Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 1/17/15

Something is definitely wrong with me these days, henchies. I am definitely not living up to the ‘hench-sized’ decree in the title of this column! From last week to this one, it seems like I have a whole heck of a lot to talk about with comic books! I try to keep these reviews short and easily digestible, but sometimes when I get going, I really get going!

It helps that this week sees the debut of Star Wars #1. There’s definitely a lot to talk about with that comic! I was a little hesitant about diving in, but Marvel does not let me down. This is quality comics! Star Wars #1 captures Comic Book of the Week because it could be a pretty historic book.

If it was up to me, though, Captain Marvel would win because the newest issue is just that damn good! Captain Marvel #11 gets the first perfect score of the new year! Check the review to find out why! We’ve also got new issues of Batgirl and SHIELD, both of which deserve a lot of attention. And Batman Eternal finally brings us an issue focused on Red Robin and Harper Row, the only thing I still like about that comic.

Over at Word of the Nerd, you can check out my take on Amazing X-Men #15. Why does a comic like that still get published in the very crowded X-franchise? Find out in my review!

Comic Reviews: Batgirl #38, Batman Eternal #41, Captain Marvel #11, SHIELD #2, Silver Surfer #8 and Star Wars #1.

Batgirl #38

Batgirl #38
Writers: Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
Artists: Babs Tarr and Cameron Stewart

The honeymoon phase for the new Batgirl is over – for some more strongly than others – and now it’s time to see if Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr can produce a quality comic on a regular basis. I definitely think they’re up to the task, and this week’s new issue proves it. We know the characters, we know the concepts, and now the team begins telling bigger, more thematic stories about the Batgirl of Burnside.

Batgirl has become a minor celebrity in the Burnside neighborhood, and Barbara Gordon is more than ready to embrace that lifestyle. She poses for selfies and signs autographs between all the crime-fighting. After the hard life she’s led, she feels she deserves to have some fun. But there are at least two people who aren’t happy: Dinah, who gets into a huge fight with Babs over her new attitude and ends up moving out; and Liam, the cute police officer Barbara is dating, who has a serious hatred for costumed vigilantes, Batgirl in particular.

In the middle of all of this, Batgirl decides to set her sights on quasi-celebrity Jordan Barberi, a spoiled rich reality TV star who is popular in all the wrong ways in Burnside, and who recently shrugged off an arrest for illegal street racing, even though he put another person in the hospital. Batgirl tracks him down to a nightclub and Barberi challenges her to a race – one that ends with Batgirl taking out his car so that he crashes into a popular Burnside diner. Officer Liam is the first on the scene, and Batgirl has to use a smoke pellet to get away from him.

In the end, the Burnside social scene starts to turn against Batgirl for not only going after their beloved Barberi, but for also causing major property damage in Burnside. That’s got her pretty bummed. And Officer Liam seems to know an awful lot about Babs’ family, even though she hasn’t shared any information with him yet. They’re out to lunch at a diner, and when Liam steps away to use the bathroom, he leaves behind his cell phone and suddenly gets a call from someone pretending to be Barbara!

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

For the first time in this young series, Batgirl’s social impact is the main focus of the story instead of the latest super-villain. I think that’s definitely a solid idea, because this creative team really has a lot to say about how Batgirl impacts the community around her. That has always been a major theme of the Bat-books, i.e. Batman and Gotham City, and I like seeing it on this smaller, more personal scale. The team really brings Burnside to life in remarkable ways, and watching them play with social media is really neat. Keeping that a major part of Batgirl is a fun and very unique idea for comics!

The rest of the issue was just as strong, with a great car chase scene, but I have a few nitpicks. For one, they really push against some of the unspoken laws of superhero comics, like Officer Liam’s anger towards vigilantes and superhero property damage. These sorts of issues are usually just glossed over. That’s the unspoken bond between reader and character. But Liam points out that a previous villain, Riot Black, was able to get out of his charges because of Batgirl’s involvement in his arrest, and he has the option to sue the city. That’s not how this works. If every bad guy was able to avoid criminal charges just because superheroes were involved in their arrest, then this entire genre falls apart. Barbara tries to make a few weak arguments about how Batgirl helps people, but Liam (and by extension the writers) spout off all the obvious reasons why superheroes in the real world wouldn’t work.

Batgirl is not the least bit phased by this news

But this isn’t the real world. This is the DC Universe, where superheroes are a way of life, who frequently step in to help capture bad guys. Batman has been working with the GCPD for at least half a decade at this point, if not more. If all those criminals were able to avoid charges by playing the superhero defense, then none of this works. So it seems like a pretty silly and heavy idea to drop on this light-hearted Batgirl comic. Likewise, property damage is another issue that gets swept under the rug in superhero comics. It fits Burnside to have people complain that their favorite diner was destroyed, but since when do superheroes have to face that kind of ridicule?

If that’s something this creative team wants to change, that’s fine, but they need to realize that they’re asking us to undo some of the greatest suspensions of disbelief in the history of comics.

At least Babs Tarr continues to be utterly outstanding on this comic. Batgirl #38 still looks gorgeous, with characters popping off the page. Colorist Maris Wicks is a big draw too, filling this comic with more color than a box of crayons. Despite a few personal nitpicks, Batgirl is still forging ahead!

Batman Eternal #41

Batman Eternal #41
Writers: Kyle Higgins, James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder
Artist: Joe Quinones

I’m considering doing a list of all the things wrong with Batman Eternal, just so I can get it on the record why I don’t like this series (while it seems to be getting positive reviews elsewhere). One of the more minor complaints I have is how Batman Eternal handles the Bat-Family. This new issue turns its focus back on Red Robin and the gang, highlighting a very weird fact: there is no explanation for why the Bat-Family are only used sparingly.

For example, a few issues ago, Batman and Julia Pennyworth were in a race against time to visit all of the secret Bat-caches around the city to shut them down before Hush got his hands on the weaponry. That should have been an All Hands On Deck scenario, especially since the other Bat-Family members were likely spread out throughout Gotham, and already knew where they needed to go and what they needed to do. But Batman only brought Julia, who needed a map, needed instructions, and both of them started from the same location.

Then a few issues later, Batman called on Red Robin, Red Hood and Batgirl in order to stand on a rooftop and spook Jason Bard. This doesn’t add up!

Batman Eternal #41 also highlights another weird fact about this series: it has so many seemingly pointless and minor plot threads.

Red Robin and Harper Row’s investigation into the nanobots leads them to a warehouse in Gotham, where a bunch of mind-controlled kids are bringing stolen building materials in order to construct some sort of device. Red Robin recruits Red Hood and Batgirl to help charge in and take down the operation, only to discover that the Mad Hatter is in control, and the villain quickly takes over their minds. That leaves Harper Row to save the day, so she goes home and dons her Bluebird costume for the first time.

Also, Spoiler is kidnapped by another masked mercenary who claims he’s been hired to protect her.

Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.

Here’s the thing about Batman Eternal: when it actually focuses on one storyline, it’s not half-bad. That focus gives it clarity, and gives it a chance to actually tell a fairly entertaining story. Here’s another thing: I like Red Robin and Harper Row. So when Batman Eternal focuses on them, I’m a much happier camper. If Harper Row doesn’t get to be Robin, then being partners with Red Robin is an acceptable consolation prize, at least as far as I’m concerned.

If only the character drama wasn’t so paper thin in Batman Eternal. It’s fine, but these are some big moments in these characters lives, and I just wish we actually spent enough time with Red Robin and Harper Row to make her donning the Bluebird guise actually mean something. Instead, Red Robin just gives her a one-page speech about the responsibility of putting on a costume, and that’s it. Harper Row had so much potential when she was a candidate for the new Robin. But now she’s just going to be another random member of the Bat-Family, who gets used randomly and with little depth. The team of Red Robin, Red Hood and Batgirl is apparently the go-to group in the Bat-Family, but little has been done to really establish them as a worthwhile unit in any comic. They kind of just fit together because they’re made to do so.

Not like they don’t have their own comics with their own allies

And this nanobot storyline remains at the absolute bottom of the barrel as far as Batman Eternal is concerned. I’m sure there’s some grand unification theory that will tie everything together in the end, but 41 issues into this comic, it’s little more than a Z-plot at this point. The revelation that the Mad Hatter is behind it deserves little more than a shrug, and watching the various heroes get taken over by the mind-control programming just makes me think they should have had better defenses in place for just such a thing. Did they really think smashing through the front door was the best option?

Captain Marvel #11

Captain Marvel #11
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: David Lopez

Brace yourselves, because Captain Marvel #11 gets a perfect score. I think it’s only the third or fourth perfect score I’ve handed out since switching to a 10-point system. I don’t do it often. I like to reserve the perfect score for works that reach me on an emotional level, and this issue really kind of does, in a special, jolly sort of way.

Captain Marvel is back in New York for one day only, right on the verge of Christmas, and she decides to spend it in the hospital with her comatose friend Tracy, recanting stories of all her space adventures. Carol eventually nods off on the side of the bed, and when she wakes up, she finds herself in power-dampening hand-cuffs courtesy of arch-enemies Grace Valentine and June Covington! They knock her out and take her back to their secret base, where they hang Carol by her hand-cuffs to the ceiling, leaving her dangling. The plan is for Covington to steal Captain Marvel’s powers and for Valentine to blow stuff up. They’ve also kidnapped a grimy mall Santa to use as a guinea pig in case there are any side effects of the power transfer.

But no sooner does Carol wake up than she immediately starts trying to escape. There’s no time for monologuing or the usual ‘hero dangling from the ceiling’ cliches. Carol immediately starts swinging around, kicking stuff at the bad guys, and then building up enough momentum to unhook the cuffs from the ceiling. It’s as awesome as it sounds. Then the greatest thing ever happens…

The mall Santa turns out to be the real Santa Claus.

He just magically transforms back into his normal, jolly appearance, magics away his ropes and then magically frees Captain Marvel from the hand-cuffs. She then proceeds to beat up the bad guys.

Santa doesn’t get his hands dirty

No explanation is given. By all accounts, that really is just the real Santa Claus helping Captain Marvel out in the fight. It’s amazing. Carol then borrows his Santa suit and hat, flies around the city to collect all of Valentine’s bombs, and then sets them off outside Tracy’s hospital window so that she can see the awesome explosion.

Comic Rating: 10/10 – Fantastic!

I love the idea that Santa Claus is a real, actual person in these superhero universes. This isn’t the first time he’s made such an appearance, but it doesn’t happen often. This was on track to being a stellar issue already, but then DeConnick just zaps Santa into the mix and suddenly Captain Marvel #11 hits another level. I kept waiting for some kind of reveal or something, but it never came. He was just there, he helped out, and Carol treated him like the real and actual Santa Claus. It was marvelous.

I said I give perfect scores to comics that reach me on an emotional level, so what was the emotion here? Joy. So much joy.

Snappy banter like that brings me joy

This issue and the previous one have been glorious reminders why DeConnick’s original Captain Marvel run was so amazing: Carol just works better on Earth. Her adventures in space have been like forcing a square peg into a round hole. She belongs on Earth with her great supporting cast and Earthbound adventures that actually have meaning to her life. She needs to be able to fall asleep at the side of Tracy’s bed. She needs to give Kit a Christmas present. She needs to be in a place that actually matters to her and us. That is Captain Marvel‘s strength. That is why her first comic was so beloved. And that is why these space adventures are garbage. I would rather Carol fight Covington and Valentine for the rest of her series than ever go up against J’son again. Does anybody anywhere in the history of the world actually care one iota about freakin’ J’son?

Though personally, Covington and Valentine need to work on their super-villain identities. If you’re just gonna use your real name and dress in normal people clothes, it’s not very super-villainous at all.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #2

S.H.I.E.L.D. #2
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Humberto Ramos

Reading the second issue of the new SHIELD comic was a lot like reading the promotional comic about Captain Citrus. Not familiar with Captain Citrus? That’s strange. He’s one of the Avengers’ newest allies and Florida’s premiere superhero, so says the fine word of the Florida Department of Citrus. And I’d trust them with my life. You can read his adventure here.

Captain Citrus meets the Avengers in his promotional comic, and Captain America pats the guy on the shoulder and thinks he might have the right stuff to be a hero. Wowzers, you guys! Captain America! And that’s kind of how SHIELD #2 feels with their forced guest appearance by Ms. Marvel.

I expect to see him in Age of Ultron

Sigh, I just compared Ms. Marvel to Captain Citrus, that’s what this new issue has done to me!

A student at Kamala Khan’s high school is selling used super-villain weaponry, so Agent Jemma Simmons is sent in as a substitute teacher to find the kid – who also happens to sit right next to Kamala in class. But when the kid gets a text that one of his clandestine sales has gone wrong, he sets off the Wizard’s remote-controlled glove to cause a distraction. The glove was stored in his locker and reigns havoc around the school. In the confusion, the kid runs to his locker to get the rest of his stash, and Kamala runs out to get into costume.

Phil Coulson enters the school amid all the ruckus and takes the kid into custody, while Ms. Marvel disables the glove. But a bag of Arnim Zola’s doughboy material accidentally got mixed into the pizza in the school lunch, and soon the school is overrun by little pizza dough monsters. Ms. Marvel and the SHIELD agents work together to stop the monsters and save the day. Afterwards, agents Coulson and Simmons pat Ms. Marvel on the shoulder and tell her she might have the right stuff to be a hero.

There’s also a tiny bit of Jemma/Kamala bonding, because Jemma also has strict parents who want the best for her, but don’t know about her secret life as a SHIELD agent.

Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.

The crossover wasn’t as wincingly bad as I’d feared, but it’s pretty bad. The overall comic is enjoyable, but every forced interaction between SHIELD and Ms. Marvel is kind of painful. Waid follows all the cliches and tropes of an inexperienced, new flavor-of-the-week hero meeting an established superstar, right down to the farewell where the established hero gives a pep talk to the newbie.

She would be a big Agents of SHIELD ratings bump

How many times has Spider-Man delivered that speech to the latest flash-in-the-pan superhero?

Not that I’m calling Ms. Marvel flash-in-the-pan, because I love her comic. But we all know that she’s only one cancellation away from irrelevance. Once upon a time, the Runaways were being heralded as the next great comic book. Where are they now? Several of them were canon fodder in Avengers Arena/Undercover, and Victor Mancha was officially welcomed onto the D-List in last week’s Ant-Man #1. So yeah, I’m very worried about Ms. Marvel’s prospects, and issues like SHIELD #2 don’t fill me with confidence.

Especially since the comic uses several contrivances to get Ms. Marvel and SHIELD together. First of all, why is the guy selling illegal super-villain weaponry a high school kid? How did he even get his hands on those weapons? And why does he just happen to go to Kamala’s high school? Second, why even put Jemma into the school as a substitute teacher if Coulson had the authority to just walk into the school at any time and arrest the kid? While he was slapping the cuffs on him, Coulson told the kid that they’d been onto his racket for weeks, so they knew they had their man. Why not just barge into his classroom and make the arrest? Why the elaborate substitute teacher thing? It only lasted about half a page anyway before everything fell apart.

Just imagine all the paperwork

Third of all, apparently this kid tries to sell the doughboy formula by leaving it randomly lying in a bag marked ‘pizza dough’ at the school loading dock, without anybody watching it. And apparently when a janitor sees such a bag lying on the ground outside, he just picks it up and takes it to the cafeteria. And apparently when the lunch lady makes pizza, which I assume is a fairly common lunch room staple, she just goes ahead and uses the strange, never-before-seen dough bag instead of the usual government-supplied cardboard pizza dough.

I’m not going to say Waid phoned this issue in, but man, he doesn’t try very hard to make any of this make sense. Somebody somewhere must have told him to crossover Ms. Marvel in the second issue of SHIELD, and he just whipped off the first thing that came to mind. He still writes an entertaining comic, and Ramos is a champion at art, but SHIELD #2 was an exercise in painful cliches.

Silver Surfer #8

Silver Surfer #8
Writer: Dan Slott
Artists: Michael and Laura Allred

It’s time for Dan Slott and Mike Allred to get serious with their Silver Surfer comic. How serious? Planet-devouringly serious!

Just for fun, the Surfer lets Dawn Greenwood pilot his board, and Dawn sends them zigging and zagging through space until they crash on the planet Newhaven. It’s a nice enough planet, filled with tons of aliens, but everyone quickly discovers that the 6 billion denizens of Newhaven are the survivors of countless races and planets that were destroyed when the Silver Surfer served as herald of Galactus! Dawn learns the Surfer’s dark history for the first time, and she tells him to get lost while the people of Newhaven comfort her and fill her in on the Surfer’s backstory.

Meanwhile, out in space, Galactus has tracked down his wayward former herald!

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

It had never occurred to me that Dawn Greenwood did not know about the Silver Surfer’s time with Galactus. But now I’m glad she didn’t, because Slott seems ready to really deliver the drama in his next story arc. Silver Surfer has been a fun and frivolous comic so far, with wacky space adventures and heroics. So some good drama is overdue, and the Silver Surfer is loaded with it. The friendship between the Surfer and Dawn is strong enough that I really want to see them weather this storm. And a showdown with Galactus is always fun! But this issue was mostly all set-up, laying the ground work for what’s to come.

Star Wars #1

Star Wars #1
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: John Cassaday

I don’t remember when I was first introduced to Star Wars. I’m not even sure if I ever actually saw the original trilogy as a kid. All I know is that my family had a bad VHS copy of Return of the Jedi taped off the TV, which I would watch from time to time (and may explain why I like the Ewoks). I think my love for Star Wars really blossomed with my discovery and exploration of the Expanded Universe in high school. I know I quickly fell in love with the universe of possibilities and the myriad of interesting characters (and may explain why I’m a prequels apologist).

Suffice to say, the last characters I’m interested in seeing more stories about are Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia.

That’s not to say I don’t like the original trilogy, far from it. A friend and I marathoned the original movies this past summer (the first such marathon in my memory), and they are some really amazing films. I was blown away. But I’ve always felt that those movies were Luke, Han and Leia’s story. I don’t need to follow their continuing adventures.

But here we are at Star Wars #1, in a new Disney-based continuity, and I’d be a fool to skip this comic on principle. I’m glad I didn’t, because this is one hell of a comic book!

After the destruction of the first Death Star, the Empire is looking to work out a manufacturing deal on Tatooine, so Han, Luke and Leia impersonate emissaries from Jabba the Hutt to broker negotiations. Their real plan is to sabotage the droid-automated weapons factory. Han poses as the envoy without a disguise, putting his name and face out to the Empire. He banters with the Imperial officer while he gets a tour of the facility, and he’s told to wait in the meeting room until the negotiator arrives. Instead, Han, Luke and Leia (who were posing as his bodyguards), start kicking Imperial butt and break into the control room to set the place to explode.

While they’re working, the negotiator arrives at the facility – and it’s Darth Vader! Chewbacca is positioned nearby in a sniper’s nest, and he informs the team of the new arrival. Han tells Chewie to get out of there, but Leia orders Chewie to take the shot. Vader easily deflects the sniper fire, and the whole facility is alerted to the rebels’ presence.

Han and Leia set the facility to blow, and Luke rescues a few caged slaves (using some pretty gnarly lightsaber action to chop up the slavemaster). Han, Leia and the slaves head for their escape route, while Luke breaks away from them to go and confront Vader.

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

Star Wars #1 reads like  well-oiled droid. Clearly a lot of time, skill and effort went into making this the best comic debut it could be, and Aaron and Cassaday succeed on every level. The entire creative team is at the top of their game, delivering one damn fine comic. If this is the quality we can expect from Marvel and Star Wars together, then the franchise is in good hands.

Everything in this comic just gleams, constructed with near-perfect craftsmanship. The story hums along without any wasted moments. The action is cool and exciting. Each of the main movie characters, from Luke Skywalker to Chewbacca to C-3PO to Darth Vader, gets several moments to shine, and all of them feel real and natural. This is Star Wars shrunk down to the comic book page. Han Solo, especially, gets to stand out. Aaron gives him all the best lines.

I hope he got a raise for this line

Cassaday was a great choice for this series. He’s an old-pro with a distinctive style that keeps everyone looking down-to-Earth and realistic, while still being able to draw the larger-than-life settings, characters, spaceships and weaponry. Cassaday makes the book feel like Star Wars.

The only nitpicks I have are personal, like I said before. The story itself doesn’t seem all that interesting. Aaron uses it to have some great fun with these classic characters, but there doesn’t seem to be too much meat on the story bones. The heroes of the Rebellion themselves go on a random mission together to blow up a random weapons factory? To the point that they leave C-3PO alone to watch the Millennium Falcon? They couldn’t have brought along some Rebel soldiers? But like I said, that’s a hugely minor nitpick that doesn’t distract from the epic story in any way.

Honestly, it would feel kind of silly if they introduced some random new characters into this comic. By all means, Star Wars should star all the classic characters that everybody wants to see, and that’s exactly what is delivered with Star Wars #1.

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 17, 2015, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Star Wars and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Captain Marvel was awesome. So much fun. I love Grace and June as villains. Carol getting to kick ass without her powers and with her hands tied was great. That’s one of the weirdest guest stars ever. And there’s some really touching stuff with Carol talking to Tracy.

    SHIELD was fun. Kamala’s always great. She’s so adorable. She out-geeked Coulson!

    Silver Surfer was great, as always. Relationship drama! Oh no!

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