Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 1/31/15

Nobody panic. Deep breaths. Calm yourselves. I’m just as shocked as you are. Batman Eternal has just released the single best issue of it’s entire 40+ issue run so far. It came out this week and it is very, very entertaining. It helps that Batman Eternal #43 forgoes any focus on the ongoing story and instead delivers an issue where Stephanie Brown and Harper Row hang out and talk about the coolness of Catwoman, but still, it’s progress.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this…but Batman Eternal #43 wins Comic Book of the Week. Wow. That took a lot of effort. There are a ton of very good comics this week, plenty of enjoyable reads. But when I really thought about it, I had to give it to Batman Eternal, because this team-up is a revelation.

I think I’m going to use this panel every time I write a Batman article

Spoiler and Bluebird need to get their own comic after this. They need to go on to team up all the time, the new crime-fighting buddies of the Bat-family. These two need to be the new foundation for the Birds of Prey. Throw in Red Robin for some love triangling and you’ve got the sort of comic that could really matter to people.

I can’t tell if this is a good day or a bad day for comics. Batman Eternal…winning Comic Book of the Week…man. I just don’t know anymore. I can’t even.

While we’re adjusting, feel free to check out my review of Uncanny Avengers #1 over at Word of the Nerd. It was a relatively mediocre start.

Comic Reviews: Batman Eternal #43, Bitch Planet #2, Gotham Academy #4, Harley Quinn #14, Thor #4 and Uncanny X-Men #30.

Batman Eternal #43

Batman Eternal #43
Writers: James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder
Artist: David Lafuente

I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but it seems we’ve actually got a good issue of Batman Eternal on our hands! I’m just as shocked as everyone else, believe me. But this is what happens when James Tynion IV, a good writer, and NAME, a great artist, focus on a simple story exploring the characters of Spoiler and Bluebird. Forget all the junk with Batman, ignore the grand super-villain plot; Batman Eternal #43 is pure character development staring two amazing characters.

That’s going to make for good comics no matter what other mess surrounds it.

Speaking of ‘mess’, this issue finally catches up to Batman #28, the flash-forward issue from last year. But rather than retread that issue, this one takes place before, during an dafter, presenting a bigger picture and context for Batman and Bluebird’s first mission together, and the introduction of Stephanie Brown. Since I read Batman #28 and remember it well, Batman Eternal #43 flows much better.

Catwoman is holding Spoiler at The Egyptian, where she spends time trying to get into Stephanie’s head and figure out why she’s doing this whole Spoiler thing (possibly to protect her father), and why she doesn’t just spill everything she knows to Batman (she’s scared of something). But Bats and Bluebird break in anyway to take her, and they bring Spoiler back to Harper and Cullen’s apartment in the Narrows for safe-keeping. Stephanie and Harper bond a little afterwards, and Stephanie reveals that the mastermind she saw orchestrating the big evil plot is none other than Bruce Wayne!

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

Seriously, this issue is damn good, and the focus on Stephanie and Harper is just fantastic! There is a lot of time skipping this issue, and it definitely helps to have read Batman #28, but it’s not a hindrance. The real meat of this issue is character development, and for the first time in a long time, Batman Eternal has that in spades. We get a lot of development on Stephanie’s end as Catwoman tries to get into her head. We get a ton of development for Harper Row as she deals with both Red Robin and Batman in her quest to become a hero. This issue really gets into their heads as to why Stephanie is Spoiler and why Harper is Bluebird, and it’s great character work.

Then when the two of them are together, it’s even better! They bond over their mutual admiration for Catwoman, and it’s a great moment.

Catwoman can be their mentor!

This is exactly the sort of stuff that makes for great comics, and is exactly what Batman Eternal has been missing. This may be the first moment in the entire series where I really feel connected to the characters, where they aren’t just going through the superhero motions to fulfill the larger plot. Here we have two young woman, following different paths, but brought together in a big way. Tynion’s work on both of them makes me want some kind of Spoiler/Bluebird team-up series when all is said and done.

(And it’s a painful reminder why either Stephanie or Harper would have made a better Robin than bringing Damian back from the dead.)

I would be remiss if I left this review without talking about artist David Lafuente. I’ve seen his work before, and in Batman Eternal #43, it’s astounding! He’s got a neat angular style, with sharp edges, but it works great for faces and especially hairstyles. The characters are incredibly expressive, from Catwoman’s suave smirks to Bluebird’s edgy anger. The art really solidifies Stephanie and Harper as people, and with colorist John Rauch, they do wonders with Bluebird’s colorful hair and costume.

Bitch Planet #2

Bitch Planet #2
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Valentine De Landro

I was hesitantly confused by the first issue of Bitch Planet, which played a bit weakly with the narrative and didn’t really focus on the characters who actually mattered to the series. Fortunately, all of that is straightened out in this second issue as the plot shifts into gear – thought I hope this series won’t be as predictable as it seems.

Like most dystopian futures, the people of Earth in Bitch Planet love watching a big sporting event called Duemila (or Megaton, depending on where you live). But fewer people are paying attention to Duemila these days, and that has the patriarchy upset. So in comes Roberto Solanza, the guy who runs Bitch Planet, and he meets with Father Josephson to propose a new team made up of Bitch Planet prisoners.

Speaking of those prisoners, a female guard named Whitney approaches Kamau Kogo about putting a team together, since Kogo used to be an athlete, and the guards saw her kick a lot of butt when she tried to save Marian last issue (a death the guards are blaming on Kogo). But Kogo doesn’t want to be a puppet for the patriarchy and she turns Whitney down.

Until she has a chat with some of her fellow inmates, and a plan begins to form where the women will use Duemila to get close to key members of the patriarchy for some good old fashioned killin’. Kogo tells Whitney that she’ll do it in exchange for the name of the guard who really killed Marian.

Back on Earth, one of Duemila’s star players suffers a fatal hit live on TV, and Father Josephson sees that audience engagement went way up because of it. Realizing that violence and death draws a crowd, he tells his assistant to get Solanza on the phone.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

The narrative and the characters are much more straight forward in this second issue, so there wasn’t any narrative confusion this time as DeConnick builds her world. And she’s doing a great job building her world! DeConnick really gets into the character of Kamau Kogo, fleshing out her personality, her morals and her strengths. She also does a great job fleshing out the supporting characters, even when they’re not speaking. There’s an extended sequence in the background of a few panels where Penny starts a riot; it’s her only scene in the book, and it once again serves to make her a possible breakout, entertaining character.

Penny rules

My only real concern with Bitch Planet at this point is that DeConnick seems to be starting at a weird place in the story. Apparently, the women of Bitch Planet are so far entirely separate from this Duemila thing, and the seeds of bringing them together are only planted in this issue. I figured these women would already be competitors. But perhaps DeConnick has a story she wants to tell about the start of this program, which is fine, but the way this Father Josephson reacts to one of his players getting killed on live TV (he reacts with joy about the ratings), makes me worry that the story might get a little too predictable when it comes to dystopian leaders and their Hung Games-esque brutal TV shows.

Gotham Academy #4

Gotham Academy #4
Writers: Brendan Fletcher and Becky Cloonan
Artist: Karl Kerschl

It feels like it’s been forever since the last issue of Gotham Academy. I don’t keep track of release schedules, but it feels like too long since we checked in with Olive Silverlock and company. That’s unacceptable! I want more spooky adventures! Fortunately, this week was kind enough to provide.

Olive Silverlock and her friends managed to escape the ghost in the North Hall between issues, but now she’s a little freaked out at what she encountered. When she’s called to the headmaster’s office, Olive starts to notice a mysterious symbol around campus. It’s outside the office, and someone drew it in the Diary of Millie Jane Cobblepot. Olive and Maps track the symbol to a nervous artist student named Eric, who seems to be hiding a secret, but he lets it slip (during Maps’ intense interrogation) that the symbol is also in the girls’ dorm.

Olive finds the symbol on a strange door in the dorm, and when she pushes through the door, she finds a secret passage through the walls of the dorm. She’s able to spy on a few girls in their rooms, only to find a strange room in the back where it appears someone has been living. Olive is shocked to find Killer Croc standing behind her – but he seems harmless, so she asks Croc about her mom.

Also in the issue, Olive has another encounter with that mysterious blonde boy, who knows something about what happened over the Summer. And she discovers that Heathcliff has been posing as the Ghost of Millie Jane Cobblepot in order to give his girlfriend, Pomeline, something to chase. Heathcliff explains that he just wants to make Pom happy, and she’s been really happy with this ghost to chase.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

I’m a little disappointed that so much happens between issues without explanation. Gotham Academy #3 ended with Olive and her band of friends and enemies sneaking into the North Hall and getting grabbed by a mysterious ghost hand. That was a pretty cool scene, and I loved the little crew Olive had put together. But Gotham Academy #4 starts a few days later, and we don’t even get a flashback to what happened! Apparently the crew got away from the ghost with ease and now are back to just being relatively chill. That was disappointing, but it looks like these time skips are going to be the norm.

Fortunately, the rest of this issue was pretty fun. Cloonan and Fletcher have really created a vibrant world here in Gotham Academy, even if all of the various students and their relationships can get a little confusing at times. But the story of Olive Silverlock (and Maps!) exploring the mysteries of this foreboding campus are still a real treat. The two characters work great together, with Olive’s stern seriousness and Maps’ geeky silliness pushing both of them forward in equal measure. Maps is a real gem.

Breakout character of 2015

The arrival of Killer Croc in the end comics out of nowhere, but Olive and the creative team handle it well, and hopefully we’ll start getting a few more answers about Olive, her mother and whatever happened this summer.

It’s hard to believe there have only been four issues of Gotham Academy so far. Each one is packed with interesting characters and fascinating story. This comic has been a real off-kilter treat.

Harley Quinn #14

Harley Quinn #14
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner
Artist: Chad Hardin

The new issue of Harley Quinn is a classic ‘day in the life’ type of issue, and I love these. Every comic should have the occasional ‘day in the life’ issue to better explore its characters, so that the reader can get to know them on a personal level. Harley Quinn has had a lot of scenes and stories like this, with Harley’s personal life the real focus of the book over any sort of costumed shenanigans. But this new issue pushes the personal stuff up to 11!

A blaring alarm clock rouses Harley Quinn from her bed, kicking off a busy, frustrating day. The hot water heater broke overnight, so she can’t take a shower and it’s going to cost a fortune to replace. She’s out of pet food for her various animals. And she’s running late for work at the nursing home. But she does make a dinner date with the handsome Mason for later, so she’s got that going for her – except that her boss tells Harley she has to work late to cover for some doctors who are out.

Harley also fails to stop a purse-snatching on the way to work, nearly gets robbed in a taxi, and she has to give CPR to save a patient’s life after someone stole medical supplies from her room. The day just keeps getting worse. Then she gets a call from her roller derby girls, who remind her that she’s about to be late for their match, but Harley thought it was tomorrow! A friendly nurse overhears the conversation and offers to cover for Harley since she helped him out earlier that day (he also might have a crush on her).

So Harley races out to join her girls, but they still lose their match. They decide to go out for a bite to eat afterwards, only to run into Mason, who decided to take his mother out when Harley had to cancel. When Mason and his mother see Harley out with her friends, instead of working late at the nursing home like she told them, they turn up their noses at her and walk off. Harley slumps to the ground, vowing to get her life in order!

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

I’m glad to have Harley Quinn back! The past few issues were a weird story teaming up Harley with Power Girl in space; it was not my cup of tea. But issues like Harley Quinn #14 are exactly why I like this series so much! Harley Quinn has its fair amount of wackiness, but it’s all tempered by the reality of Harley herself as she juggles friends, jobs and running an apartment building. She always finds time to be crazy, but she’s still a person and still has to get to work on time. That getting to work involves a failed attempt to thwart a purse-snatching and a debriefing from an elderly cyborg is all part of the charm of Harley Quinn. The important thing is that we know Harley as a person, not just as the Joker’s abused henchwoman or as pale eye-candy. She’s as much of a person as anybody, and her life is quite interesting.

The art is especially good in this week’s issue. Hardin expertly juggles the weird with the normal, and his Harley is especially fun to watch. Check out this sequence as Harley, wearing only a towel, gets to ogle the studly Mason.

If only women bit towels like that for me

If that towel bite wasn’t enough, Hardin and company go the extra mile to actually have her bite off and spit out the chunk. It’s adorable and funny in equal measure, and it’s only one of several sequences that really bring out the charm in Harley Quinn.

Though I still hope Amanda Conner draws an issue at some point.

Thor #4

Thor #4
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Russell Dauterman

Lady Thor’s first big adventure comes to a close in powerful fashion in the new issue, featuring no less than an epic battle with Manly Thor himself! We’ve seen Unworthy Thor in plenty of places throughout the Marvel Universe now, so it’s not that big of a surprise to see him show up here, but the fight is nonetheless thrilling.

Thor has come to reclaim his hammer and refuses to listen to reason from Lady Thor, leading to a massive brawl in the Roxxon facility. But when the Frost Giants start attacking, Lady Thor whips Mjolnir around in ways Thor never imagined, proving to him that she’s worthy to carry the weapon. He apologizes for fighting her and asks if she is his mother, who has gone missing. Lady Thor responds by giving him a big, fat kiss! The two of them then team up to defeat the Frost Giants.

Afterwards, Malekith tips his hat and teleports away, with the freedom that comes with being King of the Dark Elves. And Dario Agger tells them to get off his island.

The two Thors leave and free all the superheroes and Asgardians who had been frozen by the Frost Giants, including Thor’s mother, who had led the original charge against Malekith. Then in front of everybody, Thor gives Lady Thor his blessing to carry on the name of ‘Thor’, and she flies off excitedly. And when everybody is gone, Agger and Malekith resume their negotiations, and Agger sells Malekith the real skull of Laufey (the one Lady Thor smashed was a decoy!).

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

The battle between the Thors is legitimately epic, in no small part of Dauterman’s style and Matt Wilson’s colors. It’s vibrant and beautiful, the action clear and brutal. Jason Aaron’s Thor has always had spectacular art, and this new creative team seems perfect for the more superheroic adventures of the new Thor. The characterization is also top notch, with an angry, Unworthy Thor forced to accept the new wielder of Mjolnir. His attitude follows a very clear, understandable path over the course of the issue, and his decision to give the new Thor his name is definitely earned. The new Thor has breathed a new, unique style into an already amazing book, and I’m very excited to see where we go from here.

Though there is absolutely no reason at this point for her identity to still be a secret.

Uncanny X-Men #30

Uncanny X-Men #30
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Chris Bachalo

The battle over Matthew Malloy is still going in Uncanny X-Men, and while I’m hanging on, I hope Bendis arrives at his destination soon. I have no idea where he’s going with this, and while the new issue packs some big whollops, they are all dulled by the mindless droning on of this series. This isn’t a roller coaster ride, this is more like a log flume with frequent starts and stops.

SHIELD has killed Cyclops, Magik and Matthew Malloy, but when ground teams move in to investigate, Matthew is somehow able to simply resurrect himself – though he can’t do the same for Cyclops and Magik. Matthew blasts the agents away and teleports to the Jean Grey School, who have only recently learned of Cyclops’ death. Emma Frost punches Matthew right in the face, and he disintegrates her, leaving the rest of the faculty to deal with him.

Meanwhile, Eva Bell has gone back in time to speak with a young Professor X about how to handle Matthew. He takes some convincing, but in the end he decides to return to the present with her, and he meets the Uncanny cadets.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

So, uh…Cyclops is dead? Emma Frost is dead? I think it’s safe to say neither death is going to stick, so Bendis is building to some kind of insane climax, right? I have no idea. I have no clue where this storyline is going to what’s going to happen to Matthew Malloy. That’s a good thing, definitely. Bendis has made Uncanny X-Men a very cool series, and I am still very happy to follow the drama of Scott Summers’ rebellion. But like seemingly every issue in this Matthew Malloy story so far, Uncanny X-Men #30 feels like it’s just spinning its wheels before yet another cliffhanger. We get a new issue, it’s cool, but then it stops and resolves nothing. The next issue arrives, the whole thing starts again, and we stop.

The fact that anything can happen in this story is pretty cool, but with no end in sight, that freedom has turned Uncanny X-Men into a waiting game instead of a roller coaster ride. And I know, I’m mixing and repeating my metaphors.

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 31, 2015, in Avengers, Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, X-Men and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Bitch Planet was awesome. Sets up the plot, while still touching on the themes a bit. Also, Penny stole the scene with that background riot. Penny’s awesome.

    Thor was good. Very fun fighting.

    UXM was well-written, but this arc is just dragging on. It was supposed to be over by now. Bendis needs to just hurry up and finish the damned thing.

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