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Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 9/12/15

Oh boy! What a week! I had a great birthday, thanks for asking. Plus, in the good news department, my new computer arrived five days early! So I’ve spent the past few days getting that all set up, transferring files, and trying out some awesome games on my new super awesome graphics card. Talk about a major improvement!

But I didn’t forget about comics this week, not a chance! And what a week for comics! We get some solid new issues of Action Comics and Gotham Academy, both of which I definitely enjoy. This week also marks the return of Bitch Planet, and the start of Star Wars: Shattered Empire, the first comic in Marvel’s Star Wars series that takes place ahead of The Force Awakens! Good stuff!

Comic Book of the Week goes to the new issue of Ms. Marvel! With the end of the world on the horizon, writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona deliver a knockout issue of my favorite comic, hitting all the right emotional, silly and down-to-Earth beats that have made Ms. Marvel such a stellar comic!

And there’s still one more Ms. Marvel to go before the relaunch! I can’t wait to see how they wrap up the first volume of this dynamite series!

Comic Reviews: Action Comics #44, Bitch Planet #5, Gotham Academy #10, Ms. Marvel #18, Starfire #4 and Star Wars: Shattered Empire #1.


Action Comics #44

 Action Comics #44
Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: Aaron Kuder and Howard Porter

We’re back for another excellent installment of Superman-of-the-People, and I’m still excited for this story. Throwing out a somewhat generic super-villain as the antagonist is slightly disappointing, but Pak and Kuder acquit themselves well in the storytelling.

Superman does battle with the shadow monsters, and their leader, Wrath, reveals herself as a truly mighty beast who feeds on anger. Clark is pretty pissed when doing battle, but his anger is righteous! Meanwhile, several citizens of Metropolis have been zombified, and the neighbors from Clark’s block do battle with them. Eventually, Lee the firefighter gets taken over by shadow and she destroys a building — only to reveal that she’s somehow in control of the shadows, and she was actually saving some residents. All is well, and soon Wrath and her shadows flee in defeat.

Elsewhere, Wrath meets with her interdimensional allies, preparing for invasion. And Superman goes off to hunt Wrath, content that his neighbors have things well in hand.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

First off, I hate names like ‘Wrath’ for comic book characters. They’re just so painfully generic. I get that comic book villains need codenames, but for a shadow monster posing as a beautiful women, surely there could be a better name. But that aside, the rest of the issue is awesome. There’s a real sense that the battle is Superman and the citizens of Metropolis against a monstrous invasion, and I’m loving that street-level feel for Superman. He’s not the godlike being who can rise above it all and swat away villains with a flick of his wrist. In these pages, he’s a rough and tumble hero who actually has to get his hands dirty, while still inspiring everyday people to stand at his side. Rumors are swirling that DC is going to switch back to the regular Superman sometime soon, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been this interested in Superman’s ongoing series.


Bitch Planet #5

Bitch Planet #5
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art: Valentine De Landro

It pains me to say this, but the multi-month delays between issues of Bitch Planet have taken their toll. I realize that indie comics from Image aren’t going to be as reliable as comics from the Big Two, but this is Kelly Sue DeConnick! This is a series with some notoriety and acclaim. I wish I had better things to say about this issue.

The corrupt Father Josephson meets with Makoto Maki, one of his builders, in order to persuade Maki to get to work on a new Megaton stadium on Bitch Planet. Maki is hesitant, but Josephson is that evil sort of persuasive — plus it will give Maki a chance to see his daughter, who is imprisoned on Bitch Planet. That daughter is Meiko, the petite Asian secret weapon of Kogo’s Megaton team. They scrimmage against the guards, but, of course, it’s corrupt as Hell and the guards don’t play fair. The game falls apart pretty quickly, and ends with Meiko being straight up murdered due to guard rough-housing.

Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.

I dunno, you guys. This was a fine, if somewhat confusing issue. DeConnick doesn’t really do much to make up for the delay. We’re thrown right into the complex machinations of Bitch Planet‘s villains, and are expected to either remember or just know how certain things work. There’s a big deal made about Maki’s daughter, and I guess we’re supposed to automatically remember that Meiko is that daughter? I don’t think they mention her last name at all in this issue, and the one art cue (cutting to Meiko immediately after the Maki scenes), just doesn’t work because De Landro’s art is pretty bad in this issue. Characters are futzy, smooshy lumps of human features. I’d probably have just as much luck telling characters apart if I took my glasses off.

Watch out, Dick Tracy! It’s Pruneface!

Bitch Planet could still be a good series, and maybe it will read better when it’s all over and done with. But issue-by-issue, several months apart, is going to kill this comic. DeConnick is taking her time getting to the action, and she’s adding dramatic complications that serve to only weigh down everything else. Maybe she’s going somewhere important with this Makoto Maki storyline, but I spent this issue struggling to remember if we’d met him before, and trying to figure out through Google if Meiko was indeed the daughter he was talking about — only for DeConnick to go and kill Meiko at the end in what seemed like a largely unnecessary scrimmage with the guards.

We already know that the guards are dirtbags who don’t have any problem hurting or even killing the inmates. We don’t need that reinforced any further when we’ve got a larger story to get to. And speaking of which, it doesn’t make any sense why the guards would start killing the players before the team has an actual, live Megaton match. Isn’t the evil plan to have them killed on live TV for the ratings?

DeConnick seems to have a larger, far more interesting story planned for Bitch Planet. But considering the delays, there’s no telling if she’s ever going to get to the larger plot. Or if we’ll still be interested when she gets there.


Gotham Academy #10

Gotham Academy #10
Writers: Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher
Artists: Karl Kerschel and Msassyk

The latest issue of Gotham Academy is just a big ball of silly fun and I love it! There’s still some drama simmering under the surface, but Cloonan, Fletcher and Kerschel just cut loose with this new issue.

Olive is convinced that she saw her mother’s ghost set fire to the auditorium, so in order to investigate, she ropes the Junior Detective Club into starring in Simon Trent’s version of Macbeth. There’s a lot of Shakespearan mischief to enjoy, before they spot a mysterious phantom trying to squash Olive with a sandbag! The team chase her down and discover that the phantom is Katherine, Maps’ mysterious roommate, who got overlooked by Trent for a role in the play. And Katherine turns out to be Clayface, who wants revenge on Simon Trent for stealing all the good roles back when they were both professional actors!

Trent and Clayface then have an ‘actor off’ on stage, hurling classic quotes back and forth — until Clayface decides to just attack. But then Olive and Maps show up with a firehose and blow Clayface away, revealing Katherine underneath. They take her to get some help. And Pomeline discovers a newspaper article that says that Olive’s mom, the villain Calamity, is back causing trouble in Gotham City!

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

For once, Maps isn’t the most fun part of an issue! The creative team dives headfirst into a silly drama club story, from the main girls reciting the witch spells from Hamlet to Simon freakin’ Trent and Clayface having an actor off on stage. It’s funny, it’s clever, and it’s the sort of silly drama that I love from Gotham Academy.

The Gray Ghost gets things done

I can take or leave all this drama with Olive’s mom; the real pleasure of Gotham Academy is seeing this group of friends come together, solve mysteries, get in each other’s way and deal with the typical drama of high school. The creative team has a solid hook, fun characters and a unique, atypical setting. I hope they really dig in and put this series to good use.


Ms. Marvel #18

Ms. Marvel #18
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Adrian Alphona

I knew Ms. Marvel was going to build to something great with the end of the world coming, and Wilson and Alphona really deliver with this issue. Not only do we get some great moments with Kamala and Carol Danvers, but Wilson hits us with a great couple of scenes with Kamala and her family! This issue is stunningly good.

Kamran has doused Aamir with some kind of gas, but it’s not Terrigen Mist. Still, Aamir somehow develops a forcefield super power, and when he wakes up, he uses it to smack Kamran around for daring to mess with his sister and his family! Aamir then passes out, and Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel rush him back to the school. Before she goes to rejoin the Avengers, Captain Marvel gives Kamala a nice speech and a special necklace that features both of their symbols. It’s a cute little scene.

Inside the school, Kamala changes into her street clothes to check on her brother, who reverts back to his typical bossy big brother mode now that he knows Kamala is in the room. He tells her that he doesn’t want super powers, but as a righteous man of God, he’ll figure this out. He tells her that she just wouldn’t understand. And then her parents come rushing in to check on Aamir, blaming Kamala for not helping him. Kamala is fuming on the school floor when her mother returns, expecting an explanation. But Kamala isn’t mad at her mother, and instead reveals that she’s Ms. Marvel!

Her mother then gives Kamala a hug and reveals that she already knew.

Comic Rating: 10/10 – Fantastic.

Kamala Khan’s life and family have always been the heart of Ms. Marvel, and this issue is a perfect example of why. Superheroics are all well and good, but nothing will ever come close to how expertly Wilson and Alphona showcase Kamala and her family. From the way her brother Aamir stands up to a super-villain to protect his sister’s honor, only to be a typical big brother only a few scenes later, is great. It’s so real. Likewise how Kamala’s family worries about Aamir in spite of her. And Alphona’s facial expressions have never been so amazing.

That face!

Though I will say that it was a little weird how Aamir randomly got forcefield powers from some random gas that explicitly wasn’t Terrigent Mist. Not sure where Wilson is going with that one…

Beyond that, we also get a pretty great scene between Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel, the one I’d been waiting for all this time. It’s touching, it’s personal, and it’s very well written and drawn. Wilson definitely nailed this one.

As Ms. Marvel nears the end of its first volume, the original creative team is swinging for the fences. The emotional, familial core is as strong as ever, and Kamala Khan remains the character find of the past few years. I have no doubt they’ll stick the landing in the next issue.


Starfire #4

Starfire #4
Writers: Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Artists: Emanuela Lupacchino and Mirco Pierfederici

I may have finally found what this book needed: Atlee! Introduced by Conner and Palmiotti a few years ago in their Power Girl series, she’s apparently a perfect addition to their new Starfire comic!

Kori and Atlee team up to defeat the giant rock monster, while getting to know each other as new friends along the way. Sheriff Stella is having a hard time dealing with all of these super-powered happenings all of a sudden, but Kori is confident that a group hug will solve everything once the monster is defeated. Later, at Stella’s pool, they all hang out in bikinis and come to varying levels of agreement to keep their superheroing in line with the Sheriff’s Office. Later, Kori goes out to get a bite to eat, embarrasses Boone in front of his girlfriend, and then is approached by the mysterious and evil Soren, who wants to buy her a drink!

Meanwhile, Kori’s sister Blackfire hires a cosmic bounty hunter to track her down.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

The interplay between Kori and Atlee is just great. For the first three issues, Kori was a silly fish-out-of-water, a painfully naive person who just didn’t seem to gel with the world created for her in Florida. But Atlee makes for a great bridge between the fun heroics of Starfire and the real world of Key West. She’s just as friendly and fun as Kori, but she’s not naive and ignorant about the ways of the world. She should make for a great friend and supporting character, and I hope she sticks around. In fact, the trio of Kori, Atlee and Stella really solidifies in this issue, and I hope they become the cornerstone going forward.

Sorry, no bikini shots

 

The rest of the issue is fun too, and much easier to swallow now that Kori has a more solid supporting cast and place in the world. There’s a cute scene where she embarrasses Boone, whom she met a few issues ago. And the fight with the rock monster is handled well. And I like the writers tackling the fact that Sheriff Stella isn’t ready to deal with superheroics in her neighborhood. I like taking a peek like that behind the curtain of superheroes.

A lot of pieces fell into place for Starfire with this issue. Both the characters and the story are stronger for it, and I look forward to where we go from here.


Shattered Empire #1

Star Wars: Shattered Empire #1
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Marco Checchetto

Marvel’s efforts to use the best writers in the business on their Star Wars comics has snagged another great! Greg Rucka is definitely one of my favorites, so I’m excited to check out this new issue, one of the first looks at a Post-Return of the Jedi galaxy.

During the Battle of Endor, we meet A-Wing pilot Shara Bey, who helped in the spacefight against the second Darth Star; and Rebel fighter Kes Dameron, who fought alongside Han Solo on the forest moon’s surface. They’re husband and wife, and after the battles are over, they find each other in the middle of an Ewok Party for a little celebratory hanky panky. The next morning, Han has uncovered a holdout Empire camp on the other side of the moon, so everybody loads up and kicks butt. Unfortunately, the camp had all sorts of info that reveals that the battle is far from over!

Also, if you don’t recognize the name ‘Dameron’, Shara and Kes are the parents of upcoming The Force Awakens star Po Dameron.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

When putting Greg Rucka on a Star Wars comic, and when taking one of the first looks into the new canon of the post-trilogy, Marvel probably could have made a better, more exciting choice than focusing on two random Rebel fighters and their love story. Granted, this sort of thing is usually the Expanded Universe’s bread & butter, a small little story set against the backdrop of something great. And in that regard, this issue is probably a great success. But I suppose I was expecting something with a little more meat on its bones in this big ‘Road to The Force Awakened’ event. The biggest story that Marvel and Star Wars could come up with is sending Po Dameron’s parents on an adventure, with Han Solo and Chewbacca hanging out in the wings?

The best party in the galaxy!

But that aside, this is a fine little issue. Rucka and Checchetto do a great job thrusting us into the madness of the second Death Star, and then the trip through the Ewok Party is simply gorgeous. This issue doesn’t have the same ‘Star Warsy’ feel of Jason Aaron’s Star Wars comic, but it’s nonetheless enjoyable. Shara and Kes are not yet very developed, but I suppose that will come as the story progresses.

The first issue of Shattered Empire is a gorgeous behind-the-scenes tour of the Battle of Endor, but it’s not quite the big, epic adventure I was expecting. It looks like Rucka might keep the story on a personal level, with a rather interesting connection to The Force Awakens.


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 September 12, 2015, in Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Star Wars, Superman and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. It’s so good to see Rucka in action.

    And to think that he could be writing Wonder Woman now, if Didio hadn’t completely alienated him. Good going, Didio >_<

  2. Ms. Marvel is great, as always. The Kamala/Carol scene is really nice and sweet. The Kamala/Aamir scene is hilarious, and perfect for how it avoids being nice and sweet. Kamala’s expression when Aamir says she can’t understand what he’s going through is delightful. And that ending is a definite shocker. I did not see that coming.

    I still love Bitch Planet. The delays are sucking, but I still enjoy the story. Things are being fleshed out slowly, but it’s not that slow, really. Clearly, Makoto’s going to play a significant role in the story. This is also one of a fairly small number of comics where trade-waiting is a huge mistake, because the back material is as important as the story itself. The essays are intelligent and thought-provoking, and the letters pages show that Bitch Planet has become a full-blown community. There aren’t many comics that can so consistently provoke such intimate and personal letters from readers.

    • I should definitely start reading the Bitch Planet supplemental materials then. I gave up on letter columns ages ago, but perhaps there’s more to it. I did skim through DeConnick’s essay about Meiko though.

      • Oh, the back material in Bitch Planet is essential. The essays in each issue give great insight into both the struggles and responsibilities of feminism. And the letters are full of people giving their own experiences. People talking about their own struggles with accepting themselves, or the institutionalized misogyny they’ve faced (and either challenged or backed down from), even confessions of having suffered sexual assaults. It’s quickly become a safe space for feminists – women and men alike – to talk about their experiences.

        And while I’m recommending letter pages: Squirrel Girl’s letter pages are often hilarious and adorable, just like the comic.

        I actually like reading letter pages. Sometimes you get some clever insight, or sometimes you get a hilarious comment.

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