Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 1/25/14

It’s another week of trying to break my wallet, but somehow I managed to hold on, read a bunch of comics and have a generally good week over all. I’m not quite as sick as I was for the past few weeks. That’s a plus, right? But here in Central New York, we’re looking at several straight days of single-digit to sub-zero temperatures. Go winter!

At least there were enough good comics to keep me warm! We’ve got new issues of Black Widow, Harley Quinn and Origin II already, and most of them are pretty darn good! Solid comics like Hawkeye and Wonder Woman are back, and we get the over-sized, over-sad finale of FF! Why do we live in a world where FF comes to an end after only 16 issues!?

Despite all those great comics, Comic Book of the Week has to go to Wolverine and the X-Men #40 because we’re finally getting some forward movement on the Cyclops/Wolverine Schism, and it’s everything I could have asked for.

Bromance renewed? We can only hope.

Comic Reviews: Batman #27, Batwoman #27, Black Widow #2, FF #16, Hawkeye #16, Harley Quinn #2, Origin II #2, Wolverine and the X-Men #40 and Wonder Woman #27.

Batman #27

Batman #27
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo

I think I’m enjoying Zero Year as it goes along, though I fear DC will get up to their old tricks someday and rewrite Batman’s origin at some point. DC loves doing that. This doesn’t feel definitive. But Snyder is clearly enjoying himself, and he’s telling some strong stories, so I see no reason why he can’t continue.

(Other than the fact that I want him to hurry up and crown Harper Row as the new Robin!)

Batman escapes the police officers’ assault with the help of Jim Gordon, who takes the time to explain the real meaning of that coat he’s always wearing. Back when he got it from that corrupt officer, Gordon really did think it was a gift from the shopkeeper, like he told a young Bruce. But he went back to check the store and discovered a dog-fighting ring in the back room, run by crooked cops and criminals. Gordon tried to turn them in, but they threw him to the dogs and Gordon had to fight for his life. He survived and now he wears the coat to remind all those bastards that he still remembers (and maybe also a little out of shame).

Back at the Batcave, Alfred confronts Bruce with his theory on why is doing this: anger. Alfred believes that Bruce is punishing his friends and all of Gotham by making them watch him clean up the city as Batman. Nobody was there for him after his parents were killed, not really, so now he’s making them all watch while he does what they never could. But Bruce blows him off and goes out to Dr. Death’s secret lair – only to find out that the Riddler is the one pulling the strings, and his big plan to take control of Gotham is about to go off! Riddler then shows up on the TV screens in the lair and taunts Batman before blowing up the lair and drowning the Dark Knight in a flood of sewage.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

The majority of this issue was either Gordon or Alfred talking, and I liked what they had to say. The truth behind Gordon’s coat is a fascinating story, and no doubt one that Bruce will take to heart. Modern day Commissioner Gordon has always been a great character, and I think he’d make a great protagonist for that upcoming TV show. Alfred’s speech is also a pretty neat insight into the mind of Snyder’s young Batman. I can believe everything Alfred says, and it strikes a strong chord as to what Snyder is trying to say with this whole Zero Year experiment. Plus, it’ll be nice to see Snyder’s Bruce growing out of that anger.

The story jumps ahead in the end, and it’s fine, but the real strength of this issue were the speeches from Gordon and Alfred. Both are strong, and both add a lot more depth and interest into these early years of the Caped Crusader.

Batwoman #27

Batwoman #27
Writer: Marc Andreyko
Artists: Jeremy Haun and Francis Manapul

I’m definitely willing to give Andreyko a chance with Batwoman. I liked his Manhunter series from a few years ago, and I think he could really expand and explore Kate Kane’s personal life like Blackman and Williams rarely did. But before we can get to those rich ideas, first we’ve got to get through this issue.

Batwoman falls out the window after her fight with Wolf Spider, and the poison he plucked her with sends Kate on a trippy fever dream through all her worst memories. She manages to snap out of it in time to grab a ledge and escape. Wolf Spider also flees, and he meets up with his partner/financier, who reminds him he has a few more paintings he needs to grab. Meanwhile, Kate breaks into Maggie’s apartment to recover. Unbeknownst to her, Maggie’s daughter is in the apartment, and she is woken up by the noise. The girl, Jamie, wanders into the hall and finds Batwoman’s costume, then finds the bruised and bloody Kate in the bathroom!

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

I hate trippy, drug-induced freak out sequences in fiction. They never accomplish anything and usually take away from the story. Everything is put on pause while the character stumbles around through a bit of weirdness, until they finally shake it off and get on with the stuff we actually care about. So even though guest-artist Manapul drew the hell out of the sequence, it was still several long pages of nonsense that robbed the story of any real forward momentum. I don’t care about Kate having freaky flashbacks to her life. I very much care about the drama that will come from Maggie’s daughter finding Kate all bruised up in the bathroom. That’s the kind of drama I want, and hopefully we’ll get it next issue. For now, despite that trippy moment, the second proper issue of Andreyko’s Batwoman is stronger than the first, and I have hope that this series might get really good. I even liked Haun’s art better this issue.

Black Widow #2

Black Widow #2
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Artist: Phil Noto

God bless Marvel’s new sales strategy of whipping out new issues of new comics at a rapid pace. It’s only been about two weeks since the first issue of Black Widow, and Marvel is already feeding our desire for this great comic!

Black Widow takes a job in Shanghai to rescue the son of an old acquaintance. She sneaks aboard the boat, but it’s a set up, and she barely makes it off before the ship explodes. She goes to see her friend, but he’s dead, killed by the Iron Scorpion, the man who set her up. Natasha assassinated the Iron Scorpion’s brother some years ago, and now he’s back for revenge. There’s an epic fight in the streets of Shanghai, but the Scorpion gets away (after Natasha kicks him into the path of a truck!). She returns home.

Meanwhile, a man in a suit comes nosing around Widow’s lawyer, so he has the guy bugged. The lawyer, Isaiah, finds out that this guy and his associates want to blackmail the Widow into paying them money. And they want to kill Isaiah to get their message across. Isaiah doesn’t tell Widow about this when she returns from Shanghai, because apparently he’s the kind of guy who takes care of business himself, and kills the man and his associates.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

Again, Edmondson and Noto give us a fast-paced, exciting spy adventure, and I really think this comic has legs. Edmondson is definitely getting creative with the action and adventure side of things, with a twisty tale of betrayal and revenge. And when Natasha kicked that guy into the truck, oh man! That was just awesome! I also liked that Edmondson is slowly building on Natasha’s home life, adding an apartment neighbor alongside the alley cat. I definitely hope that part of the comic grows. Isaiah is already growing into his own. I think they’ve got a solid story brewing here. Noto’s art definitely helps. It seems almost perfectly suited for these stories. Natasha is a strong presence, but nothing is too cartoony or unrealistic. The lines have a very light touch, letting colors tell the story more than anything else. It works. Everything about the new Black Widow works. I can’t wait to see Edmondson really dig into some of his ideas.

FF #16

FF #16
Writers: Lee Allred and Matt Fraction
Artists: Michael and Laura Allred

Reading FF has been the most fun I’ve ever had reading the Fantastic Four, and they weren’t even the regular Fantastic Four! Jonathan Hickman may have created the Future Foundation, but Fraction and the Family Allred perfected it. So I’m more than a little sad to say goodbye. At least I can always cherish the adorableness of Leech, Artie and the rest of the kids. And hopefully this was the start of big, big things for Scott Lang! He’s about to become a movie star, after all!

Scott Lang faces off against Dr. Doom and surprises the villain with his super strength! Where did Scott get super strength? I’m so glad you asked. Scott Lang has discovered a new attribute of Pym Particles: they don’t just allow someone to alter their size, but they also allow someone to alter their density and their strength! So Scott kicks Doom’s butt while preaching to him about how weak and foolish Doom has always been, how his ‘code of honor’ has always been a farce. It gets pretty brutal. At one point, even the Watcher and the Living Tribunal show up to deliver some punishment to Doom, but the metal man isn’t really listening or learning any lessons.

So Scott beats Doom within an inch of his life, dishing out the kind of fist-to-face punishment that a guy like Reed Richards wouldn’t stoop to. But Scott doesn’t kill him – and in that moment, Doom tries to strike back. He blasts at Scott…only for Valeria Richards to teleport into the way at the last second. Doom sees that he blasted his beloved Valeria, just like Cassie Lang, and he falls to his knees in grief.

But it wasn’t really Valeria, it was just an illusion. Still, it’s enough to make Doom feel something. Though Scott tells the real Valeria that there is no ‘Uncle Victor’ left in that armor. He’s only ever been an empty shadow of what could have been.

The issue ends with a happy barbecue on the moon with the FF, the Fantastic Four and their friends. The Watcher’s girlfriend reveals that she’s pregnant, Bentley-23 offers a way that Cassie Lang might survive, and Scott and Darla finally get to kiss! Happy ending all around!

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

I will be the first guy to admit that, sometimes, stuff goes over my head. I can’t say I completely followed every step of Scott Lang’s verbal smackdown of Doctor Doom, but it was still pretty beautiful. Who doesn’t love seeing a bad guy so thoroughly put into his place, even if he doesn’t seem to get it himself? But really, the speech was about Scott putting his daughter to rest, and I think it was a fascinating look into his character. He’s not Reed Richards. He’s not Hank Pym. He’s Scott Lang. He’s smart, he’s tough, and he’s definitely leading man material.

And boyfriend material. The scene at the end where Scott and Darla kiss was a long time coming. I’m very glad to hear that the new writer of Fantastic Four is going to keep both of them in the book as supporting characters. In fact, everything about that epilogue was superb. Had the series ended with Scott defeating Doom, it wouldn’t have been enough. So I’m glad everybody came together for a big, happy send-off. The kids were their usual adorable selves, Scott got the girl, and we got a preview of what Silver Surfer is going to look like when Mike and Laura Allred jump to his new comic in a few months.

FF under Fraction and the Allreds was a true standout in today’s comic book industry. When some team comics feel content to just throw a bunch of random superheroes into generic superhero adventures, the team behind FF got crazy with it. FF had heart and imagination in spades, and that is rarer than you might think in today’s comic book market.

Hawkeye #16

Hawkeye #16
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Annie Wu

Hawkeye #16 continues the adventures of Kate Bishop in Los Angeles, and the issue is just stunning in its storytelling. This is a beautiful comic. It’s like this comic is plugged right into the pleasure centers of my brain and delivers everything I could ever want from a modern day superhero comic book.

Still in LA, Kate Bishop takes the case of an aging 60s musician, Will Bryson, who believes that his brother/producer, Grey, has stolen bits and pieces of his unfinished opus, Wish, and posted them online to ruin him. After some hijinks around town, Kate breaks into their house to confront Grey, only to get beaten up by some orderlies and taken straight to him. Grey, on his death bed, readily admits to posting Wish online because, since Will was the musical genius, Grey was stuck just waiting and waiting for Wish to be finished, wallowing in obscurity because Will couldn’t finish the music.

It all turns out OK in the end, however, because this little episode has convinced Will to finally come out of seclusion and play Wish for a live audience. But things aren’t looking too good for Kate, because Madam Masque has found her!

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

I know I used the word ‘adorable’ a lot when discussing FF, but it also readily applies to Kate Bishop. Was she this amazing in Young Avengers!? Fraction has tapped into such a fun character. Kate Bishop is full of spunk and zip and pizzazz and all those other great adjectives. She’s honest, determined, gentle and tough-as-nails. And what’s even better is that she’s not even the normal protagonist of this series. She’s supposed to be the sidekick to Clint Barton, who Fraction also writes amazingly well! But he’s definitely found something uniquely fun about Kate Bishop.

I got goosebumps

Hawkeye #16 is a shining example of why this series gets so much praise. This is a comic about ordinary people trying to live in an extraordinary world. Kate may not be saving all of New York from Dr. Doom, but she sure as hell is making a difference in some lives, while improving her own, all with the spirit and energy it takes to put on a purple costume and try to fight crime. And the art by Annie Wu is just as perfect for Kate’s adventures as David Aja is for Clint’s. Kate looks every bit as adorable as she reads, and that is how you put together an amazing comic book.

Harley Quinn #2

Harley Quinn #2
Writers: Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Artists: Chad Hardin and Stephane Roux

I take back any mean or nasty things I may have said about this new Harley Quinn series when I reviewed the first issue, because this second issue has warmed by cold, bitter heart! I thought the first issue was almost cliche in its set up of Harley’s cozy new life. I was worried it was too ‘paint-by-numbers’. This second issue relieves all my worries. This comic could actually be very fun.

After meeting some more of her new tenants, Harley goes for a ride around the city and finds a protest in front of an animal shelter. It seems they’re going to euthanize some of the un-adopted pets. Harley hatches a plan to break the animals out, and calls in her BFF Poison Ivy for help. The two wicked ladies cut open all the cages (though I’m not sure why Harley couldn’t have done that on her own), and then they spend the rest of the night catching all the escaped animals. Harley also has to fend off the assassination attempt of another would-be hitman, but it’s not a problem. Everyone returns home safe and sound. Then in the morning, before she leaves, Ivy turns the empty third floor into a beautiful park for all the animals.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

There was just something disconnectedly fun about the second issue of Harley Quinn. The main character wasn’t really concerned with being a super-villain or living some kind of adventure-filled life. She wasn’t going to stick to her new ‘roller derby’ gig. She wasn’t out to live up to anyone’s expectations. This is just the story about a slightly off-kilter lady and her best friend playing with a bunch of animals, and it’s wickedly fun. This might actually be the best way to treat a Harley Quinn solo comic. She’s not morosely tragic over the Joker. She’s not tortured or driven by any sort of angst. She’s fun, friendly and just enough of a bad girl to cause a little entertaining trouble. Who wouldn’t love to break out a bunch of animals from the pound and then snuggle with the giant pile of them? And who else could pull it off but Harley Quinn?

I like sexy pandering as much as the next comic fan

And the art by Hardin definitely improves with this second issue. Like Noto on Black widow, he doesn’t really use clearly defined dark lines, letting the colors melt into each other a bit more than normal. It’s a nice balance of realistic and cartoony as Harley bops along from one shenanigan to the next. She’s sexy, but not creepily so (at least not yet). And the Harley/Ivy friendship (relationship?) is refreshingly sweet and cheerful. DC doesn’t do ‘happy’ very much these days, but Harley Quinn looks to have it coming out the wazoo.

Origin II #2

Origin II #2
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Adam Kubert

There’s a problem already brewing with Origin II, but it’s going to be hard to explain. It’s a problem inherent in any retcon: how do you introduce important characters/events into someone’s past, even though they’ve clearly never mentioned them before? The first Origin got away with it because Wolverine losing his memory of those events was part of the story. But now that the cast of Origin II is expanding to fit in more Marvel characters, the retconning is going to get a little more awkward.

Word has spread of the wild man in the forest, and two groups arrive in town to begin their search. One is Dr. Nathaniel Essex, tracking his dead polar bear. His Marauders use gas to flush Logan out, but Essex has no luck catching him. The second group has expert tracker Victor Creed helping them out, and Creed leads them right to Logan’s cave. The woman in the group, Clara, is good with animals, and she calms Logan’s savage heart, but Creed is there to smack him around a little (upsetting Clara). Then it turns out this group is actually from a circus, and now they’ve captured their own “clawed man of the woods” for their next show.

Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.

So that was the first ever meeting/punch between Wolverine and Sabretooth? It was a little anticlimactic, though I like Creed’s place in the world. He’s not yet the serial killing psychopath, but he’s definitely already an asshole. But the problem is that Gillen has introduced a woman named Clara who is clearly going to play an important role in the lives of Creed and Logan in this story. Heck, Sabretooth hits Wolverine for the very first time because he thought Wolverine was ‘making eyes’ at Clara. So here we have a woman who will, I’m assuming, play an important role in the start of rivalry between Wolverine and Sabretooth…yet neither of them will ever mention her or think about her again? Such is the problem with expanding on Origin. And while it’s not really a dealbreaker, I suppose, it’s just going to make going forward a little awkward.

Other than that, I wasn’t too impressed with this comic. I don’t like the way Mister Sinister is being inserted into Wolverine’s early years. He just doesn’t fit. And the surprise ending that Wolverine was a prisoner in a circus is just too cliche. Gillen couldn’t have come up with anything else better than putting the wild man into a circus? Also, it just kind of bothered me how many people/groups showed up to try and find/catch the wild man in the woods. So a polar bear was cut weird, so what? So far, Origin II isn’t saying anything new or interesting about Wolverine or his early years, so what’s the point?

Wolverine and the X-Men #40

Wolverine and the X-Men #40
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Pepe Larraz

The next issue of Wolverine and the X-Men is Jason Aaron’s last, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that before he leaves, he wants to take one last look at everything he’s created. That’s why most of this issue and the last one were an extended tour of the Jean Grey School and the students involved. And that’s fine. But for an X-Men fan like me, the real meat of this issue is, at long last, a truthful and meaningful conversation between Cyclops and Wolverine that finally starts wading into the troubled waters of what those two are doing to the team as a whole. It has been a long time coming, and it is just as beautiful as I could have hoped.

The X-Students confront Joseph and Squidface, and after sending them on another extended tour of the grounds, they all finally erupt into a fight. But Joseph has fallen in love with the school, and he turns on his sister to keep her from hurting anyone. Then he sadly asks Quentin Quire to erase their minds so that they don’t have anything to bring back to their SHIELD handlers.

Elsewhere, Cyclops and Wolverine have survived their battle with the Sentinels, and like the old war horses they are, they put aside their differences to help each other recover. They find a hidden beer supply deeper in the facility, and the two of them take a load off – but it isn’t long before Cyclops brings up the elephant in the room: they have been at each other’s throats since the Schism, and it has only served to split the X-Men further and further apart.

The two begin to hash out their problems, like why everyone has turned on Cyclops as the Dark Phoenix when they stood by Jean as the Dark Phoenix. But also how Cyclops’ new attitude is hurting the X-Men, while turning him more and more into Wolverine, which Wolverine wouldn’t wish on anybody. Wolverine tells Cyclops that he’s become too headstrong, too angry and too scary for his or anyone’s good. They need the old noble Cyclops back, the one Jean fell in love with.

Cyclops thinks it over for a moment, and then shares another beer with Wolverine, both of them toasting to the memory of Jean Grey.

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

I have been a die-hard Cyclops supporter since the Schism, and I’m not about to change now…but I will admit that my hard heart has been softened just a little from Wolverine’s speech. Considering he’s the character with his name in the title, the argument between the two characters is a little one-sided, but Wolverine doesn’t come away as a perfect angel either. Still, I wish Cyclops was a little less whiny. But other than that, this was exactly the kind of scene I’ve wanted to read for years, and Aaron does not let me down. The Schism and the renegade nature of Cyclops’ Uncanny X-Men has been my absolute favorite storyline in mainstream comics over the past few years, and I am thrilled to finally see someone start to tackle the issues at stake in an honest, reasonable way.

Cyclops is not Magneto to Wolverine’s Professor X. He’s not a villain. But he’s not the same man or hero he used to be, and Wolverine recognizes that. And this isn’t just Wolverine hating Cyclops the way he would hate Sabretooth or Mystique. Wolverine wants Cyclops to succeed, but he thinks Cyclops is on a downward spiral that’s going to take everyone out. Wolverine already knows his own life story isn’t going to have a happy ending, but he doesn’t want that kind of future for Cyclops. It’s a complex, emotional frenemyship, and I find it very fun to read. So this issue just speaks to everything I’ve loved about the X-Men for the past few years.

But not the underage Jean that’s now hanging around

The rest of the issue, with the X-students, was pretty much just fluff. And a little cheesy. But I’m willing to let Aaron revel in his creativity a little bit before saying goodbye.

Wonder Woman #27

Wonder Woman #27
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Cliff Chiang

What else is there to say about Wonder Woman? It remains one of DC’s best comic books in the New 52, and I’m just glad DC is still willing to let Azzarello and Chiang keep telling their story all these issues later. I never know where the story is going or what we’ll see next, and every new chapter keeps me just as riveted as the last.

Wonder Woman and Hermes begin their search for Zola with a quick stop at Paradise Island, so that Wonder Woman can have a chat with her statue mom. Then they head to Siberia, where Wonder Woman enlists the help of Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt. Elsewhere, Zola is still hanging out with Dio in Provence, until he starts to reveal his true nature by turning a bunch of partying young people into pigs. Also elsewhere, Apollo is still taunting and torturing the First Born, but the prisoner manages to break his shackles and attack the new King of the Gods. Quadruple elsewhere, Cassandra is still searching for the the First Born, but she needs a god’s help to get to Olympus. She recruits some kind of man-minotaur (Manotaur?) and arrives in Provence to track Dio, only for Zola to find them while running through the woods.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

If I had one complaint about Wonder Woman, and I suppose I’m entitled to at least one, it’s that Wonder Woman herself is sometimes lost in the shuffle of so many gods. She’s always been at the forefront of the series, but I can’t say as how Azzarello has really explored her as a person. Sure she’s strong, noble and steadfast, but we’ve rarely seen her just relaxing or enjoying her day. She’s always rushing from one emergency to the next, while the gods around her provide all the drama. I guess I’d just like to see more of Diana the person.

But until then, I’ll keep enjoying issues like this one, which race the plot forward in weird and wild ways. That Zola ran off is a bit of a stretch, and feels like a filler plot, at least it gives Wonder Woman the opportunity to do some cool things. She talks to her mother, bonds a little with Hermes and confronts Atremis with all her courage. Everyone else is, likewise, having wacky adventures, whether it’s Zola in the clutches of Dio, Hera struggling to find herself or Apollo tussling with the First Born.

I only wish Orion was back. He’s my favorite.

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 January 25, 2014, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, X-Men and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Black Widow was great. I like the moral ambiguity. “Your brother was a murderer. I’m a killer.” THat really gets across how grey the world she lives in is. I’m still hoping she adopts Liho.

    FF was great. As usual. Scott Lang beat the crap out of Doom, and that’s pretty neat.

    Hawkeye was great. And how perfectly Hawkeye was it that #16 came out before #15? It’s a series about a pair of screw-ups. Clint screws up because his apathy means he doesn’t do what he should. Kate screws up because her enthusiasm gets her into stuff she doesn’t have the experience to handle. So Clint’s issue is delayed for not being ready, so Kate’s issue jumps the gun because it’s just so damned eager to get out there and do its thing. Marvel literally could not have planned it better if they’d tried.

    Origin II was OK. Not as good as the first issue. But still pretty OK.

    WatXM had one decent story and one crap story. The part in the school was as stupid and shitty as everything else in this series. When Aaron focuses on the students, it’s always a frustrating pain in the ass. And considering that was the whole point of the series, that’s a problem. The Scott/Wolveriner stuff was OK, but I wish he hadn’t put it in. This is the sort of thing you put to lead to Scott being redeemed, and it’s nowhere near time for that yet. Wolverine should hate what Scott’s doing. Even if he stops hating Scott for Xavier’s death, he should still hate Scott for his aggressive posturing to the world.

    • Cyclops was right! Pax Utopia! Heh. Cyclops doesn’t need Wolverine’s approval.Although now that I’ve been thinking about it, Marvel’s going to ruin the whole damn thing by turning Wolverine into some kind of pseudo-super-villain in some upcoming story. So both he and Cyclops will be renegades. This was probably the last time Wolverine would have any moral high ground.

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