Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 9/28/13

Surprise, surprise, Villains Month isn’t half bad this week! Again, I’m not reading everything, but the few villainous issues I did pick up were actually pretty good. I especially liked the Man-Bat and Ocean Master issues, though Sinestro’s comic was really just a big character recap. So again, Villains Month is a mixed bag of different comic book styles, some of which work, and some of which don’t.

Meanwhile, it feels like forever since Forever Evil #1 came out. Say what you will about Event Comics, but Marvel clearly has a great idea when it comes to publishing them. Both Infinity and Battle of the Atom have had a new chapter every week since they started, and that makes the stories much, much better than having to wait a whole month to find out what the heck is going to happen in Forever Evil.

As such, the new chapter of Battle of the Atom wins Comic Book of the Week hands down. Jason Aaron takes over the story with Wolverine and the X-Men #36, and I think it was the best issue of the crossover to date! So many exciting things happen, with just as many great character moments.

Yes, Deadpool, tell us the future! I want to see Goldballs with a long, storied X-Men career.

Comic Reviews: Avengers #20, Man-Bat #1, Ocean Master #1, Sinestro #1, Trial of the Punisher #1, and Wolverine and the X-Men #36.

Avengers #20

Avengers #20
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu

Infinity continues rolling along, and I will admit to being slightly more entertained by the whole thing these days. Nothing has really changed in terms of the plot or circumstances, but I find myself caring just a little bit more. I can’t really say why. I think it has something to do with a tighter focus on the characters. But Infinity is still just Jonathan Hickman’s love letter to his own creations.

After their victory over the Builders, the good guys start to weigh their options and decided to trust in Captain America. He arranges a meeting with the Builder who has taken over Hala, the homeworld of the Kree. Nobody trusts the Builder, but Cap says they only really have one option left: surrender. He’s probably got a trick up his sleeve…Meanwhile, Ex Nihilo and Abyss fly off and meet with the rest of the Ex Nihilos (or Gardeners). It seems that when the Builders stopped building all those thousands of years ago, they kept all of their Gardeners, but forbid them from making any more cosmic gardens. They also got rid of all their Abyssi, so the Avengers’ Abyss is the last one in existence. After hearing the stories of the other Gardeners, Ex Nihilo turns black and declares, “NO MORE!”

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

Infinity is no longer as bad as it once was, although I hesitate to call the series ‘bad’ to any degree. It’s competently made and has some amazing art. Hickman writes very well. But he’s still overly obsessed with his own creations, and that’s troublesome, because he’s done a poor job of getting the audience to connect with them. Instead, he spent the first dozen issues or so of Avengers telling disconnected tales seemingly at random. Remember? I hated it then, and now when all of the pieces are supposed to be coming together, it doesn’t work as well as if he’d just been a little straighter with us. Hickman seems to imply that the fact that Gardeners are not allowed to garden to be a huge atrocity, but why should the reader care? He’s done a piss poor job explaining or exploring the Gardeners, or any of the Builders, for that matter. Still, I find myself mildly entertained, so I’m not going to trash this issue as much as I could.

Man-Bat #1

Man-Bat #1
Writer: Frank Tieri
Artist: Scott Eaton

Man-Bat is one of my favorite Batman villains of all time, but I’ve done a terrible job of keeping up with him in the New 52. Apparently he had a whole story arc in Detective Comics and I missed it, which is a shame, because apparently it re-wrote his entire origin and his relationship with his wife Francine. I guess their marriage was a sham all along because Francine was some kind of double agent? Tieri does a so-so job catching of us up on Kirk Langstrom in the New 52, then gives him a rather chilling adventure. This is one of the most substantial Villains Month issues I’ve read so far.

Kirk Langstom has started making improvements to his Man-Bat formula in order to take down his wife Francine, who has given in to more animalistic urges as She-Bat. When she swoops down and attacks a playground full of kids, stealing one to have for dinner, Kirk shows up and takes her out. But once Francine is taken care of, Kirk keeps working on his formula to make himself a bigger, meaner Man-Bat in order to help keep order in Gotham City during Forever Evil. He starts out as a hero wanting to help. As the weeks progress, Kirk’s formula pushes him too far, and he starts killing criminals, then he starts attacking the police who try to stop him. By the end, Kirk is more beast than man, and now he’s plucking kids off playgrounds for dinner.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

First of all, the art by Eaton is fantastic! He draws an amazing Man-Bat, full of beastly vigor and badassery. He also does a great job showing the downward spiral of Langstrom’s transformations. Most Villains Month issues have either been origin stories or simple little done-in-one villain tales. But Man-Bat #1 actually does something substantial with the character. Langstrom actually changes over the course of the issue, and it’s a tragic story to witness. The man wants to be a hero and help out with his particular brand of super-powers, but in his effort to do a better job, he drives himself to uncontrollable madness. It’s a fantastic little story, and one of the best DC has put out this month. I might even have to buy Detective Comics more often to see where this story goes.

Ocean Master #1

Ocean Master #1
Writers: Tony Bedard and Geoff Johns
Artist: Geraldo Borges

Just like with Black Manta #1, the team of Johns and Bedard write a pretty good tale with Ocean Master. It seems that Aquaman might have the most interesting, complex and layered villains in the entire DC Universe, and I couldn’t be happier. I love Aquaman, and now I am definitely digging Black Manta and Ocean Master more and more.

When the prison break occurs, Ocean Master gathers his gear and escapes with the other inmates. He’s a bit more stoic and regal about the whole thing, and rarely shows any emotion on his face. He wants to escape to the sea, but encounters a few problems along the way. One of the prison guards who was nice to him is badly injured, so Ocean Master puts him out of his misery, which he views as a kindness. He stumbles into saving a nearby convenience store employee when she’s attacked by two escapees, but he can’t be bothered to help her save her young son from some other convicts. Ocean Master ignores her pleas for help and heads out to sea – only to rise back out a moment later, having changed his mind about saving an innocent.

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

I said it before when I reviewed Black Manta #1: one of my favorite comic book tropes is when the villains are noble enough to rise up and be heroes when the situation calls for it. Ocean Master doesn’t exactly become a hero in this issue, but his triumphant return to save that boy at the end is very exciting. I was fully prepared to let him walk out to sea and accept that he’s a heartless bastard, but with that cliffhanger, Johns and Bedard proved that this former king is far more complicated than one might expect. Ocean Master isn’t crazy like the Joker or Lex Luthor. He was the king of a foreign country whose thoughts and mannerisms are simply different from our own. That makes him uniquely interesting.

Sinestro #1

Sinestro #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Dale Eaglesham

When Geoff Johns wrapped up his legendary run on Green Lantern earlier this year, he left Sinestro in a pretty amazing place: bonded with Parallax and retiring from this whole Lantern business. So I’ve been a little worried that DC was going to bring him back already for Forever Evil. To that end, I’m happy to say that this issue doesn’t bring Sinestro back. But then it also doesn’t make for a particularly interesting comic as a result.

This issue is just a big Sinestro character recap, like a more detailed Wikipedia entry, one narrated by Lyssa Drak. It starts out with the moment he became a Green Lantern and goes on through to the present day and the First Lantern finale. Though there are one or two interesting twists found within. Sinestro used to be an archaeologist on his home planet Korugar before a Green Lantern and a bad guy crashed into his dig site. The Lantern was badly injured and unable to fight back, so he loaned Sinestro his ring to defeat the villain. Once the fight was over, however, Sinestro decided to let the Lantern die of his injuries and keep the ring for himself. But Sinestro didn’t do this out of greed or a desire for personal gain. Sinestro simply realized that he would do a better job as a Green Lantern, and so the overall safey of the universe outweighed the needs of this one injured alien.

And sure enough, Sinestro became the greatest Green Lantern of all time. He became best pals with Abin Sur, married Abin’s sister, had a daughter (but gave her up), met Hal Jordan, enslaved his people like a fascist dictator (while having their best interests in mind), was discovered, was kicked out of the GL Corps, founded the Sinestro Corps, and you know the rest of the story. In the very end, though, Drak reveals that some Korugarians survived the destruction of their planet, and she wants to find Sinestro to tell him.

Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.

Did we know the story of how Sinestro first got his Power Ring? If we didn’t, that is a fascinating twist. It makes total sense for the character and adds an extra wrinkle to his history. Likewise, this issue did a great job of explaining how and why Sinestro took over his home planet. So Sinestro #1 does a fine job of recapping the character’s backstory, but that’s all it is. Sinestro #1 is a nicely drawn, well told history of the character, and little more than that. Which, again, is for the best, considering it is far too soon to really bring him back into play.

Trial of the Punisher #1

Trial of the Punisher #1
Writer: Mark Guggenheim
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu

By popular request, I’ve picked up the first issue of Trial of the Punisher, the latest Punisher mini-series to come out of Marvel. I guess mini-series are what they’re doing with the character now, and that works well enough for me. I’m a big fan of the Punisher – specifically, Garth Ennis’ legendary run on The Punisher MAX series. I hold that 11-volume story up as a masterpiece in comic bookery. Ennis’ work on the character is as good as the Punisher will ever be, as far as I’m concerned. That’s probably unfair to other writers, but that’s too bad. Perfect is perfect. Still, as I post at the bottom of all my hench-sized reviews, I will probably pick up any comic you ask me to to review. So here we are.

On another note, I unfortunately suffer from an unintentional but nonetheless crippling bias in regards to stories like this: because of my day job covering real criminal trials as a newspaper reporter, I can never take fictional criminal trials seriously anymore. It’s frustrating. But what can I do? As a reviewer, I’ve got to put aside my personal prejudices and just judge the story, but I do what I do for a living. So it grinds my gears when fictional attorneys turn arraignments into mini-trials. Or when criminal trials are scheduled a week after an arrest is made. There is so much work that goes into criminal trials. They can’t just be scheduled for a week later!

Anyway, on with the issue.

Frank Castle turns himself in to the NYPD for the murder of Assistant District Attorney Alex Shapiro, and he does so by carrying the dead, tortured body into a police precinct. Castle is taken into custody and put through your typical interrogation, with Castle readily confessing and writing out his story. It seems he went to an Italian restaurant to kill a mob boss, and Shapiro got caught in the crossfire. Castle gets a tough-as-nails defense attorney who wants to use the insanity defense, and who is pretty sure Castle is playing some kind of game. But so far, Castle seems pretty straight forward about turning himself in. We rush through all of the pre-trial matters and get right to the first witnesses, who begin testifying about some of his past killings. While this is happening, Castle starts writing some odd code on a legal pad. The defense attorney later asks what he’s writing, and Castle tells her it’s his “to-do list”.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

Guggenheim and Yu make for a great team on the Punisher. The art is Yu’s usually sketchy style, and it works perfectly for a guy like Frank Castle and his world. Likewise, Guggenheim has Frank’s inner monologue down pat. I would be happy to read a Punisher series by these two. And this issue was entertaining. It’s a nice read. But it’s not without faults, and the biggest one is that the title of the series is misleading. This isn’t really the Trial of the Punisher. Yes there’s a trial, and yes the Punisher is on trial, but this story isn’t about the trial. We the reader, and even some of the characters, already know that the Punisher is playing some kind of game. He’s got several tricks up his sleeve, and turning himself in and going through with the trial is just part of his plan.

On the one hand, that’s fine. This will end up being just some clever Punisher plan to kill some bad guys. But on the other hand, Punisher kills bad guys all the time, and he only goes on trial this once. Why not actually put him on trial for all the crimes he’s committed? Why not tell that story for real? Maybe some cop gets lucky and actually catches the Punisher, who is a wanted criminal. Maybe the cops take all necessary precautions to keep him from escaping, and the Punisher actually goes on trial. It could be a fascinating story. But instead, this issue doesn’t really have anything to do with the trial or the legal system. As I said earlier, the trial itself is rushed, because it’s not a great story if the Punisher has to spend half a year in lock-up waiting for the wheels of the justice system to turn. So Guggenheim rushes through all the pre-trial legal arguments, and nothing is done with the jury. I’m not even sure there is a jury. Wouldn’t it be somewhat interesting to see what goes into picking the jury that will decide the fate of the Punisher?

But Guggenheim skips over all of that and doesn’t really do anything with the trial or any of the courtroom characters other than the hot, intelligent defense attorney. So while this was a good read as far as the Punisher himself is concerned, the rest of the story around him is just window dressing, and that’s disappointing.

Wolverine and the X-Men #36

Wolverine and the X-Men #36
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Giuseppe Camuncoli

With Wolverine and the X-Men #36, I can confidently say that X-Men is my favorite comic book franchise right now. Even with the cancellation of X-Factor, I am loving pretty much everything the X-Office is putting out, especially Battle of the Atom. I’ve loved every issue so far, and Wolverine and the X-Men #36 kicks everything up a notch with some fantastic scenes, great characterizations and twists that I honestly did not see coming. Everything Brian Michael Bendis has built between All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men is coming home to roost, and it’s as good as I hoped it would be.

Fights between all four or so versions of the X-Men break out across Utopia, filled with all sorts of excellent dialogue and character-based arguments. Wolverine argues with both Cyclopses. Storm and Present Cyclops snipe at each other. The Kitty Prydes butt heads. Future Deadpool recognizes Goldballs as a legendary X-Man. It’s great. Future Iceman goes wild. Fisticuffs fly. Meanwhile, Future Jean battles Young Jean, Emma and the Cuckoos on the mental plane until only Young Jean is left mentally standing.

In the physical battle, Deadpool is the one who gets everyone to stop fighting. He speechifies that the future is so horrible that he would rather kill himself right now than be forced to go back. And at the same time, Young Jean wins the mental battle, and she forces Future Jean to show her what’s so horrible about the future. Those two events convince everyone to calm down, and convince the Young X-Men to go back to the past. Everyone retreats.

And Future Deadpool mutters under his breath that his speech was all a lie.

Elsewhere, Magik teleports to the Jean Grey School and grabs Young Iceman and Young Beast, who were both left behind. She uses time travel to take them into the future to see the world of the Future X-Men for themselves. They arrive at the Jean Grey School in the Future…and it’s idyllic! The school looks beautiful, and Sentinels are working as servants. And then a completely different team of future X-Men show up to confront them.

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

Man, why didn’t I see that the Future X-Men were lying? It’s so obvious now! But they were presented so well that they were easy to take at face value. Heck, I even really liked Deadpool’s speech! Of course, their true nature, and Magik’s trip into the future, turn the story on its head, and no doubt the second half of Battle of the Atom will be even better than the first. This story just keeps twisting around and around, but it stays focused on the characters themselves, and I love it. I especially liked the confrontation between the more realistically drawn, street-clothes-wearing Uncanny X-Men and the colorful, superhero-rific All-New X-Men.

Jason Aaron steps in and does an amazing job with the X-Men of all timelines. Cyclops and Wolverine finally face-off after a year apart, and it’s wickedly fun. I almost liked Aaron’s work more than Bendis. But the two of them work very well together on the same characters and the same plot. Aaron’s X-Men are funny, witty and their voices sound very authentic. Artist Camuncoli is also very good. The art on Battle of the Atom has been great so far. The entire crossover has been great. Definitely Event of the Year, as far as I’m concerned.

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 September 28, 2013, in Avengers, Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Punisher, Reviews, X-Men and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Avengers was Hickman Avengers. But this is the fourth damned time we’ve seen the breakout. Enough.

    Trial of the Punisher was good. Pretty cool.

    WatXM was the best issue of WatXM so far, and the weakest issue of BotA. It’s odd for me to say this, as someone who loves dialogue-heavy issues, but this needed less dialogue and more action. I found myself getting tired of the issue by the end, and wanting it to just be over already. Though Scott blasting Wolverine will never not be satisfying to me. And at least the X-over forced Aaron to tone down the kids cartoon sensibilities and write some decent character stuff. More also could’ve been done with the psychic battle.

    • I love the dialogue scenes when they’re this good. I like that there isn’t a villain – yet – so all they can really do is try to talk this out. Though when they do come to blows, like Young Scott blasting Wolverine, it’s all the better because of the tense verbal sparring beforehand.

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