Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 2/7/15

What a week! Just yesterday, DC Comics announced a new rebranding of their entire New 52 line! Gone are the last vestiges of that reboot and the DC house style! Now they want to produce a variety of comics for the wide variety of people that read comics! That’s exciting news. Marvel has found a ton of success going down that route, and if DC is willing to bite the bullet and follow Marvel’s lead, then we’ll all benefit.

The most important thing is that we will get good comics. Like this week’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Squirrel Girl #2 easily picks up Comic Book of the Week for being so gosh darn hilarious! I hope you’re reading and laughing along with me. But this week also so good issues for Ant-Man, Ms. Marvel, Star Wars and the long-awaited return of Hawkeye! Matt Fraction and David Aja’s archer-led comic was close to capturing the top spot, but it took a little stumble.

This week you can check out my review of Black Vortex Alpha over at Word of the Nerd. It’s a cosmic crossover between the Guardians of the Galaxy and the All-New X-Men, and while writer Sam Humphries is having some fun, it’s not better than the sum of its parts.

Comic Reviews: Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #3, Ant-Man #2, Batman Eternal #44, Hawkeye #21, Ms. Marvel #11, Star Wars #2, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #2.

Angela #3

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #3
Writers: Kieron Gillen and Marguerite Bennett
Artist: Phil Jimenez and Stephanie Hans

We’re three issues deep into Angela’s solo comic, and I’m still not entirely sure I know the character. The book is really confident in its main character, and it does a heck of a job talking her up. But despite a new flashback every issue, I don’t really think I know Angela as a person. She’s kind of just a glittering icon who cuts her way through the action while other characters actually carry the story.

Angela, Sera and the baby are still on the run from Thor and the Asgardians. Sera leads Angela to an ancient love temple erected aeons ago at the end of the Aesir/Vanir war, when the two races came together to form Asgard. Odin and Freyja were married at the temple, for example. Angela ventures deep into the lava pits beneath the temple and finds a glistening golden armor, a leftover Asgardian wedding dress for a couple that didn’t work out. Angela puts it on and makes her small group invisible to Heimdall (because it was supposed to go to his intended bride).

Angela and her group then meet up with her friends, the Guardians of the Galaxy, for a trip through space. Once onboard the ship, Sera tells Star-Lord her own backstory, how she used to be a priestess in Heven who yearned for something more, then found it as Angela’s adventuring sidekick. But at one point Sera died and Angela was heartbroken…and that’s where the flashback ends. Sera does’t know how she came back from the dead.

Elsewhere, Thor and Loki team up with Hela to track Angela.

Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.

This issue makes it very clear: Sera is the one driving the story. She’s the one with reasonable dialogue, she’s the one who interacts with other people in meaningful ways. She’s the storyteller. Angela is kind of just there to look sexy and shout things about her ax. And that’s disappointing. I want to get to know Angela. I want to know who she is as a person and why she kidnapped this baby. We already know all about her insane need to pay debts, but so far that’s her only personality trait. We don’t even get to find out why she and Sera are best friends. The story of their friendship is just that, a story, told in hurried flashback to Star-Lord. I actually would have liked to see Angela make a friend.

That’s what ultimately brings this comic down: Angela doesn’t have any presence. Sera is the one driving the issue, and Sera isn’t very interesting on her own. Angela could be interesting, but she’s the strong silent type. Some inner narration would probably help.

Also, I re-instate my utter loathing of the comic book Guardians of the Galaxy.


Ant-Man #2

Ant-Man #2
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Ramon Rosanas

Does Ant-Man’s second issue live up to the quality of the first? That’s a tall order. Ant-Man #1 was a near perfect introduction of the character and his story, with Spencer and Marvel clearly giving it their all to make Ant-Man a good comic in the lead-up to his feature film. But can they keep that momentum going into a full series?

Based on this second issue, you’re darn right they can!

Ant-Man is once again unemployed, but he has plans for his own security firm, so he goes to a bank in Miami to get a loan. The board members are ready to throw him out on his butt, until the wily old owner, Mrs. Morgenstern, shows up and decides to hear him out. Ant-Man proves his skills by hacking into the bank’s security and opening all of the vaults — even one of the older vaults that contains a long-dormant Nazi robot! Yep.

Ant-Man stops the robot by shrinking down and taking it apart from the inside. In response, Mrs. Morgenstern agrees to finance Ant-Man personally because she could use some more adventure in her life. (Being someone who stores old Nazi robots in her bank, she’s always up for adventure.)

Once he has the money, Ant-Man sets up his own office and gets a billboard — which attracts the attention of the super-villain Grizzly, who wants to get revenge against Eric O’Grady, a different Ant-Man. When they figure out that mistake, Scott takes Grizzly out for lunch and hires him to join his new security firm. Just in time for Taskmaster to put Ant-Man in his crosshairs!

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

The charm, the humor and the strong characters of the first issue are back in this second one as Spencer sets about establishing Scott Lang’s Miami status quo. I was a little disappointed that he didn’t take Tony Stark up on his offer of employment last issue, but wanting to stay close to your kid is a strong motivator, and I’m glad to see that it’s going to get a lot of attention. Scott and his daughter Cassie are legitimately adorable together.

I hope this series can sustain the momentum of these first two issues. Scott Lang is a strong protagonist, a real ‘everyman’ trying to make this superhero thing work. Spencer does a great job getting into his head and presenting him as an average guy, one just having a conversation with the readers. I really like the grounded feeling it gives the book, even when Scott shows up to business meetings in full costume or takes apart Nazi robots.

I am slightly concerned that Ant-Man will seem too normal for a wider audience, that it doesn’t have any particular hook beyond just being a quality comic. Superheroes rarely do well at Marvel when they move out of New York City, no matter what interesting supporting characters show up (though I am a huge Grizzly fan). So I hope word gets out that Ant-Man is a great comic, and that Spencer and Rosanas get to stick around.

The art looks great, the main character is a lot of fun, and Ant-Man’s got a big budget movie coming out. Surely all of those things have to mean something, right?

Also, blog note: my brother requested I start reviewing Ant-Man as one of my bigger, longer reviews (see my upcoming review of Saga #25 this weekend). I didn’t get around to it this week because I was pretty busy, but would anybody else be interested in long-form Ant-Man reviews? I know my Teen Titans reviews have garnered a lot of attention that way. Anybody that interested in Ant-Man?

Batman Eternal #44

Batman Eternal #44
Writer: Ray Fawkes, James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder
Artist: Aco

And just like that, Batman Eternal sucks again. Sigh. The fun team-up between Bluebird and Spoiler was short-lived, and now we’re back to this comic making little sense about dumb topics. Say goodbye to strong personalities and interesting characters, say hello to another random plot line from out of left field — actually, make that at least two random plot lines from out of left field.

Despite having the new Arkham Manor in which to house the former asylum inmates, a bunch of them are being squeezed into a police station for interrogations to try and find out why the old asylum imploded. All of the inmates collectively blame Dr. Achilles Milo — so we cut to Batman randomly searching for Milo. He finds the guy at the airport trying to get out of town, and Milo activates some Scarecrow gas on the crowd to keep Batman busy. Milo flees out onto the tarmac, but the Batplane is waiting to stop him. When Batman gets out there to grab Milo, a bunch of ghosts show up out of the ground and grab Bats.

Meanwhile, Spoiler and Bluebird get into a fight when Spoiler tries to leave the apartment and Bluebird pulls out a Taser. Spoiler is upset because she thinks Bluebird and her allies won’t touch Bruce Wayne (who she has fingered as the Big Bad) because Wayne once funded Batman Incorporated.

Comic Rating: 3/10 – Bad.

Here we are, at issue #44, and suddenly Dr. Milo is a thing. Why? Has he even appeared in Batman Eternal so far? Did he make a single cameo appearance 6 months ago that we’re supposed to care about now? They make a brief reference to the fact that he’s also appearing in Gotham Academy, but I guess that issue’s cute nod to Batman: The Animated Series is being turned into a stupid issue of Batman Eternal. Heaven help this comic if they steal Simon Trent and turn him into a villain.

Nothing about this issue really makes sense in the larger Batman Eternal storyline. We’re at less than 10 issues to go now before the end, but any hint of an actual climax is gone. Batman spends an entire issue chasing a nobody like Milo before freakin’ ghosts suddenly show up on the last page. Ghosts?! Really? I know Batwing is being bothered by ghosts, but why the heck are ghosts suddenly showing up to plague Batman at the airport? Jeez.

And the Spoiler/Bluebird scenes that so thrilled me last issue are gone, replaced by anger and infighting. Spoiler has nothing but accusations for Bluebird this time around, and Bluebird has nothing but a Taser.

The girl power is over

Last issue was just a glimmer of fun in a black morass. The art also takes a step down into a muddy, blobby, ill-defined sort of look. I guess I should learn to not get my hopes up at all with Batman Eternal. You’d think I’d know that by now.

Hawkeye #21

Hawkeye #21
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: David Aja

I can still remember the first and second volumes of Mark Millar’s The Ultimates, when only one or two issues came out per year due to delays. Considering those comics remain at the top of my list of the greatest comics of all time, it’s fair to say that I didn’t mind the delays. Obviously they were annoying while we were waiting, but the issues, and Bryan Hitch’s art, were worth the wait.

I feel the same way about Hawkeye. Fraction, Aja and Annie Wu have created the definitive comic of this age (your opinion my vary). Hawkeye has changed the way I look at comics, has changed the way I want to write my own comics. Hawkeye is masterpiece-quality. So I didn’t mind the wait, and I’m very excited that the penultimate issue is here.

But it’s just a bit shy of perfect.

The Battle of Bev Stuy is about to begin. The Tracksuit Mafia wants control of Clint Barton’s apartment building, but Clint, his brother Barney, and all the tenants are prepared to fight to protect their home. So they batten down the hatches, set up some boobytraps and hold their ground as the Mafia rolls up, armed to the teeth.

Some of the tenants lose their nerve and run, while others prove their heroics in spectacular fashion. For example, Gil’s father is up on the roof with his son’s grills loaded down with fire and charcoal, and he pushes them over to rain down upon their invading foes, as if he were pouring molten oil from the parapets of a castle. And then Hawkeye is on the fire escape, shooting arrows into the individual chunks of coal to send flaming death down upon their enemies!

It’s awesome!

But then it all comes to a screeching halt when Hawkeye is ambushed in a hallway by that traitorous old lady who is in cahoots with the Tracksuit Mafia. She knocks him out cold, and then the rest of the issue is spent with a groggy Clint only halfway aware of what’s happening to him. The bad guys have won, they’ve seized Barney and all their money, and Clint is half-blind, deaf and powerless. He can only watch as Barney tries to fight back, only to get stabbed. Barney dies in Clint’s arms, the battle lost.

And then Pizza Dog returns holding an arrow in his mouth.

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

I loved the first half of this issue — but then Fraction goes and ruins everything. Look, I know exactly what he was going for here. I get it, and I definitely get the cinematic reference. We’ve seen this sort of scene a million times before. It makes sense for the story, it fits, and I understand. In the larger scheme of things, it’s probably fine. But man, knocking Hawkeye out and making him a groggy mess for the second half of the issue kills the momentum so completely that it’s almost painful.

The knockout scene will no doubt work just fine when Fraction’s Hawkeye is complete. And if I had the final issue in my hands right now, I know I could just keep reading to find out what happens next. But as a single issue, one that we had to wait several months to read, the last thing I wanted was to have the life sucked out of this story just when it’s getting amazing.

I’m ready for the end. The start of this issue is amazing. Fraction has all of his pieces in place, and now he’s ready for a classic showdown the likes of which I haven’t experienced in fiction in a long time. And as the action picked up, as the characters moved around the scene, as the intensity ratcheted higher and higher, I was ready for Fraction and Aja to deliver a stunning comic. The art is as phenomenal as always and completely worth the wait. The characters are dynamic and lifelike. The image of Hawkeye in street clothes as he arms his bow and quiver is how I always want to picture the character.

I’ve waited months. I know the end is near. I was ready to embrace it.

But reading Hawkeye #21 is like living Hawkeye #21: just as everything seems to be going well, you get brained in the head and everything falls apart.

Ms. Marvel #11

Ms. Marvel #11
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Adrian Alphona

Smack dab in the middle of all these new, amazing comics is my favorite comic of the past year. Ms. Marvel is still a fantastic book, but it’s a little overshadowed this week by a cornucopia of great comics. Not it’s fault, by any means.

Ms. Marvel faces off against the Inventor and his giant robots, with an army of angry teenagers at her back. Kamala shrinks down and stretches into the robot to take control of it from the inside, all while the Inventor squawks about how he’ll never be defeated, and reveals that he has Nakia as one of his prisoners! Realizing that she’s outgunned, Kamala sneaks a phone call to Bruno, who in turn calls 9-1-1 and sends them to the Inventor’s base.

With both Ms. Marvel and the cops staring him down, the Inventor tries to escape by climbing to the top of his defeated robot. He monologues about his awesomeness before the heap collapses, killing him (maybe). So the cops take his henchmen into custody, and Kamala gives a speech to the teenagers about how they need to be the awesome they can be.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

This was a quality issue, with Ms. Marvel defeating her first super-villain in a very Ms. Marvel sort of way. The issue doesn’t end with a big, climactic, full-page punch. It ends with Ms. Marvel learning a lesson about calling in backup, and then having some meaningful conversations with the police and with her fellow teens. I rather like that. She didn’t just beat the villain into submission, she did her best to help people, and the villain caused his own demise. Ms. Marvel is all about learning to be a superhero, and Willow nailed it in this finale.

But if I’m being honest, I was never really sold on the Inventor as a villain in the first place. And I kind of prefer to see Kamala out of costume as a normal girl. So while this was still a solid book, it’s been adrift in ‘superhero land’ for too long now. I hope the next issue can focus more on Kamala’s personal life and the balance between normal girl and rookie superhero.

Star Wars #2

Star Wars #2
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: John Cassaday

I apologize if I sound harsh, but I’ve just never been all that interested in Star Wars comics starring the traditional main characters. I went into this a bit more in my review of Star Wars #1, but I’m a much bigger fan of the Expanded Universe than I am of Luke, Han and Leia. That’s just the way I’m wired. So the shine has already gone off this new Star Wars comic for me as it settles into just being a cool adventure comic.

Fortunately, it’s still a very fun and exciting adventure comic.

Luke Skywalker faces off against Darth Vader, but he’s grossly outmatched, and Vader steals his lightsaber. But just before Vader recognize the saber as his own, Han, Leia and the gang bust in driving a giant AT-AT! There’s destruction and craziness as the escaped prisoners fight Stormtroopers, while Han stomps around in his walking tank (with plenty of Han and Leia bickering). Vader orders his men to start killing the prisoners, and Luke wallows in despair for a moment about getting people killed — until he finds a speeder bike and makes his escape, grabbing his lightsaber in the process.

During the battle, Han tries to step on Vader, but the Dark Lord of the Sith uses the force to stop the AT-AT’s foot. So Han blasts him with the lasers and brings the whole place down. Vader digs himself out of the rubble and calls the Stormtroopers to him to go after the fleeing rebels.

Meanwhile, C-3PO loses control of the Millenium Falcon to a bunch of salvagers (the Falcon was parked in a nearby scrapyard for a quick getaway). The salvagers also take apart C-3PO while they’re at it.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

As a Star Wars comic about Luke, Han and Leia fighting Darth Vader, this comic probably couldn’t be better. Jason Aaron and John Cassaday are 100% on point with everyone involved. This comic features the now in-canon first face-to-face meeting between Luke and Vader, and it’s just as amazing and momentous as it should be. Vader is positively terrifying in this issue, in a way he probably hasn’t felt in years. When he uses the Force to grab the AT-AT’s leg, it feels cinematic. When Han and Leia bicker, it feels completely real. This comic is as pure and as awesome as a Star Wars comic could be.

But, for tastes that are entirely personal, the comic might not be for me. I’ll probably keep reading and reviewing, because it remains a pretty momentous series, but I’m just not that interested in the adventures of Luke, Han and Leia between the movies. That’s on me, not on this creative team, which is doing a phenomenal job.

Squirrel Girl #2

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #2
Writer: Ryan North
Artist: Erica Henderson

Holy crap, you guys, this book is hilarious. I can’t express that enough. I laughed out loud almost constantly. I’ve said it before in my reviews, and I’ll say it again: comedy is subjective. What might be funny to you might not be funny to me. But Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is quite possibly the funniest comic I have ever read — and we’re only at issue #2!

Doreen Green and her new roommate Nancy head to college orientation, where they’ll get to sign up for different campus clubs. While looking around, Doreen runs into Tomas again, but spends more time worrying about her crush on him than actually listening to him, embarrassing herself. Then Nancy shows up and embarrasses her even more just by teasing her about the crush in front of Tomas. Doreen has no choice but to lock herself in the bathroom and contemplate moving to a new school under a new name: Sally Awesomelegs.

Then Tippy-Toe shows up to warn Doreen that Galactus is coming to Earth! And he’s activated a cloaking device so that no humans will see him coming, but it doesn’t effect the squirrels, because nobody thinks of squirrels (except Doreen, who points out that she thinks about squirrels all the time). Regardless, it’s up to them to save the day, so Doreen puts on her costume and rushes across town to Avengers Tower. She uses her squirrel powers to break in to steal an Iron Man suit to fly to the moon to fight Galactus — but Tony Stark’s security gets the better of her and kicks her out — which was was all part of her plan! While Squirrel Girl kept the security drones busy, her squirrel friends snuck in and stole a bunch of pieces of Iron Man armor.

Squirrel Girl puts on a helmet and uses the secret codeword that Tony Stark gave her back during their first team-up, and soon the various armor pieces construct themselves into an Iron Squirrel Girl armor! She flies off to save the day, but super-villain Whiplash mistakes her for the real Iron Man and attacks!

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

I was very close to giving this comic a perfect score based on humor alone. There was something to laugh at on almost every page, especially in the beginning. Ryan North is a funny, funny man, so I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that he used to write the Adventure Time comic. I didn’t read the Adventure Time comic, but I can imagine the type of writer who would be able to keep up with that cartoon.

North imbues Doreen with such an adorable sense of humor, whether she’s picking a new identity (Sally Awesomelegs!) or defending her obsession with squirrels. The dialogue, the monologues, the one-liners and asides, are all comedy gold, as far as I’m concerned.

Henderson is also a stunning part of the creative team, taking North’s sense of humor and grounding it in a cartoon that feels real. Yes, this is a comic where a squirrel tries and fails to smash through a window in dramatic fashion, but it doesn’t operate on cartoon physics. This isn’t the Looney Tunes. The series remains grounded in the reality of a young woman going off to college.

And it’s just so dang hilarious too!

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 February 7, 2015, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Star Wars and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Angela was really good. Some pretty good humour, and I loved the layout on the page of Angela and Sera evading the Asgardians. Also, Sera being revealed as transgender was really cool. (Yeah, Sera wasn’t a priestess. The narration makes it clear she was a priest, and that she was miserable, because it wasn’t who she really was. She’s transgender.) Gillen’s developed a very strong trend of LGBT representation in his comics, and now he’s given Marvel only its third ever real transgender character. So that’s great. And Hans’ art continues to be gorgeous. Also, we are learning about Angela’s character: The most important thing, to her, is paying debts. “Nothing for nothing.” That’s the creed she lives by, and absolutely nothing is more important. But this issue, and particularly the flashback story, also shows that Angela is capable of very, very strong feelings of loyalty, and probably even love, given how she reacted when Sera dies. She was only able to understand her grief through the idea of debt, since she wouldn’t get the chance to repay Sera for the flute, but it’s also obvious that her grief went beyond just not being able to pay the debt. So, we do get plenty of insight into Angela’s character, too.

    Ant-Man was really fun. Grizzly’s great, and the stuff in the bank is great. It’s a really good series, funny but with heart.

    Hawkeye was weird and innovative and cool, as always.

    Ms. Marvel was amazing. This is honestly what superhero comics should be. It’s optimistic, hopeful, inclusive, full of positive messages. It’s so common, in superhero stories, for the main character to be the only one that really matters, for them to have to go it alone, or at least relying on other superheroes for support. It’s rare for normal people to get to be as important as they are here. Also, it’s worth noting that Ms. Marvel beat the Inventor without actually throwing a punch. This fits into the earlier stuff about whether it’s possible to do good without doing harm. She shows here that she can, and I think that’s important.

    Ms. Marvel is an incredibly important book. Not just because it presents a relatable Muslim character, but because it is, quite possible, the most positive superhero book I’ve come across. Wilson is doing amazing work.

    Squirrel Girl is hilarious and adorable. I laughed my ass off the whole way through. I kinda want to join the Short Bludgeoning Staff Club.

    • Huh, you’re absolutely right about Sera and I definitely missed it! I just went back and reread that flashback and now it makes perfect sense! Good catch! That’s pretty neat stuff.

      And I couldn’t agree more about Ms. Marvel. Such a fun and innovative new book, a real superhero comic for the modern age. I’m loving it.

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