Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 7/13/13
Welcome back, comic book fans, to another installment of ‘Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews’. What is ‘hench-sized’ you might ask? Well it’s…it’s…just this thing I invented! I think it has a nice ring to it. This week we’ve got a nice pile of good comics. I’m pretty sure I liked everything I read this week…though that may be because I keep dropping books I don’t like. Perhaps I should make myself suffer through some bad comics just to make my weekly reviews more diverse.
We’ve got the second issue of Astro City, which continues the fun of this classic series. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and the X-Men all have fairly strong offerings this week. But the winner of Comic Book of the Week is going to be Justice League #22. It wasn’t the best comic of the week, but as the kick-off of Trinity War, Geoff Johns proves that Big Event comics can still be entertaining.
Comic Reviews: Astro City #2, Batman #22, Justice League #22, Superman Unchained #2, Superior Spider-Man #13 and Uncanny X-Men #8.
Astro City #2
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
I hope some of you decided to pick up Astro City after I recommended the first issue. It’s just a delightful little series. Though something to note is that the issues don’t always have anything to do with one another. The stories and the characters usually only exist for an issue or two, then find their way into the background. Astro City is about the world of superheroes, not one particular character. Astro City #2, for example, has absolutely nothing to do with Astro City #1, but that’s perfectly OK!
In this issue we meet Marella, who applies for what she thinks is just a simple call center job, but it turns out to be an opening at the Honor Guard Emergency Contact Line! The Honor Guard (Astro City‘s version of the Justice League) have their own personal 911 Center, and Marella is hired as one of the dispatchers. Her job is to field calls and either notify the proper authorities or dispatch the Honor Guard. Part of her job also involves trying to piece together clues in the calls that might indicate a bigger threat. Like the theft of some science equipment in one call linked up to the kidnapping of some geologists in another call might indicate some kind of larger earthquake-based super-villain scheme. You get the idea. I hope.
The issue is all about Marella fitting into her new job, as well the ins and outs of what the job entails. Everything from how they move the base around the world so villains don’t find out, and how the employees have to keep it secret from their families. There’s also the concern that dispatchers might start trying too hard to notice a pattern in the calls when one doesn’t actually exist, because they’re all excited and they want to be the one to uncover a real super-villain plot. Marella and her pod-mates actually get lectured to about trying too hard. In the end, Marella loves her job – until she finds out she missed a big threat. She received a call from a little girl who was worried about a man hitting her mother, so Marella transferred the call to local social workers. Turns out, that man was Stephen “Slaughter” Shaw, leader of the Skullcrushers. And when the social workers arrived, Shaw thought he was found out, and so the Skullcrushers went on a rampage in that small town in Ecuador. Oops!
Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.
A superhero 911 Center? Brilliant! This issue is another perfect example of the Astro City style. Busiek looks at the world of superheroes and finds some glorious unexplored corner, one that’s firmly entrenched in real world sensibilities. Of course a team like the Honor Guard would benefit from their own 911 Center. And of course it would have to be staffed by regular people who work there for their jobs. It makes perfect sense, and Busiek writes it so well. The art, too, is fantastic for the story. It’s clear, detailed and everybody looks like real people. That’s Astro City. It’s the story of a real world in a world of superheroes.
This issue on its own was fine. Marella is a fun enough protagonist, but the story was really kind of basic throughout most of the issue. It’s just about a woman getting a new job, meeting her co-workers, dealing with her boss and basically just working her job. That she gets to meet superheroes on occasion is fun, but the issue is still kind of uneventful. It may be an awesome job, and it may be a fascinating corner of Astro City, but it’s still just about a woman working at her job. The cliffhanger promises a bigger story next issue, and I do legitimately feel bad for Marella on this one. Busiek succeeds at making her believable and likable.
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo
What do you guys and gals think of Zero Year so far? What do you think of the whole concept? I have nothing wrong with revisiting Batman’s formative years. I think Snyder really knows what he’s doing, and he has some neat ideas. Plus, nothing wrong with establishing Batman’s origin in the New 52. There’s definitely something different about Bruce Wayne. He’s not just younger, but more arrogant and less focused. So it’s a neat peek into the life of a younger, meaner Bruce Wayne.
The Red Hood Gang hijacks a blimp, and Bruce Wayne has already snuck on board to stop them, though he only manages to escape by the skin of his teeth. Later, Bruce and Alfred get into an argument because Alfred thinks Bruce is a coward for acting like a vigilante instead of using the Wayne name and fortune to actually help the city, and the argument ends with Alfred slapping Bruce and leaving. Later, Bruce calls his Uncle Phillip about the fact that the Red Hood Gang are using stolen Wayne Tech weaponry. Phillip arranges a surprise for Bruce, but it’s not a murder attempt, like Nygma suggested last issue. Instead, Phillip invites the press and surprises Bruce by revealing to the world that he’s still alive and back in Gotham. Bruce sneaks away and bumps into Nygma for a brief back-and-forth about the stolen weaponry. Bruce returns home to his apartment, but the Red Hood Gang have planted a bomb, and the issue ends with it exploding.
Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.
I thought this was another solid issue of Zero Year. Like I said, Snyder really seems to know what he’s doing and where he’s going. His Bruce is also imperfect enough to have a believable character arc. He’s got a lot to learn, and this is the story where he will learn it. The argument with Alfred was good, and I look forward to how their relationship grows over the course of the story. I’m not yet sold on the Red Hood Gang. They’re interesting enough, I suppose. Are we supposed to already know that their leader is the future Joker? It’s definitely hinted at, hard. I really enjoyed the appearance of Edward Nygma. Snyder quite clearly has some big plans for his character, and it’ll be neat to see what he does to build the Riddler up into a truly powerful villain. Zero Year is still a strong, entertaining story, though we are only two issues in.
Justice League #22
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ivan Reis
This issue is the start of Trinity War, DC’s big Summer event, and one of the first really big events in the DCnU. I didn’t think much of the idea going into it, but after reading this issue, I think I’m definitely behind Trinity War. We can all agree that Age of Ultron at Marvel sucked, for a lot of reasons. Well Geoff Johns and DC seem to have a better idea how to tell a Big Event comic, and I think they’re off to a great start with this issue.
A young woman seeks out the council of Madame Xanadu, who’s working as a fortune teller in New York City. Xanadu will serve as our narrator. Elsewhere, following the death of Black Adam last issue, Billy Batson decides to spread his ashes over the Kahndaq desert, except he doesn’ t know that Kahndaq isn’t too fond of superheroes these days after Superman and Wonder Woman got involved in a military matter a few issues ago. Shazam flies to Kahndaq and gets into a scuffle with the military. The Justice League fly to Kahndaq and get into a scuffle with Shazam. The Justice League of America fly to Kahndaq and nearly get into a scuffle with everybody. The newly recruited Doctor Light tries to talk the situation down, but his new powers fluctuate out of his control, and he accidentally blasts Wonder Woman. Her boyfriend, Superman, takes offense to this and attacks Light – by blowing his head off with heat vision! Superman kills Doctor Light! This, of course, leads to an all-out battle between the two super teams.
Meanwhile, the Trinity of Sin – Pandora, Phantom Stranger and the Question – are all up to something in the background. The young woman from the beginning reveals herself to be Plastique, and she blows up Madame Xanadu. And the mysterious leader of the Secret Society reveals to the reader that he is somehow manipulating Superman, and is possibly orchestrating all of this.
Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.
I’ve said time and time again in my Justice League reviews that I think Geoff Johns has this whole map of the new DC Universe in his head, showing how everything ties together and how all of the characters interact. The problem is, in my opinion, that he’s been pretty terrible about taking this mental map and putting it on the page. Now it seems that Trinity War is the ‘X’ that the map was leading him (and us) towards. This is where everything he’s been working on hits the fan. It’s the Justice League vs. the Justice League of America, with a little Shazam and Trinity of Sin mixed in. Johns’ skill as a writer shines through in the character interaction. Characters are at the heart of this issue, whether it’s Superman and Wonder Woman trying to talk to the confused Shazam, or the members of the JLA expressing their doubts about fighting the Justice League. The character work in this issue is very strong. And the art is fantastic. But then we all know Reis is amazing.
The biggest complaint I have with this story is that not enough groundwork has been laid for all of this to mean much. I think it means a lot of Geoff Johns, who has everything worked out in his head, but for the reader, we’re just not ready yet. The JLA have only been around for about half a dozen issues, so they’re simply not built into a proper team yet. Johns hasn’t spent any time whatsoever on team interaction in that series. It’s still just a randomly gathered selection of superheroes. Likewise, the new members of the Justice League are also still too new. We only found out that the Atom is a spy two issues ago, so it’s just too soon to test her loyalties like this.
This was a strong start to Trinity War, but I just don’t think the characters or the teams are established enough to throw us into this conflict. Oh, and I guess Superman killing Doctor Light is supposed to be controversial, right? I don’t see why. It’s established this very issue that the Secret Society is controlling him somehow. So he didn’t kill Doctor Light of his own free will. I’m more bothered by the fact that DC already killed Doctor Light! He was just introduced in the last issue of JLA, and already he’s in a costume and dead? Why go to the trouble of rehabilitating the character into a hero like that if you’re just going to kill him before we even got to know him?
Superman Unchained #2
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Jim Lee
I’m not a big Superman fan. Never have been, probably never will be. But I’m such a comic book fan that I’m happy to pick up a Superman comic and read his ongoing adventures. Though honestly, I don’t think there has ever been a time in the entire history of my comic fandom that I’ve regularly picked up a Superman series. I tried Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, but eventually dropped it. Now I’m giving Scott Snyder’s Superman Unchained a try, and so far, it’s nothing special. Just some solid Superman action from the man who is delivering some of the best Batman stories I’ve ever read.
The villainous group known as Ascension (think the hacker group Anonymous) attacks Dubai by taking control of a giant, experimental construction mech. Superman defeats them and saves the world’s tallest building from falling over. Then with help from Lois, Superman tracks down her father’s secret military lab in the desert. General Lane has all manner of anti-Superman weaponry waiting for him, and they get in a big fight, until Lane’s secret atom bomb guy bursts through the ground to fight Superman. Meanwhile, on the side, Lois Lane and Batman investigate Ascension, and Lex Luthor escapes from prison.
Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.
We get it. Ascension is Anonymous, and it’s a little too on the nose. Anonymous, the online hacker group, likes to wear Guy Fawkes masks, like from V for Vendetta, so writer Scott Snyder came up with some other olde English rebel so that Ascension could wear masks of his face. It’s a little too obvious, but I guess it’s fine. Superman needs big, dangerous enemies, and an evil hacker/tech group definitely works. The rest of the issue is just pretty good. Snyder has a nice handle on the characters, and he writers a nice Superman. There’s a sequence where Clark has to try and figure out which power to use to stop a falling skyscraper, and he has to think which of his powers would do more harm than good, and which might actually be helpful. It’s a fun sequence.
But the overall plot is lacking. With little to no preparation or set-up, General Lane just happens to have a secret military base and a bunch of secret weapons all designed to kill Superman. I’m fairly certain the other Superman comics have built up General Lane, but Snyder should have spent some time introducing him to this series. Why introduce Superman Unchained if it’s just going to be completely beholden to the other Superman titles? Their secret weapon, the new villain introduced last issue, is a also little bogus in this issue. He kind of just bursts up from the ground at the end, and he might as well have just announced himself as, “Grrr, I’m evil, and I’m here to fight you. Grrr.” He doesn’t seem to have any depth. Also, upcoming issue solicitations seem to indicate that his name is Wraith. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That’s the best name Scott Snyder could come up with? The guy created the Court of Owls, for crying out loud, and the name he picked for his new Superman villain is ‘Wraith’? Sheesh. He’s not even wraith-like!
Superman Unchained is fine so far. But it should be better. It should be bigger and more imaginative. Based on the creative team, it has no excuse to just be another mediocre Superman comic.
Superior Spider-Man #13
Writers: Dan Slott & Christos Gage
Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli
I don’t know what it is about Dan Slott’s Superior Spider-Man, but I think I’m always just waiting for something that’s coming down the line. First we were waiting for it to start. Then we were waiting to see what Doc Ock would do first as Peter Parker. Then we were waiting for Ghost Peter to do something. Now I’m waiting for his new revamp to come to pass. Otto is going to make a new costume, a new henchmen army, a new base, a new everything. And I can’t wait!
Spider-Man’s battle against the Spider-Slayer continues, but now he has back-up: Lizard has broken free, and with Curt Connors’ mind in control, he fights off the Scorpion and saves J. Jonah Jameson. Spider-Man defeats Smythe and kills him, which shuts down all of his machinery, depowering Scorpion, Boomerang and Vulture. The day is saved! Spidey and the civilians exit the prison – but then a dying Smythe comes back and tries to put his consciousness into Spider-Man’s body (really?). Otto kills him for real, then blackmails Jameson into giving him the Raft to use as a Spider-Man secret headquarters!
Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.
This was a solid, entertaining conclusion to the 3-part Spider Slayer arc. Spider-Man’s fight with the villain is brutal, and Otto is refreshingly vicious. He is a new Spider-Man, and watching Spidey’s classic villains deal with this new incarnation is turning out to be a lot of fun. Though it was a little dumb that Smythe’s big plan was to insert his consciousness into Peter Parker’s body. Seriously, Slott? Smythe just happened to come up with the exact same plan that Doc Ock came up with? That was a bit of a stretch. But still, Smythe’s other plans were great, and Otto taking him down was highly entertaining. I also liked the Lizard stepping up to be a hero. That’s always a hoot.
I’m less than thrilled that Otto so quickly threw out his partnership with J. Jonah Jameson. The mayor doesn’t take kindly to the blackmail, and once again hates Spidey. I’m excited to see what Otto does with the raft and the minions he’s ordering, but not at the cost of his friendship with Jameson. That was a new and interesting dynamic that Slott should have continued to explore. I liked the idea that Jameson and Spidey might engage in some underhanded activity together, but instead Otto jumps right to blackmail. It’s a shame. But the promise of a bigger Spider-themed crime-fighting organization is very exciting. I can’t wait for Slott and Otto to unveil their plans.
Uncanny X-Men #8
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Chris Bachalo
Have you ever had a new character come along that just captures your imagination and quickly becomes one of your favorites? They could be a big, bombastic superhero, or maybe just a small nobody who sparks something inside you that gets brighter and brighter with each appearance? For me, that’s Gold Balls, better known as Fabio. I don’t know what it is, but I love the big lug! I love the idea that he’s just this completely average, overweight dude with some of the weirdest powers ever. He’s not a superhero, but the X-Men aren’t just about being superheroes, they’re about being mutants, and Fabio is a mutant. I want him to become a full-fledged X-Man, with a long history of shooting gold balls out of his body. But…well…Brian Michael Bendis might just let me down…
Following the escape from Limbo, Fabio has quit the team and returns home to San Diego. Meanwhile, the other X-Men return to base to lick their wounds and relax. Cyclops has a talk with Magneto about guilt and punishment, as well as the fact that Cyclops wants them to help each other remaster their broken powers. It’s a nice talk. The rest of the team rescue new mutant David from some angry, gun-toting cops. David is the mutant we met a few issues ago who can control machinery (or maybe just cars?). David is shot, but Christopher heals him. Back in San Diego, Fabio tells his parents that he’s a mutant, and they freak out. They think the X-Men did something to him, or that he’s sick. Fabio gets angry and accidentally launches a bunch of gold balls around the room. The family argument is cut short when Dazzler shows up to interrogate Fabio, since SHIELD was watching his house.
Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
If that’s the last we ever see of Fabio, I am going to be sorely disappointed. He’s just such a neat new character. Honestly, I’m loving all of the new mutants that Bendis has created, and I hope beyond hope that they will have long, fruitful careers as X-Men. They’re much, much cooler than any of the weird new mutants Jason Aaron has been inventing in Wolverine and the X-Men. And they’re just better and with more potential than the Young X-Men over in All-New X-Men. So I’m hoping beyond hope that Bendis and Marvel have more in store for these characters than just being cannon fodder in Uncanny X-Men.
Once again, I liked this issue, and that has a lot to do with my current love of all things Cyclops. I think Bendis has done absolutely right by the character. Cyclops isn’t some insane super-villain. Nor is he obsessed with the Phoenix or what happened. He’s the same Cyclops he’s always been, he’s just found himself in some very troubling circumstances, and he has to work at it to get himself out. His conversation with Magneto is fantastic, and their budding friendship is one of the best parts of the book. As I said, the new mutants are very cool so far, and I look forward to their adventures. Likewise, it’s great to see Dazzler in the book, and I hope Bendis has some fun with her. Though she’s got kind of a bogus new costume, with none of her usual Dazzler-flair.
The comics I review in my Hench-Sized reviews are just the usual comics I pick up from my local shop any given week, along with a few impulse buys I might try on a whim. So if there are any comics or series you’d like me to review each week, let me know in the comments!
Posted on July 13, 2013, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Spider-Man, Superman, X-Men and tagged Astro City, Justice League, Justice League of America, Superior Spider-Man, Superman Unchained, Trinity War, Uncanny X-Men. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.