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.
Batwoman: Rebirth #1
Written by Marguerite Bennett & James Tynion IV
Illustrated by Steve Epting
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane
Using “Batwoman Rebirth” as a vehicle to retell Kate Kane’s past at first blush like the makings of a rote zero issue. It is how the creative team of writers Marguerite Bennet, James Tynion IV and artist Steve Epting transform the ‘origin story’ or zero issue function, of these types of comics and transform the comic book page into a liminal space to survey a decades worth of modern continuity, while revealing little in between moments that have shaped Kates past, present, and future, that makes this issue worth the read.
Surveying Kate’s past seems a bit perfunctory in the scheme of cape comics, her modern self just turned a decade old and so far hasn’t been rewritten by cosmic crisis. Her origin isn’t entirely complicated either: a military brat forced out of the service due to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policies with a kicker of childhood trauma. It’s the focus by the writers on the gaps in that origin, as Kate is on her haze fueled wanderlust acting as one partygoer views a “missing white girl waiting to happen,” that reveals the popularity and constant retelling of the mythic origin. The act retconning, rebooting, rebirthing and other verbs with a “re” prefix, has placed character history now in a more explicitly liminal state. Fractured these pieces can be rearranged in non-linear patterns allowing for different exploration and emphasis. Epting literally represents Kate’s history as a piece of fractured blood red stained glass multiple times, once exploding to reveal five important ages in her life (ages 9,20,23,27 and the future).
Epting’s layouts visualize this liminal, fluid sense of time, in two ways depending on the page design. Most of his pages are packed with panels, each emphasizing little moments in-between even smaller actions. Kate meeting Rene Montoya for the first time in years is rendered in 7 separate panels, three of which just focus on their slow approach to one another. These panel heavy pages’ construct time as constant progression. His secondary representation blows apart any sense of measured progression. In a series of one page splashes Epting compresses that decade worth of modern experience from the “52”/”Detective Comics” run, to New 52, and current “Detective Comics” Rebirth era. While artistically readable it’s the scripting of that coheres the non-linear minor and major explosions of history by referencing dialog questioning where Kate is going. She’s moving forward.
The book is fractured, spilling backwards and forwards at the turn of a page or panel transition, but it’s focused entirely through the prism of Kate as a character. Normally a zero issue acts more as plot exposition with little story to tell. Here we get the stories of Kate which is exactly what you need to hook the fabled new reader.
Final Verdict 8.0 – “Batwoman: Rebirth” is the best kind of zero issue, concise in telling the plot and emotional origins of the character, the kind of thing you can give to a friend to explain something without just wiki dumping on them.
Doctor Strange #1.MU
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Illustrated by Julian Lopez
Reviewed by Kent Falkenberg
Based on his track record, Chip Zdarsky could easily have stomped the pedal into irreverent overdrive for a rampaging tie-in to ‘Monsters Unleashed’. But he plays this adventure pretty straight-faced – well as straight as can be when the Sorcerer Supreme teams up with an 8’ tall, bright red troll who looks like an anthropomorphic thumb (with wings).
Zdarsky still brings the funny – after an explosion rocks Strange’s jet into a barrel-roll, his first thought is a relieved “Seat belts… I learned that lesson years ago” – but for the most part Stephen Strange is in a contemplative mood, ruminating on his role in a world without magic. At its core, this issue tells a succinct story of finding one’s self after core beliefs have been shattered. It’s a somber and mature undercurrent, and more than a little surprising, given that it’s couched in story co-starring a creature named Googam.Continued below
Julian Lopez handles the action with a glossy sheen. His character work is clean and expressive. Doctor Strange is dashingly handsome. And Googam looks, well, like a monstrous thumb (but, like, in a good way). Lopez renders all sorts of little details that bring his immature, juvenile fury to life. Bursting into the Sanctum Sanctorum, the creature’s mouth ripples open in tantrum, flecks of spittle criss-crossing left, right and left again over the panel.
The layouts themselves are dynamic, and the panel arrangements emphasize the difference in scale between the two leads. In fact, when Lopez does pull back for a full-page splash or two, he uses them to great effect, showing the enormity of the monsters being faced.
Zdarsky might try to get a bit too much mileage from Googam’s constant references to himself in third-person (seriously, it seems to happen on every page), and the one-liners are hit-and-miss. But Googam’s journey towards belief in his own abilities offers a surprisingly effective parallel to the good doctor’s arc. Strange’s compulsion to chase an insectoid behemoth to the coldest, remotest ends of Canada is more to prove himself as capable as he ever was than to actually defeat the beast. Similarly, Googam feels the implacable need to prove the same to his father. It wasn’t until I clued-in to these themes dealing with inadequacy and daddy-issues that the book really started feeling like Zdarsky (full-disclosure: I’m a pretty big Zdfan-boy – and beneath the humor and irreverence, he’s always been a fantastic writer).
Also, check it out for Zdarsky test-driving your friendly, neighborhood web-slinger before Marvel hands over the keys to “Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man” in June.
Final Verdict:7.0 – Seriously, this was a really good issue.
The Forevers #3
Written by Curt Spires
Illustrated by Eric Scott Pfeiffer
Reviewed by Matt Lune
Your enjoyment of “The Forevers” as a series pretty much depends on how much mileage you get out of photorealism in comics art. For some, it helps to bridge the gap between comics and movies or TV shows; for others, this form of photo swiping can lead to static, stilted images that actually take you out of the experience. Much like the two issues that came before it, “The Forevers” #3 takes a lot of publicity shots, freeze-frames and catwalk snaps to recreate its three lead characters who are instantly recognizable as Damon Albarn, Kate Moss and Idris Elba. Again, this in itself isn’t a bad thing if that’s something you enjoy, except there are times throughout this issue when those characters are drawn without those references, and they look nothing like the celebrities in question. This then leads to multiple times where you’d be forgiven for not knowing who some of the cast were in any given scene because they weren’t taken from photos of Albarn, Moss or Elba.
This issue progresses the plot at a relatively fast pace: there’s another death of a member of the group, some more backstory about the team and a final page reveal that, while pretty much inevitable, is enough to keep those invested coming back for more. The difficulty is that at its core this is a murder mystery, and those only tend to work if either there is a solid investment in the characters, or if the act of solving the mystery is itself compelling. In the case of the former, the aforementioned photorealism is used as a sort of shorthand to character development. Kate Sage is a Kate Moss analog, and that’s pretty much it. Here, like in previous issues, we get some coverage on two more of the original seven except, once again, their biggest character trait is that ‘Fame is bad for you.’ As such there’s no real connection to them, or weight when they start being murdered. As for the mystery itself, there’s a scene where a character literally uses a ring on his finger to analyze a crime scene, which tells him, and us, all we need to know, instantly solving that particular mystery.
Much like the fame that the characters have, nothing here is earned. Aside from descriptions of what has happened to the cast since they dabbled in occult sigils to gain this fame, there’s no other significant character development, therefore they haven’t earned that investment from the reader. Likewise, the mystery is merely happening to them, and any answers they need are presented to them through Bronson Pierce’s technological science-magic.Continued below
There’s no question that Eric Pfeiffer is a stunning artist. Aside from one page where the panel layout is extremely unclear (leading to the page being read out of sequence,) his structure is strong and his watercolor-like backgrounds lend a deeper atmosphere to every scene. It all feels let down, however, by the photorealistic characters that, at best, pull you out of the story and at worst feel sort of voyeuristic (how would Albarn and Moss feel about a full page collage of them having sex?)
It’s obvious that this is a conscious choice by the creative team in order to more effectively underpin the core message of this book. It’s warning about the obsession with instant gratification and celebrity worship is clear, however this issue continues the trend of the whole series by not really adding anything new to that conversation; a conversation that is not only a little out of date, it’s pretty thoroughly covered elsewhere in this medium in books like “The Wicked + The Divine.”
“The Forevers” #3, as an issue, does an adequate job of continuing the plot of the series, providing a little more backstory for two more of the original members of the cast, and teasing the answer to one of the bigger questions the book has with a final page cliffhanger. The somewhat stilted dialogue and awkwardly choreographed characters, however, make it all feel like this perhaps isn’t the best work of any of the creators involved.
Final verdict: 5.4 – Not the strongest issue of the series, and an overdependence on photorealistic character work is becoming this book’s biggest downfall.
Sex Criminals #16
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Chip Zdarsky
Reviewed by Jake Hill
I haven’t read a new issue of “Sex Criminals” in a while; I was worried that I had missed a few issues. Such is the case when a comic has been delayed for many months, which it turns out is the case here. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky acknowledge this immediately with an eight-page series recap, written in tone typical for the series (“this is one of the book’s many moments of very, very subtle meta commentary on its themes of trouble vs desire…”) and from there we’re back with Jon and Suzie and the Sex Police.
The new content in the issue starts with most of the series characters in a diner sorting out what everybody knows. Jon’s shrink Dr. Davis comes clean (sorry, pun totally not intended) about his connection with Kegelface (or Myrtle Spurge if you prefer), the Sex Criminals all share what they know about the Sex Police, and everyone tries to get everyone else on the same page. This is actually really refreshing. Instead of mining miscommunication for drama, “Sex Criminals” has protagonists who actually talk to each other, and more to the point, communication is a central theme to the issue.
Because once Jon storms out of the plot-moving diner scene, the rest of the issue is catching up on Jon and Suzie’s relationship, and this is where the raw honesty that “Sex Criminals” likes to wave around is used with blunt force trauma. Jon’s depression is preventing him from making big life goals, and as he and Suzie get more serious about each other, Suzie thinks they should make goals together. Reading these conversations feels almost voyeuristic. They’re too real, too honest to be made up. You can feel in the honesty of the writing, and of the art, that these are conversations that the creators have really had with people they really care about. They’re devastatingly sad, but maybe just slightly optimistic.
Zdarsky’s art is continuously a superlative highlight of the book. Over the course of this issue, he covers all his greatest hits. There are sequences where Jon’s depression is visually represented by frightening, abstract red and black shapes, there are tons of background gags, there’s a splash page of doin’ it. The visual language that Zdarsky has created for this book not only serve the needs of the story, you can start to see his style infecting dozens of other comics on the stands. His dense, expressive art almost defiantly pokes fun at Fraction, the reader, and itself.Continued below
Matt and Chip take some time at the end of the issue to promise that this arc will be published monthly, which is a relief. “Sex Criminals” is really a special book, managing to be funny, sad, so honest it’s sometimes hard to read, and technically brilliant all at the same time. It’s also one of the few comics that demands to be read in issue form. The letters pages, filled with personal confessions, are continuously the best part of the comic, and filled with stories you just can’t make up.
Final Verdict: 9.3 – When you find yourself going through every panel of the recap, going through every page twice to take it all in, and reading every word of the back-matter pages, you know you are holding a really special comic.
Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
Illustrated by Sebastián Fiumara
Reviewed by Nicholas Palmieri
Perhaps the most effective trait of this “Superman” run has been its rotating team of artists, depending on what the story calls for. This issue features Sebastián Fiumara, who does both pencils and inks, as he plays with darkness and shadows to portray the story of Jon and Kathy coming across supernatural forces. His art often looks as if it starts by framing each panel, whether that framing is in the form of the ink-heavy woodsy environments or in the form of an all-pervading negative space. Then, the characters are placed within the scene, either completely silhouetted or with heavy shadows. The end result is a strong atmosphere present in every panel.
As the issue progresses and things get stranger, Fiumara uses more unconventional panel layouts, eventually ditching them altogether as the characters are engulfed by an off-white presence and swept out of an old house. This scene in particular captures their struggle well, as different angles of their being swept up by the presence are layered on top of each other. Combined with Fiumara’s representing the presence as negative space and his strategic choice of which parts of the characters’ bodies to show rising out of the presence, I was able to feel their chaotic perception of this situation.
Even with a rather thin plot — Jon and Kathy are searching for a cow and spooky things happen — Tomasi and Gleason’s writing remains top-notch. These kids are written as the children they are, neither too knowledgeable nor too immature, in both speech and action. The pacing here also deserves a mention, as Fiumara’s art wouldn’t be near as effective without Tomasi and Gleason’s combination of a rapid sequence of events with slower moments to set the mood.
Expertly drawn and written with finesse, the “Superman” team delivers a spooky, fun read in this break between multi-part epics.
Final Verdict: 7.8 – A great showcase for Fiumara’s dark and eerie art, as well as Tomasi and Gleason’s expertise at writing children.
Written by Tom Waltz
Illustrated by Mateus Santolouco
Reviewed by Rowan Grover
“TMNT” is in a comfortable place in continuity with issue 67, giving Tom Waltz ample opportunity to build off the established mythos. Here we have the many animal/mutants of the comic being hunted and captured by the Earth Protection Force (EPF). Waltz presents it as a good jumping on point and a solid premise, with some good characterisation of fan-favourite character Slash. Waltz writes him as a Frankenstein’s Monster type of character, who is just trying to feel normal, whilst also indulging in classic literature. But in that same sense, there’s not a lot of depth to him in this representation – he simply feels at peace with himself, and it’s unfortunately a little boring.
However, we’re given great characterisation of the protagonists as per usual, with Leo’s internal conflict really boiling. Waltz’ has written Master Splinter out of the picture training a new chunin, which means that Leo is now the veritable head of the family. It makes Leo a lot more interesting and sympathetic rather than just being the cranky emo-teen of the group. A scene in which he finds Splinter looking for help on how to guide his brothers is one of the most moving in the book, and a great example of the father-son bond between the two.Continued below
“TMNT” has always proven to be a great showcase for action-heavy artists, and #67 stays faithful to this aspect. Santolouco has been on this book long enough to really understand the aesthetic and design. One of my favourite examples of this is his handling of Slash. At the start we see him in his peaceful state, his body language relaxed, his facial work generally positive, and even in fight scenes generally retaliatory and non-violent. However, we see him controlled by the EPF at the end of the issue, and there’s a distinct difference in depiction he’s a lot more uncomfortable and agitated, overall a lot more aggressive. It lends a lot to the believability of the book, even with a cast that’s 80% anthropomorphic.
Santolouco is able to present a good balance between the cartoon nature of the current TV series and the more immersive, loose style of the original comic. During the EPF lab scene, there’s a sense of unease in the pencilling that feels as real as any good horror comic, with Santolouco pencilling the trapped Slash looking like he could escape at any moment. Similarly, the agents surrounding the tank are fairly normal looking, which is striking when placed in this context, next to the almost demonic looking Slash.
However, at times this balance can tip a little too uncomfortably towards cartoony, especially where it counts. Around the middle of the comic, we get a scene with the four brothers, with a palpable sense of dysfunctionality in the air. The brothers, especially Leo and Mikey, look like they’ve lost about 5 years in age every time the conversation is heated and either of them are upset. In particular, the last page of the sequence has a panel with Mikey turning his head to the camera looking like a different person in contrast to the rest of his appearances. I don’t have a problem how old or young they look overall, but it’s this inconsistency that makes it a little confusing for the reader.
Ronda Pattison’s coloring, like Santolouco’s, is all about the balance between vibrant cartoonist and gritty realism. The opening scene, set on skyscraper rooftops, has a slightly muted palette, conveying the wintery mood with dark blues and greys without feeling depressing. The Leo-Splinter scene is also colored well – the night setting and faded Japanese aesthetic set Leo’s troubled mood well, but there’s still a vibrancy in the colors that keeps the tone believable.
Final Score: 6.8 – A generally good, quieter issue with fun artwork, which is unfortunately a little uneventful and some odd slips in tone.
Written by Al Ewing
Illustrated by Paco Medina and Carlo Barberi
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
While I appreciated the first issue of “U.S.Avengers,” the follow-up was a little too unfocused. This issue ends the first arc abruptly as Ewing seems to have paced this story too fast. With this last issue adding a surprising new aspect of this series to the mix, I hoped that Ewing would dig back into main cast who are thrown into this issue with everything else and the kitchen sink. For better or worse, Ewing continues to rapidly accelerate the plot of this issue.
Ewing’s silly voice for the villain on this issue borders on parody, but Ewing allows himself just enough restraint to pull the character off with some swagger. His snarky scenery chewing adds just enough flavor to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, some of the internal logic of the character breaks towards the end of the issue, when Ewing’s villain plot for the character fizzles out and makes him seem painfully idiotic in nature. The villain simply never stood a chance going up against an entire team of Avengers single-handedly, I’m disappointed that there wasn’t more to his scheme.
Even though this book is technically a sequel to Ewing’s run on “New Avengers,” the author still needs to spend some time establishing just what the premise of this book is. Ewing tosses so many balls up in the air that some of the introductory pieces of the comic are missing. I still have no idea what the motivation is for some of these character to be on this roster.Continued below
Surprisingly, Ewing gives Paco Medina a lot of room to draw really slick, fancy scenery in his crowded script. Medina chooses just the right splash pages and poses character in really dynamic stances. Medina finds really sleek layouts but gives an emphasis on clarity putting him above some of his contemporaries. The illusion of motion is very much present as objects in the air look like they are going to come crashing down at any second. Unfortunately, the issue gets a noticeable second artist shift late in the issue with Carlo Barberi. Barberi’s work is looser, causing a shift in quality that doesn’t seem suited to his style or talent.
Even though the issue’s shift back to Medina’s art is also jarring, the artist steals the show and Ewing finishes on a nice but anti-climactic beat. While this issue had a couple of sincere character beat towards the beginning, Ewing cuts the narrative of this comic a little too short, amounting to a first storyline that doesn’t quite explore the team, villain or conflict deep enough. Ewing still lands his character beats and gives Medina a great many things to draw, but going forward I would like to see this book tackle something more substantial instead of just getting by from its unrelenting sense of optimism.
Final Verdict: 6.5 – Ewing provides little closure and the art awkwardly shifts hand in the finale of “U.S.Avengers’” first story-arc.
The Walking Dead #164
Written by Robert Kirkman
Illustrated by Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, and Cliff Rathburn
Reviewed by Gregory Ellner
The two standout characters in this issue are Negan and Carl Grimes. Each of them shows development, in their character, but in very different ways.
In a paradoxically quiet moment holed up to hide from the thousands-strong undead herd, Negan and Rick Grimes have a conversation that is one of the most powerful in a great many issues of this series: one about what the worst thing each of them has done would happen to be. This conversation, and Negan’s heart-wrenching monologue about his own failures, continues to solidify the man as a compassionate, yet misguided man, a far cry from the psychopath he was shown as earlier in his run on the comic. More and more, he feels like he can become the “muscle” of Rick’s group, a position that often shifts from one person to another as the comic run has continued.
Outside of that temporary safehouse, we have Carl’s ascension. He seems to be truly growing up to be the leader his father is, with his ability to organize others enough to make readers feel happy for him. This perspective is solidified with Laura’s proud smile to his speech. Carl may not realize how far he has come from the scared little boy he once was, but readers likely can.
The primary problem that can be seen in this issue is the slow pacing, narrative-wise. The Whisperer War didn’t have many casualties for the readers to care about, especially compared to the ‘All-Out War’ arc, and the aftermath doesn’t seem to do much to change that trend thus far. Though the sheer number of Walkers is astounding, it’s hard to treat them as a genuine threat to anything but buildings with such a low casualty count.
The perspectives of the artwork in this issue shows the priorities of each of the characters. While Rick and Negan are talking, they spend a brief amount of time with the view showing the Walkers in the background windows, but then spend the vast majority of their time on individual people’s faces and blank wooden walls. Andrea, Dwight and the others involved in redirecting the undead have more space spent showing the zombies, as well as generally giving them attention even when not on the page directly. Carl’s speech gives all attention to humans in the scene, even as it talks of the massive herd, giving all of the focus to Carl’s character development, rather than the threat itself.
Final Verdict: 7.5- Interesting insight into Negan’s internal turmoil and Carl’s growing maturity, but lacking in much plot movement.