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.
Astro City #52
Written by Kurt Busiek
Illustrated by Brent Anderson
Colored by Peter Pantazis
Reviewed by Eric Goebelbecker
“Astro City’s” latest monthly run comes to a bittersweet conclusion with ‘And in the End…’
This series is at its best when it’s telling us stories about the titular city’s non-powered residents, and this final chapter in the sequel to the Eisner-nominated ‘The Nearness of You’ is one of those tales.
Creating sequels to beloved stories is a risky game (I’m looking at you, Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery,) but Busiek and Anderson succeed with an addition that packs the same emotional impact of the original story. Much of this has to do with the choices the storytellers make, including having 23 years pass for Michael Tenicek, just like it has here in what some call the “real” world.
We seamlessly slip in and out of flashback sequences that show us the weight of two decades and how a man who suffered a terrible loss coped the only way he knew how; by helping others. Busiek’s narration takes us in and out of Tenicek’s memories while Pantazis tints the flashback sequences for us. Anderson puts us in the shadow of the Hanged Man, at the rubble from a superhero slugfest, and in an emotional discussion at a support group. We don’t just see the consequences of living in the shadows of superheroes, we experience them.
We learn more about what’s happened to Michael, even as he learns a few things himself. The story flows effortlessly, and we can almost imagine having a cup of coffee and one of his donuts while Michael tells us about himself.
Michael revisits the decision he made back in 1995, but when see him dancing with Miranda, just as he did on the opening page of the original tale, we know what his answer is; even if he doesn’t yet.
Final Verdict: 9.5 – “Astro City” #52 wraps up the series with a reminder of why we love it so.
Black Panther #2
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Illustrated by Daniel Acuna
Colored by Pete Pantazis
Lettered by Joe Sabino
Reviewed by Jacob Robert Nuckolls
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, Wakanda’s stories continue to dazzle and amaze. This book is a white-knuckle, intergalactic dogfight featuring some of the most visually-striking action panels I’ve seen in a long time. Reading this book is like watching the last 20 minutes of a Star Wars film: high-flying aircraft, baffled imperial lackeys, a character with a strange ability, and even an evil emperor.
Coates’ writing simultaneously adds to the immense world-building he is doing as well as contribute to a few quieter character moments. He juggles a lot and manages to pull off quite the thrill ride.
Though Coates’ plot is exhilarating, Daniel Acuna is the real star of this book. His understanding of motion and pacing perfectly provides the kind of risk this story needs. His colors demonstrate the same kind of excitement as the story itself – stark contrasts, flashy explosions, and beautiful backgrounds. I loved seeing the Afro-futuristic tones in his scenes at Planet Bast, as well as all over the costume design. From the construction of action sequences, set pieces, character design, and plot, this team effectively establishes a complex, fascinating world.
Final Verdict 9.0 – “Black Panther #2” is a wild, white-knuckle ride featuring gorgeously-illustrated panels, intense action sequences, and enough intrigue to keep us guessing and expectant for the next issue.
Written by Evan Dorkin
Illustrated by Veronica Fish
Colored by Veronica Fish
Lettered by Andy Fish
Reviewed by Gustavo S. Lodi
“Blackwood” #2, the second issue on a four-issue series about college kids who get involved in some pretty strange situations, is truly a pleasure to read. Funny, fast-paced, with a great sense of mystery and humor, this issue offers a very balanced offering.Continued below
Much of “Blackwood’s” success lies on a complete and coherent art package, offered by Veronica Fish and Andy Fish. As longtime collaborators, it is obvious how that integration favors the final result, with characters that are all unique, settings that are macabre and filled with detail, and with coloring that adds to the atmosphere.
Some individual aspects that should get reader’s attention: note how a more cartoony style is used for character expressions when they are feeling scared or angry. It is a creative freedom that adds to the sense of action and absurdity of the plot. Also, for the four student protagonists, a lot of attention is placed on how they dress, behave and interact among themselves, to a point where their personality is conveyed on their visual representation alone.
Dorkin’s script is just as addictive. It is infused with a sense of the unknown, about what this school truly is, of what is going on, and of how each student’s hidden past and traumas will be crucial as the story progresses. “Blackwood” also excels at making the supporting characters valuable to the plot, but retaining a sense of individual importance as well. While they are most valuable in delivering some exposition (not in a heavy-handed way by any mean), they all act as if the protagonist of their own story – simply one that readers are not following as closely as the four main leads.
In a nutshell, “Blackwood” is a series that hits on all the right notes: believable characterization, compelling plot and an art package that is so consistent unto itself and with the story that readers should feel like exploring a brave new world.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – As this mini-series hits its halfway mark, “Blackwood” continues to excite with such strange situations being beautifully portrayed that readers should already start to miss these characters as the story moves forward.
The Flash #49
Written by Joshua Williamson
Illustrated by Howard Porter
Colored by Hi-Fi
Lettered by Steve Wands
Reviewed by Gregory Ellner
Joshua Williamson’s writing for ‘Flash War’ has been well done, though on the whole, it seems to skew the story too heavily to one side (namely toward Barry Allen). While that bias is settled here and done much better as it goes through the plot, Williamson seems to try to accomplish too much in too short a time span. While the race between Flashes is intense, it seems to be a bit too powerful, too quickly, with many different things getting in its way across the Justice League and beyond, making the Flashes out to be powerful far beyond anything they’ve done before and making their conflict seem like more of a multiversal crisis than a single-issue event. The revelations toward the end of the issue are similarly a bit too much, as while they are well handled and very interesting in their own right, they perhaps deserved an issue of their own to reveal and explain.
Howard Porter’s dynamic artwork is perfect for a high-octane fight and race like the one presented in “The Flash” #49. Blurred sprints, paneling going across multiple pages and up and down the frenetic pages, and a wide variety of locales, Porter is able to expertly utilize all of these elements to make for an exciting adventure to make up for some of the perhaps overly breakneck pacing.
Hi-Fi’s colors help tie the entire issue together, with colors ranging from the brilliant blues, yellows, whites, and reds of common Flash conflicts to various shades of green and violent purples, among other colors.
Final Verdict: 7.5- Together, ‘Flash War: Part 3’ is a very good issue, fun and exciting, but maybe a little too much at once for some readers.
Hunt for Wolverine: Mystery in Madripoor #2
Written by Jim Zub
Illustrated by Thony Silas
Colored by Felipe Sobreiro
Lettered by Joe Sabino
Reviewed by Dexter Buschetelli
I’ve been bangin’ on about this on Twitter for months but I did not want Logan to come back to life, at least not any time soon. That being said, the “Hunt for Wolverine” mini-event has been really winning me over. Great creative teams on books like “Adamantium Agenda”, “Claws of a Killer”, and “Weapon Lost” have elevated a dumb, cheap cash grab to a truly enjoyable experience. “Mystery in Madripoor”, however, is easily the weakest link in the four-tiered publishing initiative leading up to “Return of Wolverine”.Continued below
Jim Zub and Thony Silas team up for a story that sees an all-female team of X-family characters journey to Madripoor in search of Magneto, their prime suspect in the disappearance of Logan’s body. As it turns out, Magneto is being held captive by Viper and her Femme Fatales who managed to capture half of the protagonists in the first issue. While, as a premise, that sounds interesting; what should be a fun romp across the island haven for criminals is a laborious slog.
Jim Zub is a very competent writer, known for his creator-owned series “Skullkickers” and recent runs for Marvel on “Thunderbolts”, “Uncanny Avengers”, and “Champions”. That such a talented writer, evidenced by his Harvey and Joe Shuster awards, feels as though he is phoning it in with this project is disappointing. His chops shine through in moments like Psylocke and Kitty’s character showcases which open the first two issues, and this issue’s gag involving Domino smashing Bloodlust’s head into a casino table as she laments that her phasing powers don’t seem to work as well as Kitty’s; but those are highlights in an otherwise tedious toil of lifeless dialogue and awkward pacing.
A bad Jim Zub script is like a bad pizza, though. It’s still pretty good and this issue could have been salvaged if not for being saddled with the art of Thony Silas. In the scenes featuring Kitty, Domino, and Jubilee, which this issue is predominantly comprised of, their faces are virtually indistinguishable from one another. The lack of visual flair in the line work, awkward posing of characters, and panels that bounce back and forth from too busy to lacking detail hurt the book severely. Filipe Sobreiro’s colors add a bit of panache to an otherwise bland concoction, but it simply isn’t enough to save the ugly duckling of the “Hunt for Wolverine” flock.
Final Verdict: 6.3 – Just let Sapphire Styx suck my life force out before this book does.
John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction: The Standoff #1
Written by David J. Schow
Illustrated by Andres Esparza
Colored by Sergio Martinez
Lettered by Janice Chiang
Reviewed by Alea Perez
The first issue of “The Standoff” almost literally begins with a bang as Schow is quick to bring the action in this sci-fi horror set in a middle-of-nowhere prison. The setting is established by our narrator, a prisoner, as he witnesses a projectile heading toward the prison he is serving time in. A crash occurs and from there, confusion sets in and violence erupts. Numerous characters are introduced to the reader in quick succession, from prison guards to prisoners to outside authorities looking to learn what is going on. However, the efforts to introduce these characters in the midst of the action does not make them any more memorable or intriguing by association. Instead, with no background or history provided, and no real reason to care about their survival, they seem expendable, exactly as Elaine states. Elaine herself is meant to have an air of intrigue about her, as she is presented as having an almost X-Files type of worldly knowledge, but we are given little clue as to why she should be believed or listened to.
Although the panels are occasionally used to good effect in preventing stagnation and keeping the action moving, little color variation exists, except for the glow of the aliens – seen in both their humanoid and insect forms. Otherwise, a cool palette of blues and grays are presented via the glow of computers and the late night setting, with the only warmth in the art coming, paradoxically, from the flames from the crash that set off the chaos of the story. Some panels boast great textures and excellent use of cross-hatching but can’t make up for the overall garish illustrations, the dull writing, or the forgettable characters. It is possible that further issues will provide more buy-in and expand upon a decent plotline with potential for great storytelling but it remains to be seen.
Final Verdict: 5.3 – “The Standoff” is just cliché enough to pack no real surprises or create suspense, even in its teaser reveal for issue #2. An okay read for those who find comfort in action-packed, gory predictability but otherwise, a pass.Continued below
Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer #1
Written by Mickey Spillane & Max Allen Collins
Illustrated by Marcelo Salaza & Marcio Freire
Lettered by Tom Williams
Reviewed by Alan Buxbaum
If you’re looking for a noir comic with an excess of cheesy dialogue, look no further, for “Mike Hammer” #1 is meant for you. The first issue in this series is not shy about getting right into the main themes of the story: guns, girls, and money. The writing is what one would expect for a noir comic, but it still got on my nerves a bit. Perhaps I should steer clear from genres like this, but Spillane and Collins overdo it on the cynical lines that come out of Mr. Hammer’s mouth. Yes, this may be in the style of noir fiction, but is he capable of saying something without a double-meaning?
Aside from this, the writing is actually pretty good. It fits the aesthetic that is complemented by Salaza and Freire’s great art (more on that soon) and leads us through the beginnings of what could turn into a good story. The name of the game is that you can’t trust anyone in a world where your name is Mike Hammer, and the writers accomplish this feel partially through the dry dialogue and narration throughout the issue. I can’t help but find it funny how every female that comes across Hammer is immediately taken with him, and how every female he comes across takes priority over the mission at hand. But alas, it certainly is true to the genre. I just wonder if they could’ve done it in a way that wasn’t so typical? I think it would’ve made for a less predictable and inevitably stronger read. The other big criticism is the cliffhanger at the end of the issue or lack thereof. I felt that ending it with an incredibly obvious question (“But why would someone be trying to kill me?”) was extremely anticlimactic, not to mention that it is completely outside of Mike Hammer’s character. Better to have no “cliffhanger” than an ineffective one.
Salaza and Freire do a great job on the illustrations. From the start of the issue, we see that this team produces anything but static art. I was a huge fan of the opening chase scene. From the paneling to the realistic style of art, Salaza and Freire keep your eyes engaged throughout the issue. My only critique is that I wish they put more time into the facial expressions (especially those of Mike Hammer’s). Most of the time, they feel bland and disconnected from the text. That being said, these are definitely the right guys for the job when it comes to illustrating a story with explosions, guns, and more explosions.
Final Verdict: 6.5 – This is a great comic for art-fanatics and most noir-lovers; while the issue promises a series that stays true to this genre, fans may even think it a bit much for a medium like comics.
Teen Titans Special #1
Written by Adam Glass
Penciled by Robson Rocha
Inked by Daniel Henriques
Colored by Sunny Gho
Lettered by Rob Leigh
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane
When this latest edition of “Teen Titans” was announced, I perked up at the pitch of Robin and company taking a more “proactive” approach to super-heroing. For there lies madness and villainy, being pro – as opposed to reactive helps to expose their personal fascism and erode the perceived moral and ethical barrier separating costumed goodie from baddie. Artist Robson Rocha does a good job of showing the destructive force Damian Wayne brings to bear on Black Masks thugs after they blow up an immigrant families restaurant. The actual destruction brought by the goons is comparatively opaque and undefined. Special attention is instead given to a blistered and burned face and copious blood stains that mark Damian’s handiwork. The thin line detail work of Rocha and inker Daniel Henriques gives Damian’s strip an appropriate stylized nineties idea of gritty.
The remainder of the issue is split between strips highlighting Emiko Queen and young Wally West, which like Damian’s emphasize their dissatisfaction with the current heroic order. Either from their personal feelings for what should be a loved one getting in the way of protecting the innocent; or the perceived hypocrisy of letting something like Task Force X work in the open. It’s worth noting that the source of this anger is in some way derived from their dysfunctional families. These characters burn with an understandable and youthful anger. Their and Adam Glass’ ability to levy a sustained structural critique against their eternally youthful older generation is yet to be revealed. At the very least this issue puts forth a good outline of a millennial generation in the DCU. Glass did a good job of spotlighting this trio. This is only half of the team, with the introduction of three unknown quantities next issue, it makes me wonder if these pages would’ve been better used highlighting their perspectives instead.Continued below
While Damian’s strip was influenced by the nineties, Rocha does a good job of differentiating the other two strips. Emiko’s feels like something akin to Mike Grell’s work in terms of pacing and page design. Wally’s lacked a clear homage but is readable and features the most emphasis on character acting of the trio. “Teen Titans Special” #1 is an overall well put together book that acts as an efficient prologue to the issue #20 relaunch.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – Adam Glass and Robson Rocha do a good job highlighting the mounting unbowed anger from this generation of heroes, hopefully, they can pull it off and survive the experience.
Written by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by Mike Del Mundo
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
“Thor” #2 is a stuffed issue cementing the series’ status as a new direction for the premiere Marvel hero. Writer Jason Aaron continues to explore the deep corners of Norse mythology and the “Thor” supporting cast. Thankfully, seeing the diverse aspects and strange worlds from artist Mike Del Mundo is a visual splendor.
Aaron packs each page of the issue with an interesting visual embellishment. Mundo does a wonderful job bringing a sense of majesty to the intriguing new villain Sindr. The pages with Sindr switch up the color palette to a warmer hue and bring a visual diversity to the issue. Sindr’s full-body debut is a particularly impressive and detail-rich page. Mundo also has a keen eye for page composition using smaller panels to lead up to moments with larger panels.
The issue’s largest drawback comes in the form of the split focus, Aaron seems unsure of what the stakes in the issue are. The story features multiple villains who have a nasty habit of lurking in the background as opposed to dealing damage. Since Thor is currently in the land of Niflheim, there are lots of fun opportunities that are seized for interesting story directions. A recent development from “The Mighty Thor” #700 pays off in an intriguing manner within the story.
Aaron is working with lots of personalities and individual Asgardian heroes in the issue and sometimes the interactions start to slow the pacing of the story. The sequence in the middle of the issue featuring an exchange with Balder, Odinson, and Loki focuses on minor quibbles and does little to advance the plot. The characterization between the different cast members is a nice touch but Baldur’s return hardly merits the focus of a full script. If this storyline is able to develop into something within the next couple issues, there is a chance the issue would read better in a collected format.
Aaron’s direction for the new “Thor” ongoing title seems to be placing an emphasis on making sure the supporting cast of Asgard is better developed. While the pacing for “Thor” #2 can grind to a halt in some of the worst moments of the issue, artist Mike Del Mundo revs up the tension to a fever pitch with the introduction of a new villain. Mundo’s expressive characters and interesting poses infuse a quiet issue with dynamic energy. Hopefully, Aaron’s script and direction for the character will start to take better shape in the subsequent installments of “Thor.”
At the end of the day, I can’t deny the smart dialogue and interactions between the different cast members or the wild artwork of the story.
Final Verdict: 5.3 – “Thor” #2 is a solid but quiet follow-up to the debut issue, lacking the tension of the Jane Foster-led series.
Vampirella: Roses for the Dead #1
Written by Kristina Deak Linsner
Illustrated by Joseph Michael Linsner
Colored by Ceci De La Cruz
Lettered by Jeff Eckleberry
Reviewed by Chris Egan
Dynamite Comics prepares for the 50th anniversary of “Vampirella” with a new mini-series. Unfortunately, the premiere issue leaves quite a bit to be desired and for readers who have never picked up a Vampi book before, there isn’t much here to keep them coming back for more.
Kristina Deak Linsner tries to make this a stand-alone story and re-introduction of the characters which makes for a poor balancing act. There is so much exposition that the bulk of the plot set-up is relegated to a prologue. The pacing of the entire issue has all the enjoyment of stop-and-go traffic.Continued below
The issue’s biggest sin is that it tries to tackle sexual assault, namely rape, without ever using the word. It cheaply skirts around it. For a book known as a FUN, retro/dark-comedy/horror series filled with violence and T&A, it is odd to have our hero literally using her famously half-naked body to lure out a rapist while trying to convey the message that it is not the victim’s fault that they were targeted. This is a thin tightrope to walk and this book does not stay upright. If there were ever a comic that tried to have its cake and eat it too, this is it. It has all the power and campiness of an After School Special rather than Tales from the Crypt. This is not to say that a book like this can’t take on serious issues, but it needs to be smarter than this. Dynamite Comics can’t seem to figure out what to do with this character. They have done more than one reboot in the last few years, changing the character’s outfit, personality, and motives more than once. This book tries to bring back her over-sexualized original form while attempting and failing, to empower their storytelling with today’s sensibilities.
As for the art, Joseph Michael Linsner is a well-known comic book artist, famous for his dynamic pin-up girl drawings. As someone who should be the perfect pick for this series, the art is lacking any sort of depth or power. It’s just there. It still has the classic “Vampirella” look, but it is missing the style and flair that helped make many of the original comics as good as they were. Ceci De La Cruz’s colors barely breath life into it and does little more than just ensure that the book isn’t black & white. Linsner also did the cover for this issue and it looks much better than what is inside.
“Vampirella:” ‘Roses for the Dead’ is not enjoyable or intelligent. It is ultimately forgettable its muddled message gets lost in translation.
Final Verdict: 2.5 – An imbalanced re-introduction that tries its hand at a few different paths and does not succeed at any of them.
The Wicked + The Divine #37
Written by Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by Jamie McKelvie
Colored by Matt Wilson
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Reviewed by Tom Baker
The creators of “The Wicked + The Divine” have pulled off a fair few formalist tricks, including an issue made up entirely of “remixed” art from earlier installments, an issue designed to imitate high-end art/fashion/pop mags, and a bumper-sized special mixing Agatha Christie-like prose with comic interludes. This month, the innovation Messrs. Gillen, McKelvie, Wilson and Cowles have for us is, erm, ten pages of black, otherwise mostly blank, panels.
As with much of “WicDiv”, this is a deliberate provocation with some underlying thematic depth to back it up. Besides probably being a right ball-ache to print and making me a little peeved at having spent $3.99 on a half-empty book, this succession of nine-panel grids give us a glimpse at a world without the Pantheon. It’s a contrast to the similarly daring sequence a couple of issues prior, where we witnessed the sheer amount of deities Ananke had head-’sploded over the centuries to maintain both her power and the clockwork efficiency of the recurrence.
After that, how much more dark could this issue be? The answer is not, surprisingly, none darker. Most Gillen/McKelvie joints tend to play the long game, with cards kept close to the chest; as this, their longest-running collaboration to date, reaches its final hand, we’re starting to finally see exactly what they’ve been holding. What’s gratifying is that the pay off continues to be as narratively satisfying as it is emotionally devastating. The price of the top-notch plot twists that continue through this issue is not only the mental wellness of the cast but also the structural integrity of their internal organs.
Death of a more permanent sort than the sort-of-life the disembodied heads Minerva/Ananke is keeping locked away visits this issue, following a (final?) visit to the underworld where McKelvie and Wilson get to do what they do best. First, an interplay of light and shadow to make Mike Mignola green with envy. Second, a knock-down, drag-out fight between two gods that ‘s better-paced, illustrated and choreographed than most superhero books manage month-to-month.
Between the widescreen panels of doomed goth lover Baphomet and the Morrigan knocking seven shades of spittle out of each other, we see glimpses of their awkward teen courtship — dyed black hair, studded belts, hooking up in a dingy club — an especially cruel yet effective reminder of the very real stakes at play amongst the stylish bloodshed. “The Wicked + The Divine” just keeps accelerating towards that finish line, with little-to-no regard for your favorite characters’ wellbeing. Or your wallet.
Final Verdict: 8.3 – After a daring/annoying opening, a blockbuster issue that combines action thrills with genuine heartbreak.