(posted March 5, I was sick)
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Dave's Comicbook Capsules Et Cetera
Intermittent Picks and Pans of Comics and Related Media
Standard Disclaimers: Please set appropriate followups. Recommendation does
not factor in price. Not all books will have arrived in your area this month.
An archive can be found on my homepage, http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/Rants
For a short month, there's a lot of "two issues in one month" for me.
Apologies for the delay, just when I'd normally be ramping up work on
the reviews for the month I got hit by what I'm guessing was a flu-shot-
weakened case of the flu followed by a week of coughing fits, which sucked
away a lot of my energy and concentration in the last week of the month.
Items of Note (strongly recommended or otherwise worthy): Black Panther
In this installment: Black Panther (movie), Gotham by Gaslight (DVD),
Hilo vol 4, Action Presidents vol 1-2, Black Panther Annual #1, Ms. Marvel
#27, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #28, Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #4
(of 6), Deathstroke #28, Justice League #38-39, Future Quest Presents:
Birdman #7, The American Way: Those Above and Those Below #6 (of 6), Invader
Zim #28, Kaijumax Season 3 #6 (of 6), My Little Pony Friendship is Magic #63,
My Little Pony Legends of Magic #11, Transformers vs. Visionaries #2 (of 5),
Optimus Prime #16, Optimus Prime Annual 2018, Transformers Lost Light #14-15,
The Comic Book History of Comics v2 #3, Empowered and Sistah Spooky's High
School Hell #2-3 (of 6).
Current Wait List (books either Diamond didn't ship or my store failed
to order): Transformers vs. Visionaries #3 (of 5).
"Other Media" Capsules:
Things that are comics-related but not necessarily comics (i.e.
comics-based movies like Iron Man or Hulk), or that aren't going to be
available via comic shops (like comic pack-ins with DVDs) will go in this
section when I have any to mention. They may not be as timely as comic
reviews, especially if I decide to review novels that take me a week or two
(or ten) to get around to.
Black Panther: Marvel - Okay, this is pretty critic-proof one way or
another...if you haven't seen it by now it's probably because you have
problems with making it to the theater in general. (For the "you" likely to
be reading a comics review column in the first place, of course.)
Shockingly, I really liked it. This is very much "my" Black Panther, which
is to say Priest's Black Panther, albeit the sort of thing Priest might have
written had he been tasked with a Year One sort of series. This is a hero
and king who can plausibly grow into the man who had a contingency plan for
Mephisto...and it worked. At the same time, it's simplified in a lot of
ways, and goes in decidedly different directions with many of the characters
(i.e. Nakia). I was particularly impressed how they took one of the
absolutely most cringeworthy of Marvel villains, M'baku the Man-Ape, and made
him WORK. If not for Shuri (who I don't really know from the comics, but
from what I've heard they spliced a lot of Queen Divine Justice into movie
Shuri), M'baku would be my favorite character.
And now a bit of commentary on the plot, veering slightly into spoiler
territory, but as noted I suspect you've almost all seen the movie by now.
T'Challa is impaled on the horns of a false dilemma. Two sides each doing
the right thing but with the wrong methods, making it seem like there can be
no middle path. I've see valid criticism that one side was a lot more right,
requiring an artificial "but he's eeeevil" tack-on to make it less attractive
(or threatening), but I think the point wasn't just to Disney-fy the morality
(although that was definitely there) but to establish that T'Challa has so
much potential power that he can make effective the middle path that ends up
being watered-down nothing in reality. Also, the "he's eeeevil" bit is more
solidly established in the limited character arc we get for the antagonist.
Or, to be more precise, he's damaged and lashing out. Killmonger is not the
noble revolutionary he poses as, he's an angry little boy who wants revenge
on the whole world and will use whatever tools and rhetoric necessary to get
Anyway, strongly recommended, in case you hadn't guessed. I might even
buy the DVD, even though I know it's going to have almost no extras, as is
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight: DC/WB - Either I never read the original, or
it really didn't stick in my memory. I am told, though, that this adaptation
fixed one of the most glaring flaws of the plot, so that's good.
Unfortunately, it also changed the visual style, removing almost every trace
of Mignola's designs and rendering it pretty close to the "house style" of
the DC direct to video stuff of recent years. (It's also R-rated for a
couple of swears and some blood, really more of a PG otherwise.) The story
does take a little too much time on "Hey, look at the steampunk version of
THIS Batman villain or supporting character!" scenes, but it also manages
some workmanlike misdirection in terms of the mystery of who Jack the Ripper
really is, even if the red herring was a little too red. Recommended. Price
varies by format and store.
Unless I find a really compelling reason to do so, I won't be turning
this into a webcomic review column. Rather, stuff in this section will be
full books available for reading online or for download, usually for pay. I
will often be reading these things on my iPhone if it's at all possible.
Nothing this month. I do wish Comixology had a block list so I wouldn't
keep seeing Manifest covers. Ugh.
Trade paperbacks, collections, graphic novels, pocket manga, whatever.
If it's bigger than a "floppy" it goes here.
Hilo vol 4: Waking the Monsters: Random House Graphic - This was very
much a "step back and ponder" installment. A bunch of random monsters keep
showing up with no apparently rhyme or reason, but now everyone is more aware
of some of the consequences of all of this. They accept that more (literal)
magic reset buttons are not likely, so start taking things like secret
identities and collateral damage seriously. And personal lives start to
suffer as well, as tends to happen when you can't let your parents in on the
secret that you're fighting giant robots. More details are fleshed out
regarding the revelations about Razorwark (although, SERIOUSLY, who names a
heroic robot RAZORWARK? That, to paraphrase Robo Tesla, is an evil robot
name), and the ethical conflict comes to a head this volume. Recommended
despite a somewhat padded feel. $13.99/$18.99Cn
Action Presidents vol 1-2: Harper Collins - Similar in feel to the
Action Philosophers books from Van Lente and Dunleavy, but with an entire N
page book to cover one subject instead of 1-8 pages. I use N because they
forgot to number the pages, I'm guessing 128. This is slightly important,
because at least one of the jokes refers to something coming on a specific
page number, oops.
Volume 1 covers George Washington, and establishes the tone of the
series. Decidedly anti-hagiographic, plenty of fart jokes and the like, a
few running gags (KIIIIIING!), and a warts-and-all approach without going
over the edge into smear jobs and rumor. This continues into Volume 2,
Abraham Lincoln. Both are more complete than many of us would have seen in
our school days, aside from the history majors, and neither shies away from
the problematic relationship each President had with slavery (yes, even
Lincoln was a bit iffy on it in many ways). Recommended. $9.99/$12.50Cn
No, I don't have any particular disdain for the monthlies, but they
*are* floppy, yes?
Black Panther Annual #1: Marvel - Three stories written by formative
scribes on the character. The lead, and the reason I got this, is an Everett
Ross story by Priest, set in the present and reminding us that a LOT of
characters in the movie are rather different. :) Mind you, that's about all
it is...a parade of characters in a "hey, remember me?" sort of way, hung
around a shaggy dog story of sorts. The second story, written by Don
McGregor, is set before and during the funeral of Monica Lynne. It didn't
really grab me, but it seemed aimed more at the people who read the McGregor
Panther, a way of giving closure to elements that might have gotten somewhat
short shrift at the time. The last, and shortest, has Reggie Hudlin writing
a sort of contrapositive to the movie: what if Wakanda did conquer the world,
but out of care and regret rather than rage and anger? Mildly recommended.
Ms. Marvel v2 #27: Marvel - The Kamala-less arc continues, and everybody
wants to get in on the act, as it were. Plucky unpowered sidekick squads are
so retro, but sometimes retro works, yes? Recommended. $3.99
Moon Girl #28: Marvel - Man, Super Skrull gots him a bad case of cosmic
angst. Meanwhile, there's an awful lot of "standing around being confused"
for the rest of the cast, which would fit my previous hypothesis of the story
being heavily filtered by Luna's perceptions...because something's nagging at
her all issue, nothing seems to fit, so naturally the world around her would
seem adrift in many ways (HERBIE is confident, but annoying). Or Montclare
could just be having pacing problems. Still not really sure if this is
clever and on purpose, or just accidental. Mildly recommended. $3.99
Black Lightning Cold Dead Hands #4 (of 6): DC - A running battle with
Black Lightning and the police on one side (uneasily), and White Thunder and
his jetpack-and-rifle mook squad on the other. Well, White Thunder turns out
to be less of a problem than expected, and the mooks a lot bigger a problem,
but it balances out. Lots of cutaways to various supporting (and opposing)
cast members during the fight, a few subplots get notched forwards a tiny
amount, but in the end it's functionally a draw at best. And given that this
is a six issue series rather than four, that's to be expected. I mean,
there's certainly ways to do a fake-out with two issues to go and a new boss
in the wings (the TV show has been playing matryoshka bosses, for instance),
but Isabella is sticking to a reliable story structure here. Recommended.
Deathstroke #28: DC - The new arc is titled "Chinatown," so I suppose I
should expect some things to just not make sense, a la the movie? :)
There's a definite Rose/Thorn sort of deal going on, though, and the usual
super-twisty motives even from people who seem straightforward (which
generally means they're being manipulated, or have no idea what's really
going on, or both). The timing of the Annual did mess up the Big Reveal a
little, but no worries, there was a bigger reveal behind it. Recommended.
Justice League #38-39: DC - One of the thornier aspects of writing a
team book is that you don't get to redefine how a character works, so you
need to make sure you understand how their own book does it. And in an era
of nigh-constant rebooting, that can be a problem if you're writing someone
like the Flash. To what extent does he ignore physics this year? Does he
need to run on a surface, or can he Speed Force his way by brute force if he
needs to pull a Wile E. Coyote? Does his body aura shed all negative
effects, or just some? The cover-plot of #38 hinges on a LOT of those
questions, giving Barry something to do while everyone else has to manage the
whole Fan arc-plot thing.
In #39 the main conflict is the League's new leader trying to fill some
large boots and also decide if he's going to be a general or a captain: lead
from the observation post or from the front lines. Of course, it's a
Hobson's choice, engineered by the Fan and his Fen, no matter what the choice
is, it'll be wrong.
Artistic aside: the colorist Sollazzo really likes putting shiny
highlights on the tips of people's noses. And in #39, penciller/inker
Churchill draws those highlights as little inked ovals. The combination
makes it look like everyone's wearing nose studs on the tips of their noses.
Second artistic aside: Churchill's rendering of Cyborg's "civvies" image
seems patterned after Dwayne MacDuffie.
Anyway, the stories both feel a bit disjointed, although my lack of
familiarity with a lot of the current incarnations of everyone probably
contributes to that. Mildly recommended. $2.99 each.
Future Quest Presents: Birdman #7: DC - A core problem with being a
cosmic nihilist is that no matter how much your followers may think they
crave the oblivion you serve, eventually they tend to realize that they'd
like to keep living. Not, um, that I speak from personal experience. But
Mentok sure learns the hard way that there's only so far you can con people,
even if you're a telepath and can pick and choose among those most likely to
be receptive to your message. Both he and Birdman suffer from Too Much:
Mentok has too much outside his head, Birdman has too much inside his head,
and in both cases it has an effect on their sense of self. But where one
wishes to sacrifice everyone else in order to preserve himself, the other is
willing to accept that losing himself might be best for everyone...including
himself. If that makes sense. Recommended. $3.99
The American Way: Those Above and Those Below #6 (of 6): DC/Vertigo - As
I suspected, there's only a partial resolution here, and a very strong setup
for a future series. If the original series was about becoming disillusioned
by the heroic ideal, this has been about idealists hitting rock bottom. Some
bounce, some go splat, others stay there to catch anyone else who might
fall. Unfortunately, history doesn't have a lot of optimism for them going
forwards, not if Ridley intends to stick to a jump of only a decade and
maintain the echoes of the real world. Then again, maybe the next generation
will get to finally make a real difference, rather than being pitted against
each other as a sideshow? Hmmmm, probably not, given how the stories have
gone so far. Mildly recommended. $3.99
Invader Zim #28: Oni - Zim gets to have a good time abusing a plot
device and fellow Irkens, and it only comes across as a little padded. The
art meanders on and off model in a way that's only moderately distracting.
Very mildly recommended, praising with faint damnation annat. $3.99
Kaijumax Season 3 #6 (of 6): Oni - Hmm, on the one hand (claw?) certain
aspects of this feel somewhat anticlimactic, as the opening "Here's what
we're gonna do" scene ends up going nowhere. However, this arc really isn't
ABOUT the characters in the opening scene, and the characters who HAVE been
the focus do indeed resolve things. Resolve them into a fine mist, in a few
cases. Go Shin Whoofy? Recommended. $3.99
My Little Pony Friendship is Magic #63: IDW - Temperance Flowerdew, aka
Carrie Nation, comes to Ponyville and kicks off an anti-sugar crusade.
Plenty of the zeal of the converted, plus the dangers of extremism on both
sides. A basic knowledge of the temperance movement and Prohibition in
American history is useful in parsing this story, although even without that
it's a solid morality tale on the virtues of moderation. Recommended. $3.99
My Little Pony Legends of Magic #11: IDW - Rather than split the issue
evenly between the last two recruits, it's almost entirely devoted to
recruiting Mistmane, and then just popping over to Canterlot to solidify the
shaky continuity that places #1-6 all around the same time. Frankly, the
weakest part of the Pillars conceit was that it took all these characters who
felt like they were from radically different places and times and put them
all within a reasonable traveling distance at the same time. Unless all
ponies live for hundreds or thousands of years, it just feels off (although,
to be honest, some of the continuity in the show seems to require
extraordinary longevity on the part of regular ponies). Anyway, recruiting
Mistmane felt padded out, this really should have been a 3-4 issue arc rather
than six. Very mildly recommended. $3.99
Transformers vs. Visionaries #2 (of 5): IDW - Mostly Visionaries
vs. Visionaries with some Transformers corpses here and there, and one short
scene at the end where Transformers are worried about recent events.
Frankly, this feels like panic plotting, like they were pressured to get
something out of the title's premise NOW NOW NOW before Hasbro got bored and
took away the license. It would have made a LOT more sense to give us a
miniseries of just the events on Prysmos prior to the downfall, so that we'd
get more than "back of the package" characterizations and the eventual
conflict would actually have weight. Instead, this compares unfavorably to
1980s flash in the pan toy tie-in comics. Neutral. $3.99
Optimus Prime #16: IDW - Something something Primes something betrayal
something death maybe? While it has some good bits in isolation, the overall
story continues to feel like a random set of pitch notes that got mistaken
for a Marvel Style script by an artist looking to sell some spec pages.
Optimus Prime Annual 2018: IDW - Well, there's a solid regular issue's
worth of story here, focused on Thundercracker being hired to make a
(propaganda) movie about Starscream, but Barber just sort of threw in every
single idea he had on the topic. The result is a generally funny but clearly
bloated story that doesn't hold together very well...which at least
thematically fits the idea of a Thundercracker script, but also fits a lot of
Barber's work of late. Good bits, loosely strung together, no particular
editing done before sending them off to the artist. At least Tramontano, who
does most of the art, is able to assemble a more coherent page than Zama.
Mildly recommended. $7.99
Transformers Lost Light #14-15: IDW - This is a two-parter, so I'll just
cover it all together. The saga of the Scavengers comes to yet another
climactic turning point, which is to say they're always randomly zig-zagging
around and getting shot at, so why should today be any different? Strangely,
the deliberate aimlessness and incoherence in these issues reads a LOT better
than Barber's stuff. I think Barber should just focus on standard linear
storytelling and leave the weird Priest-type timeshifting to Roberts. Many
plot threads are tied off and then set fire to in this arc, and the enigma of
what's up with Grimlock is resolved, as it were. (Aside: really missing the
roll call pages, Roberts forget to actually name several of the Scavengers
on-screen in either issue, he's normally pretty good about that.)
Recommended. $3.99 each.
Comic Book History of Comics v2 #3: IDW - "Of Mice and Manga" is the
issue title, and Mickey Mouse sort of ties the two stories together.
Loosely, anyway. Osama Tezuka gets the lead story, and his work was strongly
influenced by Disney, which in turn shaped a lot of what's considered
standard for manga. It's a somewhat cursory examination of the life of the
King of Comics, but I did like that it focused more on the early life
experiences that shaped the man and less on analysis of his voluminous body
of work. As is bent the twig, so grows the tree, annat. The second story
was more directly related to Mickey Mouse, specifically the "Mouse Pirates"
who pushed the boundaries of trademark and copyright law in their parodies of
Mickey. Sadly, they seem to have only made the House of Mouse double down on
ownership of IP, resulting in the current situation where anything made
concurrently with or after Steamboat Willie is unlikely to ever enter the
public domain unless explicitly released to it. The story tries to end on a
more positive note by bringing up the way parody is better protected these
days, but that's a bit of a...Disney Ending. Still, recommended.
Empowered and Sistah Spooky High School Hell #2-3 (of 6): Dark Horse -
So, having set up the premise in #1 and with resolution unlikely prior to at
best late in #5, we're in for a series of set pieces that live or die on the
cleverness of their setup and execution. #2 is off to a very wobbly start,
because the payoff is repeatedly "Emp is a punching bag for the Ashleys until
something clever Spooky did a few pages ago kicks in and saves them both,"
but #3 pulls out of that nosedive by letting Emp pull her weight more
honestly. Both heroines are seriously broken and then spackled back
together, but the key is that they're broken in sufficiently different ways
that they can complement each other. And they've gotten over their past
traumas with different degrees of success. I suspect this happens before the
final story in the recent GN, though, since the way that story plays out is
bound to break both of them in new and similar-to-each-other ways. Mildly
recommended, but showing promise of a solid overall story. $3.99 each.
Dave Van Domelen, "All very impressive -- and gross -- but WHY?" -
Fulcrum to Scorponok, Transformers the Lost Light #15