June 29, 2020

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 No recurrence of cancer nor evidence of post-operational problems. Items of Note (strongly recommended or otherwise worthy): Watchmen Season 1, Lego DC Shazam!: Magic and Monsters In this installment: Watchmen Season 1, Hero Elementary, Lego DC Shazam!: Magic and Monsters, Action Activists, Comic Book History of Animation #1, Tony and the Beetles, Souls & Stripes, To The Max #1-3, Adventure Finders Book 2 Volume 1 Chapter 8, Bone Adventures, Primer, The Mythics: Heroes Reborn vol 1, Action Presidents vol 3-4, Captain America: Marvels Snapshots #1, Kaijumax Season 5 #3 (of 6), White Ash #4, Ragnarok: the Breaking of Helheim #5 (of 6), Transformers #20. Current Wait List (books either Diamond didn't ship or my store failed to order): Action Presidents vol 3-4. I actually saw them on shelves release week, but the ones I ordered on Amazon spent a week wandering the country and did nor arrive in time for a June posting. They'll go on the July review column. "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. Watchmen Season 1: DC/HBO - Given that one of the overt themes of this series (and of the original comics) was "masked justice is a contradiction in terms," at the mildest, and "white guys in masks are generally indistinguishable from the Klan," at the strong end, the June release of the series on home video was quite timely. Especially since this series brought the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 into the public eye after generations of the history being excised from history classes. On top of the obvious theme, another recurring theme of this season is that getting what you want can kinda suck. For instance, Rorschach wanted the world to know his story...and it does, but the only people who pay it much attention are a bunch of neo-Klansmen who miss the point pretty badly. Structurally, the nine seasons fall into three main acts. The first four are setup, establishing the present day (2019) of a world based on the original comics, as well as hinting at some of the conflicts on the horizon. The next four are very heavy on flashbacks, with the present day storyline advancing only in tiny bits and pieces as attention goes back into both recent and deeper past, culminating in a Doctor Manhattan episode which plays around with the idea of "now" as much as you'd expect from the blue guy...and also makes it clear that some other scenes from the first four episodes that seemed to be "meanwhile" were actually flashbacks to several years in the past. Everyone's all tangled up in each other's business in ways that were unguessed at in the first few episodes, but quite befitting the motifs of Watchmen (not counting After Watchmen or Doomsday Clock, because meh). The final episode ties it all together, fires all the Chekov's Guns, and makes it clear that an ending is not necessarily a resolution. For the most part, it didn't leave annoying danglers. Sure, there's unanswered questions, but they're not of the "What did I just watch?" variety, they're mostly the "What's next?" type, and those are good questions to have left over if you're thinking of a second season. The extensive flashbacks did mostly answer the questions set up about various characters and situations, with one notable exception: agent Laurie Blake, the former Silk Spectre. Jean Smart does a good job of playing her as outwardly disillusioned and bitter and yet somehow still driven to do the right thing. But there's sooooo much implied but unanswered about her (the name she goes by being one of the biggies), hopefully she gets some more focus in the season 2 HBO wants but the showrunner has not expressed interest in. Strongly recommended, price varies by format and store (I paid $30 for the BluRay set). Hero Elementary: PBS/PBS Kids - First things first, this is aimed at little kids. The protagonsists are 6-7 years old, but I suspect the target audience is closer to 4-5. The premise is that there's an elementary school for young superheroes, and the stories focus on one four-student class, the Sparks Crew. (Aside: class size of 2-4 seems typical at this school, and is about right given how hard it must be to ride herd on powered elementary students!) They all have decent powers, most have some sort of flaw to overcome, but in the end they usually resolve problems via application of scientific principles (observe, seek patterns, try solutions, etc). Granted, most of the solutions require the use of their powers. The writing dances on the edge of writing down to the kiddies, and some of the character bits get overused, but so far I've gotten through a dozen episodes (each of which is two 12 minute stories) without getting tired of it. While occasional other students show up, every episode focuses on the Sparks Crew: Lucita Sky (flight, but has kinda over-used problems with vertigo when she flies too high), AJ Gadgets (actual power is mental projection of images, but he's a gadgeteer as well. He's on the autism spectrum and keeps headphones around for when things get loud, he also really doesn't like being wet. His special interest is superhero comics, so he's the go-to guy on that topic), Sara Snap (superstrong teleporter, her main problem is she doesn't always get where she wanted to, and she's very impulsive), and Bennie Bubbles (he makes force bubbles and has better control over his power than most adult heroes...and these bubbles can be strong enough to deflect a falling object that's several hundred pounds or more. Fortunately, given that he's gonna be scary powerful when he grows up, he's also a squarejaw with a soft spot for cute animals like class pet Fur Blurr, an intelligent and fast hamster). The episodes are a bit on the formulaic side, and the writers sometimes drop the ball by hyperfocusing on the episode's Problem without considering the details. The worst one in that regard, IMO, is where they needed to get a wheeled telepresence robot up some steps (Sara was operating the robot while home sick, so they couldn't use her powers), and not once were wheelchair ramps even mentioned. Even when someone in a (badly drawn) wheelchair showed up to use their ramp because apparently the building had no ADA-mandated access. Anyway, it's worth a look, especially if you have kids, and it's all over PBS, PBS Kids, and probably other allied channels. Lego DC Shazam!: Magic and Monsters: DC/WB - The nu52-based direct to video continuity may be over, but the Lego DC continuity continues merrily on. Yes, there's pretty strong continuity here with previous Lego DC offerings, mainly how Billy Batson appeared in Lego Batman: Family Matters, but there's also a second reference to that movie in which a Wayne employee tries to pitch "Sister Eye" and is shut down pretty hard. Given that this is only 81 minutes long, it definitely packs in a goodly amount of plot. The first act is "Shazam helps the Justice League defeat the Monster Society, is invited to join, but has to decline because they have a No Kids rule." Then the Monster Society defeats the League without him and turns them all into children because it's easier for Mr. Mind to control them. Batman gets away because he's Batman and therefore awesome, but Shazam's help is grudgingly welcome. Act 3 involves Shazam and Kid Batman (who Alfred mistakes for Damian, heh) freeing the League, Act 4 is Junior Justice League and Shazam against scary monster imago form Mr. Mind, and Act 5 is when the true villain behind it all shows up and Shazam needs to figure out the power of Zeus to save the day. Plus there's flashbacks to his origin story. Very solid piece of work, plenty of fair-to-good running gags (e.g. Flash keeps saying he doesn't notice anything different about being a kid, is Wonder Woman's tiara actually a disguise, BAT EXEMPTION, etc). Yeah, it's deliberately goofy (even the stone block dropping on the Wizard's head is played for laughs), but it's not going for gags in place of story or characterization. Strongly recommended. Price varies by store and format, includes a Shazam minifigure with two face decos. Digital Content: Unless I find a really compelling reason to do so (such as a lack of regular comics), I won't be turning this into a webcomic review column. Rather, stuff in this section will generally be full books available for reading online or for download, usually for pay. Action Activists: NYC Department of Education/Evil Twin Comics - This primer on activism was made by Dunlavey and Van Lente in the same style as their Action Presidents and Action Philosophers comics. It's available free at https://www.weteachnyc.org/resources/resource/action-activists/ . It's like an updated non-animated version of the "I'm Just A Bill" Schoolhouse Rock segment, in which a pigeon teaches a squirrel about how government is set up and how everyone can do various things (protest, letter-writing, running for office, etc) to get the government to make things better. A little dry in places, but a decent read. Recommended. Free. Comic Book History of Animation #1: Evil Twin Comics - Technically, this is only available to Kickstarter backers right now, there are no single issues planned for print, just the collection that the KS funded. This issue starts with the earliest Edison-era animation through McKay, early Fleischer works, Felix the Cat, and the early days of Disney. Plenty of corporate villains even this early on, even before Disney became one of them himself. Educational and amusing. Recommended. May or may not ever be available separately. Tony and the Beetles: Syrup Pirates - In June 2020, itch.io had a huge charity bundle for BLM, paying bail of protesters, and related racial justice issues. While mostly computer games and tabletop games, there were a few novels and comics in it, and this was one that interested me enough to read. https://syrupneko.itch.io/tony-and-the-beetles-comic to check out individually now that the bundle has expired. This adapts Philip K. Dick's story of war and racism from the viewpoint of a child living on a human colony in space first settled by beetle-like sophonts. Tony tries and tries to stay friends with his non-human neighbors, but one child can't stand against the tide of war and hatred. Recommended. $3 outside of the bundle. Souls & Stripes: Feral Phoenix - Another part of the itch.io bundle, this is a single-creator anthology of Undertale/Deltarune fan comics that deal with issues of identity and family. Its individual store page is at https://feralphoenix.itch.io/soulsandstripes . Now, I've only played part of Undertale (couldn't get past Undyne) and the first chapter of Deltarune, but that was enough to follow what's going on. Okay, I also watched a walkthrough of the end of Undertale. It's a bit inaccessible unless you know a little bit more about Undertale fandom, the key being that "Chara" is the placeholder for whatever character name you pick in Undertale, but Feral Phoenix takes the stance that their name is really Chara. Several stories focus on names, several on gender identity (lots of headcanon/fanon here), and lots about family both found and born. I can't recommend it in general, because it is pretty impenetrable to those without a decent grounding in the properties, a common flaw in fanfic written by fans for other fans. But if you did buy the bundle, it's worth digging out and giving a shot. $10 outside of the bundle. To The Max #1-3: DC/HBO Max - These are free short comics DC put up on ComiXology to promote the new HBO Max partnership. They all follow a sort of "Dial H for Hero meets Captain Universe while shilling for a network" pattern: normal person encounters a dog named Max, who vanishes leaving behind a gizmo that looks like a TV remote. The gizmo gives them powers just in time to save the day (in two cases it becomes a suit of power armor), but the users have to select powers one at a time from an on-screen menu. And they end up in an outfit that's purple and silver or purple and blue. None of them worry about secret IDs, and the last page indicates that they all get together (along with about a dozen others) as a team. Oh, and the word "max" is awkwardly shoved into dialogue wherever possible, either on its own or as a boldfaced part of maximum or maximize. Amusing gimmick, and there's certainly been worse recent DC corporate tie-in comics (although I'd argue that the KFC ones were deliberately bad in an attempt to be camp). If they plan to have a for-money series featuring the team, though...hard pass. Adventure Finders Book 2 Volume 1 Chapter 8: Patreon.com - Major TW/CW for rape, which was suggested in the previous chapter but now we see the full impact of the Crown soldier detachment's depredations on the unaligned village. Definitely an emotional crisis point for the protagonists, although at least it helps that they're traveling with a notorious "killer of rapists" who can be blamed for everyone's actions in case someone comes looking for vengeance. Recommended, but a bit of a hard read. $1/month on Patreon. Trades: Trade paperbacks, collections, graphic novels, pocket manga, whatever. If it's bigger than a "floppy" it goes here. Bone Adventures: Scholastic Graphix - This is a collection of two "kiddie book" stories involving the Bones. The first story has Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone as children finding a coin and arguing how to spend it, while the second has an adult Smiley dreaming of flying with the birds. Cute and good for the target age group, but a pretty thin read for older fans of the Bone comics. Mildly recommended. $9.99/$12.99Cn Primer: DC - Another YA "sort of DC universe" graphic novel like Anti/Hero. This one is a far less awkward fit, since it doesn't try to directly tie to any existing heroes or villains. It's set in Washington D.C., and most of the "it's in the DCU" stuff is organic references like sports fans talking about the Gotham Knights. Primer is a foster kid whose father is in jail, and who loves doing spraypaint art (but doesn't love when the cops catch her doing it). She gets a new set of foster parents and stumbles into her foster mother's secret government project, gaining powers. That sets up the conflict, because the government kinda wants the plot device back, and the guy who was supposed to get them is definitely a bad apple. The happy ending is a little implausible in some ways, even by superhero standards, but I'd be interested in reading more GNs featuring this young hero. Recommended. $9.99/$13.50Cn The Mythics: Heroes Reborn vol 1: Papercutz - This is a translation of a French series, collecting issues 1, 3, and 4 of the original series. Presumably vol 2 will pick up 2, 5, and 6 to finish off the origins arc (six heroes, each gets a solo origin story). An ancient force of evil known as..."evil"...has escaped from its prison on Mars thanks to a manned Mars mission. I suspect this was over-translated or under-translated. Anyway, six guardian heroes with divine powers imprisoned it in the distant past, and despite their influences being from all over the historical map (Horus, Freya, and Raijin in this collection) in a way that Xena would approve of, they all teamed up at the same time and now pass their powers on to descendants who are all between 10 and 18 years old. Okay, whatever. Each runs through the same formula: Evil empowers an avatar who is someone known the the heroic descendant, the ancestor appears to the focus kid in a reflection and emerges into the world as a chibi avatar, training them in using their powers and directing them to find hidden weapons of power, and then there's a big fight and Evil is driven from the avatar. Manga by way of France art style, good on a technical level. Even allowing for translation issues, though, the story is pretty weak. I mean, I'm reading a lot of YA superhero stuff lately (just check out a big chunk of the rest of this review post!), so it's not a matter of "It's not written for you." This just isn't very good YA superhero stuff. Mildly recommended, mostly for the art. Not planning on picking up volume 2. $14.99/$19.50Cn Floppies: No, I don't have any particular disdain for the monthlies, but they *are* floppy, yes? (And not all of them come out monthly, or on a regular schedule in general, so I can't just call this section "Monthlies" or even "Periodicals" as that implies a regular period.) Captain America: Marvels Snapshots #1: Marvel - While I had nothing on my pull for the final week of the month, my resolution for the year was to try to find something to buy each week that I hadn't pre-ordered, as a way of supporting my local shop. (Primer was another of those extras.) This one I almost overlooked, but the variant cover caught my eye. Set up as a Captain America and the Falcon cover, it promised Madbomb II, so I picked it up. One of the first comics I owned (in that my dad bought it for me from the newsstand) was Captain America and the Falcon #200, in which the Madbomb story was resolved. It was not a subtle tale...racist rich white guys with a fetish for the Old Days had a device that would reduce the "underclass" to gibbering madness and then they and their chosen Real Americans would swoop in and rule over the survivors. As with other Snapshots issues, this looks at a Regular Person's view of events in the superhero world, in this case how the South Bronx saw the Madbomb plot and its "resolution." Let's just say that while it may not be as punch in the gut truthbomb-y as Watchmen Season 1, it's definitely in the same vein. The protagonist, Felix Waterhouse, is a talented young black man in the Bronx whose family suffered from the test run of the Madbomb (grenade-sized version, as seen in #193...a cover reproduction of which I have on my Art Wall, as seen in my Facebook cover photo), whose neighborhood went further downhill as all the rebuilding efforts were focused elsewhere and no one really paid attention to the South Bronx. He's lured into working for AIM out of desperation and disillusionment, and of course AIM has decided to try its own version of the Madbomb (hence the cover blurb). Good resolution and message, without either being "heroes suck" or having Cap bring up his own impoverished past (which while valid, tends to be in the "make it about the white ally" category). The art takes a bit of getting used to, Ramon Perez does a decent job of making the Kirbian stuff look Kirbian, but there's a jarring contrast to the street-level scenes. Recommended. $4.99 (Aside: one downside of these Marvels Snapshots is that they mostly remind us of all these cool old stories, making the current stuff look kinda blah by comparison.) Kaijumax Season 5 #3 (of 6): Oni Press - A lot of stuff gets moved up a little, as tends to happen in the Middle Issues. While the tattoo unicorn's plotline is still fairly separate, the rest of the issue is all about the theme of "The System Is Corrupt." Guards on the take, or power tripping. Lawyers suborning perjury as a regular part of their practice. Unjustly detained prisoners about to be executed to cover up the old crimes of those in power. Only the innocent suffer. (Well, one super guilty person definitely suffered, if only for a very brief moment.) Recommended. $3.99 White Ash #4: Scout Press - Scout is shifting to non-Diamond distribution, but it still had a few books in the pipeline. My store may or may not continue getting Scout books once it breaks away, depends on whether they completely go it alone (no dice) or if they team up with enough other publishers to make it affordable. And on the topic of Middle Issues, this one definitely pauses to do some backfill, get everyone on the same page (more or less), and then reset the board to roughly where it was in #1. Protagonist leaving town, evil snake dude isn't, town factions still hate each other, doom on the horizon. On the one hand, spiraling structure. On the other hand, also feels kinda like treading water in some ways. Mildly recommended. $3.99 Ragnarok: the Breaking of Helheim #5 (of 6): IDW - Mainly Thor and Hela arguing with each other, with a little combat once talks break down. Exactly how Helheim will be broken is revealed, though, and I expect it will be quite thorough. Mildly recommended. $4.99 Transformers #20: IDW - "Rise of the Decepticons" subtitle. This is mostly a side story, with Prowl and his police trying to track down a lead on the Rise (and the Ascenticons being labeled Decepticons in the popular press, for lying about their ties to the Rise, among other things), flipping tables, and putting the squeeze on Swindle and Trickdiamond (a Japanese redeco of one of the Victorion team members, first appearance in U.S. media). It does a good job of providing a small scale plot that goes through its points in a single issue, while clearly setting up a piece of the overplot (which is, unfortunately, moving a bit molasses-y). Recommended. $3.99 Dave Van Domelen, "But, I mean...aren't you part of HYDRA?" "Oh, that was never proven in court!" - Felix Waterhouse and an AIM recruiter, Captain America: Marvels Snapshots #1
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