Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 8/11/18
Have you heard the good news? Kelly Thompson is going to be a major creative player in the X-Men! That’s darn good news! Let’s celebrate by reading Spider-Man, Catwoman, Superman and Domino comics!
Comic Book of the Week goes to the first issue of the newly relaunched Fantastic Four! I’ve never been much of a Fantastic Four fan, but Dan Slott has been on fire since coming off Amazing Spider-Man!
Meanwhile, I skipped reviewing Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for the second time in a row because it continues off the trial issue, with which I had several problems. The new issue is all about Squirrel Girl deciding that Kraven the Hunter should be completely absolved of all crimes because she thinks he’s a good person who is dedicated to bettering himself. Forget all previous criminal incidents, and ignore the perfectly legal trial by jury that just took place, if Squirrel Girl thinks you’re a good person, you should totally get off scot free.
Really bad call by the normally level-headed Squirrel Girl.
Comic Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man #3, Catwoman #2, Domino #5, Fantastic Four #1 and Superman #2.
Amazing Spider-Man #3
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
If nothing else, Spencer is dedicated to using some classic Spidey characters. Norah Winters returns, and then the Tri-Sentinel shows up!
So in the lab last issue, Peter Parker was zapped by the Isotope Genome Accelerator, that machine that zapped the spider with radiation to give him his powers back in Amazing Fantasy #15. Only this time, for some reason, it splits Peter Parker into two separate people, a normal, ordinary human and a Spider-Man. It also managed to transfer Peter’s Spider-Man costume onto this split person…? After the bad guys are defeated, the pair sneak away and take a moment to confirm that they are indeed both Peter Parker, except one has powers and one doesn’t.
Peter goes on a bowling date with MJ and his friends and starts contemplating a normal life, while Spider-Man goes off to fight the Tri-Sentinel downtown. Doctor Connors calls Peter back to his lab to show him how the Accelerator works (without knowing that it already worked on Peter), and Connors reveals that the split people also split the original person’s skills, abilities, intelligence, personality and other stuff. So while Spider-Man may have all the powers and genius intellect, he might not have the moral lessons about power and responsibility.
Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.
I’m just not feeling this Spider-Man story very much. The writing and art are generally fine. Spencer writes an OK Spider-Man. He’s not particularly funny, but he’s still Spidey. And I liked the scene of Peter hanging out with friends, bowling with Mary Jane, Norah and Robbie. It’s just the bigger story, about the split Spider-Man, that isn’t working for me. For one thing, it seems like a pretty insane retcon to say that the vague science machine that originally gave Peter his powers now has the ability to create an entire human being in a matter of seconds, from scratch? That’s not how the machine originally worked. Why even use that original machine if you’re going to give it this strange new ability? Why not invent some new science gizmo? Not to mention the fact that Peter is pretty darn chill about suddenly being split into two, and letting this other Spidey do all the work.
Spencer glosses over some of the more interesting character beats that would come from Spidey losing his abilities, like his struggles now with normal human strength, or his sudden lack of his scientific acumen, which went to the other Spider-Man. So we don’t get any good character studies out of Peter trying to live as a normal person, short of some quick asides about being able to stick around for the date instead of having to rush off to each emergency that pops up.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with Spencer’s opening storyline — unless you’re sick to death of Spider-Man clones and clone-esque characters — I just think Spencer is taking a few unnecessary shortcuts to tell a story that isn’t particularly interesting just yet.
TL;DR: The opening storyline gets weirder, and the writing takes a few unnecessary shortcuts to try and make that weirdness work.
Writer and Artist: Joelle Jones
Colorist: Laura Allred
Letterer: Josh Reed
My mistake, Catwoman takes place in California, not some villa south of the border like I originally thought.
Catwoman fights off a bunch of costumed copycats, then interrogates one to find out she’s an actress. They were all hired by somebody as some kind of artistic flash mob thingy. Catwoman returns home and tries to sleep, but still can’t. Her pal Carlos gives her some gadgets, while she pines over her engagement ring.
Meanwhile, the villainous Mrs. Creel tortures the Catwoman copycat who got those two cops killed. Then her husband, the governor of California, goes on TV and announces his retirement due to a cancer diagnosis. She did not know about any of this and she’s pissed. But she still goes through with a party that evening, to which Selina Kyle shows up. She’s greeted by Creel’s sons.
Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.
So that bunch of copycat Catwomen sure went nowhere. It’s also kind of weird that Selina got into a fight with them if most of them were actors hired for a gig. Still, this issue is building solidly, though nowhere particularly interesting yet. There’s a vile matriarch villain with simpering sycophant sons and a dopey husband, I’m sure we’ve seen that plenty of times before. Jones hasn’t delivered anything very catchy about Catwoman’s adversaries here. But her artwork is still phenomenal, and a step up from the previous issue. And I like Selina’s internal conflict as she wrestles with abandoning Bruce at the altar. That’s good, character-based drama. I hope Jones can really get the rest of the story to match the strength of the personal stuff. And, as always, I could use more personal stuff.
TL;DR: The focus on Catwoman herself is pretty strong, but the rest of the story has so far failed to really catch on.
Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Michael Shelfer and David Baldeon
Colorist: Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
There’s just something off about this series that I’m not fully connecting with.
Domino and Shang-Chi fight off the army of hired goons that Topaz and Prototype have sent after her. Shang-Chi has a battle of wills with the lead goon, while Domino struggles through an actual fight with the rest. Eventually, Shang-Chi is able to talk Domino through her emotional panic and she regains the use of her powers.
Meanwhile, Outlaw and Diamondback are tussling with Topaz and Prototype at the lab where Domino and the villains grew up. Prototype tells more of his backstory, about how he was tortured by a mad scientist after they discovered his connection to Domino’s powers. After Domino escaped, the scientists were just going to kill him like useless waste, but the lead scientist’s daughter, Topaz, had fallen for the kid and saved him.
I don’t think we know the connection yet, why Prototype’s suffering caused Domino’s powers to flourish, and vice versa. Prototype is also a teleporter for some reason. Outlaw and Diamondback feel bad and want to help after hearing his story, but Topaz and Prototype lash out at the two of them. Outlaw gets in one good lick before Prototype teleports them both to Hong Kong to go after Domino, but Prototype’s face has been half sliced off!
Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.
I think my problem with Domino is that it’s a touch too frantic for the story it’s trying to tell. Part of this is the art. Baldeon is a really fun artist and I like his style (with help this issue from Shelfer), but the art style is really frantic and takes away from some of the more serious moments. There’s also the fact that Simone really packs her pages full of stuff, and coupled with frantic art, that makes for a really overstuffed comic. And Baldeon/Shelfer aren’t really the best at fight choreography.
Then there’s the problems where important parts of the story aren’t explained as clearly as I would like. The problem with Neena’s powers feels a little weak, her powers being pretty up in the air to begin with. She went to all this trouble to fly to Hong Kong and learn from Shang-Chi, and all it took was a solid pep talk to get over her mental hurdles? I guess that works, and I really enjoy Domino lusting after Shang-Chi, but this was still a pretty far-out tangent.
And this Prototype fella is really poorly explained, despite the lengths Simone has gone to to explain him. Did we already know he was a teleporter? That feels like it came out of nowhere this issue. But basically, I still have no idea how he was connected to Neena. They’re not related or anything. It really just seems like they were randomly at the same testing facility together as kids and somehow a connection randomly formed between her powers and his…person? I don’t know. Again, the teleportation power seems to have zero to do with his connection to Neena, it seems like just a convenient plot device. His name “Prototype” means nothing in either context. And it doesn’t help that he hasn’t had a consistent look the entire series, whether that be his face or his outfit. He’s been several different ages in only five issues, and this all makes for an antagonist that I just don’t get. And if I don’t get him, I don’t really connect with everything else that’s going on.
It also doesn’t help that Baldeon draws male faces really weird to begin with.
Anyway, despite all those gripes and complaints, Domino is still a fine comic. I bet if I was a fan of the character, I’d be loving this focused and interesting comic. Instead, I can’t help but be bothered by the faults.
TL;DR: Domino remains an enjoyable comic, but it’s attempts to explain what’s going on don’t really clarify some of the more obtuse parts of this frantic comic.
Fantastic Four #1
Writer: Dan Slott
Artists: Sara Pichelli, Simone Bianchi and Skottie Young
Inkers: Pichelli and Elisabetta D’Amico
Colorists: Marte Gracia, Bianchi, Marco Russo and Jeremy Treece
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Gosh darnit, Dan Slott might just make me a believer.
I want to preface this review with a couple of things. First of all, I’ve never been a particular fan of the Fantastic Four. I’m really only picking this up due to Dan Slott, whose work I thoroughly enjoy. Second, I was a big, big fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ Infamous Iron Man and how he treated the surviving FF characters, but then I wasn’t a big fan of Chip Zdarsky’s Marvel Two-in-One and what he was doing with the characters. So basically, I’m going to try and keep an open mind. I love what Slott is doing over in Tony Stark – Iron Man, so I’m excited to see what he does here.
Apologies for the length of this entry.
Reed and Sue Richards remain out there, somewhere, doing their thing, while Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm remain on Earth, convinced that their loved ones are dead. Or, at least, Ben is convinced, and he’s ready to move on with his life. Johnny holds on to any hope he can get that Reed and Sue are still out there. So when the Fantastic Four symbol flashes across the Manhattan skyline, everybody in the city is excited, especially Johnny — but it’s just some Yancy Street kids fooling around with a signal device they stole.
Ben goes to check on his pal Shecky, who had the device and some others on display in his condo. The kids broke in and stole it. While visiting, Ben tells Shecky about another adventure the team had, where they were lost in the cosmos, but their friend Astronomica used her magic crystal, and Johnny’s singing voice, to portal them home. (A quick Google search reveals that Astronomica is not an existing character, in case you were curious, like I was).
Remembering the story, and the incident with the signal device, prompts Ben to finally ask Alicia Masters to marry him, and she says yes. They invite Johnny to dinner to tell him the good news and ask him to be Best Man, but Johnny throws a tantrum that Ben has given up hope. Johnny flies into the sky in a rage, shouting to the heavens that, if Reed is out there, he should give him a sign! When nothing happens, Johnny flies back down to his friends, in tears, ready to accept the truth, finally…
Except that Reed and Sue are totally out there, and Reed whips up a device that paints a big, blue “4” on the moon! The whole city sees it and everybody is excited again!
Meanwhile, Victor von Doom is living like a hobo in his own castle in Latveria, his time as the Infamous Iron Man having failed, with his face once again scarred. One of his subjects breaks into the castle and convinces him to down his metal face and free Latveria from its unfair current rules. So he does.
Comic Rating: 10/10 – Fantastic.
What can I say, this issue had a really good moment there at the end. When Johnny starts screaming to the heavens about a sign, but then returns to his friends, tears in his eyes, ready to finally accept the truth, I really felt my emotions stirring. It was touching. It was emotional. Slott, along with Pichelli’s phenomenal art, really got me. And then when Reed went ahead and delivered that true signal, that they were still alive and there was still hope, that was damn good, too! The Fantastic Four aren’t reunited in the first issue of their new series, and I’m perfectly fine with that. But Slott and his art team really deliver a powerful, hopeful message for what’s to come.
The rest of the issue, and the emotions involved, are really good, too. Sarah Pichelli draws an amazing Thing!
I liked the way that Slott portrays the whole city’s reaction to the Fantastic Four. This is the world’s most popular superhero team. The whole city loves the FF, and when that signal goes across the sky, it makes the news. It’s an effective tool to build the hype of a reunited FF. Also effective is the continued exploration of Ben and Johnny and their lives after the FF. This was a highlight of Bendis’ book, which took a real street-level approach to their grief. But I wasn’t really on board with Zdarsky’s multi-dimensional jaunt in Two-in-One. Slott focuses on the grounded stuff, and it’s just really fun seeing the big ole Thing wander around downtown like an everyday bloke. He wears normal clothes, he visits his buddy’s place. He reminisces. And having Ben ask Johnny to be his best man was such a wonderful moment. Johnny vehemently disagrees and says only Reed should be Ben’s best man, but I just love how Ben has made his peace with Reed and Sue’s “passing” and still wants to embrace Johnny. I didn’t care for how rudely Johnny refused the offer (by shouting “NO!”), but the offer itself was such a touching moment.
Of course, I may be in trouble when Slott gets around to the actual Fantastic Fouring that is expected with this comic. I just personally love all these stories about Ben and Johnny trying to live normal lives and coming to accept their grief.
I didn’t particularly care for the Doctor Doom back-up feature. Bendis was doing so many interesting things with Doom over the past few years. Obviously that stuff can’t remain, Doom has to return to his villainous status quo. I’m just disappointed that the character has to backtrack instead of moving forward.
TL;DR: Slott’s Fantastic Four return starts where it should, with a slow, emotional build that makes the return feel bigger and more emotional than expected. This is a comic that rightfully cares about its characters.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Ivan Reis
Inkers: Joe Prado & Oclair Albert
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Josh Reed
This is getting pretty rough.
Earth has been transported into the Phantom Zone, and Superman is rushing around trying to help/save as many people as he can. He also ruminates to himself about how he may have the power to constantly see and hear all the tragedy in the world, but he can also constantly see and hear all the beauty in the world, like people helping each other. Superman links into the rest of the Justice League to try and coordinate their response, and he later meets with the Flash in the Fortress of Solitude to investigate the Phantom Zone Projector, which is too small to transport the entire planet. Then Flash and Batman start suffering some kind of sickness.
Meanwhile, Rogol Zaar is also in the Phantom Zone, and he beats up and kills the Nuclear Man from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, because OK. When that’s done, Zaar sees the Earth and decides to ambush Superman, but then decides to back off and instead get himself an army first.
Comic Rating: 4/10 – Pretty Bad.
The main problem with the second issue of Superman is that it spends way too much of its issue on boring, generic inner thoughts. There’s a bulk montage of Superman flying around helping people deal with all the new problems, and he’s just monologuing to himself about this, that and the other thing. None of it is particularly thoughtful or creative, like some of Bendis’ insights have been. And none of the rescues are particularly noteworthy or even connected to the Phantom Zone. It’s just Superman flying around responding to natural disasters, all while going on and on to himself about generic heroic stuff. The Justice League cameos don’t provide any great alleviation either.
And then there’s Rogol Zaar, who just keeps getting worse and worse.
The issue opens with a flashback to a big space battle between Tamaran and Thanagar. The art is spectacular, but the flashback only exists to jobber the Tamaranians when they suddenly see Rogol Zaar on the battlefield and start pissing their pants out of fear. Dear lord. Could Bendis being trying any harder to force this guy’s bonafides down our throats? And then when we finally get a peek into Rogol Zaar’s thought process, when we hear his internal monologue, it’s as boring and generic as he is. There’s no great insight, no real explanation for anything. He’s just some lone evil space dude who hates Kryptonians and wants to now fight Superman. But nope, he doesn’t fight Superman. He flies off to get some back-up, even though nothing about him that we’ve seen so far makes him out to be a guy who needs or wants back-up.
Bendis just keeps escalating his frankly boring and utterly generic conflict.
TL;DR: The new issue of Superman leans too hard into the generic monologuing, both from the hero and the already overly generic new villain.
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!