Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 10/19/19

It’s gonna be a short list of reviews this week, henchies, because your buddy is on vacation! And I dunno, I didn’t feel like reading a whole stack of comics, like usual. But I did read a couple, and they were some real dingers.

Look at this list: three comics that pretty much define the entire comic book industry. Batman, Spider-Man and X-Men. No fancy adjectives. No major crossovers. Just simple comics. One is OK, one is terrible and the third, X-Men #1, is pretty darn good. I am still excited for Dawn of X! It gets Comic Book of the Week.

Apes with PhDs 01

The state of X-Men comics at the tail end of 2019

Meanwhile, when I didn’t read the stack of newly released comics, I have been spending my time catching up on larger collections. I read the latest volume of Empowered, and it was a real barn burner! Is anybody else reading Empowered? I want to do a feature post on it someday. And I read through all of Paper Girls now that it’s complete. Really fun story. Also highly recommended.

Comic Reviews: Batman #81, Spider-Man #2 and X-Men #1. 


Batman #81

Batman #81
Writer: Tom King
Artists: John Romita Jr. and Mitch Gerads
Inkers: Klaus Janson and Gerads
Colorists: Tomeu Morey and Gerads
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

I’m ready for this to be over.

Evil Batman hesitates in shooting Damian, which prompts Damian to reveal that he’s not really a captive, and he’s let the rest of the Bat-Family into the Cave. They ambush Evil Batman and kick his butt.

Batman and Catwoman continue their fight into Gotham, with Batman explaining pretty much everything in narration. He explains that he didn’t really punch Tim out of anger, that it was a coded punch, as part of their training. It told Tim and the others to go underground, waiting for this moment. Batman explains to Catwoman that Gotham Girl and her brother got their powers from a dose of Super-Venom that Bane developed, and that Batman had the last sample stored safely with this mentor in the mountain. Batman reaching his breaking point and fleeing the city was all part of his plan so that he could watch from a distance and figure out a weakness, but he didn’t expect Bane to send guys to the mountain and kill the mentor and steal the sample. Catwoman found him wounded and healed him, teaching Batman that he needed help. They went after Magpie to stop the sale of the last sample. And now they’ve infiltrated Gotham, with the help from another ally: Clayface posing as the Joker.

But after the Bat-Family kicks Evil Batman’s butt and offers him mercy, he rebounds and kicks all of their butts. He then uses their comms to tell Batman that they won, possibly setting a trap for the Dark Knight.

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

Let me just say right off, as a big fan of the Robins and the Bat-Family, I’m a little annoyed that Evil Batman was able to regroup so well and defeat them the second time. I get that this story needs to come down to Batman vs. Evil Batman, but these characters are not slouches, especially not half a dozen on one. This isn’t a group of faceless henchmen, who only attack the hero one at a time. This is the Bat-Family, trained to fight as a group, up against a severely injured and winded enemy. So screw that noise!

Evil Batman Mercy 01

One Robin is good, the other Robin is bad

That aside, I felt like this issue sucked some of the energy out of the storyline. It’s another issue of Batman just explaining, via narration, everything that’s gone on. And in doing so, he robs the overall story of its oomph. I thought this was a story of Batman hitting rock bottom and needing Catwoman’s specific help to recover. Apparently not! Apparently Bruce was in control at every single moment, predicting and deciding on every single twist in the story. The only thing he couldn’t predict was that a bunch of thugs would beat him up in the mountains. Thank the universe Catwoman was randomly up in those mountains!

But yeah, it feels a bit bogus that everything we’ve seen so far was Batman pulling a ruse on Bane. Now it’s just a story about Batman defeating Bane, easy peasy. Heck, Bane doesn’t even appear in this issue! Is Bane even still alive? Is he the villain of City of Bane? I don’t think he’s even appeared in this storyline. Did he kill Alfred or was it a trick of the light? To say nothing of the fact that none of Batman’s actions in this issue have anything to do with Catwoman. So she hasn’t helped him think of new ways to attack Bane. Batman is taking down villains like he normally would. There’s no longer anything particularly special about this comic.

This whole storyline is falling apart at the seams. If I was more conspiratorially minded, I would again suggest that all of this is Tom King course-correcting after Warner Bros. top brass told him he couldn’t do his big, status quo-altering finale.

TL;DR: Heavy-handed narration throughout the issue wipes away anything that made this storyline remotely interesting, all so we can build up to a predictable ending.


Spider-Man #2

Spider-Man #2
Writers: J.J. Abrams and Henry Abrams
Artist: Sara Pichelli
Inking Assist: Elisabetta D’Amico
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

I sure know how to pick’em. The one Spider-Man comic I’m reading and it’s garbage. I should have been reading Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

Ben is even angrier at his dad now that he knows Peter was Spider-Man, with Ben blaming Peter for Mary Jane’s death. In school the next day, that cute girl from detention, Faye, is gushing at how Ben beat up that bully and she asks to come over that evening. Before she arrives, Ben burns the Spider-Man costume to hide any trace that he might be a weirdo — even though he could have just stuffed it back into the attic. Anyway, the girl shows up in her own strange costume because she’s the Marker, who goes around tagging social justice messages on businesses. She’s not a graffiti artist, mind you. She just spray paints big red letters decrying various social injustices. Aunt May hooks Ben up with a spare Spider-Man costume so that he can also be in costume on their petty vandalism adventure.

When the cops catch them, Ben uses his webs to get them to safety, immediately revealing to the girl that his dad was Spider-Man and that he also has powers. Their swinging is caught on video and its spread all over the world. Peter sees it while at work, and the villain Cadaverous also sees it.

Later, there’s an explosion at Oscorp and Ben is compelled to put the costume back on to go help. He saves one guy in the rubble, then easily uses the rubble to hold off Cadaverous’ minions. When he gets home, Peter is waiting for him.

Comic Rating: 3/10 – Bad.

I can’t decide what the worst part of this comic is so far. Is it the characters? The story or lack thereof? The fact that it feels like a painful self-insert fan fiction? Or just how boring everything is? Ugh. I don’t know anything about Henry Abrams, but how much you want to bet he daydreams about being Spider-Man and having a manic pixie dream girlfriend?  Ben Parker is so boring. He has zero character. He’s a vaguely generic cipher, with no hopes, dreams, personality or anything of the like to make him standout. The girl, Faye, is such a painful fan fiction creation. While everyone else looks normal, this hot teen dresses in cool blues and blacks, as if she stepped out of 90s hacking movie. After a single day in detention, she’s practically throwing herself at Ben and immediately recruits him to join her petty vandalism hobby, which apparently required a costume even more blue and black than her regular street clothes.

Spider Pixie Dream Girl 01

“Have you ever seen Garden State?”

Ben, of course, immediately tells her everything, but not in some relatable ‘first crush’ kind of way. Because this comic can’t be bothered to develop Ben as enough of a character to even have a first crush. I think we’re supposed to assume that’s what’s happening, because he’s a dweeb (but a tough, bully-fighting dweeb) and she’s a hot girl paying him an iota of attention, but the story doesn’t actually say any of this. He just blurts it out.

Argh. I want to just rant about every little horrible thing. Like how Ben is an immediate pro at web-slinging, or that he felt the need to even bring the web-shooters, which haven’t been used in 15 years. Does web fluid really have that long of a shelf life? And it’s not character development or exploration that Ben decides to go help out at a random explosion at Oscorp, which comes out of nowhere, by the way. One page we see the building, and the next page we see news reports of an explosion. And there’s only one person in the wreckage who needs to be saved. And Cadaverous immediately has minions on the scene. And Ben easily defeats an entire army of those minions with some flashy web work, even though he’s still brand new to the webs, and those same minions were so tough that they led to Mary Jane’s death a decade ago.

SpiderMan Beats Drones 01

It’s just that easy!

A couple years ago, comic writing veteran and superstar Brian Michael Bendis gave the world a new Spider-Man in Miles Morales. He built Miles out, giving him a personality that was uniquely his own, a mission/origin that worked, a supporting cast that was diverse and interesting, and put in the work to tell an entertaining story. This new comic is the exact opposite, where all of the character and world-building is crammed up as quickly as possible, with no depth to any of the characters and no thought put into making the pieces fit together.

TL;DR: This comic is terrible. It’s poorly written, poorly plotted, poorly developed, and entirely unimaginative.


X-Men #1

X-Men #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Inker: Gerry Alanguilan
Colorist: Sunny Gho
Letterer: VC’s Claytown Cowles

Dawn of X is here! Twelve long weeks are over and we’re finally ready to actually settle into the new world of the X-Men. I’m excited.

Cyclops and Storm assault the last Orchis station on Earth, with an assist from Magneto and Polaris. They spend the time conversing with one another about the nature of their human enemies and the awesomeness of their new mission. They save a bunch of mutant children who were being experimented on. One of them was a post-human Child of the Vault (apparently Serafina), but she teleports away after acting suspicious. The X-Men bring the kids to Krakoa, where Magneto basks in some hero worship and Cyclops and Polaris chat a bit more about how Cyclops is really into this new enterprise (there’s also a very vague suggestion that Cyclops and Polaris are a thing now, but there’s nothing remotely concrete).

Later that day, the Starjammers stop by to have dinner with the extended Summers family in their Krakoan habitat on the moon. Cyclops, Havok, Vulcan, Jean, Kid Cable, Prestige and Wolverine all live together in the habitat, and they sit down for a nice meal with the Starjammers. Later, while doing the dishes, Corsair expresses some reservations about this whole thing, but Cyclops assures him that, instead of always being worried about what might kill mutants, he can now focus on the people he loves and the uplifting mutant mission, and that’s a good thing.

Elsewhere, the top brass of Orchis continue to pursue their anti-mutant agenda. There’s a new big bad, a guy who is so devoted to science that he’s cured his blindness with machine eyes. And the doctor we met during House of X says she’s figured out a way to resurrect her husband.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

There are parts of the issue I liked, and parts of the issue that are still going to take some getting used to. It’s well-written, and the characters are fun. But everything feels slightly removed, as if being held at arm’s length. For example, nobody comments on Vulcan just being there and being welcome as part of the ‘family’. That’s weird. And while there’s a single, very vague hint that Cyclops and Polaris are a thing, there’s zero confirmation, let alone any sort of confirmation of anything between Scott and Jean. To say nothing of the fact that Wolverine is also living up on the moon with the Summers clan. None of this is explained (though the internet loves the implications). Instead, most of the dialogue is used to reinforce how Cyclops is super happy with the bigger picture.

Now that we’re actually into the X-Men comics, I was hoping the focus would shift to the actual character drama that sustains ongoing narratives. Instead, all we really get is fluff in that regard. And the fluff just reinforces the manufactured nature of how we got here.

Cyclops Dishes 01

They can’t even do the dishes normal

But it’s still a good, solid, enjoyable comic if you can get past the need for real character interaction. The assault on the bad guys’ base is fun, as are the characters working together. The bad guys are still a little ill-defined. That is owed in some part to Yu’s art, which is as sketchy as always. I don’t think I’ve ever considered Yu much of a character designer, so this new big bad just looks like an old guy with bits and bobbins sticking out of him. And then it’s just generic human scientists and faceless/nameless agents who are fighting against mutants on principle.

Whereas the X-Men are very strongly defined, as is their new foundation. And I like what we see of the X-Men existing in that foundation and supporting it. Hopefully we get more actual character interaction and drama going forward, but this was a fine taste of the big picture.

TL;DR: The first issue of Dawn of X is a nice view of the bigger picture of the status quo, but its lacking in the rich character drama that both defines the X-Men and will, ultimately, make this whole thing worthwhile.

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!


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 October 19, 2019, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Spider-Man, X-Men and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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