Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 8/24/13

For the first time in a very long time, DC Comics owns the week! The New 52 comics have been in a downward spiral for me for a long time. But this week, they score a one-two punch of success. For awhile now, I’ve been worried that comics just don’t reach me anymore, that everything is just generic superhero filler, that nobody is trying anymore. But between Batman and Nightwing #23 and Wonder Woman #23, DC shows me twice in one week that somebody still cares. Characters still matter.

There are a lot of good comics this week. Superior Spider-Man puts Phil Urich front and center, so you know I’m happy about that. Avengers and Justice League Dark continue their respective crossovers, though neither one is particularly special. And by popular request, I decided to pick up the latest issue of Thunderbolts to give that another try. Not too shabby. But the week belongs to DC. Wonder Woman easily snatches up another Comic Book of the Week.

Did we know she could go Super Saiyan?

Though Batman and Nightwing (or as it should have been called, Batman and Alfred), isn’t far behind.

Comic Reviews: Avengers #18, Batman and Nightwing #23, Batwoman #23, Justice League Dark #23, Superior Spider-Man #16, Superman Unchained #3, Thunderbolts #14, and Wonder Woman #23.

Avengers #18

Avengers #18
Writer: Johnathan Hickman
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu

For now, I am enjoying Infinity. If nothing else, Hickman has created a true sense of scale. This really does feel like a battle for the fate of the universe. But at the same time, he’s failed to explore the smaller scale of what this actually means to the characters involved. Avengers #18 doesn’t seem very important to the larger narrative. It’s a quick blurb in the overall event.

The Avengers join every other major alien race in the galaxy in forming a united front against the Builders. Everyone gets together at a giant war council, including the Skrulls, the Shi’ar, the Brood, the Kree; everybody! They set up a plan to ambush the major Builders fleet, and the battle looks to be going well – until the Builders reveal that they knew what to expect, and they set up their own ambush. All of the armadas are forced to flee when several Builder ships decloak and start destroying everything around them. Some of the Avengers get away, but a second Quinjet is hit by a blast and knocked off course.

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

I read a complaint the other day that this issue feels cold and impersonal, and I would have to agree. The Avengers appear and get a few lines of characterization, but mostly they are just part of this larger, alien war council. I like the idea that Earth gets to participate in this sort of intergalactic council, and that of course the Avengers would be Earth’s representatives, but the issue, and the story as a whole, remains void of energy and excitement. The Builders are a big, vague, alien threat, and even though the faces are familiar, the heroic resistance is just a generic composition of alien spaceships. So it’s good guy spaceships shooting lasers at bad guy spaceships, and vice versa. And maybe the Avengers get a few appearances here and there to shout lines like “heavy fire, Captain” at each other. But somehow, Hickman is keeping me entertained, and that’s what counts the most.

Batman and Nightwing #23

Batman and Nightwing #23
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason

I never used to care about Nightwing. Right up until Grant Morrison picked him to succeed Batman a few years ago, I just didn’t have much interest in Dick Grayson, even though I’m such a huge Robin fan. To me, Dick had moved on, and Tim Drake was the ideal Robin. Tim was all I needed in the 90s and 00s. But considering what a train wreck Tim has become after the reboot, I find myself gravitating more and more towards Dick and just how cool he is. I especially love the attention he’s been given since taking over as Batman, and the strength of his relationship with Bruce in recent years. So I was definitely looking forward to this issue, and it did not disappoint.

For four days straight, Bruce Wayne has used his Internet 3.0 virtual reality machine to relive the battle where Damian died to see if he could somehow have saved his son’s life, but each and every attempt ends in failure. Dick Grayson stops by to try and help Bruce, and decides to jump into the machine with him. Together, they successfully save Damian and win the day. Later that night, Alfred plugs himself into the machine to relive that last encounter he had with Damian in the Batcave, only this time, Alfred slips him a sedative  and keeps Damian out of the fight entirely, saving his life. Alfred only needed to do one little thing to save Damian’s life, whereas Bruce needed Nightwing and several hundred tries. Bruce watches from the shadows and realizes that Alfred has been hurting just as much, and his feelings of guilt have been just as strong. The two old friends turn off the machine together.

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great!

As great as Dick’s role in this issue was – and believe me, it was awesome! – this issue really belongs to Bruce Wayne and Alfred. The team-up between Dick and Bruce is great, but the real emotional punch comes from seeing Alfred’s guilt at having let Damian leave the Batcave that night. Alfred’s simulation is heart-breaking, as is the moment he shares with Bruce at the very end. This is the kind of emotional connection that has been missing in comics recently. Forget reboots, this is Bruce and Alfred sharing their grief, working from decades of experience between the two old friends. This was a great way to finally lay Damian to rest and have Bruce accept that his son is dead.

Batwoman #23

Batwoman #23
Writers: J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman
Artist: Trevor McCarthy

For some insane reason, the creative team behind Batwoman keep pushing off her attack on Batman. I got chills several months ago when the match-up was first announced, but since then we have seen some truly impressive delaying tactics. Fortunately, those tactics can be fulfilling themselves, especially when this issue finally gives me the aftermath of that marriage proposal that I’ve been waiting for.

Batwoman Inc. is gearing up to take on Batman, but they’ve got to get through a few things first on their own. Hawkfire and her squad of commandos kidnap a high-ranking DEO agent and interrogate him to find Alice’s location. The boys rough him up, but he doesn’t talk, so Hawkfire plays politics. She points out that were Alice to escape, the heat would come down hard on Bones and Chase, and this DEO agent could seize power. He gives them the location after that. Meanwhile, in a show of support, Kate pumps herself full of the same fear toxin she used on Maggie some time ago. She has insane nightmares for 12 hours straight, and when she snaps out of it, she finds out that Maggie stayed with her the entire time. They share a very cute moment together and reaffirm their love and marriage before Kate costumes up and the mission begins.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good!

I was so frustrated when the issue following the marriage proposal skipped right over the aftermath. That proposal was awesome, and I wanted to see Kate and Maggie dealing with it. But alas, that moment never came. Their relationship has just been a given since then…until now. The fear gas fever dream scene came out of nowhere, but the affirmation of love between the two at the end of the issue was very touching. It re-affirmed my love of their relationship, that’s for damn sure. The Hawkfire scene was fine. I loved the artwork of her standing with those military guys. She just looked cool. But Hawkfire and the Random Commandos are only the sideshow to a much more fulfilling and exciting story.

Justice League Dark #23

Justice League Dark #23
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Mikel Janin

Somehow, Trinity War has managed to improve, just a little bit. I think it might have something to do with writer Jeff Lemire taking the helm. I have yet to be impressed with Geoff Johns’ various Justice Leagues, so maybe that’s why I didn’t like the last issue of this crossover. I just don’t think Johns’ strengths lie in team books. Lemire manages to keep the story and the large collection of superheroes under control in ways that Johns couldn’t. It makes for a more cohesive story, but not necessarily a better story.

Everybody battles for control of the Box because it’s able to influence everyone around it into being evil. Aquaman, Shazam, Wonder Woman, Stargirl, Frankenstein; pretty much everybody in the one room has a no-holds-barred battle for control of the Box, and it changes hands several times. Zatanna tries to fight off the corruption, and she’s saved at the last minute by John Constantine, who is immune to the Box’s effects. He snatches it up and they teleport away to a Greek temple. Underground, they discover the imprisoned Madam Xanadu, just as Batman and his squad arrive at the temple. That’s when the mysterious leader of the Secret Society reveals that they have walked into a trap, and he’s about to spring it.

Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.

We already know that Trinity War is going to come to a crashing end that leads into Forever Evil. So the final issue of Trinity War isn’t so much going to wrap up Trinity War as it is going to set up Forever Evil, and to that end, I don’t think Trinity War is going to amount to much. It’s basically just be a big hodge podge mess of superheroes fighting over an uninteresting Macguffin. I assume Pandora’s Box is getting a lot more play in Pandora’s actual series, but I’m not reading that, so I don’t really have anything invested in the Box itself. I don’t care about it, I don’t care what it does or what it will do. All I know is that all of the superheroes are punching each other over it.

Instead of creating a story based around the Justice Leagues themselves, Trinity War is just about this vague Box. Even though Johns set up the conflict that the JLA was created to oppose the JL, that is only secondary to the Box. And that robs the entire event of some potentially entertaining drama. Rather than base the conflict on the characters themselves, it’s based on the Box (which, by the way, looks more like a skull).

So basically Trinity War is just the three Justice Leagues fighting over a plot device until Forever Evil happens. And that’s disappointing.

Spider-Man #16

Superior Spider-Man #16
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Humberto Ramos

Oh Phil Urich, how far you’ve fallen. At least you’re not dead. I can at least confirm that Dan Slott does not kill one of my all-time favorite comic book characters in this issue. But he’s changed forever. Back in the day, this probably would have upset me. But I’d like to think I’m much more flexible with my comic book characters these days. I’m excited to see where he goes from here, because Slott clearly has some sort of plan in motion.

Phil Urich has been outed as the Hobgoblin, and Spider-Man corners him in the Daily Bugle building. Phil starts getting pressured from all sides as everyone wants to know what’s going on, and it causes Phil to snap like only a Goblin can. First he pulls out his flaming sword to take Norah hostage, then he turns on his sonic laugh to bust the brains of everyone in the building. But when he sees his Uncle Ben start bleeding, Phil panics and stops, giving Spider-Man the chance to take him outside and force him to surrender. Phil is a pathetic mess, his whole life as a villain and a former hero exposed for the entire world to see, as his story quickly spreads through the 24-hour news cycle.

The Green Goblin watches the news and decided to recruit Phil to his cause. He sends Menace to bust Phil out of police custody, then recruits the young man to become the new, armored Goblin Knight!

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good!

Phil stole the issue, and for a fanboy like me, that’s great news. This issue was all about Phil Urich’s fall from grace, and Slott handles it spectacularly. Phil isn’t just beaten up and killed, Slott puts him through the emotional wringer. His friends and loved ones find out the truth, and then when he goes too far against them, it’s Phil himself who realizes his mistake. I loved that moment where he saw his Uncle in pain and backed off. It means there’s still a glimmer of humanity in him, and considering how evil he’s been lately, I wanted to see that glimmer. His surrender is even better, and I even enjoyed the random insertion of the media into the whole shebang. Slott has never done anything with the mainstream media before, but all of a sudden they are super interested in Phil Urich.

There was even a shoutout to his run as the Green Goblin in the 90s!

Believe me, when I saw that page, the fanboy inside me was through the roof.

It’s sad that Phil is no longer going to be the Hobgoblin. I thought he was a spectacular new take on the character, and I loved the costume. But I always kind of felt he was held back by his association with the Kingpin, and then Kingsley. Slott should have cut him loose and let him be the Hobgoblin without any complications – but considering Phil’s role as an evil version of Peter Parker, what would life be without complications? The new Goblin Knight identity is a little disappointing, if only because the name and costume are unimpressive. Green Goblin should have kept him as the Hobgoblin. At least that identity has name recognition.

So what’s to become of Phil now? Is there any hope of him being a hero once again? I’d like to think so. Check out the blog next week for a bigger analysis of this issue and the character.

It should also be mentioned that this was a very interesting issue for Spider-Man as well. Our sympathies lie almost completely with Phil, even if he is a bad guy. Spider-Man is a complete and total jerk in this issue, and he almost goes too far in his punishment of Phil. Otto is rude to everyone around him, and when he’s on the verge of killing Phil in cold blood, we’re definitely against him. Otto may be an efficient superhero, but he’s a completely jackass about it, which, of course, is infinitely fascinating to read.

Superman Unchained #3

Superman Unchained #3
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Jim Lee

I need to stop expecting the New 52 universe to adhere to any sort of cohesion. They’re just making it all up as they go along, and in this issue, they commit what I consider to be a cardinal sin. And to think that it’s committed by Scott Snyder and Jim Lee. They’re supposed to be two of the greats! We should be able to look upon them with reverence and awe! Instead they force feed us this pile of drivel and make me wonder why I ever expected the New 52 to work. The man created the Court of Owls, for crying out loud; the best new Batman villains since Harley Quinn! So where did this crap come from?

Superman comes face-to-face with the giant glowing enemy, who actually reveals himself to be quite intelligent and well-spoken. He’s eager to meet Superman, and once he smacks Clark around a lot in order to get him to calm down, he takes Superman on a tour of his home base, The Machine. It seems that back in 1938, the government tried to reach out to alien life, and this is the guy who responded. He crash-landed on Earth and immediately started sharing his knowledge and technology with the Americans. And considering his strength and power, the Americans also put him to work around the world. This guy – Wraith – was not just responsible for Nagasaki, but he played a hand in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. And while Wraith is more than happy to share this with Superman, whom he admires, General Lane is off to the side being a huge asshole for no good reason. Then both Superman and Wraith respond when Ascension captures one of the Machine’s weapons and starts attacking Japan.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane safely lands that crashing plane she was in.

Comic Rating: 3/10 – Bad.

First of all, Wraith!? Really? That’s the best name Scott Snyder could come up with? The guy doesn’t even look like a ‘wraith’, which is supposed to be spectral and ghost-like. He looks like a poor man’s Doomsday. The name is absolutely terrible. Not to mention the fact that Superior Spider-Man also has a character running around with the name ‘Wraith’, but at least she is actually wraith-like! And this guy looks just as bad as his name. Check this out: the red energy lines on his body match up exactly to the sorts of stupid lines and piping Jim Lee put into all of the New 52 costumes.

See all those unnecessary lines on Superman’s costume? Wraith has them too, for no good reason! Argh! What is it with Jim Lee and adding stupid lines to costumes?

All of that aside, I like that Wraith is actually intelligent and wants to be Superman’s friend. That part is cool. But everything else about him just erodes the already weak fabric of the New 52 universe. I thought we were supposed to believe that Superman was the first superhero, and that he was the first alien. Wasn’t that the case? Wasn’t Superman’s arrival on Earth supposed to be special? Guess not anymore! Snyder and Lee have created a new character who not only undoes Superman’s uniqueness, but he also alters the very history of the world. No more second bomb at Nagasaki. No more Cuban Missile Crisis as we remember it. From now on, in the history of the New 52 Universe, Wraith will always have been there first. He was the first alien contact, and he was the first super being way back in the 1930s. This is all now and forever part of history in the New 52 universe.

I expected more from this creative team. I expected good, meaningful stories about Superman, not uncreative retcons. And I don’t think Superman has even looked at a chain in three issues, let alone broken free of them. This is false advertising!

Thunderbolts #14

Thunderbolts #14
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Jefte Palo

As per requested by friend-of-the-site Xavier, I’ve decided to take another look at Thunderbolts. The creative team of Daniel Way and Steve Dillon is long gone, and they were to blame for my not liking the book when it first came out – for the most part. As is usually the case, I’m simply not a fan of the characters on this team, and that’s always reason numero uno why I won’t pick up or like a comic. (Yes, I like the Punisher, but really only Garth Ennis’ Punisher. Seeing him elsewhere, especially in this issue, just feels weird…). So keep that in mind: if there are any comics you’d like for me to read and review, just shoot me an e-mail at Hench4Hire@gmail.com. As for the issue itself…

After one more mission together taking down a murderous, gamma-radiated cow, General Ross sits his team down and explains to them that the time has come for them to choose the missions. He put this team together to take care of a few of his own problems, the trade off being that each one of them would then get to pick the missions, with the full backing of the Thunderbolts behind them. They draw names out of a hat and the Punisher wins. So Frank tells the team about the Paguro crime family in New York City. The Paguros aren’t like any other crime family, they run a support staff kind of operation. They help other gangs and families get set up, and provide them with behind-the-scenes help. Because of this, they are so well-connected that the Punisher can’t lay a finger on them. Now, with the help of the Thunderbolts, he figures he can. The team suit up and head to New York – which is exactly where the aliens from Infinity are about to attack.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

I liked this issue. It was snappy, the characters were pretty good and General Ross really seems to have a good head on his shoulders. I still don’t particularly care for the characters – and Deadpool is especially retched as he pines over Elektra – but all that aside, this was a fun comic. I especially liked Deadpool’s line about them being the ‘Selfish Avengers’. Though again, and this is just a personal thing, but reading about the Punisher hanging out with regular superheroes still feels weird to me. But that’s just a personal hang-up. I’ll get over it if I keep reading. I also wasn’t pleased with Infinity crossing over into this comic. I want to read about the Thunderbolts taking down the Paguros. Is that too much to ask? The only real draw back of this comic was the art, and I’m not sure if I loved it or hated it. The art by Jefte Palo is a weird, very angular, cartoon kind of style. Everyone is all hard angles and sharp edges. It looks a little sloppy, but I kind of think that’s the point. It’s an alright art style, but very, very distinct.

Wonder Woman #23

Wonder Woman #23
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Cliff Chiang

This, this is the issue. This is everything Wonder Woman has been building towards since the beginning, and Azzarello and Chiang pull it off in glorious style. Wonder Woman #23 is one of the most emotionally powerful and action-packed issues of the entire DC reboot. This is the kind of issue you get when you let your writers tell their stories. I don’t know what DC’s thoughts on are the differences between Azzarello’s Wonder Woman and Geoff Johns’ Wonder Woman over in Justice League, but I hope they remain committed to letting Azzarello weave his tale, because it is spectacular.

The final battle between Wonder Woman’s forces and the First Born is upon us, and it is epic! First, Wonder Woman and the gang defeat the First Born’s hyena-men. And when he summons more, War steps into the fray and summons his own army: which is ALL THE ARMIES! He knocks down a wall and summons the spirits of fallen warriors from every war ever fought to battle on his behalf! It’s an awesome scene. The battle rages and Orion takes a stab at the First Born, but he gets his butt whooped. Then Wonder Woman takes off her gauntlets and turns into glowing powerhouse, who puts the whoopin’ on First Born – but he gets the better of her and defeats her as well, making Wonder Woman realize it wasn’t right to take off her gauntlets and cut loose.

So then War steps up to fight the First Born one-on-one. He holds his own a little, but the First Born gets the better of him too. So Wonder Woman ends it by stabbing a spear through War’s back, skewering them both in one blow. The First Born is defeated, and Diana holds War in her arms as he dies. He tells her that he would have done the same thing, and that he’s proud of her. He dies and Wonder Woman assumes the mantle of the new God of War. Then Hades arrives and she carries War out to the ferryman.

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great!

DC was amazing this week. Between Batman and Nightwing and this issue of Wonder Woman, I was floored by the quality of character work and the emotional resonance of the stories. The somber farewell to Ares at the end of this issue was just beautiful. It’s touching and it’s very personal, including the appearance by Hades. He’s been a pseudo-villain in previous issues, which made his appearance here doing his job even more touching. And let’s not ignore how great Wonder Woman was in this issue. From seeing her finally cutting loose, to quickly learning that’s not always the answer, to her own emotional farewell to War. Azzarello is showing all of us how to build a character and take her on a journey. I’m very excited to see what happens now that she is apparently the new God of War.

And speaking of War, wow! What a send-off! I realized this the other day, and I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner, but Ares was kind of a big deal back before the reboot. Ares was one of Wonder Woman’s chief villains, and he was important enough to be included in the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game this year. But when the reboot came around, Azzarello recreated the character from the ground up and I didn’t even notice. The old Ares had been completely wiped from my mind thanks to Azzarello’s new, far more interesting version. To see him pass here was heart-breaking.

So let’s go out with a positive note. Check out Ares’ awesome command performance in the battle!

Best character reboot?

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!

About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on August 24, 2013, in Avengers, Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Spider-Man, Superman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Avengers is blah. Hickman just can’t make me care. Luckily, Avengers Assemble #18 handled the space battle from Spider-Woman’s viewpoint, and DeConnick was able to make me care about that.

    Superior Spider-Man was really good. Otto-Man continues to be an ass.

    Thunderbolts was very good. Now that Way and Dillon are gone, Charles Soule is doing a great job. He handles the characterization well, and he’s got a few good funny moments. He uses beat panels really well.

    • This Charles Soule guy has come out of nowhere and is writing everything these days. I’ve got to figure out how he does it…

      And yeah, Hickman has a few parts of his story down pat, but he really needs to find a way to connect with readers.

  2. I just like the valuable info you supply to your articles.
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  3. Das gegenseitige Beschenken, das wegen seiner Vermarktbarkeit den stärksten Beitrag dazu leistet, dass sich ein heidnisches
    Lichtfest in die nachreligiösen Zeiten retten kann und das in seiner heutigen, stressvollen und mechanischen Ausführung
    lang schon alles Beglückende verloren hat; es trägt die vorchristliche, von Schuldideologie freie und damit befreiende Botschaft in sich, dass den Lebenden alles
    am Leben geschenkt ist, dass sie sich nichts daran erarbeitet oder gemacht haben.

  4. Bien sûr, les 4 kilos en 15 jours évoqués dans le titre le sont à titre indicatif…
    Il est effectivement impossible de prédire avec exactitude le poids perdu, même dans le plus grand respect des conseils donnés
    dans cet article.

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