Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 1/3/2015

Holy New Year, comic book fans! Not only were there five Wednesdays in December, but the last one fell on New Year’s Eve, which apparently means that both DC and Marvel decided that nobody was going to bother buying comics. Both companies released less than a handful of comics this week, knocking my review pile down to a total of two comics!

The first is the latest issue of Batman Eternal, because DC decided to keep to that weekly schedule of theirs. It’s not as bad as previous issues, but it’s still not the breakthrough we’re all hoping for here at the end. Marvel released the first issue of their new SHIELD series, introducing characters from the TV show into the comic book Marvel Universe. It’s actually very good, and wins Comic Book of the Week with ease!

Since it’s such a slow week, I also decided to finally read and review The Valiant #1 from a few weeks ago. Some of you have no doubt heard of Valiant Comics. It’s always been in the back of my mind, and someone recently recommended to me that I start picking up some of their comics. I’m always trying to stretch beyond Marvel and DC, so why not?

But was it worth the cost? Read on!

Comic Reviews: Batman Eternal #39, SHIELD #1 and The Valiant #1.

Batman Eternal #39

Batman Eternal #39
Writers: Ray Fawkes, James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder
Artist: Felix Ruiz

By all accounts, I should have given up on Batman Eternal a long time ago. I don’t like it, it doesn’t live up to the hopes I had for the series, and it’s just a bargain basement Batman comic. But hopefully there is something to say for dedication. The latest issue has some moderately better art, and seems to be promising that they’ve reached the climax, but we’ll see.

Batman follows the Riddler’s clues to an old casino hotel in the Pineskills, where he finds the Riddler meditating. Nigma explains that he’s been up here the whole time and is not the mastermind behind Batman Eternal. Riddler knows who it is, but he won’t tell Batman, nor will he help Batman stop whoever it is. Though he does cause an avalanche.

Meanwhile, said mastermind is busy freeing all of the villains from last issue and teaming them up with Catwoman and Cluemaster’s gang. He stays in the shadows as he arms them all with Batman’s stolen tech.

Also meanwhile, Vicki Vale and her boss at the Gotham Gazette start putting the pieces together to run a story connecting everything, but then a gunman shows up at the newsroom and shoots them both! I’m not sure if we’re supposed to recognize him.

Comic Rating: 4/10 – Pretty Bad.

Want a simple example of why I don’t think this story is very well constructed? The previous two issues were about Batman capturing the escaped Arkham villains, Mr. Freeze, Clayface, Scarecrow and a few others. The story involved Catwoman setting up those villains to be caught. Fine. But at the very start of this issue, those villains escape custody in the most obvious way possible (did no one think that a prison convoy carrying all those villains together would be a huge target?). They are freed as part of the mastermind’s plan, who then immediately teams them up with Catwoman.

So what was the point of the previous two issues? Why didn’t the mastermind swoop in earlier to scoop up those villains when they were just hanging out in abandoned buildings? And if he (or she) was going to employ Catwoman too, why let Catwoman trick those villains into getting caught? This mastermind is clearly someone who is incredibly smart and way ahead of the game, so why let the previous two terrible issues happen at all?

Because this is Batman Eternal, that’s why.

If only it was as cool as this out-of-context panel

This was another issue where it feels like Batman himself is only a secondary consideration to the overall plot. He spends the issue on a wild goose chase butting heads with the Riddler, who gets to be the awesome one who says he ignored the invitation to join the mastermind. Riddler spends the issue talking in circles and riddles, expecting Batman and the reader to figure it out. Sorry, that’s not my forte. And it just keeps Batman distracted while the still-unseen mastermind gathers up all of the villains for the big finale.

There’s a lot of talk in this issue about how Gotham is falling apart, and how Batman is at the end of his rope, but I never feel any of it. Batman Eternal is too obsessed with the machinations of the mastermind to spend any time actually dwelling on the societal and personal issues that it says are hampering our heroes. Batman never takes a moment to step back from being Batman. He’s constantly Batman and constantly responding to the next step in the plot, so no time is spent showing him getting tired or getting pushing into a corner. Maybe if we had consistent art, the artist could show how ragged he’s apparently looking these days. But every new artist just draws their best Batman.

Batman Eternal is a tell, don’t show, kind of book.

At least artist Felix Ruiz is an improvement over the past two issues. He’s got a sketchy, edgy style that I like, and that fits Batman well.


Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Carlos Pacheco

Mixing characters and continuity between the comics and their adaptations is a long-standing tradition at this point, and I’m usually perfectly fine with it. Sometimes it might rub me the wrong way – like giving Nick Fury a random black son who also happens to be named Nick Fury – and sometimes I’m all in favor of the change – like adding Harley Quinn or Renee Montoya to the Batman canon.

In that vein, here comes the new SHIELD, written by Mark Waid and incorporating characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, most notably from the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson has been part of the comic book universe for a few years, but now he’s getting a starring role, and a few of his TV buddies are coming along for the ride.

Agent Phil Coulson has just been promoted to SHIELD Special Ops Supreme Commander, and on his first day, multiple armies of various Norse monsters and demons invade the Earth. The Avengers, X-Men and every heavy hitter in the world goes out to the front lines to fight the monsters, while Coulson and his TV show team stay behind-the-scenes to figure out what’s really going on. They zero in on terrorist leader Abu Mussan, who recently came into possession of a magical sword and is tearing things up in the Middle East. It seems that some mysterious dark force attacked Heimdall, guardian of the Bifrost Bridge, shattering the bridge and casting Heimdall to Earth. It’s Heimdall’s sword that Mussan is using, so Coulson calls in two sword experts to deal with him: Black Knight and Valkyrie.

But when the heroes give Heimdall back his sword, it’s revealed that Heimdall is now possessed by that mysterious dark force, and now he begins to wreak havoc! With some quick thinking, and a team-up with the Vision, Coulson removes the black crystal shard embedded in Heimdall’s chest, freeing him of the dark force. Heimdall then sends all the bad guys back to their proper realms.

Afterwards, back at HQ, Coulson and his team get to work investigating the black crystal and its mysterious origins.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

At first, I thought I was going to be bothered by Coulson’s obvious Mary Sue qualities. He’s presented as the ultimate one-man superhero encyclopedia, someone who knows everything about everyone, to the point that he gets invited to the Thing’s classic poker games and always wins big because he knows the heroes’ tells. Seriously, this is one of the most wincingly painful comic book panels I’ve ever read.

Never recreate this scene for the movies!

I mean, come on! Not only are they retconning Coulson into these poker games, but they’re saying he’s just so awesome that he not only wins big, but established heroes like Captain Marvel are in awe at his prowess. Don’t make me kvetch!

Fortunately, the issue gets better from there, and I actually kind of like what we’re presented with in SHIELD. As a superhero aficionado, Coulson is positioned as the ultimate field leader, capable of calling on any superhero he might need to solve any task, as evidenced by Coulson recruiting Black Knight and Valkyrie for their sword-fighting abilities. If SHIELD is all about Coulson and his team going on crazy adventures and bringing along whatever heroes or villains they need for each individual adventure, then consider me on board! He could call upon Stingray if they had an underwater adventure, or Nova if they were going into outer space, or Cypher if they needed computer help. The possibilities are endless!

Valkyrie is just jealous

And with Mark Waid at the helm, the variety and craziness of the adventures will never be in question. This issue alone is all about a crazed Heimdall falling to Earth, a terrorist madman capturing his sword, and all of the forces of the Nine Realms invading Midgard at once! Coulson and his team can literally do anything and go anywhere, largely freed from the confines of continuity. I really like the potential in play.

But the issue isn’t perfect. Like I said, Coulson’s Mary Sue qualities rub me the wrong way, but I’m willing to cut him some slack when the issues are this much fun (seriously, if Coulson recruits Stingray in a future issue, then all is forgiven). Coulson’s team also don’t have much to do. Fitz, Simmons and Agent May are all brought in from the TV show, but none of them do anything to warrant their inclusion. They’re all name-checked, but there’s no point to any of them, at least not yet. Maybe Waid will expand upon their roles in this series in future issues, but SHIELD #1 is all about Coulson.

The art is also surprisingly lacking, considering the importance of this series. Pacheco does a great job with the big, bombastic battle scenes.

This would have made a good comic too

But he seems to fall apart with the close up shots and faces. The detail just seems to drop out. I suppose that’s both good and bad. On the one hand, everybody likes detail in their comic book art. On the other hand, I don’t care for actor-accurate faces in my comic adaptations. I’d rather Pacheco found a way to make Fitz, Simmons and May look unique without resorting to just drawing the actors. But maybe that’s just me.

SHIELD #1 gets off to a very good start. The potential for the series is incredible, and I hope I’m not misjudging Waid’s intentions for the series going forward. Waid starts off smartly with a done-in-one adventure that not only includes awesome character moments and incredible action, but also kicks off a solid ongoing mystery for the series. SHIELD #1 is a fantastic example of how to kick off a new comic book series.

The Valiant #1

The Valiant #1
Writers: Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt
Artist: Paolo Rivera

I don’t know a whole heck of a lot about Valiant Comics. I know of them, and I know of their main characters, but I’m clueless beyond that. So with Valiant trying to revive their line with some new focus, that makes me the perfect test case to read their comics. Are they doing a good job appealing to new readers? That’s what I’m going to find out, to the best of my abilities!

Gilad is the Eternal Warrior, an immortal badass who has been tasked with protecting an ancient line of geomancers. But time and time again, throughout the ages, Gilad fails at his task, and the same evil monster always shows up to kill the next generation’s geomancer. Now it’s the present day, and the new geomancer is Kay McHenry, a bubbly city girl and PR rep who isn’t ready to inherit the power to protect the Earth. But the job is hers, and the evil monster is coming, so it’s going to be up to Gilad to gather all of the Valiant heroes – including X-O Manowar and Bloodshot – to protect her.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

Valiant is off to a good start with this big character revival. As someone who has never read a Valiant comic in his life, I found the first issue of The Valiant to be an easy enough read, and very easy to follow. There are a few hiccups, but overall, this is a solid start to what could be good comics. They answer and explain a lot of things – some more bluntly than others – but they also leave a lot of mysteries on the table, for good or ill.

For example, we don’t know how Gilad is an immortal, why he has to defend the geomancers or what the geomancers even are. All we see of the geomancers are them getting killed by the evil monster. So when Kay inherits the role (and the powers), I’m not quite sure what she’s supposed to do or why she’s important. If the evil monster succeeds in killing all the geomancers throughout history, and the world hasn’t blown up as a result, then what’s the problem? Why are they so important? I would have liked that to be explained.

Whereas Bloodshot, the most bluntly obvious character, gets his backstory exposited to an almost painful degree. Bloodshot is a killing machine warrior in the vein of Wolverine, and The Valiant #1 contains a brief sequence where he fights some giant robots in the jungle while on a mission for MI:6. That should be plenty of backstory, but Bloodshot is in constant communication with his handler, and together they go over his entire background in excruciating detail.

Tell me more…not!

I appreciate getting to know Bloodshot, but there’s a line where exposition via dialogue becomes painful, and The Valiant not only crosses the line, they blow it up.

Of course, the issue also ends with mini-bios for all of the main characters, so the exposition isn’t just terrible, it’s redundant. Bloodshot is not that complicated a character.

Fortunately, everything with Gilad is very well done. The first half of the issue is spent flashing around time, with Gilad living with various communities, dressed in historic garb. The reader really gets into his mindset at how this ancient battle is weighing him down, and how his responsibility is a burden to him. The art by Rivera looks great in the historic flashbacks. So it’s a great introduction to Gilad, but then he pretty much disappears from the second half of the book when all of the other characters are introduced. That was only slightly jarring.

The Valiant #1 is a good start to this new character revival. It does a good job introducing the various characters, some better than others, while presenting a solid challenge for our heroes to face. The art is more than capable of keeping up with the expansive story, and I think I’ll definitely pick up more issues going forward.

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 3, 2015, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I thought SHIELD was OK. There was definitely a little too much shilling of Coulson going on. The story was a bit bland. At least Valkyrie was badass. Way better than her cameo in World, where she was written horribly out of character.

    • Way too much shilling. Coulson became popular in the movies because he had a low key, everyman quality to him. That doesn’t exist in the comics. Suddenly he’s every superhero’s best friend and just the awesomest guy.

      And yeah, I read those Avengers World issues too. I think everybody was out of character for that one.

  2. I thought SHIELD was OK. There was definitely a little too much shilling of Coulson going on. The story was a bit bland. At least Valkyrie was badass. Way better than her cameo in World, where she was written horribly out of character.

  3. I have no idea why I’m reading “Batman Eternal” either. It’s just so very, very bad. Vicky Vale and her editor can figure out the grand plan using nothing more than press clipping, but Bruce and all his computers can’t? He’s so desperate that he just wants the Riddler to tell him the answer? It’s like watching a football player beat up a math nerd to give him the answers to the test. Blech.

    • Jeez, you’re so right! I didn’t even make that connection! Batman is just flailing around, unable to put anything together. This comic just isn’t about Batman, it’s about how clever the creative team thinks it is in coming up with a grand scheme. I almost don’t even want to see who the Big Bad is in the end, because it’s probably just going to be someone the writers can pat themselves on the back for involving.

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