Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 7/20/19
Happy San Diego Comic-Con Week! Once again, I am not at the big event. Someday I’ll get out there. But for now, I’m sitting home and reading comics — of which there weren’t many, at least not on my reading pile.
Still, I got to read a big, exciting issue of Batman, kicking off the City of Bane. And Matt Fraction has returned to mainstream comics with Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen! That’s a hoot! Comic Book of the Week goes to the final issue of Unstoppable Wasp, which is delightful and a good send-off.
Meanwhile, another horrible mini-era of the X-Men has come to an end and I’m glad. I didn’t read Age of X-Man so it’s not really fair to criticize it, but I’m pretty sure it’s widely regarded as inconsequential. And the much ballyhooed Uncanny X-Men relaunch turned into hot garbage pretty quickly. So many characters were ruthlessly murdered, and for what? I don’t even have the energy to do an entire blog post on the fact that they killed Fake Madrox offscreen in this week’s issue. Just ugh. Bring on the Hickboot!
Comic Reviews: Batman #75, Jimmy Olsen #1 and Unstoppable Wasp #10.
Writer: Tom King
Artists: Tony S. Daniel and Mitch Gerads
Colorists: Tomeu Morey and Gerads
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Here we go! City of Bane begins and it should be pretty good!
Thomas Wayne was the one to emerge from the Pit in the previous issue, and he and Bane have taken over Gotham City. Bane rules with an iron fist, using Psycho Pirate to control all of the super-villains, who have since taken over as the police and fire departments (Joker and Riddler are cops, while Firefly is a “firefighter”). The city is a vile place, but Bane keeps some kind of order.
Some of the villains rebel, like Two-Face, but Bane has Evil Batman to get them back in line. Thomas is also working with Gotham Girl as his Robin-esque sidekick. Hugo Strange is the Commissioner. The Ventriloquist is the new Alfred, while regular Alfred just lives in the mansion and has patient dinners with Thomas Wayne.
Bane explains to Lex Luthor that he’s done all of this so that he can boast he accomplished the one thing Batman never could: making Gotham City safe. No matter how good Batman did, how often he saved the world, Gotham City always remained a crime-riddled hellhole. Bane claims he has solved that.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is wandering through the Himalayas searching for someone. He gets ambushed and mugged by some punks, who leave him for dead. Then Catwoman shows up to help him.
Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
This issue is both a strong set-up for City of Bane and a self-sabotaging issue. On the first hand, King and company do a fine job setting up the new status quo. It’s a nifty mirror world of evil, with all the major players replaced by villains. Things look dire, with some villains used in fun and creative ways. The single panel shot of Firefly not putting out a massive fire is pretty funny. While the fate of Harvey Bullock is terrifying. It’s all really good set-up for what’s in store for the big climax of King’s big story.
But on the second hand, the story can’t help but undercut itself. It’s all just a touch…silly. Riddler and Joker playing police officer? It’s funny, but is it really sustainable to the point that it builds real stakes? Especially with King casually revealing that Bruce is still alive, he’s just off on some personal journey. King apparently wasn’t too concerned with how this world was built. The last time we saw Bane and Gotham City, things were normal. So we’ve simply jumped ahead to the city now being the way it is, as if the details of how Bane took over to this extent just don’t matter. But that makes this set-up a bit of a house of cards. Yes, we’ve been following Bane’s evil plan for awhile, but we’ve just taken a huge leap to its final form. And it isn’t built out of solid thinking. It just seems built out of silliness, like what would a Gotham look like if all the villains were in charge.
I dunno. The new set up just feels a little too thin for what the stakes should be. I like Bane’s thoughts and motivations for this takeover, but the silliness of the bigger picture isn’t as strong as Bane’s actual personal motivations. So we’ll see.
TL;DR: The introduction of City of Bane is sufficiently insane and dangerous, but the sudden shift in status quo makes it feel like a house of cards more than an actual conflict for Batman to defeat.
Jimmy Olsen #1
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Steve Lieber
Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Just like Greg Rucka on Lois Lane, you’re darn right I’m going to read Jimmy Olsen by Matt Fraction. I’m a huge Fraction fan and I’m excited to see him tackling mainstream comics again!
After a couple flashbacks and scenes establishing that the Olsen name has deep roots in Metropolis, we cut to Jimmy preparing to jump out of a spaceship in high orbit for charity. Apparently, Jimmy does a bunch of stunts for Make-A-Wish kids, and someone wants to see him jump down to Earth without a parachute. But the serum the scientists made so that he’d survive got messed up, and Jimmy turns into a turtle-man, crashing to Earth. Superman shows up and slows his descent, but they crash through the Monarch of Metropolis statue landmark.
Perry White is ready to fire Jimmy for the damage he caused, considering the newspaper has to pay the insurance premiums. But then they find out that the ad revenue from Jimmy’s viral stunts is the only thing keeping the Daily Planet in the black. So Perry wants more, but the evil new publisher says Jimmy has to leave Metropolis. So Jimmy gets a cruddy apartment in Gotham City, where he hangs up a newspaper headline declaring him dead!
Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
This comic gets a really high grade for the whimsy, and I like whimsy in comics. Fraction has clearly put a lot of thought into crafting this comic. The issue is broken down into individual chapters, which is a pretty funny gimmick. And he’s clearly done his research into classic Jimmy Olsen comics. I think Jack Kirby did one back in the day, right? Fraction is using all of that history as inspiration here, and it totally works for me, with Jimmy Olsen fumbling his way into crazy adventures and danger, then stumbling his way back out. It’s a solid, potentially enjoyable way to make a Jimmy Olsen comic, and it’s off to a really good start with this first issue.
This comic is just plain fun. From random turtle transformations to silly newsroom shouting to fun cameos from Superman and Lex Luthor, this is a masterfully constructed comic book. There’s a confidence at work here, like Fraction and Lieber have built a specific product with all of the bells and whistles picked out perfectly. They know exactly what they want to do and they’re executing it masterfully, with their primary focus being fun. Seeing as how that’s a large part of what I want from comics these days, this is right up my alley.
TL;DR: The first issue of the Jimmy Olsen series is fun and gleeful, while showing off some true comic crafting talent.
Unstoppable Wasp #10
Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Sadly, another chapter of Unstoppable Wasp comes to an end. I enjoyed this series very much, but I will say that it never went as deep and as dramatic as I would have liked. I understand why now.
All of our heroes kick butt and save the day against the bad guys in really cool ways. Nadia beats up Fantasma, but the villain gets away. Taina drives a speed buggy to save everybody, and it turns into a mech suit for further ass-kicking. Monica, the lead villain, jumps through the portal to escape and blows it up from the other side, turning the New York portal into a vortex. Wasp goes big to save everybody, and Shay puts herself in harm’s way to shut down the portal. She’s in a coma afterwards. And Finesse, Brilliance and Amber get whomped and then join the good guys when they realize Monica abandoned them. Brilliance explains that they were convinced to join AIM in order to stop the Ultron/Hank Pym hybrid that’s been terrorizing the galaxy.
Janet admits that she never told Nadia about this because she didn’t want the girl to worry, and because it’s more Ultron than Hank, and Janet didn’t want Ultron taking Nadia from her. Nadia forgives Janet for keeping this from her in a nice therapy session.
We then montage through the ending. Tigra stopped Monica in California. Shay woke up from her coma. Priya is training with Finesse to become a plant-based superhero. Taina is now going out with Robbie Reyes and helping him with his car. Janet and Nadia are going to look into this Ultron thing and everybody is pretty happy with all things G.I.R.L.
Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
This issue was really enjoyable and a nice encapsulation of everything Unstoppable Wasp was trying to be. It’s cute, it’s fun, it’s chock-full of positive messages and it’s free and open with all of its characters and their identities. The action is fun, the humor is delightful, the art is really great and that speedy epilogue is a nice touch, especially since we may never see many of these characters again. I will plotz if Priya turns up someday as a random filler superhero. It’s a shame Whitley didn’t give her a superhero codename. As the potential full end of Unstoppable Wasp, the issue does everything it needs to do and it does those things well. Nadia is well represented, with a lot of good power showcases, like the first time she goes big and a personal exploration of that action. The villains get more depth than they might otherwise be entitled. And we finally got to see Nadia react to whatever Marvel has been doing with Hank Pym the past few years.
All in all, quality wrap up to a quality series.
I did want to make one last note: I’ve been a little hard on this comic in the past few reviews because it didn’t go as deep as I would have liked. More and more I find myself seeking out good, meaningful character drama in my fiction. And the issue where Nadia enters a manic episode delivered that in spades, to a degree I knew this series was capable of, but had given up hope that Whitley would go there. I was then disappointed when Whitley seemingly brushed all that potential drama aside and returned Nadia to normal, returned the series to normal. I then ended up judging Unstoppable Wasp based on what I wanted it to be rather than what it was: a friendly, cheerful comic about best friends being awesome and supporting one another.
In Whitley’s closing remarks at the end of this issue, he explains about the anxiety and fear he had when penning the bi-polar issues. He was worried about doing it right, while also wanting to establish that it wasn’t character-defining for Nadia. I understand and fully accept this explanation for why he didn’t use it for more character drama, as I would have liked. Being disappointed in this series is on me and it does not reflect what a truly enjoyable comic this has been. I am very much looking forward to Whitley’s return with Future Foundation. And I should probably get around to reading Princeless one of these days…
TL;DR: Unstoppable Wasp ends on a delightful high note. One of my favorite comics of the past year, it delivers everything that makes it great in this final issue.
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!