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Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – March 14, 2015

Rejoice, everybody! This was a darn great week for comics! It’s the sort of week that strains my wallet and makes me wish I didn’t have such expensive hobbies. But then I remember that at least I’m not a parasailer. I bet that stuff is really expensive.

Nope, I spend my money on stuff like Ms. Marvel, the Comic Book of the Week! And it feels so good to say that! I love this comic so much.

Swoon

But the rest of the week is pretty darn good too! We’ve got new Amazing Spider-Man, new Ant-Man and new Star Wars, and there were some great comics I read this week that I didn’t even get around to reviewing, like Captain Marvel, Silver Surfer and Thor! This was apparently my week!

I was planning to review Silver Surfer, but I have very specific expectations when it comes to Silver Surfer and Galactus, and Dan Slott went in the entirely opposite direction. It just wouldn’t have been fair for me to review that comic.

Comic Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man #16, Ant-Man #3, Batman Eternal #49, Howard the Duck #1, Ms. Marvel #13, Ninjak #1 and Star Wars #3.


Amazing Spider-Man #16

Amazing Spider-Man #16
Writers: Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Artist: Humberto Ramos

Spider-Verse is over and we’re back to business as usual for Amazing Spider-Man. I enjoyed the crossover as much as the next guy, but I am definitely excited to see Slott and company get back to nice, normal Spider-Man stories. Those are usually the best. Spider-Verse got a little too impersonal for my tastes.

The issue opens with Spider-Man doing battle with the Iguana, one of his fourth-string villains. During the scuffle, he gets a phone call from Anna Marie and Sajani, who tell Peter that he’s running late for the big Parker Industries presentation. They’re one of several big companies bidding for the rights to make the next big super-villain prison. When Sajani informs Peter that the evil Alchemax could get the contract instead, Peter shifts into high gear, whoops the Iguana’s butt and makes it to the presentation on time — though we don’t get to see it.

Instead, we follow Alchemax’s chief engineer, Tiberius Stone, and their head of security, Mark Raxton (formerly the Molten Man), as they come up with a plan to scuttle Parker Industries. They use Mark’s connections to the super-villain underworld to hire the Ghost to kill Peter Parker!

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

There’s just something delightfully retro about this issue that I found appealing. The issue features Spider-Man battling a classic baddie, some dastardly shenanigans with another baddie, and a few scenes of a rumpled Peter Parker being late for work. That’s all classic Spider-Man stuff. And that it’s all updated to the present day — like Iguana complaining that Spider-Man is talking on his cell phone while they fight — is just a hoot too. I like this issue. There’s no baggage, no crossovers to worry about. It’s just classic, likable Spider-Man and Peter Parker stuff, which is still hugely entertaining. And since Ramos took Spider-Verse off, he’s had plenty of time to draw the heck out of this issue. It looks great.

I was wondering when Slott would get around to writing the definitive Iguana story

Though on a more personal note, I’m really worried about Parker Industries. Spider-Man, like most major comics, has a tendency to revert back to the status quo far too often. I’m afraid that Slott and Marvel will wipe the slate clean soon enough, either through Secret Wars or Slott’s own stories, and the fascinatingly cool Parker Industries will get cut. I would be really be disappointed, because Parker Industries has been a great direction for the character, and I think Slott has barely scratched the surface of what he can do with the setting. I hope this storyline isn’t the final one for this rumpled start-up.

Likewise Anna Marie Marconi. Don’t you take her away, Slott! That woman is an angel!


Ant-Man #3

Ant-Man #3
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Ramon Rosanas

Following a stellar first issue, the new Ant-Man series has settled into the normal course of business, which is to be expected. That’s not to say the book has gone downhill, far from it. Only that things have calmed down as Spencer starts weaving his plot — which, predictably, has a lot to do with characters who are going to appear in the upcoming Ant-Man movie.

Movie villain Darren Cross is dead in the comics? Better give him a son so we can use the Cross name!

Scott Lang’s new security firm has its first client, a paperclip warehouse. Not too shabby. So while his ants start setting up security equipment, Scott pays a visit to his daughter, Cassie, for some quality time. Scott also has a few words with the ex-wife, who’s a little upset that Scott has decided to make Miami his permanent home. But Scott convinces her that he’s on the straight and narrow now, and there won’t be any superhero shenanigans disrupting Cassie’s life.

But, predictably, Scott spoke too soon.

He heads back to the warehouse and gets ambushed by the Taskmaster, who is the one who hired him in the first place. They do battle in the warehouse, with Taskmaster displaying some kind of magnetic control over all the paperclips, turning them into a tiny army to rival Scott’s ants. Taskmaster then explains that he was only hired to keep Ant-Man busy while Cross Technological Enterprises kidnapped Scott’s daughter from the school talent show!

It seems the son, Augustine Cross, wants Cassie and Dr. Erica Sondheim to bring his father back to life!

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

I should have seen this coming. Of course the new Ant-Man series would find a way to incorporate Darren Cross. It happened back when Marvel launched that new Indestructible Iron Man series following the success of the first movie. They didn’t bring Obediah Stane back from the dead, but they retconned him a son, just like Darren Cross now has a son. I suppose this doesn’t bug me too much (pun intended), but it does feel a tiny bit cheap (pun intended).

Still, there’s no denying that Ant-Man remains a damn fine comic. Spencer’s Scott Lang is a hugely likable guy, and he easily carries each issue with his down-to-Earth, working class narration. This is a blue collar guy struggling to make something of himself in the eyes of people who matter, but he’s doing it in a superhero’s world. He’s not a billionaire playboy or a down-on-his luck Peter Parker. Scott Lang is his own kind of screwed up, and it’s a lot of fun to read. I especially like the single father stuff. It’s a great angle.

This comic has good parenting advice

The comedy remains a highlight of the series too. This isn’t a laugh-a-minute comic like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Spencer is a lot more cerebral with his comedy, with well-placed one-liners and comedic moments. The dialogue is great too, with Ant-Man and Taskmaster debating whether or not they’re arch enemies (Taskmaster doesn’t think so at all). This is a fun comic to read, and I don’t mean in just the general ‘reading comics’ sense. I mean that Spencer writes a lot, whether its dialogue or narration, and it’s a lot of fun to pour over it all.

Ant-Man is good to look at too. Rosanas’ pencils haven’t wavered in the slightest so far. Everything is nicely detailed, especially the ants vs. paperclips battle. And Ant-Man’s costume looks as cool as issue #1. Though three issues in, I hope Scott takes it off one of these days. Surely he’s bought some other clothes by now, right?


Batman Eternal #49

Batman Eternal #49
Writers: Kyle Higgins, James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder
Artist: Fernando Blanco

As we draw ever closer to the finale of Batman Eternal, the comic has settled into a general sense of ‘acceptable’. The problems that really annoyed me earlier have kind of fallen by the wayside. Now it’s just a generally competent Batman comic, making due with the storylines and subplots it forced on itself. By no means does this mean Batman Eternal is good. It’s just…not as terrible.

Though each issue seems to have a few little things that really bother me.

In the prison riot, James Gordon escapes the thugs and locks himself and Penguin in a cell so that he can beat up and interrogate the fowl man. In the Batcave, Hush continues to taunt both Alfred and the Bat-Family members, while Julia escapes into the city and heads to the Robin’s Nest, where she tries to regain control. But Hush is magically able to seize control of the Robin’s Nest computers too. Fortunately, Alfred took that momentary distraction to free himself, and then he beats Tommy Elliot bloody. So Alfred is probably the series MVP for defeating both Hush and Bane.

No sooner do the Pennyworths regain control than Batman finally arrives back in Gotham, having stolen a fighter jet. He heads for Bane and Red Hood first, and giant robot Bane is ready for him. I didn’t mention giant robot Bane in previous reviews, but Bane used all the money to buy himself a giant robot mech suit.

Also, Stephanie Brown easily escapes her father by just jumping out of his helicopter onto a rooftop.

Comic Rating: 4/10 – Pretty Bad.

There are still a lot of little things that really bugged me about this issue. For one, there’s the fact that Hush is able to take control of the Robin’s Nest with just a few buttons. It was actually a little clever that Julia Pennyworth thought to go to Red Robin’s private HQ in order to combat Hush. The Robin’s Nest was a bigger deal back at the start of the series, when Harper Row showed off her prowess by breaking in. So this was a cool call back…until Hush figured out where she went and disabled the Robin’s Nest in a matter of seconds. The entire reason Julia went to the Robin’s Nest was because Red Robin had built it off of Batman’s grid. Yet Hush remains omniscient in the ways of the Batcomputer and can do anything he wants, negating Julia’s entire heroic endeavor here.

I’ll have more to say about how this series wastes Julia Pennyworth at a later time.

I also don’t find it as thrilling to have Batman race into town to save the day. It’s not like he’s returning from some arduous crucible, like in The Dark Knight Rises. He was on a wild goose chase with R’as al Ghul for a single issue. His delay is a mere afterthought to the ongoing plot. And while it might seem ‘kewl’ to have Batman in a fighter jet face off against Bane in a robot suit, it comes out of nowhere! Why does he pick Bane vs. Red Hood to go to first? What about Bluebird alone against Mr. freakin’ Freeze?! And why does Bane have a robot suit?!?! Why does Bane, a man obsessed with his physicality, spend his money on a robot suit?! He looks ridiculous, and it only serves to artificially amp up the danger.

Yes, I’m talking about you. You look ridiculous.

As we near the end of the terrible Batman Eternal, either the series has settled into a certain level of mediocrity or I have just become numb to its horribleness.


Howard the Duck #1

Howard the Duck #1
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Joe Quinones

Like everyone else in society, I loved the Howard the Duck zinger at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. That was just plain fun, a big gag that the entire universe could enjoy. So getting a new Howard the Duck comic book series, by noted funny guy Chip Zdarsky, sounds like a good idea to me.

And the comic is fun, but it suffers from being part of a crowded marketplace.

Howard the Duck spent the night in lockup for some random trouble, but he’s free to go the next morning, and he becomes pals with fellow lock-up attendee and tattoo artist Tara Tam. She offers him a free tat on the house if he ever wants to stop by. Howard instead heads back to his private eye office, which just so happens to be in the same building as She-Hulk’s law firm, so we get some fun cameos from the recent cancelled She-Hulk series — though Shulkie and her employees don’t exactly get along with Mr. Theduck.

Howard has a client waiting for him in his office, a man whose family heirloom necklace was stolen by the Black Cat. Howard’s first stop is to ask Spider-Man for Black Cat’s whereabouts, but Spidey and the Cat are on the outs these days. Fortunately, Tara Tam says that the Black Cat lives down the street from her and isn’t very good at hiding her big head of white hair. So Howard and Tara come up with a horrible plan to infiltrate Black Cat’s apartment as pizza chefs (I’ll get back to you on that). They find her secret stash, grab the necklace, then get chased out of the apartment by Black Cat and her goons.

On the rooftop, they run into an alien bounty hunter who has come seeking Howard for being the last of his kind. So then it’s a chase on the rooftops between Howard and Tara, the bounty hunter, Black Cat, and then Spider-Man, who swings by to check on Howard. Eventually Howard is blasted with the bounty hunter’s teleportation ray, which sends him up into space on the hunter’s prison ship, which is filled with a ton of other aliens. Howard grumbles about being back in a jail cell, only to discover that one of his cellmates is none other than Rocket Raccoon!

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

I’m probably going to be in the minority here, but that cliffhanger ending totally ruined it for me. I actually started pounding my desk and snarling, “No! No! No!” like Emperor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith. What a way to ruin an otherwise enjoyable book. Here’s Howard the Duck, having fun and enjoying his own comic, and then boom, forced Guardians of the Galaxy crossover! As I’ve mentioned before, I just can’t stand the comic book Guardians for some reason. They are golden in the movie, but nobody can seem to capture that humor on the comics page.

So yeah, I really don’t care to read about Howard the Duck and Rocket Raccoon teaming up to escape an intergalactic prison ship, no matter how amazing that sentence sounds. Maybe I’d be interested if that was the plot to Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

As for the comic itself, I enjoyed it. Zdarsky gives Howard a solid voice and character, and watching him muck around in the Marvel Universe is fun. I especially enjoyed that scene with the pizza chef disguises.

How Howard the Duck never ordered a pizza before? He lives in Manhattan!

Howard the Duck #1 is a fine comic, and quite enjoyable, but it didn’t blow me away with awesomeness. And I think that’s because the market is currently flooded with kooky, funny comics right now. Howard the Duck isn’t as laugh out loud funny as Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, nor is he as personable as Clint Barton and Kate Bishop. Howard the Duck is also definitely no Ms. Marvel.

Howard is kind of just there, and there are his slightly wacky adventures.

That’s not to say this is a bad comic, it just doesn’t really stand out in the pack of similar comics. For one thing, Zdarsky doesn’t actually play much with the fact that Howard is a walking, talking duck. He makes some duck jokes, and has Howard point it out to people, but everybody treats him like just a regular guy. Everybody already knows and is familiar with Howard the Duck in the Marvel Universe. He’s not weird, he’s just a guy in the MU. That treatment kind of robs the series of its one defining weird trait. Even the tattoo girl, Tara, is totally 100% fine that she’s making friends with a little duck man. This is a weird waste of Howard’s potential.


Ms. Marvel #13

Ms. Marvel #13
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Takeshi Miyazawa

Somehow, the latest issue of Ms. Marvel is once again possibly the greatest issue of Ms. Marvel ever! We’re only 13 issues in and already this comic has had some truly stellar issues. There’s just something so wonderful about this comic, and Wilson and her various artists do such an amazing job with the character and her life.

Some old family friends of the Khans are in town visiting, and they’ve brought along their MIT-bound son Kamran. Being a teenage girl, Kamala assumes the worst about her parents playing matchmaker, but it turns out that Kamran is not only drop dead gorgeous, but he’s also a huge fan of World of Battlecraft and old Bollywood movies. He’s Kamala’s perfect guy, and she’s instantly smitten! Kamran invites her out on the town to check out a Bollywood DVD store, but Kamala’s family refuses to let their daughter out with a boy, so she forces her brother Aamir to go with them. But seeing as how Aamir is both devout and an older brother, he has no problem inserting himself as a third wheel every chance he gets.

The day out is interrupted by a super-villain, though, and Kamala has to run off to change into her costume. The villain is Kaboom, an electrical-powered woman preaching about a new world order and how big changes are coming. It turns out that she’s an Inhuman, and she believes that Inhumans should take over the Earth by force. Kamala gets royally pissed that everybody is now going to assume the worst about Inhumans in general due to a radical minority like Kaboom (sound familiar?). Ms. Marvel knocks out Kaboom and rushes into an alley to change back into herself and rejoin her brother.

Except that Kamran saw her run into he alley and change! He knows her secret identity! Kamran pulls Kamala aside in private to tell her that he knows, then reveals that he too is an Inhuman!

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

This issue almost had a perfect score, and it probably still deserves one, but I reserve that for truly emotion-altering experiences.

Ms. Marvel #13 is an absolute perfect issue of this comic. It not only spotlights the lovable humanity inherent in Kamala Khan, but it also has a great bit of superheroing, a deep look into her family life, insight into the lives of American Muslims, and it even finds something amazing to do with the Inhumans angle. If I could pick only one issue to get people hooked on Ms. Marvel, this would be that issue! Even guest artist Takeshi Miyazawa is amazing, giving Kamala that grounded, adorable look that is a highlight of this series.

It’s nice to see kids who appreciate the classics

Everything one could want from this series is in issue #13. I have been fascinated since issue #1 with Kamala’s home life. Being a straight, white male who was raised Christian in America, I know painfully little about cultures outside my own. Wilson writes from her own background, and it’s a wonderful look into life as an American Muslim. There is so much I still don’t know about this way of life, but I feel exactly how Kamala feels: a group of idiot radicals is ruining it for everybody else. Wilson using the Inhuman angle to address society’s unfair opinion on Muslims is exactly why science fiction was invented in the first place, right? We use the insanity of thing like super-powers to draw parallels with real life struggles, so that we can see them from a new perspective. That is deliciously insightful storytelling.

Beyond those themes, the issue is just great in terms of a superhero comic. Kamala Khan is a wonderful protagonist, full of life and energy and opinions, and watching her navigate the complexities of a new crush is just as much fun as watching her knock around a super-villain. And Miyazawa brings it all to vivid life. I’d be OK if he was brought on as permanent artist. His Kamala is fantastic.

Ms. Marvel #13 is a prime example of why this is my favorite comic these days. This issue borders on being a mini-masterpiece.


Ninjak #1

Ninjak #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artists: Clay Mann and Butch Guice

Valiant Comics is making a real big push these days, including plans to launch their own movie franchise. So here I am trying to read and review more of their comics. It helps that a lot of them are starting with new #1 issues. So let’s give Ninjak a look!

Colin King is Ninjak, a wealthy British playboy who takes freelance missions from MI-6 as a badass ninja spy. The issue opens with Ninjak’s mission to free the deadly Roku from a Russian prison. She’s an uber warrior with razor-sharp hair, and she’s already fought her own way through her guards, but Ninjak arrives in time to keep her from setting off a booby trap. Then he lets her go, as per his instructions from MI-6. For Roku is the right-hand woman of Kannon, a weapons engineer and member of the Shadow Seven, the leaders of the evil Weaponeer weapons manufacturing company. They make doomsday weapons for bad guys.

Ninjak’s new mission is to pose as Henry Collins, a wealthy industrialist who wants to hire Kannon. Under this cover identity, Ninjak meets Kannon and must undergo a series of simple tasks to prove he’s an OK guy. Ninjak has to sing karaoke, take a beating, and prove that he is resourceful enough to make it back to Kannon’s building after being dumped on the edge of town with no clothes and no money. Once Kannon is comfortable with him, ‘Collins’ asks him to build a spy plane.

There’s also a back-up feature showing one of Colin King’s very first spy missions, and how he got himself punched in the face, but still managed to pull off a successful op.

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

This was a fine issue, and Kindt has a lot of good ideas for reviving this 90s classic. But the comic a little too impersonal for my tastes. Not only is Ninjak a ninja and a spy, but he’s also a gorgeously handsome white dude and lives in a literal castle. Seriously, this is the shot of his home:

At least he’s safe from invaders

There’s just something too perfect about Ninjak in this debut issue, and maybe that’s because Kindt and Valiant are using what came before in the 90s. But if they wanted to make a real splash these days, they should have Hawkeye’d this comic up a little bit. There’s nothing really personable or relatable about Ninjak. He’s uber-everything, from his looks to his riches to his skills to his abilities in the field. This is a comic for people who just want to see a kewl ninja billionaire defeat the bad guys without breaking a sweat. I suppose that audience exists, but I’m not part of it.

Though with the likes of Roku and Kannon in the cast, Kindt clearly has a lot of creativity powering him. I just wish he’d used a little of it on the main character.


Star Wars #3

Star Wars #3
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: John Casaday

With the debut issues of both Darth Vader and Princess Leia on the stands, Marvel’s Star Wars train is racing down the tracks. All three series have been pretty great, especially this main series — even if Darth Vader #1 kind of gave away the ending.

The Rebels continue their escape from the Empire’s factory on Tatooine, with Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers in hot pursuit. Han, Leia and their AT-AT come up against an army of tanks and gunfire, with Luke on his speeder zipping around their legs to fight off individual Stormtroopers. Eventually Vader shows up and he uses his lightsaber to cut the legs off the AT-AT, bringing it crashing down. Han and Leia lead the escaped slaves towards the Millenium Falcon, which Chewbacca has saved from the salvagers.

But when they find out that the Empire has stopped the factory meltdown, Luke races into the facility on his speeder to blow it up, with Vader in pursuit in a small shuttle craft. Luke intends to sacrifice himself to bring it down, but he makes it through and is picked up by the Falcon as they make their escape. Vader swears that he’ll find the boy and turn him to the Dark Side!

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

This comic feels like Star Wars, and I can’t imagine that’s an easy feeling to achieve. The characters feel real, their adventure feels real, and all of it is hugely entertaining. Jason Aaron nails the characters’ voices and their actions, from Han Solo to Luke Skywalker to Darth Vader. And he mixes that quality character work with some truly awesome action. Watching Darth Vader use his lightsaber to hack apart the legs of an AT-AT is kind of insane, but absolutely perfect for this kind of comic. Why didn’t anybody think of that before?

Casaday’s art remains just as solid, matching the classic look of Star Wars to a T. This is a cinematic, entertaining little glimpse into the Star Wars Universe, told by some true professionals who clearly love the source material, and love the chance to make this comic. More power to them!


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!

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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 March 14, 2015, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Robin, Spider-Man, Star Wars and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Amazing Spider-Man was OK. The back-up story at least makes an attempt to justify Black Cat as a villain, but it still can’t make that change feel like it makes sense.

    Ant-Man was really, really funny. I liked him and Taskmaster making fun of each other. And I love the way the series is calling back to Lang’s origins as Ant-Man.

    Howard the Duck was funny. But it does lack the social satire of Steve Gerber, which is disappointing.

    Ms. Marvel was awesome. So much fun. Kamran is way too perfect, but that’s presumably the whole point, and will lead to drama. And her crush is adorable. I loved seeing Kamala’s family again. I’ve missed them over the past while. So that was great. Also, Kaboom is now one of my favourite villains. i really want her to stick around. Not just as a Ms. Marvel villain, but just in general.

    • I agree, I’ll probably never accept Black Cat as a kingpin of crime. Total waste of the character.

      I think Kaboom could definitely be a neat adversary for Ms. Marvel. She could have a parallel path as an Inhuman, juxtaposed against Kamala’s journey. That would be pretty neat.

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