Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 8/12/17
Next week is Flame Con! I’ll tell you all about it when I get home. It’s going to be the big convention debut of Gamer Girl & Vixen, and we are very excited! But we’ve got to wait, and until then, we can read the likes of Detective Comics, Harley Quinn, Squirrel Girl and even Ms. Marvel!
Comic Book of the Week goes to the first issue of writer Tom King’s new Mister Miracle series. This is the issue that everybody is talking about this week, and for damn good reason!
I’m ready for Secret Empire to be over. These events are way too long. The latest issue is fine. It’s all still fine. But there’s no energy anymore. It doesn’t feel like the story is just going through the motions, per se. It’s more like…clearly this whole thing was orchestrated from on high, like all stories. But rather than really tell the story and the nitty gritty, we’re kind of just strolling through the big moments. We’re not reading this comic so much as it’s being told to us. I hope that explains it.
Comic Reviews: Detective Comics #962, Harley Quinn #25, Hulk #9, Mister Miracle #1, Ms. Marvel #21, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #23.
Detective Comics #962
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Alvaro Martinez
Good news on the Tim Drake front, everybody! I can’t wait for his epic and glorious return in another month or two!
The battle with Ascalon rages at the Belfry, with Clayface doing his best to hold off the evil android until the rest of the team arrives. Batman and Zatanna blast Ascalon’s drones, while the newly minted Azrael Batman faces him head-on! It’s a pretty sweet fight. During the battle, Nomoz slips away from his protectors and rushes to Azrael’s side to reveal the truth: Ascalon is his brother, and the St. Dumas boss who programmed them both is his father! Ascalon kills Nomoz, and that puts Azrael into enough rage to get the upper hand.
Then Zatanna shows up with the God Sphere machine she and Batman have been discussing. It gives someone omniscient knowledge/sight, and so they give it to Ascalon. Once exposed to the Everything of the universe, Ascalon realizes where he went wrong and apologizes to Azrael before leaving. He also reveals to Batman that Tim Drake is still alive!
Afterwards, Azrael is recovering, and Luke is going to build him a new Azrael suit instead of using the classic 90s armored Batman costume. Lame. And we find out that his dad, the St. Dumas leader, is in league with R’as al Ghul!
Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
This was a pretty great escalation and climax of everything Tynion has been building with this arc! Azbats kicks all manner of butt, and is the coolest he’s been since he returned to prominence at DC. Nomoz goes out like a champ. Clayface gets a badass moment. And the use of the God Sphere thing is a pretty cool way to beat the bad guy, even if said God Sphere is almost entirely Dues ex Machina. Heck, I’ve been calling it the God Sphere this whole review! But hey, that’s fine. Giving an android religious fanatic infinite knowledge to see the error of their ways is a pretty cool finale.
I think this was the best issue of the storyline. Everything came together nicely, the stakes were really high and all the characters got used very well. Even Batwoman and Orphan, who have small roles, get a couple good lines here and there. Tynion is a great storyteller, with a really solid art team, so Detective Comics is pretty great these days. And, as always, I super enjoyed the cute little moments and nods towards Batman and Zatanna. They’re great together!
Now bring back Tim Drake!
TL;DR: The latest Detective Comics story ends with a couple big bangs, bringing the story to a satisfying and exciting close.
Harley Quinn #25
Writers: Amanda Conner and Justin Palmiotti
Artist: Chad Hardin
This is hailed as an anniversary issue, though I’m not sure why. It’s only issue #25 of Rebirth. What’s the original numbering of this volume? Eh, doesn’t matter.
Harley has been keeping Sy busy for his surprise party, but when they get back, it’s revealed that the party is for Harley herself! Everybody knew that if they tried to surprise her on her actual birthday, she’d figure it out, but now they really have the element of surprise! And everybody is there celebrating, including the Gang of Harleys, Red Tool, Poison Ivy, Catwoman and pretty much everybody. Even Power Girl flies by to catch Harley after she falls out a window playing Pin the Tail on Eggy.
Meanwhile, the mayor and his evil assistant hire a big mercenary outfit to kill Harley. Rather than pick a good time to kill her when she’s alone, this group, despite seeming very professional, decides it’s a better idea to murder an entire party full of people. People who are close, intimate friends with a maniac like Harley Quinn. Nobody is killed in the initial volley, and then Harley, Ivy, Catwoman and all their friends arm themselves and start fighting back!
Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.
It was fun to see all the characters together, and the party scene was a ton of fun, so really, this was just a fun issue of Harley Quinn. I liked the twist that the party was really for Harley, that was neat. And, again, it’s just a big, fun group scene. Conner and Palmiotti are fantastic on this title, and they know their cast well, so seeing everybody interacting is always going to be a hoot. And the returning artist is great, too. Really fits the style of the book. And the big, explosive fight stuff is fun, juiced with the usual Harley humor levels. I’ve got some nitpicks about the lack of professionalism in the seemingly very professional mercenaries, but whatever.
I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop after last year’s super emotional, mind-blowing issue. I hope it’s still coming, or I may have to accept the idea that I read waaaay too much into that issue.
TL;DR: Harley Quinn and her friends throw a party! And that’s always fun! And then things start blowing up, which can be fun too, especially in this comic.
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artists: Julian Lopez and Francesco Gaston
I’m still a little salty about this comic. But my saltiness exists only because Tamaki proved how damn good she could be with this comic at the beginning, but has somehow let that potential slip through her fingers.
Jen remains on the hunt for the mutated Oliver, and she and her assistant touch base with Oliver’s husband Warren to start working with him. Jen Hulks out and goes after the two punks who drugged Oliver, frightening them but not learning anything new. Meanwhile, a phone call from Oliver gives Warren some hope, but the antidote he thought he was taking doesn’t work, and Oliver remains a monster.
Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.
This issue did a couple things better than the previous issues. It starts tying Oliver’s monstrous situations with Jen’s own, which is a step up from being a simple superhero story. But I still feel like Tamaki abandoned the PTSD aspect of Jen’s Hulk persona too quickly. And when she Hulks out in this issue, it’s made to be a pretty big deal — and has fantastic art! — but all she does is yell at a couple of ordinary humans. She can’t fight them or really use her Hulkness in any way against them, other than smashing the stuff in the room, which isn’t even their room. And one of them isn’t even really that scared. So Jen kind of wasted being the Hulk, in a series where turning into the Hulk is supposed to be a big, scary, soul-scarring deal. Honestly, she would have accomplished more if she’d called the police on the guys and had them arrested, using her lawyer connections to really throw the book at them. Now that would be scary!
TL;DR: The Hulk story I don’t particularly like continues to inch along accomplishing little, but at least this issue gets a little thematic.
Mister Miracle #1
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
I typically enjoy Tom King’s work. He’s comics’ current golden boy, known for writing prestigious comics, and his new title is Mister Miracle. I loved his work on Grayson and The Vision. I love his current Batman, but didn’t like it at the beginning. And I’m largely lukewarm about The Omega Men. This time, I’m getting in on the ground floor, and I’m happy so far.
Scott Free returns home after slitting his wrists. Was it a suicide attempt? Or was the ultimate escape artist simply trying a new stunt: escaping death? While he recovers, Scott starts to notice odd little changes to the world, like the color of his wife’s eyes. Or that he’s able to have a full conversation with his old friend Oberon, but Barda tells him that Oberon died the month prior. And when Scott goes on a talk show to discuss his stunt (an interview we watch via crappy VHS recording), the host ominously asks Scott if he really escaped death. How would Scott even know?
But then Scott finds out that Darkseid has acquired the Anti-Life Equation, giving him the power to alter reality. And then Highfather is killed and Orion calls Mister Miracle and Big Barda to action. Before they teleport away, Scott tries to tell his wife that something is wrong with him, but Barda toughens him up and off they go through the Mother Box portal.
Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
Here’s the thing: this issue is messed up, purposefully so. It’s not like one of those trippy drug or dream sequences. It’s that King and his art team make some really crazy artistic and storytelling choices. Like that TV interview is presented as if taped off TV with a crappy VHS, complete with video tracking problems. And throughout the issue, blank black panels that state “Darkseid is” are interspersed, building up until they’re are every other panel, and then take over the whole page. The effect is clear and clearly troubling. King and Co. do a fantastic job making both Scott Free and the reader unsure of their footing.
This issue is a good example of a creative team showing the mastery of their craft. They are weaving a story with every tool available, from panel placement to comic pacing to continuity knowledge to simple dialogue. This whole issue feels like it arrived fully formed from the collective gray matter of the creative team, that they were able to build all of this at once, layered with mystery, curiosity and continuity. Do you already know what it means that Darkseid has the Anti-Life Equation? Because the comic doesn’t explain it to you. Do you already know the relationships between Darkeid, Mister Miracle, Orion and Highfather? The comic doesn’t explain it, but if you know from being a comic book fan, this issue is even juicier. And the odd storytelling choices only enhance that feeling of getting sucked in.
People are going to be talking about this comic.
TL;DR: Tom King is working his magic again with an off-kilter, but no less great, first issue. Your brain might need a moment to sit down after this one.
Ms. Marvel #21
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Marco Failla
This wild Ms. Marvel story gets a little wilder as the secret identity of Discord is revealed!
Ms. Marvel is just about ready to surrender to Discord in exchange for her brother’s safety, but then Aamir starts fighting back, and gets the other prisoners to join in. Soon everybody is fighting, and the super-powered prisoners make a run for it, with Aamir leading them to the mosque. But the bad guys follow and the fight continues inside! It’s chaos! Ms. Marvel is running on empty and she retreats to a side room, but Discord finds her and continues the fight. Ms. Marvel is able to rip off his mask to reveal…Josh! From school! Zoe’s jock ex-boyfriend!
Once revealed, Josh relaxes and sits with her to explain his position. After Bruno nearly sacrificed himself to free Josh from that Civil War II prison, he realized that nobody particularly cared about him. They were more worried about Bruno. In fact, after getting arrested, his life was kind of over, no matter how much of a successful athlete or a white guy he was. And when Lockdown offered to train him and turn him into a badass, he accepted her offer.
Josh is the white male who is constantly told he has white privilege, but can’t see it because his life sucks just as much as everybody else’s. And when Ms. Marvel is a champion of minorities, rightfully so, does that mean straight, white guys like Josh are excluded?
Learning this deeply personal aspect of her friend’s life, and with no other options, Kamala makes a bold choice and takes off her mask to reveal her true identity to Josh!
Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
I love what Wilson is doing here. I was already on board with her expansive story of Kamala Khan facing today’s modern racially-motivated injustice head-on. But now she’s upped the game! I definitely didn’t see the Discord reveal coming, and Wilson nails it! Maybe it’s a little weird that Josh would suddenly go from wanting to attack Ms. Marvel to willingly sitting down and chatting with her just because his mask came off, but I’ll go with it. People like Josh do exist, and to a certain extent, they might not be wrong. Or, at the very least, it’s real to them. Look, I am not the best person to talk about these sensitive topics, nor do I really want to talk about them. But I love when a skilled writer uses them to make a good story even better.
All I know is that Wilson is playing all sides in this battle. Josh might be the antagonist, but all the best villains have relatable motivations. And to Josh, his motivation is relatable, and on some level, it is! And Kamala revealing her identity to him in the end is a big development, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out. How do these kids come to terms with where their lives have led? At the start of the series, they were just a couple high schoolers. Now they’re on opposite sides of a super-powered culture war. It’s fascinating stuff.
Also, I did snicker a little bit when Ms. Marvel removed her tiny little domino mask to reveal Kamala Khan. Considering how closely Ms. Marvel interacts with Kamala’s friends, and considering she doesn’t do anything to hide her hair and the rest of her face, it’s still just a little silly.
TL;DR: Wilson ups the stakes of her culture war storyline in ways I did not see coming, but also enrich the story even more. This comic is dealing well with complicated issues.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #23
Writer: Ryan North
Artist: Erica Henderson
While the rest of the Marvel Universe deals with Secret Empire, Squirrel Girl is down in the Savage Land trying to save dinosaurs! I know where I’d rather be!
The Savage Land scientists explain that the alien machinery used to create and sustain the Savage Land has malfunctioned and gone rogue, so all these computer programmers were brought down through a fake contest to work together to fix the software. Among the various coding plans that everybody comes up with, the Latverian programmers decide to just build a Doombot and ask it what to do (all Latverians are taught how to build and program Doombots from scratch). This causes a little tension between Nancy and the handsome Stefan, but they start to see each other’s ways of thinking over a lunch break (with Doreen as third wheel).
Later that night, when Doreen, Nancy and Stefan all decide to go back to the lab to do some late night work, they discover a giant, robotic T-Rex Ultron!
Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
I love creative, inventive stories, and this may be one of the best ones North and Henderson have done! Coding to save the Savage Land? Yes, please! Complete with coding montages that are super boring? Oh God, yes!
And if that’s not enough, what about hilariously arrogant Latverian computer programmers? Oh come on, I’m only human!
I can picture that in my head! I can hear the snideness about Doreen’s name! It’s perfect! North and Henderson have created a wonderful little world down there in the Savage Land visitor center. There’s coding! There’s late night chats between best friends about the boys they like! Doreen has an entire off-screen adventure in the ladies’ room! There’s a glorious Ninja Turtles cameo!
This issue is pretty much Squirrel Girl perfection. This is why this comic is so beloved. It’s a genius story idea, mixed with some solid, entertaining character drama and a main character who is equal parts adorable, hilarious and real. All drawn to perfection by the supremely capable Erica Henderson. This is exactly what I want from comic books.
TL;DR: This Savage Land story is one of the best yet for Unbeatable Squirrel Girl! How North and Henderson can still be this creative and funny after all this time is hard to wrap my head around. They’re geniuses!
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 August 12, 2017, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews and tagged Azrael, Big Barda, Detective Comics, Harley Quinn, Hulk, Kamala Khan, Mister Miracle, Ms. Marvel, Red Robin, She-Hulk, Squirrel Girl, Tim Drake, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.