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.
Comic Book History of Comics #4
Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Ryan Dunlavey
Reviewed by Jake Hill
Is it a cliché to say that learning can be fun? Either way, it’s been a big part of the careers of writer Fred Van Lente and his frequent art partner Ryan Dunlavey. Their “Action Philosophers!” has become an academic mainstay and their series “Action Presidents” promises the same kind of irreverent fact. But to the comics lover, it doesn’t get any better than the “Comic Book History of Comics.”
To the uninitiated, the “Comic Book History of Comics” is basically a history textbook, about comics, as a comic. Last seen as a paperback, their comprehensive history is being re-released by IDW, now fully colored by Adam Guzowski. The art and the writing promises a comedic tone, and you get that, but everything in this comic is hard-researched fact.
This issue starts with the story of William Moulton Marston, a sexual explorer, inventor of the polygraph test, and co-creator of Wonder Woman. Dunlavey’s art turns what could be a very serious story of hidden sexuality into hilarious panels of Marston, his wife, and their lover dressed like superhero babies, getting their kink on and creating one of the most enduring superheroes of all time. It would be hard to make that story boring, but Van Lente and Dunlavey have a flair for turning hard facts into a zany narrative.
The bulk of the issue is about Bill Gaines, who’s face you’ve probably seen on the cover of Mad Magazine. The story in the comic, is a familiar story of a rebellions son struggling against his religious father. The young Gaines was commissioned to do religious comics, but what he ended up producing was the famous EC horror comics, which were so over-the-top (for the time) that Van Lente and Dunlavey credit Gaines with inspiring Frederic Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent,” the hearings that followed, and eventually the Comics Code Authority which brought unprecedented censorship to comics.
To a comics fan, a lot of this might be familiar as trivia. Lots of people know about the kinky life of Wonder Woman’s creator, or the famous trials that almost killed the comics industry What “Comic Book History of Comics” does is turn facts into stories. Historical figures are made into characters, events are put into context, there’s nothing dry about these facts.
Comics fans tend to be completionists by nature, always wanting to know everything about their favorite character, sometimes spending as much time on a wiki as they do reading the books. This book, with its new vibrant colors and elaborate fantasy sequences lays the important foundation for a more complete understanding of comics. I would go so far to say that alongside Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics,” this is one of the most essential reference books in a comic fan’s collection.
The stories here are funny and informative. The late 1940s and early 1950s was one of the most controversial and dramatic periods in comic book history. “Comic Book History of Comics” tells the story of the near-death of a medium the creators clearly love with a twinkle in its eye.
Final Verdict: 7.9 – This issue is better in the context of the whole series, but it’s one of the most amusing tellings of this period of comics history you are likely to find.
Detective Comics #952
Written by James Tynion IV
Illustrated by Christian Duce and Fernando Blanco
Reviewed by Gregory Ellner
This issue gives a mixture of insight to Shiva’s methodology, combat prowess, and personality, on top of the aforementioned backstory. The artwork of Christian Duce and Fernando Blanco paints her as an exceptionally competent martial artist, even more so than Cassandra Cain. Her movements are shown in the art to be faster than any of the other members of the Bat Family, to the point that Jacob Kane’s fear of her wrath is fully justified to readers upon finding seeing her in action. The best demonstration of this thoroughly terrifying foe, however, is likely the opening, in which Tynion swiftly shows her brutality through minimal effort, only showing the beginnings and bloody aftermath of a battle between her League of Shadows and Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins. The smirk on her face and the blood dripping from her fingers and face after her barehanded massacre showcase her brutality and love of the fight, while the heightened scorn and interest in the burning image of her daughter show both a slight maternal side and her utterly cold pragmatism that leaves no room for family.Continued below
The only criticism of her portrayal is in her goals. She seems to want to destroy Gotham, but there is little reason given to do so. She wants to go to see her family member, but the only reason that could be discerned about why to destroy the entire city (a plot line that has happened countless times in this city alone) is to make her seem more brutal than the League of Assassins, and to make Ra’s al Ghul look good by comparison. The social Darwinism that seems to define every fiber of her character does not seem to just provide an interesting villain, but also to flatten her personality to an unreasonable point. The hope is that this characterization can be expanded upon moving forward in later issues of this arc.
Aside from Shiva, Clayface is shown very well. The artwork’s depiction of Karlo’s new combat prowess is interesting, with colorist Alex Sinclair depicting it as yellow glowing lines between his different avatars. Letterer Sal Cipriano’s distinguishing between different avatars to show the flow of his speech to his assailants helps to both further humanize the reformed villain and enable readers to follow his train of thought more easily.
Lastly, we have the depiction of emotion in the final pages. Using minimal facial movement and effective use of framing, the artwork manages to show a relatively unchanging face of Batman go from worried, to saddened, to determined in the space of three panels, masterfully showing the effects of all components in a scene to allow readers to empathize.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – Comprehensive reintroduction to Shiva to new Batman readers, albeit without much of an interesting motive.
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Illustrated by Ben Torres
Reviewed by Kent Falkenberg
Sarah Dewer spends “Kingpin” #2 mulling over Wilson Fisk’s offer to write his biography. She’s broke – spending her last couple bucks on slices of pizza for herself and her only friend – desperate enough to consider the handsome payment she’ll receive. But Matthew Rosenberg makes sure to show just how much her journalistic interest has been piqued. The table is clearly titled in Fisk’s favor.
She just doesn’t trust him is the problem.
But ultimately, it doesn’t much matter if Fisk is falsely charitable or honestly sociopathic, a philanthropist or a monster. Rosenberg handles the shading of both sides deftly. Ben Torres’s depiction, on the other hand, clearly leans towards the latter. His Kingpin is a behemoth, drawn broader than a vending machine and with knotty hands the size of other characters’ chests.
This series is shaping up as a dual character study. Of course there’s a focus on Fisk. The creators use Dewer as a window into the counterpoints of his psyche. She sees The Kingpin piledriving a thug though a table of caviar at a charity dinner. Later, she watches Wilson play with a couple of kids in a children’s ward – in an awesome touch, he’s shown holding a Spider-man figure – while admitting to a murder or two or ten he’d committed on his ascension to power. “A lot of bad men. Evil men. Men who would have gone on to hurt a lot of people if I hadn’t. But that doesn’t change what I did,” he adds, after spelling out the word K-I-L-L so as not to terrify the little ears.
Torres pairs this admission with a closeup of Fisk’s scowl, but the image is framed off center so that we only see one menacing eye. A sucker – he’d handed candy to the kids earlier – clenched between his lips takes up the center of the panel. So there’s a subtle indicator that maybe Dewer shouldn’t buy what he’s selling.
Whether she truly does or doesn’t right now is irrelevant. She’s intrigued. And Rosenberg and Torres use the other half of this character study to examine someone who might willingly dance with Fisk. Feigned legitimacy or not, the only way there can even be a question of his integrity is if there are people with integrity who have given him some legitimacy.
Being a killer with soft spot for sick kids isn’t the most interesting or original take on the character. What is compelling, however, is seeing how he can seduce people like Dewer to take a chance on him. Rosenberg carefully spends time fleshing out her character so that we’re clear on the circumstances and mindset that gravitate her towards Fisk. We’re told she’s a premier journalist and can see hints of investigative mettle. At the same time, we see a recovering alcoholic with a personal life and career in shambles.Continued below
There’s not a whole lot of action for Torres to cut loose on, but his facial expressions sell emotional beats well enough. And his Fisk, a menacing hulk in white, makes for a great aesthetic. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency for background figures and objects to be drawn as silhouettes in flat color. At first, this occurred at the Fisk’s charity gala, and I thought it was a clever way to suggest the hollow dilettantes that might attend something hosted by him. But then they started popping up everywhere. It becomes distracting and unfortunately gives the art an unfinished quality.
Final Verdict: 6.0 – A slow burn character study that’s burning a little too slowly. Some uneven art put this at risk of blowing out before it can really catch.
Written by RIck Remender
Illustrated by Greg Tocchini
Reviewed By Benjamin Birdie
One thing I love about Rick Remender is that he does this thing, man, it’s great, where he’ll tell a story that’s been going for a nice while at a steady clip, and then things just hit this insurmountable wall for our plucky protagonists. There’s no conceivable way out to the cliffhanger he’s set up. Issue ends.
That happened in “Low” #15. So “Low” #16 is here, and so Remender does the next part of this thing, he introduces a new character and, implicitly, a way out for our plucky protagonists. The new character in this case is IO, introduced in a flashback to a “happier” time, by “Low” standards, when the currently dead Marik was a slave in the fighting pits of the pirate city Poluma. The first thing we see IO’s do, basically, is have 1/5th of his body sliced off. It’s cool though. Turns out he’s a robot, which gives us, quite organically, another small glimpse at this particular post-apocalypse’s back story. IO eventually escapes Poluma and heads, presumably, towards our current story.
Greg Tocchini’s work is always stellar on this comic, in this issue is no exception. His panel layouts are daring and evocative, including an opening action scene that takes the reader through sequention floating three-dimensional cubes (you’ve just got to see it to believe it). Dave McCaig does equally exceptional work coloring Tocchini’s hypnotizing line work in a way that manages to heighten its detail in a way that’s different from the ink washes that grace the covers of this book, but no less striking.
“Low,” like most of Rick Remender’s comics, takes its time and appreciates the importance of a good story, well told, in a single issue. This one is another great example of this trend.
Final Verdict: 8.8 – Although we still don’t know what happened with Stel’s terrifying dead end last issue, this one brings us what “Low” always finds in the most unlikely places: hope.
Mother Panic #4
Written by Jody Houser
Illustrated by Shawn Crystal
Reviewed by Mike Mazzacane
Issue 4 of “Mother Panic” brings with it a shift, both in the art team and potentially the tonality of the series going for the next several issues. Shawn Crystal comes in, replacing Tommy Lee Edwards as illustrator, with Jean-Francois Beaulieu now on colors. Edwards’ style verged on expressionism with its heavy blacks and solid colors, matching the strong, somewhat stiff, character designs. This new team feels like the inverse of that, with thinner line work and a more rounded shape to things; pages read quicker and feel less constrained by paneling. Edwards’ heavy inks created the sense of self-loathing and the isolation Violet felt from the world around her. Issue 4 isn’t about isolation, and while she couches it in an idiom, Violet Paige finds a friend in the terrorist/vigilante known as the Pretty. Crystal’s style and Beaulieu’s more gradient color pallet are necessary additions to sell the overall more emotive range in the issue.
Crystal’s style is effective at expressing this new level of emotive potential. At the same time, there are a couple of odd moments of sexualizing Paige in her normally masking costume. This is outside of her performance on a faux-Conan O’Brien show talking about her butt. For a series that is at least gesturing towards the register of sexual trauma, it’s counterproductive.Continued below
Together, Paige and Pretty find a meaningful connection in the shared trauma of the Gather House. It contrasts with the momentary performative relationships Paige has accumulated thus far. The slow intercutting of flashbacks to how Paige became this way is proving to be quite effective. Brief and normally wrapped in a slightly absurdist symbology, Jody Houser gets a lot of narrative mileage out of a page to page and a half of work. In its brief time, these flashes have built justification for Paige’s quest for personal vengeance.
Interestingly that overt, flow breaking, symbolism is naturalized and cements “Panic” as being solely from Paige’s twisted point of view. Initially I’d thought it a byproduct of the overall postmodern posture Young Animal has taken, but the brief flash of Pretty as white stag asserts everything we see comes from Paige’s fracturing psyche. It gives everything a kind of Hanibal-esque vibe now, which is not a bad thing.
Final Verdict 7.0 – Mother Panic continues to slowly grow and reveal itself.
Platinum End Volume 2
Written by Tsugumi Ohba
Illustrated by Takeshi Obata
Reviewed by Nicholas Palmieri
Ohba and Obata, creators of such hits as Death Note and Bakuman, return with a second volume of their new psychological thriller, “Platinum End.” Now that the major exposition is done, we jump right into the logic games that I think Ohba excels at. His greatness lies in his way of revealing information: new rules are revealed one by one, each brought up as we see an example of it in action. When done in this style, all exposition feels like a natural progression of the plot. The supernatural elements also help, giving Obata plenty to work with visually while mostly being used as a way to decrease plot predictability and give us an interesting backdrop on which the logic twists play themselves out.
Surprisingly, those logic parts also give Obata a lot to work with. Some of my favorite pages in the book were the ones that showed a physical representation of the concepts Ohba was presenting through the dialogue. Because the concepts were so abstract, the diagrams acted more as helpful aids than as redundancies. On their own, each told the story, but when together, there was full, immediate clarity. Also, since the concepts were often based in the supernatural, even what could have been a dry diagram is visually interesting on the surface level.
This series still isn’t completely over the shock scenes from the first volume, but they do happen more smoothly. When a shocking moment happens, it has proper build-up, proper aftermath, and a proper place in the story. The emotional flashback scenes are slightly better in this volume as well, still occasionally getting too idealistic in presentation without ever reaching the blunt obviousness of similar scenes in the first volume.
Overall, I like where this series is going, especially now that the kinks from the first volume have been worked out. If future volumes continue their focus on these sorts of thinking matches, I’m in.
Final Verdict: 7.8 – A visually interesting manga that focuses on thinking through situations. If you like logic puzzles with constant rule changes that modify your thinking, check this out.
Transformers 2017 Annual #1
Written by John Barber
illustrated by Priscilla Tramontano
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
In the context of a serialized medium with decades of continuity, it can be hard to find a protagonists’ exact personality traits. Yet the “Transformers 2017 Annual” #1 attempts to do just that with Bumblebee, a character missing from the recent Transformers continuity for quite sometime. Now that the Universe has better established side players and has also reintroduced Optimus Prime and Megatron, the series is shining the spotlight back on one of the most popular characters in the entire franchise.
Nobody seems to understand the voice of Optimus Prime and Pyra Magna better than author John Barber who wisely frames the dialogue around these two characters that current status quo with Starscream. Surprisingly enough the faults of this issue actually line in just how little the Transformers continuity has changed since the events of “Transformers: Dark Cybertron”. While it is interesting to see Barber take a second look at all the differences in the world of the Transformers, Barber hasn’t quite switched up the major plot points since that even in 2014 and as a result, Barber has hit some of these characters beats before.Continued below
This issue also has one huge flaw that is hard to overlook. While the framing of the story and the adventures of Bumblebee are two welcomed diversions for Transformers fans, the second story with Victorion is difficult to invest in. This issue in particular is not advancing plot and when characters is this thin and exposition is this heavy, you’re asking a lot from your reader. The character and voice of Victorion isn’t nearly as well developed or interesting as Optimus himself or the background that the writer has tried to give Bumblebee.
The art by Priscilla Tramontano is also a slightly mixed bag. The more cartoonish style seen in the Bumblebee story is a bit too simplistic and jarring which seems to put the style at odds with the rest of the comic. Outside of the Bumblebee story Tramontano does a nice job making this issue coherent and well-produced. The artist may not have the most dynamic layouts or heavily detailed backgrounds, but readers will appreciate the technical proficiency on display here. This issue has a noticeably different color scheme from the proper Optimus Prime series but doesn’t stand out for the wrong reasons despite having three artists on colors.
This issue does a great job adding some additional characterization and context to the world of the Transformers, getting certain readers hungry for a certain Transformer to make his return to the franchise. Barber should be given props for some really poignant character work late in the issue. Tramontano’s clear pencil style and attention to detail are a welcomed addition to the Transformers Universe. Even with a bland second half of the issue, Barber finds effective ways for the Transformers to look back at the fallen in this sentimental story. The Transformers of Cybertron desperately need a status quo and direction across the line to keep things interesting.
Final Verdict: 6.8 – The “Transformers 2017 Annual” #1 brings home character moments ranging from tedious to beautiful in both story and art.