setting is a great mix of traditional (sewer) with imaginative (city sized sewers in the far future) and Raffaele does a magnificent job of making the tunnels feel both humongous and deeply claustrophobic at the same time. I only wish the story was strong enough to match it.

As a take on the traditional B-movie formula, the story itself is nothing special. It jumps around, throwing in plot point after plot point that never really seems to go anywhere or play into a larger narrative. It’s all in service of getting people underground so that Raffaele gets an excuse to draw some eerie settings and we can see the monsters kill some people.

If the characters were interesting, I’d at least say that that was why I was reading the comic but, as it stands, they are fairly uninteresting, especially our two romantic leads. One of them is your stock gruff cop with a troubled past and the other is a researcher who seems to know almost nothing about actually doing science. They are at odds at first, with the cop being pretty terrible towards the researcher, and then they hook up and then he’s back to being an ass. It’s just boring but, honestly, it makes the comic feel exactly like a B-movie.

Now, I love sci-fi. The crappy 50s & 60s giant monster movies are all super fun but part of the reason that I can handle them is that their effects feel fake. However, this comic got a visceral reaction out of me and has really stuck with me. Part of that is due to the cover, which sends chills down my spine (props to James Stokoe on that one), and part of it is due to the way Raffaele does his art. Raffaele doesn’t shy away from showing the more gruesome aspects of the society that he and Bec have created, giving the comic an unsettling tone.

Additionally, all the horror of a realistic human-torso size spider is, well, realistic. Guts have the same colors and textures as real life and, as I was reading, I could almost feel and hear the thing crawling around. This is only made more intense by the dense amounts of panels per page, making the settings claustrophobic and upping the tension, making the characters, and us, feel trapped with these creatures.

Nightmare inducing.

This, unfortunately, doesn’t save the comic from being, on the whole, uninteresting. Creepy, yes, but I have no desire to see more, even with the cliffhanger at the end.

Final Verdict: 5.0 – A gruesome B-movie comic that doesn’t do enough to move beyond that which inspired it. While it’s setting may be creative, its story is anything but.

//TAGS | Wrapping Wednesday

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