Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 11/23/19

Happy Pre-Thanksgiving, everybody! By this time next week, I will have enjoyed a nice, big meal with my loving family and all will be well with the world. Hopefully. All was mostly well with comics this week, with the likes of Batman, Iron Man, Thor and the X-Men!

Comic Book of the Week goes to Gwenpool Strikes Back because the issue finally embraces just how insane it can really get with this character.

Buncha Gwens 02

As much as I enjoy Gwenpool, I would like to see her go away

Meanwhile, Absolute Carnage came to a solid ending, though the issue is mostly all fight scene and probably would be better read via trades. It also ends with such an obvious cliffhanger that we probably should have all seen it coming. Ah well, still an OK  event all around, even if it doesn’t live up to my memories of Maximum Carnage.

Comic Reviews: Batman #83, Excalibur #2, Gwenpool Strikes Back #4, King Thor #3, Marauders #2 and Tony Stark – Iron Man #18.


Batman #83

Batman #83
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mikel Janin
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

It will never be worth it to kill Alfred.

Batman wakes up at the dining table in Wayne Manor and sees that Alfred’s corpse has been placed at the opposite end of the table. He’s immediately distraught and saddened as narration from Alfred plays over the scene. Alfred explains, possibly in a letter to Bruce, that he intentionally lied to Batman that he’d managed to get away. Alfred knew he couldn’t escape, and he wanted Batman to go through with his plan to attack Bane and Evil Batman, so Alfred accepted his fate and pushed Bruce to enact the plan. There’s also a poem, because King loves putting poems into this comic.

After laying Alfred down on a nearby couch, having a cry and then trashing the room in anger, Catwoman comes in stating that Evil Batman believes Bruce to be ready. Bruce is led out into another room, with all of his various allies standby by to watch, and Psycho Pirate and the Ventriloquist sitting beside Thomas Wayne, who is out of costume. Thomas asks if Bruce is finally done with this Batman nonsense, and Bruce tells him of course not. Now it’s time to fight one last time, in the name of Alfred.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

I’m torn about giving this comic such a good grade. On the one hand, it’s written well, and there is some real emotion mined at some points. Alfred’s letter to Bruce is nice. And the art is amazing as always. But man, the plot of this issue sucks. It seems DC is really going to go ahead with the death of Alfred even though it serves no real purpose other than shock value. Maybe there’s something symbolic in Bruce’s real (alternate reality) dad killing his adopted dad, but King doesn’t really push that symbolism in any way. It comes off as just the bad guys have killed one of Batman’s close allies, so Batman is pissed about it and ready to throw down. This is all just leaving a sour taste in my mouth.  Killing Alfred is not worth it. He’s such an important, entertaining and crucial character to the whole Batman mythos that whatever point this story is trying to convey, it’s not worth the loss. King and Janin do a good enough job conveying Batman’s emotional response, the art is especially good. But this overall story has been doing on too long and the only real thing of note to happen is killing Alfred. The means don’t justify the means.

Of course, the rumors of Bruce Wayne being replaced as Batman in the new year will solve the missing Alfred problem. And there’s always reboots. He lost a hand not too long ago and that was quickly undone.

TL;DR: It’s all solidly written and the art is amazing, but the content and the plot leave a sour taste in my mouth.


Excalibur #2

Excalibur #2
Writer: Tini Howard
Artist: Marcus To
Colorist: Erick Arciniega
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit

Excalibur has a roster problem.

Betsy, Gambit and Jubilee catch a ride from Kate Pryde (because apparently she’s the only one who can operate any boat) in order to take the comatose Rogue to the Excalibur lighthouse. They’re attacked by selkies along the way, likely sent by Morgana la Fey. The team makes it to land, but they can’t find the lighthouse. Betsy finds a group of invisible druids and asks them what happened. They explain that Marianna Stern and Coven Akkaba destroyed it. But when Rogue is planted on the ground, she grows into a new, organic lighthouse, with her as the light. The trio of Betsy, Gambit and Jubilee spend the night, though Gambit is quite grumpy because of what’s happened to Rogue, and Jubilee super misses her son, Shogo — so much so that a bad dream about Apocalypse during the night causes Jubilee to go back through a portal and get Shogo, bringing him to the lighthouse.

Betsy also has a dream about Apocalypse, a really weird one where a fire dog takes her to a statue of Apocalypse and she eats from fruit the statue is offering. She wakes up to find Jubilee and Shogo in her room. Then the druids return and warn that Coven Akkaba is on the way, and sure enough, it’s gonna be a fight!

While our heroes and the druids fight the coven, Apocalypse contacts Betsy telepathically and explains that the Coven were his worshippers, until he spurned them for thinking their magic made them equal to mutants. Betsy rejects his help in the fight, but Apocalypse shows up anyway and destroys the coven. Apocalypse then offers to guard the watchtower with Rogue while the other three go to Otherworld to rescue Brian Braddock. Gambit doesn’t want to leave Rogue and Jubilee doesn’t want to leave Shogo with Apocalypse. But then Shogo disappears as they step through the portal, and they are instead greeted by a giant dragon crying his name.

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

OK, first thing’s first, this comic has a roster problem, and that’s working against the overall story. The team departed from Krakoa without incident, and then immediately set up a new portal to Krakoa once the new lighthouse was built. So my question is: why is Jubilee here at all? When they’re on the boat in the beginning, she’s worried about her son, rightly so. When they get the lighthouse set up and decide to spend the night, she’s worried about her son. She’s so worried that she goes through the portal to be with him…then brings him back to the lighthouse! And at the end, Betsy wants to rush off to save her brother and drag Jubilee with her, son and all. But why is Jubilee part of any of this? She was only brought into the first issue because she happened to invite Betsy to get a drink. So why would she go on this boat trip if all she wanted to do was stay behind and be with her son? Why would she agree to spend the night in that desolate lighthouse when she had a portal she could use to go back and be with her son? Why would she bring her son back to the lighthouse? Why would she agree to go with Betsy to save Brian?

I get that Jubilee wants to help her friends…but they have a portal to Krakoa! They have a whole island of mutant heroes to choose from! Some of whom were actually former members of Excalibur! Why take such a small group to England, and why include Jubilee?

Excal Team Problems 01

I do like Gambit and Jubilee’s costume redesigns though

Also, why keep forcing Gambit through all of this? He wants nothing more than to stay with Rogue. That makes perfect sense, so I get why he goes along. But man, he’s so grumpy. He dumps on everybody’s attempts to have normal conversations or even make witty comic book banter. He’s a real stick in the mud…which makes sense! He’s worried about his wife. So why does Betsy drag him into the Otherworld portal in the end? He doesn’t want to go! And they’ve got a portal to Krakoa right there at the lighthouse!

All of this is to point out that, while Excalibur has an OK plot and story, it’s putting stumbling blocks in its own way with its roster choices. The normally fun and entertaining Gambit is a real drag this issue, literally interrupting fun conversations to tell everybody he’s not in a joking mood. Rogue is in a coma. And Jubilee’s attention is elsewhere, as it should be for the character. So instead of the team coming together and connecting with each other and the reader, everybody’s way too prickly. And considering how weird the story is getting — random selkies, invisible druids, organic lighthouses, dragons — it doesn’t help that the chosen cast just isn’t gelling.

Excal Team Problems 02

Even Betsy looks annoyed at who she’s stuck with

But I can’t say that the characters are written poorly or that the story isn’t at least somewhat interesting. Everybody is written just fine, and written how they should be written. Of course Gambit should be surly that everybody’s making jokes while Rogue lies in some strange, mystical coma. And of course Jubilee should be more focused on her son than on running off to England on a vague mission. And of course everybody should tell Apocalypse to get bent when he tries to help. But if that’s the case, maybe not use these characters? There’s plenty of X-Men and other mutants of Krakoa to choose from. Nightcrawler doesn’t have a book at the moment and he actually was a member of Excalibur in the past.

TL;DR: Excalibur is written well, with great art, but the story is already off the rails and the characters just don’t fit all that well.


Gwenpool #4

Gwenpool Strikes Back #4
Writer: Leah Williams
Artist: David Baldeon
Colorist: Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

Ah, wonderful. This mini-series finally reaches its true potential. And there’s still one more issue to go!

Gwen is running from an angry Hulk on her battle island, desperate for a way to beat him. But he grabs her and smashes her so hard that she falls into the White Space, where she gets a great idea: reach back into her various guest appearances over the past few years and put together a team of Gwenpools! We’ve got original series Gwenpool, we’ve got Champions guest appearance Gwenpool, we’ve got West Coast Avengers Gwenpool and we’ve got Gwenpools who appeared in random issues of Rocket Racoon & Groot and Superior Spider-Man! The various Gwens banter, question the reality of this mini-series and what it means for the character and eventually decide that the best way to beat a Hulk is with Mjolnir.

So main Gwen heads out into the White Space and out into the Marvel Comics Continuity Abyss, while the other Gwens hold down the fort on the beach to varying degrees of hilarity. Champions Gwen dies, but original series Gwen lives! At any rate, Gwenpool finds Malekith during the build-up to War of the Realms after he had cut off Thor’s arm. Whatever became of that severed arm? Gwenpool stole it, shoved her own arm into it to use it like a puppet, grabbed Mjolnir and smacked the Immortal Hulk with it (in memory of Champions Gwenpool).

With the fight won, there’s only one challenger left: Ms. Marvel!

Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.

I loved it when Gwen reached out to her different cameo appearances and put together a whole team of different Gwens. I loved how Thompson and Baldeon put in the extra work to make these other Gwens act and look like their cameo appearances. It was marvelous! There was even some nifty meta commentary, like how the original series Gwenpool is nicknamed “Marshmallow Gwen” and everybody loves her! Everybody does love her! And she is like a Marshmallow!

Seriously, if you haven’t tracked down and read the original Unbelievable Gwenpool series, I highly recommend it. Very fun, and with a truly powerful and creative ending. That series writer, Christopher Hastings, even makes a cameo appearance and one-page writing credit in this issue. Not sure why…but it’s nice to see him.

Buncha Gwens 01

It’s always nice to see Leah Williams, too

The Gwens were put to great effect against a wild Hulk, while regular Gwenpool got even more meta, diving into the well of Marvel continuity. It’s quite enjoyable, with nifty art, and the story just comes together nicely. But really, that team-up of the individual Gwens easily carries the issue. I especially love that it plays on the idea of plucking other versions of yourself from your own timeline. Only this time, the comic actually cites the specific issues that the Gwens are pulled from. It’s a perfect Gwenpool move and it works very well in execution. Brilliant idea!

I hope we get some solid meta commentary when she goes head-to-head with the actual comic book character find of the 21st century!

TL;DR: Some brilliant ideas propel this mini-series to new heights of silly enjoyment.


King Thor #3

King Thor #3
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Esad Ribic and Das Pastoras
Colorist: Ive Svorcina
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino

King Thor just keeps getting bigger and crazier, as per Jason Aaron’s intention, no doubt.

Thor is drowning in the All-Black ocean created by Gorr, but then his granddaughters arrive with back-up! They went to the planet Indigarr and reawakened the gods of that world. After the original Gorr story, a young girl prayed for help on her godless world, and Thor brought a bunch of displaced gods to turn her planet into a paradise. Now the Sky Lords of Indigarr are awake once more, and they help the granddaughters give Gorr a right thrashing. They manage to hold him steady and chop off Gorr’s head…only to then notice that the stars are missing. While they fought, the Necro Sword was feasting, and Gorr reveals that he no longer needs a flesh body to exist.

Thor bursts from the All-Black atop a space shark and urges his daughters to find Loki, whom Toothgnasher pulls from the black. The girls give Loki the book they found and Loki begins to tell one last tale. Thor touches base with the Sky Lords, excited at their continued existence. But they might not be enough to take on All-Black the Necro-Verse!

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good. 

This is an issue of escalating madness. Clearly Jason Aaron has decided to just go for broke and let all of his ideas coalesce into true madness! He’s obviously been sitting on that Sky Lords of Indigarr thing for awhile, with the idea that one young girl’s prayer is what will save the universe in the end. And All-Black and Gorr growing into the Necro-Verse? C’mon! He’s had that idea for years at this point, I’d bet. So this issue is all about sitting back and letting this creative madman have his fun. I am 100% behind that idea! Go nuts! Go crazy! Deliver some truly exciting, truly inspiring comic book craziness! Remind us of your greatest hits, play us off with a good, solid rock anthem! This issue holds nothing back as Aaron crafts it to tell his final story. He sets up the ending in several ways, I bet, and plays off long standing plotlines and minor plot details. All wrapped in what is still a very exciting fight scene, against a truly awesome villain, with some fun heroes playing around. This is a really enjoyable, really well-made epilogue to it all.

TL;DR: The creative team rightfully have their fun as they say goodbye to Thor in some of the biggest, most bombastic ways possible!


Marauders #2

Marauders #2
Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: Matteo Lolli
Colorist: Federico Blee
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit

Thankfully, there’s still at least one Dawn of X book I’m mostly enjoying.

Kate Pryde and the Marauders raid a party barge that’s being used to smuggle Krakoan drugs by Batroc the Leaper. The fight goes well, then Batroc tries to bargain with the team. He’s working for Sebastian Shaw as part of the Black Market trade routes, so surely they could split the drugs and both achieve what they want. Kate kicks Batroc overboard and says she delights in messing with the Black King of the Hellfire Trading Company. They take the ship to China and meet up with Bishop, who informs them of Xavier’s assassination. The team is shocked and take over a local tattoo parlor to drink and rest. Pyro gets a full face tattoo of a skull, which is insane.

The team later meets up with Gateway to teleport to London, where they’re introduced to their new luxury yacht: The Marauder. Kate tells the others to get acquainted while she goes ashore. Throughout the issue, Emma Frost has been meeting with Sebastian Shaw to taunt him about how poorly his Black Market stuff is going…which is weird, considering I thought the X-Men wanted Shaw to do his Black Market stuff in order to control it themselves…What’s also weird is that Emma taunts Shaw for thinking he had any say in who would be the Red King of the Hellfire Club and sit on the Krakoan Quiet Council. Why would Shaw think that? Anyway, Emma tells him the seat is already taken…and Kate shows up to reveal that she’s going to be the Red Queen.

I kind of felt like that was a foregone conclusion.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

Honestly, Marauders is a lot like Excalibur in a lot of ways. Both involve a new squad of heroes setting out on a specific mission, with a strong lead character at the center. But everywhere that Excalibur stumbles, Marauders succeeds and that makes for a much more enjoyable comic. For one, the story and general thrust of the adventure is just more grounded and easy to follow. We’re not dealing with whatever weird mythology is attached to Otherworld. Instead, it’s just Kate and her pals out on the open seas transporting and smuggling drugs and fighting bad guys. And Duggan really leans into the whole pirate theme. Kitty’s starting to dress like a pirate, and it’s just working quite well. I also enjoy the connection to the Hellfire Trading Company, though again, I wasn’t quite sure why the Marauders were disrupting Sebastian Shaw’s Black Market trade when the entire point of bringing him on board was to control the Black Market trade. It’s also funny that he thought he had any say in who would be the Red King/Queen.

Most importantly, Duggan’s Marauders is doing better with the characters. This is a roster that makes sense and works well together, though they’re not perfectly gelled just yet. Storm sticks out like a sore thumb at having no real purpose yet, but Iceman and Pyro work well on the team, and Kate Pryde is a real standout.

Kate and Batroc 01

Batroc is a businessman

One subtle thing that Duggan and Matteo Lolli are pushing with Kate is a possible new drinking problem. She’s always shown with a bottle in hand. She’s acting recklessly and flippantly…but it’s not yet a focus of the story. It’s just how she’s acting and nobody is yet calling her on it. So it’s coming across as a subtle change to the character, but one that makes a lot of sense. Kate is going through a lot of weirdness right now, a lot of change, and having her pick up a drinking problem would be an interesting new dynamic for the character. Especially with Duggan treating it with such a soft touch so far. This is what separates Kate from every other Dawn of X protagonist we’ve seen so far: she’s got something new going on. Betsy Braddock might be Captain Britain now, but nothing in the first two issues of Excalibur show that change as mattering much to the character or the comic. But Captain Kate has a change that looks to be really effecting the character, and looks to be setting up some personal stories in the future. That’s good foreshadowing and seed planting.

TL;DR: Marauders leans hard into its pirate them and its characters and both work very well for the overall story.


Iron Man #18

Tony Stark – Iron Man #18
Writers: Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Artist: Paco Medina
Inker: Walden Wong
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

Iron Man 2020 is right around the corner! But before that, we’ve got an Ultron to beat up!

As the battle against Ultron Pym rages on in the city streets, with his human/robot hybrids infecting every human around them, Tony Stark is in the capable paws of Dr. Shapiro to try and separate him from the robot suit. To do this, one of the nano-armors from the first issue is used, with Tony piloting inside his own body. He needs to tag every piece of metal and then the doctor will zap it out of his body. He’s soon joined by both the Wasp, who has shrunk down to help, and Ultron, who has fired a microscopic version of himself to fight Tony. They do battle inside the body until Tony sees a Stark Foundation bar code stamped on one of his red blood cells.

Tony then tags both Wasp and Ultron and has the doctor fire up the separator, which will leave about 3% of robot parts behind. Hopefully he can survive on that. Once Ultron is out, Jocasta catches his micro form and squashes him like a bug. Jocasta’s hybrid body was dying, so Andy transferred her consciousness into Friday’s empty body. Jocasta is disgusted at such a move, but at least she’s alive.

Once he’s fully awake, Tony heads to the armory and picks out a classic Iron Man armor to wear into the final battle, an old school outfit that doesn’t need an A.I. to function.

Meanwhile, Arno Stark has successfully brought his parents back to life with duplicate bodies and downloaded memories, just like Tony Stark.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

How about I heap some more praise onto this excellent comic? Slott and Gage find an excellent way to mix things up, while keeping the larger story going. Rather than just prolong the last issue’s fight with Ultron Pym, we take a detour into Tony’s body. The story keeps going, the fight keeps going, but now we’ve got a whole new avenue to explore! And the creative team makes it a fun battle. They mix it up, they keep it exciting, and it has a powerful ending when Tony sees that bar code. It was a nice shock, and a reminder of the larger self-identity themes. Slott has been brewing a lot of different ideas through his comic, and he keeps finding interesting ways to make it work. Jocasta’s revulsion at being in Friday’s body is another good moment, as is Andy’s assertion that he would put Tony Stark’s brain into another person’s dead corpse if it meant keeping Tony alive. Everything works in this comic. The characters are awesome, and all of them have a little something going on. The action is great, and Slott is a good enough storyteller to know how to mix things up to keep them interesting. The art is classic comic book awesomeness.

Tony Stark – Iron Man is one of the best, most realized comics on the market.

TL;DR: This exciting comic finds new and interesting ways to keep the story and major themes going.

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 November 23, 2019, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, X-Men and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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