Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 11/8/14

Welcome to my vacation, hencharinos! I get two weeks off a year, and right now I’m at the start of my second, luxuriating at home with zero responsibilities and 100 relaxation points. It’s great! I’m going to kick up my feet, read some good comics, play some video games and hopefully see Big Hero Six before too long. I hear it’s great!

Comics were a little light this week for some reason, and very DC heavy. We’ve got new issues of Gotham Academy and Axis, the latter of which is getting a little better. And Grayson is great and wins Comic Book of the Week!

Dick Grayson: Comics’ Mancake

You can also check out my review of Amazing Spider-Man #9 over at Word of the Nerd. It’s an excellent start to Spider-Verse proper, and I’m really looking forward to that story now.

Comic Reviews: Axis #4, Batman Eternal #31, Gotham Academy #2, and Grayson #4.

Axis #4

Axis #4
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu

Axis remains a weird little duck, but at least the major storyline has started moving forward. I don’t think Remender is going to be able to shake the fact that the beginning of this story was way, way too rushed, and he didn’t cover nearly enough ground as needed at the start of the story. Even his year writing Uncanny Avengers doesn’t feel like enough build-up for what he tried to deliver in the first three issues. But pushing that gripe aside, Axis looks like it could be a fun little stand alone superhero story.

The Inversion Spell from last issue has worked its magic, and now the heroes and villains are switching places. But it’s not a 1-to-1 transference, it’s more like the bad guys are feeling more altruistic, and the good guys are feeling more like evil bastards. Case in point, Carnage swings through the streets of New York and saves a family being held hostage by a super-villain. And the X-Men put aside their schism to stand together, because they now see that trying to unite humans and mutants was never going to work. They’ve also got the adult Genesis (Apocalypse) on their side, back to wearing his classic armor (complete with the letter ‘A’ belt buckle).

Elsewhere, Sam Wilson has turned into a real heartless jerk as leader of the Avengers. When Fury Jr. and Maria Hill ask him to turn over the Red Skull to SHIELD, Sam tells them to get bent and socks Fury Jr. right in the face! Then once he’s back with the rest of the evil Avengers, they decide that the best course of action will be to just murder the Red Skull. Jarvis tries to stand in their way, but they knock him aside…which makes Hulk sad, which causes him to transform into Kluh, the Hulk’s Hulk, a bigger, meaner, more evil version of the big guy. Kluh busts free of the tower to go on a rampage.

The Avengers decide to let Kluh do his thing while they go ahead and kill Red Skull, but when they open the cell, the Skull is gone!

Oh and also, evil Tony Stark has moved to San Francisco, where he offers Extremis for free to people via a smart phone app. He also gladly takes a sip of alcohol.

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

Sometimes it’s really hard to get over how quickly this story is moving. The scene with the X-Men is all manner of awkward. Storm holds a big assembly for the Jean Grey School and announces an end to the Schism, seemingly reuniting her team with Cyclops’, all while an adult Evan stands triumphantly on stage. Considering how closely I’m following Cyclops’ story these days, in the Brian Michael Bendis-driven X-Men comics, this reconciliation really comes out of left field with little to no warning in Axis itself. Remender hasn’t earned moments like this one yet in Axis. Likewise, Evan turning into an adult, evil Apocalypse. Evan has had too much story so far to just suddenly be an evil Apocalypse again.

But really, this is one of those stories where you just need to put your pre-conceived notions aside and let Remender do his thing. This is a big story where the villains start acting like heroes and the heroes start acting like villains. Embrace that idea and just run with it, and you’ve got a pretty cool (if fairly obvious) story. The Avengers are acting like jerks, and guys like Jarvis and the Hulk are struggling to accept it. Tony Stark and Carnage are on the loose, and those who weren’t effected by the Inversion Spell are starting to figure out that something weird is going on. It’s a simple concept, and hopefully it’ll have an entertaining resolution.

Also, Kluh is really, really dumb, and again, gets little to no build-up or embellishment. He just shows up randomly in all of his evil glory.

Batman Eternal #31

Batman Eternal #31
Writers: Ray Fawkes, James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder
Artist: Fernando Pasarin

Since Batman Eternal itself is all over the place, I hope it makes sense that my reviews are all over the place as well. I tend to judge things on an issue-by-issue basis, with only a little consideration given to the series as a whole. A few weeks ago, Batman Eternal went completely off the rails and I delivered a scathing, Caps Lock-laden tirade about just how bad this story was.

Now we’ll switch gears a bit, because this might just be the coolest issue of Batman Eternal yet! It helps, once again, that the writers have focus, narrowing down the story to a couple of pretty awesome moments that actually come from the characters themselves.

All Hell has broken loose at the ruins of Arkham Asylum, with inmates fleeing and fighting the cops and rescue personnel who have responded to the scene. Batman easily defeats the Joker’s Daughter and climbs out of the rubble to start kicking inmate ass! He takes out Clayface, Zasz and Mr. Freeze like the badass caped crusader he is! Meanwhile, Julia Pennyworth is getting a little overwhelmed at all of her new duties in the Batcave, which include keeping track of the inmates, searching the city for Hush and Riddler, and trying to track down her father, who Batman has finally realized was transferred out of the hospital. Batman talks Julia through each task, even as he’s kicking butt.

Meanwhile, Alfred is rescued from the rubble by Bane, of all people, who recognizes that Alfred is ex-military and decides that Alfred could be an asset as they try to climb out of the Arkham catacombs. The two of them fight their way through a bunch of demons, developing something of a grudging respect for one another, and it’s exactly as awesome as it sounds. Bane comes to trust Alfred and lets him lead the way through the catacombs. Alfred leads him straight to a secret Bat-cache, where he uses the defenses to take out Bane with ease. Alfred then gets on the comms to let everyone know he’s fine and in control. And it’s exactly as awesome as it sounds.

Elsewhere, Hush finds Spoiler and is ready to kill her, but Julia spots him on her security feeds and gives Batman the coordinates!

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

As insane as it was to get Alfred transferred to Arkham Asylum in the first place, Fawkes and company deliver the absolute best possible result. There is just something ridiculously cool about Alfred forced to team up with Bane in some underground catacomb, and the two of them fighting back-to-back in order to survive. I don’t care for this ‘arrogant bruiser’ version of Bane in the New 52, but their scenes together are absolutely amazing – especially the end, when old Alfred not only effortlessly gets the upperhand on Bane, but single-handedly reaches the mini-Batcave in Arkham and gets back into the game.

So there it is: the coolest moment in Batman Eternal belongs to Alfred the Butler.

Why are movie and TV Alfred never this cool?

The rest of the issue wasn’t so bad either. I still maintain that Batman is merely a side player in Batman Eternal, but he got a few great moments in this issue as he just went to town on Mr. Freeze and the other bad guys. And the scene where he coached Julia through the overwhelming responsibility of the Batcave was kind of neat. It definitely helps that I really like Pasarin on art. He’s got a realistic Bryan Hitch style that I really dig, seeing as how Hitch is one of my all-time favorite comic book artists. Pasarin nails the detail and grit that goes into the collapsed mess that is Arkham Asylum, as well as the ass-kickery of Batman.

Gotham Academy #2

Gotham Academy #2
Writers: Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher
Artist: Karl Kerschel

As far as I’m concerned, DC Comics’ attempts to adorabilize their comics output has been a big success so far. I loved Batgirl #35, and I think Gotham Academy, with its young, adorable cast, is off to a good start. Cloonan and Fletcher are doing a great job with world-building and character development, while Kerschel keeps the visuals unique and compelling.

Though the series is not without some odd missteps, as evident in this second issue.

Olive Silverlock is still having a hard time fitting in at her second year at Gotham Academy. She’s too shy to confront her ex-boyfriend, everybody seems to be getting on her nerves, and she can’t seem to remember what momentous occasion happened over this past summer, possibly something that’s connected to her mother. To make matters worse, her history teacher, Professor MacPherson, assigns Olive to work with her worst enemy, Pomeline Fritch, on their history report together. The pair of them head to the library and look up The Diary of Millie Jane Cobblepot, but the copy they find in the library has a secret map hand-drawn inside! Pomeline quickly grabs the book and walks off, telling Olive to mind her own business.

Later that night, Olive and Maps spy some hooded figures sneaking around campus after hours. So they sneak outside to follow them, heading towards the old cemetery, which was on the hand-drawn map. Olive and Maps head down into an old Cobblepot family crypt (fulfilling all of Maps’ dungeon-looting dreams), where they find three figures dressed in ceremonial bat robes and masks, chanting over the book. Olive recognizes one of them as Pom and confronts them, snatching the book. Pom tries to grab it back, but some candles tipped over, and now the fire is swirling around Olive. She glares at them and declares, “You have no idea who you’re dealing with!”

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

I’m all for mystery, but the overwhelming mystery of Olive’s summer and mother really weigh down this issue. Rather than let that stuff simmer under the surface as Olive goes about her adventure, those mysteries are mentioned in almost every scene, and every single character talks about it as if they know everything there is to know about the subject, but we readers are left in the dark. It just gets really frustrating. If those mysteries are going to be such a huge part of the book, there’s no reason to keep them hidden from the audience when every other characters seems to already know the truth. At that point, it’s not a mystery to be solved, it’s just the writers keeping the truth from the reader for no good reason.

I’m sure they have a reason, probably something about building the mystery, but like I said, it comes off as more suffocating than mysterious.

But it’s just a minor gripe. The rest of the issue was a blast. Cloonan and Fletcher are doing a great job fleshing out the worth of Gotham Academy and filling this series with fascinating characters, from a new Bookworm to the adorably geeky Maps.

Maps is now in the running for Best Sidekick of the Year

That’s the kind of spirit I like to see in a new character! Kerschel’s art is also something else. The backgrounds are wickedly dark and spooky, but the characters themselves almost glow with cartoony brilliance. It’s an odd dichotomy that absolutely works for the series, giving Gotham Academy a grounded and unique look.

This book is off to a very good start. It’s original, and that’s rare in a superhero-dominated world like Gotham. I wish Cloonan and Fletcher wouldn’t try to toy with us readers so much, but that is easily forgiven in light of the joy one gets from reading Gotham Academy.

Grayson #4

Grayson #4
Writers: Tim Seeley and Tom King
Artist: Mikel Janin

I, for one, was skeptical about the plans to relaunch Dick Grayson as an international man of mystery. But all of that skepticism has been for naughty, because Grayson is a fun, well-crafted series. I still kind of think the overall premise is a bit flawed, but there’s no denying the skill in the execution.

Part of Spyral’s cover is that they are based at St. Hadrian’s Finishing School, which is a boarding school that trains young girls to be assassins and mercenaries. But teenage girls will be teenage girls, and after one of them spotted the hunky beefcake that is Dick Grayson on campus, a group of them sneak out to try and get a closer look. Dick, meanwhile, is making another encrypted call to Batman, where they discover that the leader of Spyral – Mr. Minos – is so careful about protecting his identity that he has nanobots following him around eating all of the dead skin and hair follicles that fall off his body. Which means that Dick might be covered in murderous nanobots himself! But the call is interrupted when Dick hears someone sneaking around outside his window. He goes out to check and soon finds himself leading a quartet of horny school girls on a merry chase around campus!

The fun is interrupted by Helena Bertinelli, a matron at the school, who rats out Dick and the girls to Mr. Minos. As punishment for letting the girls see him on campus, Dick must start teaching acrobatics classes at the school, and will be introduced under the cover identity of a gay, French gymnast.

Meanwhile, Midnighter is still investigating the stolen organs. And when Helena went to investigate the source of the encrypted call, she discovered a series of mini-cameras set up around the school by one of the girls, thereby unknowingly throwing herself off the scent of Dick Grayson’s double-cross – though by the end of the issue, she invites Dick to chase her around campus, and that’s not a euphemism.

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

This was just a really fun comic. The way Dick discovers those nanobots (by annoying Helena so much that she knocks a candy sucker out of his mouth onto the floor) was hilarious, as was Batman saying the word ‘sucker’. The conversations between the two heroes are still full of respect and deep trust, which I love. And then the idea that Dick Grayson just feels like showing off for a bunch of college girls is a lot of fun! The girls themselves are given a lot of personality in only a few pages, and their rooftop romp is just the writers and artist showing off in the best way possible.

Speaking of maps…

Not much happened in the spy world in Grayson #4, and I’m fine with that. The strength of this book is Dick Grayson, not in whatever random spy adventures Seeley can think up next. So seeing Dick have fun with those girls, get teasingly reprimanded by Minos, and then flirting with Helena, is exactly what this series needs to stand out. The spy elements are the weakest part of the book because there’s no real established understanding of Spyral’s role in the larger DC Universe. There are pretty much an unlimited number of spy agencies at DC, all of whom fill roughly the same roles. So why is Spyral more important than say Checkmate? Or N.O.W.H.E.R.E.? It’s not, which is why Dick Grayson’s latest spy mission is only given a page or two of attention.

Dick Grayson himself is the heart and soul of Grasyon, and Seeley is absolutely killing it with his characterization.

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 November 8, 2014, in Avengers, Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, X-Men and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Axis was better than I’d expected. Usually, event titles collapse at this point. Axis is keeping much the same quality. And it’s not bad. Not as grim and dark’n’gritty as I’m used to from Remender. Kluh, for all that it’s a stupid concept, actually kinda worked for me, because he reminds me of the Gray Hulk from Peter David’s classic Incredible Hulk run.

  2. It would be pretty funny if instead of Spider-verse, Marvel called their big event ‘Spider-Crisis on Infinite Earths’.

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