Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 12/31/16
Here we are at last, on the final day of 2016. This accursed year has done much to destroy the human spirit and crush all our hopes and dreams. But I say that dreams never die! I plan on making 2017 the best year ever! And we can start with a nice, big pile of comic book reviews to end out the year.
We’ve got so many comic reviews, too! I had some extra time on my hands this week, so I read and have reviewed a ton of books! We’ve got great comics, like Infamous Iron Man and the new Hulk! We’ve got middling books, like Ghost Rider and Prowler! And we’ve got not quite good books, like Teen Titans!
But Comic Book of the Week goes to a stellar Spider-Woman, as writer Dennis Hopeless shows everyone the pure awesomeness of carefully constructed and executed character drama!
The final issue of Civil War II also came out this week, and just as we all feared, it was a bunch of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Captain Marvel and Iron Man duke it out and nothing really comes of it. Tony is taken off the table, Ulysses literally just disappears, solving that crisis, and pretty much every comic has already moved on to their new ongoing storylines anyway. So yeah, this thing was a big stinker.
Comic Reviews: Batgirl #6, Detective Comics #947, Ghost Rider #2, Great Lakes Avengers #3, Hulk #1, Infamous Iron Man #3, Mighty Thor #14, Prowler #3, Spider-Woman #14 and Teen Titans #3.
Writer: Hope Larson
Artist: Rafael Alburquerque
Batgirl continues to be a series I enjoy, though I am a little disappointed that Barbara Gordon’s adventures through Asia have already come to an end. She could have had some fun out there!
On her flight home from Asia, Barbara Gordon’s plane is attacked by a giant plant in the cargo hold. Poison Ivy is also on the plane, and she’s transporting an extinct plant from the dinosaur era. Ivy doesn’t want to see everybody killed, so the two team up for some plant-fighting hijinks on an airplane. Sometimes they work together, sometimes Ivy insists they don’t hurt the plant. In the end, Batgirl blacks out, but wakes up when they arrive in Gotham. Both she and Ivy are out of costume, and they maybe think it was a dream? I dunno, hard to tell. Maybe Ivy took care of everything and then changed Batgirl back into Barbara before they landed…it’s a little confusing.
Either way, Frankie greets Babs at the airport and they hug it out. Also, the son of the Penguin was on the same flight, and he’s headed for Burnside!
Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
This was a fun little done-in-one adventure with solid performances by both Batgirl and Poison Ivy, who is definitely getting a bit of a makeover these days. Gone is the evil villain, here is the feisty anti-hero. I like it. This issue was a great showcase of the talent on hand, keeping the action issue moving with solid character work, a neat conflict and the perfect artwork to keep it all amazing. I remain a little confused about the ending, but maybe Larson planned it that way and has something more planned for the future. By all means, I look forward to more quality Batgirl going forward.
Detective Comics #947
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Alvaro Martinez
Tynion delivers his defining Stephanie Brown issue to wrap out the current storyline. I like what he’s done with her, and I look forward to where he goes with her. A visit to the Tim Drake subplot is also quite welcome.
Spoiler uses Red Robin’s tech and her inside access to disable and take out the various members of the Batman Cadet Squad, until it’s down to just her and Batman. He asks her what she’s doing, and Stephanie tells him that she wants all this vigilante nonsense to end! Just think of what people like Cassandra, Kate and Tim could be doing with their lives if they hadn’t taken up Bruce Wayne’s foolish crusade. But the team gathers around and explains that Stephanie is imagining a fantasy world, where everything is buttercups and roses. They’re all doing this superhero thing because the world isn’t perfect, there is injustice around every corner, and through this business, they are doing their small part to fight it.
Stephanie takes off, telling Batman that she will always be the fly in his ointment going forward. Batman later tells Batwoman that he’s OK with that, because he knows all their hearts are in the right place (and the Victim Syndicate is all taken to Arkham).
Elsewhere, Tim Drake makes an escape attempt in his prison, but something he sees surprises him and he’s teleported back into his cell. He bangs on the wall, shouting how he doesn’t understand!
Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
This issue is pretty perfect in how it uses Stephanie Brown and especially how it moves her forward. Tynion walks a pretty narrow tight rope in his efforts to undermine the entire point of superheroes — and I’m not a fan of having a character question traditional superhero tropes in order to sound better or smarter — but I think he sticks the landing well enough in order to propel Stephanie Brown forward. Tynion tackles the problem head on and does well by the character. Why the heck is Stephanie Brown sticking around as Spoiler now that her boyfriend is dead and her father is in prison? In order to ‘spoil’ Batman’s crusade! I like it and I think it definitely works for the character.
Beyond Stephanie, this was still a great issue for character work, which has been the shining gem of Tynion’s Detective Comics. Batman’s whole modus operandi is called into question by one of his team, and he holds himself well in defense, while showing solid growth in allowing Stephanie her own crusade. The other heroes, especially Batwing and Clayface, get a solid moment to defend themselves, and more time to grow their characters. This is a great comic for solid Bat-Family character work, which is the foundation for any good team book.
Detective Comics does great by one of its bedrock characters, giving us the sort of Stephanie Brown achievement we’ve always wanted and hopefully putting her on the track to some really great stories.
Ghost Rider #2
Writer: Felipe Smith
Artist: Danilo S. Beyruth
I think I see what’s happening here. If you zoom in on the cover, in the upper left hand corner is an old school company box. Back in the roaring 80s and 90s, comics would use that box to showcase all the characters in a team comic. We’ve got Ghost Rider, Hulk, Wolverine and one face still blacked out — my money is on it being Silk.
Because with Ghost Rider, Hulk, Wolverine and a Spider-Man-esque character, Smith is building a redo of the New Fantastic Four from the 1990s. Makes sense, and I totally support such a far out move…but not for the opening storyline of a Ghost Rider comic. Because just like last issue, this comic isn’t really about Ghost Rider at all.
Robbie Reyes returns to his shop, just in time to see ex-con Ramon “Mad Dog” Cordova get hired. The other shop workers tell Robbie about how El Perro Rabioso ruled the streets a decade ago, killing gang members. Now he’s out of prison and has got a job. Robbie’s not feeling to hot, and when he ‘speaks’ to his uncle, the spirit of vengeance, Eli tells him that their Ghost Rider powers are getting stronger.
Meanwhile, Hulk and Wolverine continue to fight the giant purple monster, and when it drinks her blood and adds her powers as well, it whallops them both and takes off. Hulk tries to hit on Wolverine a couple times as they hop in his van to give chase. They later come upon Ramon in an argument in the middle of the street with his old gang (he doesn’t want to take up arms again), and Hulk decides to show off by fighting these gang bangers. But the fight is interrupted by the random arrival of Ghost Rider.
Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.
Once again, Smith focuses more on guest stars than our main character, which I think is a bad move when trying to sell everybody on a new Robbie Reyes comic. The first one didn’t do so hot and got cancelled in short order. It’s a smart move to try again now that Ghost Rider has had some Agents of SHIELD exposure — and he was awesome on that show — but Smith seems almost afraid to focus on Robbie. He’s practically a background character for the second issue in a row. The team up between Hulk and Wolverine is the real show here, along with Amadeus Cho’s awkward attempts to flirt with her. That’s solid character work, and it’s pretty entertaining, but it comes at the expense of anything to do with Robbie and/or Ghost Rider.
Don’t get me wrong, using this Ghost Rider comic to stage a makeshift New Fantastic Four revamp is a brilliant idea. That’s exactly the sort of comic book history that people love to explore. But it should have been saved for, like, the second storyline. Smith already has a pretty solid Ghost Rider story brewing, with Robbie having to contend with a newly freed ex-con and his old gang possibly causing trouble. Why not just focus on that?
Though if I’m being honest, I kind of don’t like the relationship between Robbie and his Uncle Eli. I get that it’s a solid way to build a Ghost Rider, but Eli is too much of a snarling jackass and Robbie too much of a pushover for me to get behind either of them. Which one of them is in control here? On the TV, Robbie Reyes stands up to the Spirit of Vengeance and is all the more badass because of it. But in the comic, our supposed hero is constantly getting pushed around by a bully and it’s just not fun to read.
As it stands, this is just another issue with a mildly entertaining story about the Hulk, and a largely uncomfortable subplot about Ghost Rider. Don’t tell me Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing a better job with Ghost Rider than the actual comics!
Great Lakes Avengers #3
Writer: Zac Gorman
Artist: Will Robson
I think Gorman, and especially Robson, are making a really solid, enjoyable comic here. But I just don’t think it’s for me. This is an entirely personal judgement. I just don’t find Gorman’s writing funny. That’s entirely on me.
Councilman Snerd files an injunction against the GLA to stop them from being superheroes in Detroit, so the team is all manner of flummoxed about what they’re supposed to do next. The arrival of Mister Immortal doesn’t help, since Bertha is still super angry at him after their breakup. Bertha, Doorman and Good Boy (the werewolf girl) leave to investigate the villain, Nain Rouge. They talk about Good Boy’s gender politics before discovering Snerd/Rouge drunk on his desk — or murdered, maybe.
Meanwhile, Doorman is summoned to the Dark Dimension for not carrying through on his ‘aspect of death’ orders.
Mister Immortal and Flatman have a real heart-to-heart about shaping this team into something good and getting their lives back in order. And we’re treated to a flashback about Flatman. Turns out he’s not a scientist at all. He was a barista who got hired to play ‘Mr. Fantastic’ at parties, fell in love with his manager and then quit to pursue real superheroics. In the present, Flatman has mailed his manager a newspaper about the GLA, inviting him to come join.
Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.
I can definitely say that the art on this series is out of this world. I don’t know where Robson came from, but his pencils are phenomenal. This is exactly the sort of comic book art I love. It’s detailed, realistic and full of life and personality. I imagine great things for Robson, and I can’t wait to see him tackle a serious comic.
And Gorman’s writing is fine. I especially like his efforts to build up the rapport in the team. The heart-to-heart between Mister Immortal and Flatman is exactly what I want in a team comic, same with the rapid friendship building between Big Bertha and Good Boy. This is top notch writing, on all counts.
But it’s just not connecting for me. This isn’t my kind of humor, so all the jokes are largely falling flat (though I really liked that Bechdel Test bit I posted above). And as good as his team building is going, Gorman is rushing other aspects a bit, like just randomly throwing Good Boy on the team without any build-up. And toying with the idea that the city can file an injunction to stop superheroics. Since when do superheroes obey the law by being vigilantes? But that’s a super minor nit pick.
Great Lakes Avengers is everything a fan of the team could want in a comic. The art is amazing, the writing is doing great by all the characters and the team’s history. This should be a phenomenal comic. But for me, personally, it’s just not clicking.
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Nico Leon
This is more my style! I’ve been excited about this new Hulk comic since it was announced, and if this is the only good thing to come out of Civil War II, it might have all been worth it. As much as I loved Charles Soule’s recent She-Hulk comic, I’m very excited to see Tamaki’s take on the newly troubled character.
Jennifer Walters has recovered, physically, from the near-fatal beating she took at the hands of Thanos at the start of Civil War II. She’s a little skittish, but it’s her first day at a new law firm — in order to get some stability in her life — so she sucks it up and heads into work. Everybody keeps telling her that she looks good, and some are curious why she’s not She-Hulk all the time, but Jen bites her tongue and gets to work. Her first case is a mutant/Inhuman woman (not sure which, she just looks abnormal) who’s getting evicted, and Jen promises to get right to work on her case.
Later that night, when she arrives back home from work, there’s a social worker on her stoop asking to speak with her because she’s writing a book about suffering trauma. Jen tells the woman to get lost and takes the elevator back to her apartment. Just hearing Bruce’s name and being reminder of the trauma brings on a flood of Hulk into her system, and now it’s a painful, vicious transformation. Jen is able to calm herself with a recorded cooking show before she fully transforms. It’s been pretty tough for her.
Meanwhile, the eviction client returns home and talks to her ‘roommate’ about how she met a nice lawyer who seems like she’ll do a good job. But if that doesn’t work out, the ‘roommate’ is there to protect her, right? A voice from the shadows says, “Yes.”
Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
I love the idea of using the Hulk persona as a form of PTSD, and I love the idea of putting Jennifer Walters through that instead of Bruce Banner. The Hulk has been done every which way from Sunday, whereas She-Hulk has always been a pretty stable and solid character. She’s usually cheerful and fun, often used for comedy. And there have been some great comics from that situation. But why not shake things up a little bit? Why not put Jennifer Walters through the ringer?
And put her through the ringer Tamaki does! With this first issue, the writer lays out a clear direction for the series. This isn’t just another superhero adventure. This is the exploration of PTSD in a superhero world, using a familiar character and concept to really delve into what life is like for people who suffer. I love that the new, revamped She-Hulk doesn’t even show up in this issue, keeping the focus on Jennifer. I love her inner monologue, with some snappy wit and a solid focus on character. I even love the weird eviction client and whatever storyline might be building there. It’s fun.
Hulk could be the next big surprise hit at Marvel! With a solid focus on character, a clear vision and theme to explore, and perfectly emotive art, I expect great things from this horrible new chapter of Jennifer Walters’ life.
Infamous Iron Man #3
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
Finally, things are starting to pick up in our lovely little Doctor Doom comic! We don’t exactly get the Doom vs. Thing smackdown I was hoping for, but Bendis finally starts laying out the point of the comic.
Doctor Doom does battle with the Thing, but in the middle of the fight, he teleports away with Amara. Her apartment is trashed and SHIELD will now be looking for her. Amara wakes up in Doom’s current residence in Switzerland, and she finds him meditating. She demands to know why he kidnapped her, why he’s messing with her life like this, and, most importantly, what the hell he thinks he’s doing playing Iron Man.
Doom remembers Secret Wars. He remembers how he ruled as a god, which was his ultimate goal as Doctor Doom. But even though he was a god, Doom realized that he was unchanged. Being a god did not make him a better person or make him content. He achieved nothing through godhood. And when he was knocked back to Earth, he had a realization: the selfish act of ultimate power was not his calling, but perhaps the opposite would be. He was powerful, he knew all the ins and outs of the worst villains on the planet; so he could be the most efficient do-gooder ever.
Amara calls bullshit on his claims. She says that trying to be Iron Man does not make up for all the evil he’s done, but Doom disagrees. To him, only the results matter. Amara demands that he send her home, so Doom does.
Elsewhere, the Thing travels to Doomstadt to try and find clues to Doom’s whereabouts, but he’s confronted by Doom’s evil sorceress mother!
Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
The character work on Victor Von Doom alone makes this comic worth the cover price. I love Doctor Doom as much as the next person, and I love the comic book trope of villains becoming heroes, so I am absolutely on board for a comic where Doom tries to be a hero. One of my greatest comic book regrets is not reading the entirety of Jonathan Hickman’s epic Marvel story, and how it moved the character of Doom forward. But I very much enjoyed Secret Wars, and it seems that Bendis is more than ready to take the Doctor Doom baton and keep pushing forward with a great character study.
The idea that Doctor Doom found godhood wanting, and so has decided to rededicate his efforts to something new, is fascinatingly cool.
Though I don’t think Bendis has a very good reason for why Doom would take on the Iron Man persona instead of, say, something Fantastic Four related. Maybe he still hates Reed too much to take up his old enemy’s mantle.
Whatever the case may be, Doom’s character is electric in this issue, even for someone so calm and subdued. Most of the issue is exposition, but the way it paints and molds his character keeps it interesting. I especially enjoy the conflicted interest he’s taken in Amara. She meant little as Tony Stark’s girlfriend when he was the star of the comic, but now as a foil for a reformed Doctor Doom, she’s infinitely more interesting. She’s like his only friend in the world, a position neither of them expected, and one she definitely doesn’t want.
This new Doctor Doom comic finally comes into sharp focus with the new issue, which is a welcome change from the slower pacing of the first two. I’m finally excited for what Bendis and Maleev are building here.
Mighty Thor #14
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Steve Epting
Forgive me for missing the last issue of this incredible series. The change in art from the excellent Russell Dauterman threw me off and I didn’t realize how important the last issue was. Fortunately, this one continues the adventure!
In the last issue, the reformed League of Realms launched a secret assault on Alfheim to try and rescue the Queen of the Light Elves — but their plan was ambushed by Malekith and his forces. Now a big honkin’ fight has broken out, with Thor battling the new Kurse (who is secretly Lady Waziria, a former dark elf member of the League who Malekith has forced to become Kurse). As the battle rages, Thor begins to see that Kurse is not really her enemy, so she begins to go easier on the monster. Elsewhere, Malekith attempts to assassinate the queen and destroy the kingdom, now that his armies have essentially stripped Alfheim of all its resources.
But Thor and the League save the queen and stop the bombs from going off. Malekith and Loki retreat, declaring that the War of Realms has barely even begun.
Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
The War of Realms has been an amazing story so far, and this issue is another solid example of just how cool everything is when all the gears are turning. We’ve got an epic cast of characters engaged in an epic conflict, and all of it remains grounded and awesome. Aaron is taking all the basic concepts of the Thor universe and twisting them into something truly spectacular. War! Villains! Heroes! Allies! Twists and turns! Double agents! Attempted regicide! This is some good, old-fashioned epic storytelling, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with Mighty Thor.
Though I’m not entirely sure why now is the best time to introduce a war with the Shi’ar, of all peoples.
Writer: Sean Ryan
Artists: Javier Saltares and Jamal Campbell
Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but I’m getting less repulsed by Pod Person Prowler as his series goes on.
The Prowler is on the run from the new Electro through Alcatraz, or at least on the crawl. His clone body is dying, and all he’s got left are his wits and his inventions. It helps that Electro is a loud idiot with no real strategy beyond zapping him, so Prowler is able to lure her into a trap and take her out. When he finally leaves the prison, Julia Carpenter is still there and rushes him into her boat to get him back to New U for the drugs he needs.
Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.
While it still rubs me the wrong way that Hobie Brown is dead and a clone has taken his place in this ongoing series, I’m starting to warm to the whole concept, I guess. At the very least, this is a strong issue with solid character work as Clone Hobie outsmarts and takes down his rival, the new Electro. Ryan easily gets into the character’s head as he thinks through the problem and the solution, with a nice ticking clock as his clone body degenerates. Solid character writing and solid artwork make for a solid comic.
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Artist: Veronica Fish
This is the big one. The death of the Porcupine hit hard last issue, and now it’s time for the emotional and powerful aftermath. I’m super glad to say that Hopeless and Fish get everything perfectly right.
Jessica Drew is struggling to deal with the grief after her best friend, Roger Gocking, was murdered last issue. She has a good, long cry in the shower, then sucks it up in order to do her mom duties — fortunately, Carol Danvers shows up to take the baby off her hands so Jessica can get to work solving the murder (she’s still super mad at Carol, though they did make up in Mighty Captain Marvel #0, released last week).
Jess’ first stop is Roger’s ex-wife, but the woman hates Jessica because all she could see was her ex-husband being a puppy dog nanny to this other woman instead of taking care of his own daughter. Ben Urich has to pull an aghast Jessica out of the home so that the ex-wife can grieve on her own, and Ben explains to Jess how Roger was in love with her, and how the ex just needs someone to hate right now.
Ben has a lead on the Hobgoblin, and Jessica invades that warehouse/bar that Roger visited a few issues ago. She beats up a bunch of C-list villains, but the Hobgoblin isn’t there. Then she gets a call from Carol, who tells her that someone dressed as the Porcupine is robbing a bank. Spider-Woman rushes over and confronts the villain, wondering if it’s Roger, still alive somehow and committing crimes. This doubt allows the Porcupine to get the drop on her and take her out!
Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
This issue was pretty close to devastating, in all the best ways possible. Porcupine’s death last issue was one of the most impactful comic book deaths I’ve felt in a good long while. I felt worse about Porcupine’s death than I did when Marvel killed Multiple Man not long ago. It’s rare that we get a death that not only isn’t just cannon fodder for a big event, but also fits the story and has a real, emotional impact on the characters involved. Hopeless set this up to perfection, and dealing with the aftermath is painful and appropriate.
Jessica and Roger had a very simple relationship on the page, but obviously a very complicated relationship below the surface. How cool is that? How cool is it that Hopeless was able to weave all of this into the background, and now gets to start pulling on the thread. Of course Roger’s ex-wife would see Jessica as the bad guy. Of course Jessica would have no idea what she’s talking about. Of course Ben Urich would have to speak truth to Jessica, and she’d have to take it almost as hard as Roger dying. This is rich, complex character drama, and Hopeless and Fish handle it perfectly.
Even the small tidbit of Carol showing up to take care of Gerry is perfect. Yes, Jessica currently hates her, but she still completely trusts Carol with her baby. It’s small little moments like that that make this issue shine, and it’s through carefully orchestrated, longterm character development that Hopeless can make them happen.
Spider-Woman is at an all-time peak with the current storyline. Hopeless has been setting up this powerful story since the beginning, and he’s getting everything exactly right. I wish all comics had this level of quality character drama.
(Also, if Dennis Hopeless reads this, I would very much be in favor if he followed up on the fact that Ben Urich’s nephew is around and not doing anything.)
Teen Titans #3
Writer: Benjamin Percy
Artist: Khoi Pham
This might be where the comic loses me. I’ve been enjoying the relaunched Teen Titans for the most part, but whatever glue was holding the bits and pieces together starts to sag with this issue. The team and story just don’t seem to be gelling.
We find out that the leader of The Demon’s Fist is another grandchild of R’as al Ghul, and is therefore Damian’s cousin. But she’s also an angry jerk who is rude to her teammates and is obsessed with defeating Damian, who was an asshole to her when they were kids.
Robin and the new Teen Titans flee to the woods, where they set up a campfire and spend a little time opening up and bonding. The other Titans share stories of their own warped families to try and make Damian feel better about his own. But then Damian sneaks off into the woods, abandons the team and surrenders to R’as to get him to call off the assassins.
Comic Rating: 4/10 – Pretty Bad.
Oof, this was a hard one to read. I’ve mildly liked this series so far, but a couple different things in this issue started falling apart for me. The Titans themselves just aren’t gelling. Percy seems to be hammering them together, hoping that shared stories and some weak banter will immediately forge them into a team. But few of them come off very strong. His Kid Flash is just unfunny, and comes off as an awkward weirdo, when that’s clearly not the intended case. And Beast Boy is a horndog who spends the issue making bad jokes and making the most obvious passes at Starfire.
Raven can’t go two seconds without reminding everybody that she’s the daughter of Trigon and people fear her for her demon powers. Only Starfire continues to do well in this comic, written as the adult she is instead of a teen, as the title would suggest.
Damian feels wildly out of character. Like, did he and Bruce have a falling out that I’m not aware of? He says in this issue that he had to steal a Batplane from Batman, and when it’s suggested that the Titans reach out to their friends and mentors for help, Damian shoots down that idea because it will mean that the others will continue to view them as worthless children. I don’t think there is any scenario where Bruce or Dick, both of whom Damian mentions by name, would view Damian as just a helpless child — especially when it concerns fighting R’as al Ghul and the League of Assassins. And even after comments like that, Damian still ends the issue by abandoning the team he’s just put together so that he can just go surrender.
(To add fuel to the ‘falling out’ theory: is this why Damian is never mentioned in Detective Comics, which is specifically about Batman putting together a team of Bat-themed vigilantes? What has happened between father and son?)
Teen Titans feels like a story where Damian is haphazardly lashing out after some kind of fight with his dad, and somehow his tantrum has embroiled a couple other young superheroes who are too dopey to do anything but assume that the Robin would know what he’s doing. But none of that feels intentional.
The constant rotation of artists also isn’t helping.
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!
Posted on December 31, 2016, in Avengers, Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Robin and tagged Batgirl, Damian Wayne, Detective Comics, Doctor Doom, Ghost Rider, Great Lakes Avengers, Hulk, Infamous Iron Man, Mighty Thor, Porcupine, Prowler, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Spoiler, Stephanie Brown, Teen Titans, Thor, Wolverine. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.