February 2018

(posted March 5, I was sick)

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 (movie), 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 that revenge. 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 Disney's policy. 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. Digital Content: 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. Trades: 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 each, hardcover. Floppies: 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. $4.99 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. $3.99 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. $3.99 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. Neutral. $3.99 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
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