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.
Action Comics Annual #3 / Superman/Wonder Woman Annual #1/ Action Comics #34
Written by Greg Pak and Charles Soule
Illustrated by Various
Reviewed by Brian Salvatore
Originally, I had just planned on reviewing the “Action Comics” Annual, but when I started in on it, I realized that I needed to read its sister annual, “Superman/Wonder Woman,” to tell the other half of the story. Then, I had come this far, so I read “Action Comics” #34 to close out the week’s “Superdoom” stories.
Each annual tackles one half of a particular story – specifically, how Batman, Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Martian Manhunter, and co. manage to get Superman free of the Doomsday virus, at least long enough to have him help with the incoming Brainiac invasion. This was a frustrating reading experience, because Greg Pak’s “Action” was a much more convoluted story, but scripted strongly, whereas Charles Soule’s “SM/WW” was a tighter plot with subpar dialogue. “Action” involved the minutia of removing Kryptonite particles from the air, whereas “SM/WW” dealt with Clark himself, fighting from within, and Diana fighting from outside, to help him get back to normal.
The art on both annuals were better than expected from the cavalcade of pencillers listed, as each book looked cleaner and more put together than so many annuals and fill-in issues do from DC these days.
“Action” #34, meanwhile, was the strongest of the bunch, in no small part due to Aaron Kuder (with assists from Scott Kollins) on pencils. Kuder’s work continues to amaze, especially when paired with Pak. These two manage to give Superman more vitality and hope in their pages than the entire New 52 up to their arrival. In this issue, Kuder has to draw a huge swath of the DC Universe, and does so admirably.
Overall, this arc, while silly for a few reasons, has done one really nice thing: it has made the DCU feel like a family again. Marvel characters always feel like reluctant allies in “Avengers” books and crossovers, but the “Justice League” and “Justice Society” always felt like families. This crossover has unlikely bedfellows working together for the greater good. I’m not even talking about Lex Luthor joining the resistance – I’m talking about Red Hood and the Outlaws helping out Superman, and seeing the Teen Titans and Black Canary do the same. This feels like the first time that the entire heroes community has joined together, post-“Flashpoint,” for anything without bickering. For that alone, this is a nice change of pace.
Final Verdict: “Action Comics” Annual – 6.2, “Superman/Wonder Woman” Annual – 6.7, “Action Comics” – 8.1 – Overall, the crossover has been more enjoyable than expected, specifically because of the hopeful nature of even the darkest moments.
The Bunker #5
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Illustrated by Joe Infurnari
Reviewed by Brian Salvatore
There is a fine line in time travel stories between utterly confusing and boringly predictable. When these elements are balanced out – say, in Back to the Future or Looper – there is no story that I have more fun with than time travel.
“The Bunker” has been playing with the idea of open and closed loops, of destiny, of purpose, and other standard time travel tropes, but by adding a layer of sexual frustration, the dynamics of a tight knit group of friends, and consequences much larger than we’re used to seeing, the book transcends the genre and becomes about life and death on the grandest of scales.
A huge part of why this works so well is the art of Joe Infurnari. His character work is so raw and real that you can see everything right on their faces – frustration, attraction, deep hatred – and it never stops being beautifully done. The book has a totally unique look to it, and his style does nothing but enhance every single page of the book to something unmissable. That’s no knock of Fialkov, who is writing his ass off here, but rather a celebration of Infurnari’s truly astounding work.Continued below
Final Verdict: 8.8 – Engaging and mysterious, without feeling like they’re biting off more than they can chew.
Earth 2 #26
Written by Tom Taylor
Illustrated by Nicola Scott
Reviewed by Brian Salvatore
This is, unofficially, the end of “season one” of “Earth 2.” Almost every plot point from the first two years and change has been addressed and resolved, and the book is getting set to be part of the weekly triage of “Earth 2: Worlds’ End.” For an book that does put a pin in its development and allow its stories to come to a close, this issue feels very underwhelming.
A large part of that is due to the complete mindfuck of a solution to the Superman character in the story. At some point, for no real reason, Superman starts crumbling, as if he is made of stone, sort of talks like Bizarro, and then gets turned into a pile of dust by Lois Lane/Red Tornado. This is just slightly above a Poochie exit.
Elsewhere, there is a cool bit of Aquawoman using the water in Bedlam’s body against him – this is not unlike Magneto lifting someone up by the iron in their blood, a trick I’ve always loved. There are a few nice character moments throughout, but the Superman business really left a bad taste in my mouth. I know they sort of have to clear the deck for the weekly, but they’ve had a long time to plan for this – and it really falls short.
Final Verdict: 5.4 – This book, under Tom Taylor, has remained better than I ever thought it would, post-James Robinson. But this issue is a mess – hopefully, the weekly rights the ship.
Written by Greg Rucka
Illustrated by Michael Lark
Reviewed by Walter Richardson
The latest issue of Lazarus is a self-contained chapter following where we learn what exactly happened to the sniveling Jonah Carlyle. But that’s just the surface. Underneath the main plot, there is a lot of careful world building going on in the background of this issue — careful, but not always subtle. Rucka uses our look into the Hock territory to examine the idea of how those in power portray “The Enemy” to those who have no choice but to take their word as law.
Likewise, Lark’s pages utilize some interesting contrast when you compare the page as a whole with some background details. Compare the stark cleanness of the propaganda posters with the grit and grime of Jonah being beat within an inch of his life: Hock’s vision of his world (or, more accurately, the world he wants his serfs to believe they live in) is not the real world.
A common complaint about “Lazarus” is that it has seemed directionless, and while I greatly enjoy the world Rucka and Lark have built, I can see why one might say that. However, this one-and-done of sorts puts us back on the rails, seemingly setting the course of the book to come. Better late than never!
Final Verdict: 8.0 – Buy it!
Moon Knight #6
Written by Warren Ellis
Illustrated by Declan Shalvey
Reviewed by David Harper
This issue brings things full circle (moon?), as Ellis and Shalvey’s run ends in the only way it could have: unexpectedly and without anything that resembles true closure. But this run was never about closure, or about telling a traditional comic book narrative. It was about exploring the myth and madness of one of Marvel’s truly off-the-wall characters, and what better way to delve into that idea at the end than through the eyes of a villain?
It’s a very fascinating issue, and in a way, it does a great job of tying everything together by proving that the very things that make him unique – the quite literal insanity and the…shall we say, carefree yet hyper precise attitude – are what make him such an utter nightmare for criminals. Ellis is right at home building up this new Black Spectre, as he’s always been stunningly great at getting into the minds and motivations of the criminally insane.Continued below
Shalvey, as per usual, is a terror on art, making moments like the Black Spectre dispensing of his last ally powerful and unforgettable. This was the build-up and teardown of a new Marvel threat in the span of one issue, and much of that weight fell upon Shalvey’s ability to believably make this guy a credible threat. The progression of the character from beat cop to madman was almost entirely done visually, and the transformation was palpable thanks to the art.
By the end, when the showdown finally takes place, Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire pull out all the stops for a…well, let’s just say things get hot in their showdown, and if Ellis’ script doesn’t convey the attitude of Moon Knight in dealing with this knock-off brand villain, then the art certainly does.
The only demerit this issue gets is that like every issue of the run, I can’t help but say it feels slight. It’s an enjoyable and unique run, with brilliant art and easily accessible one-and-done stories. But they’re a torrent of energy, and by the time it reaches its close it feels like the story is really just beginning. There’s a deep understanding of the character here, and when looking at the preview for the next issue, it’s hard not to feel something is missing, like a specter looming over Wood and Smallwood’s work (I miss the black contours on MK’s mask, for one). But even with those strong feelings, there’s something to be said about being left wanting more and not getting it.
But maybe that’s why we all lose.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – A fitting conclusion to a beguiling, bizarre, beautiful run
Terminal Hero #1
Written by Peter Milligan
Illustrated by Piotr Kowalski
Review by Vince Ostrowski
Peter Milligan returns to the world of creator-owned comics after a short and disjointed stint with the ‘New 52’. One issue in and he already seems infinitely more at-home here in Dynamite’s ‘Creator’s Unleashed’ initiative. And unleashed he is, giving readers a deeply personal and raw effort. It begins with a terminal diagnosis for one Rory Fletcher, a young doctor in London, and from that point on anything resembling a “normal life” is tossed out the window. This is both a good and bad thing for the comic, because it allows Milligan to quite clearly connect the loss and confusion he probably experienced in his own life (“Terminal Hero” is inspired by a friend of Milligan’s who was terminally ill and has since passed) and channel it onto a page with help from his artist. On the other hand, “Terminal Hero” goes out into left field a time or two as the protagonist becomes more reckless.
The steps that Fletcher takes to save his own life are reasonable for a man faced with imminent death, and the questionable ethics involved are also understandable for all the parties involved, but the road that Fletcher’s character goes down once the treatment is taking place is a little haphazard. We’re told Fletcher is “the nicest guy ever” and then we see his true self. Well, it’s what Fletcher fears is his true self, anyway. It’s really raw and disturbing at times, and that’s the point and that makes the comic a great read, but it also is so jarring, narratively, that it’s difficult to determine what Rory Fletcher really is. I suppose that’s the point. Rory’s condition is a roller-coaster, and so goes the narrative. The problem is that it’s difficult to tell where the proverbial grounding wires are, so to speak.
Piotr Kowalski lends his typically gorgeous, European-flavored art to the proceedings. I’m not sure how he’ll be able to juggle “Sex” and “Terminal Hero”, but he doesn’t appear to have lost anything in the added workload. Milligan was smart to recruit Kowalski for this type of book, and one cannot help but feel that he intentionally plays to Kowalski’s strengths. As I said before, “Terminal Hero” is raw in a variety of ways. Kowalski drums up images that are intended to shock and disturb the reader. The displays are perhaps not as raunchy and uninhibited as Joe Casey’s “Sex”, but Kowalski applies the same seedy sensibilities to them. He’s also asked to mete out more raw emotion than he has had to in “Sex”, where so much of the truly impactful emotional scenes are intentionally understated and guarded. Kowalski can pretty much handle anything that the narrative asks of him at this point, and convey it with the proper weight.Continued below
“Terminal Hero” is going to be one to watch, definitely. But I recommend it with some minor pause, because I’m not sure who this protagonist is that I’m agreeing to follow. The plan is clearly to sort that all out and have some sort of magnificent arc for the character, to be sure, but it’ll take some doing for him to garner the requisite sympathies from readers.
Final Verdict: 7.0 – “Terminal Hero” is a book built on raw emotion that needs time to shake out the pain before getting its feet under it.