Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 3/21/20
This is one of those weeks where I’m reminded of a bunch of really good comics that I let slip by the wayside. Perhaps if I’m forced to self-quarantine I’ll finally catch up on Fantastic Four and Jimmy Olsen. For now, I’m still enjoying the likes of Batman and Runaways!
Comic Book of the Week goes to the first issue of the new Spider-Woman series, and not just because my favorite comic book couple — Spider-Woman and Porcupine — are still together. It’s a fun introduction, though it could have been more.
Meanwhile, this week saw the release of the giant-sized Robin 80th anniversary spectacular! A bunch of creators wrote up a bunch of awesome Robin stories, and there was no way I was missing out! I read most of it and enjoyed all of it! Go Robin!
Comic Reviews: Batman #91, Runaways #31, Spider-Woman #1 and Strange Academy #1.
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque, Jorge Jimenez, Carlo Pagulayan and Danny Miki
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Man, talk about a lying comic book cover. Nearly everything in that cover happens in this issue…except for the everything else.
The issue opens with Joker narrating his side of the story from that initial meeting with the Designer. Joker says that he was the only one to see through to the Designer’s true plan: using the classic villains to weaken Gotham City so that he could eventually take over the whole thing. Joker confronted the Designer about this and that’s why the villain turned on them all.
Elsewhere, the Designer taunts Catwoman and Harley Quinn in the Riddler’s hideout, and sends his gas-controlled police officer puppets at them. So Harley does fight GCPD…but she does so with Catwoman, and they’re not Jokerized, they’re being controlled by the Designer. Catwoman and Harley make their escape and blow up the hideout. Catwoman says she’s going to enact her big theft plan before the Designer gets a chance.
Meanwhile, Batman confronts Deathstroke on the wings of the Batwing and tries to convince Slade to switch sides — but Slade doesn’t want to, so they fight and crash to the ground. Then the Designer sends a message that he’s not going to pay Slade, so now Slade wants to switch sides. And Batman and Slade also fight some Designer-ized GCPD officers. The issue ends with the Riddler seemingly teaming up with the Designer to now enact his big, scary plan.
Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.
So yeah, what a weird cover. Both Batman and Harley Quinn do fight puppeted GCPD officers…but they don’t do it together, and they’re not Jokerized. What a blunder!
Anyway, this was a solid transitionary issue that helped highlight a few important details and provided some fun story beats. I liked Joker’s retelling of what happened with the Designer. It makes perfect sense, especially from him. He tells it like he’s telling a fairy tale, so that was a fun bit of writing. I also really liked Catwoman and Harley Quinn teaming up. Tynion writes a fun, if a bit surface-level, version of Harley, and she works well with Catwoman as the straight man. They make a good team under Tynion’s pen. And the confrontation/team-up between Batman and Deathstroke is also fun. It’s a bit of a swerve in the ongoing story, and it works to build the tension and flesh out the variety of characters at play. Though it was a pretty dumb idea for the Designer to A.) Not pay Deathstroke, and B.) Announce he wouldn’t pay right in the middle of Slade’s fight with Batman. Way to get your very powerful, very committed ally to immediately switch sides, Designer. Dumbass.
TL;DR: All the characters and plots continue to work very well as the story continues to ramp up excitedly.
Writer: Rainbow Rowell
Artist: Andres Genolet
Colorist: Dee Cunniffe
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Speaking of weird covers, this seems like a weird choice for the wrap-up to this Canon Fodder story arc. The Chase Stein bit is only a small portion of the issue.
Doc Justice has turned on the Runaways and is using his old team member, SPF, to drain Karolina of her solar energy. First, Gert shows up with Old Lace and Michael, who is revealed to be the Doc’s adult son! But Doc Justice holds them off. Then Nico shows up with a sleepy Molly, but Doc fights them off as well. Doc also fights off and defeats Chase, with Gib passing out from hunger. Finally, Victor is the last to show up, distraught that his hero is revealed to be a villain. Vic’s energy blasts are enough of a distraction for Old Lace to finish the job…and then Old Lace drags Doc Justice’s body over to Gib to feed! Good girl!
In the end, the Runaways lick their wounds and leave Michael and SPF to their fates. And then Alex Wilder shows up once the scene is clear and grabs the Doc’s helmet.
Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.
In the end, this story did not need seven parts, but the ending is fun nonetheless. I’m just going to cast aside all my grumblings about the length of this story and just enjoy an issue where the Runaways win the day and Rowell reveals that this was all just a long way to finally feed Gib properly. And Old Lace being the one to do it (having previously figured out to feed Gib animals) is absolutely perfect. That one act of Old Lace smarts was more than enough to make up for the unnecessary length of this story.
Still, this issue was largely light on actual Runaways awesomeness, if I’m being honest. Doc Justice reveals himself to be completely evil and then, one-by-one, the Runaways throw themselves at him and get defeated. And it’s mostly Doc Justice and/or Michael with all of the dialogue. Gert doesn’t get any sort of big moment after all her build-up. She mostly just gets beat up and has guns pointed at her. This issue could have used a really good one-liner or something from the Runaways. Chase gets a nice fistfight, but stays mostly silent while Doc Justice mocks him. I would have liked more oomph from the Runaways themselves as they wrapped up this storyline.
At least that teaser ending of Alex wielding the Doc Justice empire looks great!
TL;DR: This story was overly long and this issue provides a solid enough ending, but I would have liked a lot more punch and pizzazz.
Writer: Karla Pacheco
Artists: Pere Perez and Paulo Siqueira
Inker: Oren Junior
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
For the second time in my life, I’m randomly picking up a Spider-Woman comic and generally enjoying it. I was never a Spider-Woman fan. But then Marvel decided to give her a costume change and a new solo series at exactly the sort of time I was into reading new comics, and I was hooked! Dennis Hopeless’ Spider-Woman comic became one of my favorites of the past decade, so much so that my review got blurbed on one of the covers!
So here we are again with a new solo series and a new costume.
Spider-Woman, in her new costume, has taken a bodyguard job for a rich teen’s birthday party on a yacht, but she’s pretty grumpy about it, and she’s feeling under the weather. Sure enough, a bunch of kidnappers attack, and Spider-Woman beats them up. Then a second group of kidnappers show up in a helicopter, and she beats them up as well! With some awesome moves and a funny, grumpy attitude. When the dust settles, Spider-Woman vomits a bunch of acid and passes out.
In a back-up story, we get the origin of her new costume. Most recently, Spider-Woman went back to her classic red costume and joined Strikeforce, a new superhero team. After a battle in Central Park, she discovers that her bank account is overdrawn and she needs to borrow $20 to get a taxi home. She joins baby Gerald and boyfriend Roger and they talk about finances. She needs to get a job, and she settles on taking that bodyguard gig from the first story. But she doesn’t want to wear her superhero outfit, so she visits the costumer from Gwenpool and gets her new suit. And we discover that some mysterious figure crafted the suit for the costumer to give to Spider-Woman for probably nefarious purposes.
This raises three questions: 1.) Why doesn’t Roger also get a job? 2.) Why didn’t she wear her modern suit for the job? 3.) If her bank account is overdrawn, why go buy an expensive new superhero costume? They lampshade that last one in the issue, but poorly. She could have worn anything to a bodyguard gig, especially the costume she wore as a private eye.
Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
I liked this debut issue, though it was rather light on content, overall. What we do get is fun and shows that Pacheco has a nice handle on the main character. That’s good enough for me for now. Her Jessica Drew is grumpy, irritable and swears like a sailor, which is a great look for a superhero as colorful and seemingly traditional as her. I think that worked really well in the opening story. The action was really fun, as Jess took on some bad guys and took down a helicopter, and her chip-on-her-shoulder attitude was a real highlight to it all. The bad guys were nondescript, but the kids she was protecting provided more than enough color to keep the visuals really interesting. So I would say that first story is a solid, if slight, opening chapter to this new series.
The back-up story raised more questions than answers for me, but not in a good way. I haven’t been reading Strikeforce, but Pacheco doesn’t give us a lot of time with them as they do some nondescript work of taking out a bunch of Doombots in Central Park. Still, Jessica is written well, and you know I’m a big fan of her and Roger as a competent, supportive couple. I’m a little worried that Pacheco plans to shake up that little status quo, based on some interviews I read, but we’ll see. They’re really cute in this little story.
Then I’m full of questions about this new suit and the need. But I’m more than willing to see where all of this goes based on this quality first issue.
Honestly, I’m pretty sure the new series only exists along the same lines of the Black Cat, Amazing Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy comics of late. Marvel takes a popular Spider-Man-adjacent woman and creates several dozen sexy variant covers for the first issue, and then calls it a day. Hopefully Pacheco and her art team are able to pull off an exciting comic despite this weird trend.
One that doesn’t break my Jess/Roger ‘shipping heart…
TL;DR: The first issue is a little light on actual content, but the strong character writing and quality artwork make it more than worth a look see.
Strange Academy #1
Writer: Skottie Young
Artist: Humberto Ramos
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
I skipped over Strange Academy a couple weeks ago because the premise didn’t particularly interest me. But friend-of-the-site Chisom requested I check it out, and I’m always happy to take review requests!
Doctor Strange and a bunch of other magical characters have opened up the Strange Academy, to teach young people to use their magical powers now that magic has returned to the world. We open with seemingly normal human girl Emily Bright growing up with generic magic powers and getting recruited to the school by Zelma Stanton. On orientation day, Emily is introduced to her wide cast of classmates, including her new half-fairy BFF, a couple Asgardian dude bros, a young frost giant, Dessy the Limbo despair demon, Calvin with the magic jacket, a weird creature from Weirdworld, Doyle Dormammu and a couple others. They get a tour of the campus grounds, get paired up as roommates in the dorm and then Doctor Strange shows up fighting a monster and invites them all to join in. Everybody shows off their powers, the monster is defeated and then Strange gives them a “Welcome to Strange Academy, I hope you survive the experience” speech.
Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
This first issue is exactly what you might expect from such a first issue, no more, no less. We meet the cast of weird and magical characters, we visit the weird and magical setting, and there’s the promise of weird and magical adventures to come. Emily Bright starts off as an audience surrogate, but she’s quickly swallowed by the mad rush of introductions and explorations as the creative team lays out all of the bits and pieces of the series going forward. And therein lies the weird balance this series is going to have to achieve: a story this big would normally take much longer to set up and explore, but Marvel isn’t likely to give a risky series like this too many issues to find its feet. The initial appeal of Strange Academy is the biggness and craziness of everything, but by cramming all of that into 4-5 issues, are they going to lose the more meaningful and deep-seated appeal? A comic like this will succeed or fail based on the character drama…but are there too many characters and too much wackiness that Marvel won’t give the book enough time to get to the good stuff?
I’m more than willing to wait and see. What Young and Ramos introduce in this issue is good enough to get me to try a couple more. I don’t think there are any real standout characters as of yet, but I can appreciate that they took a deep dive into magical Marvel lore to put forward an interesting cast. So we’ll see what they do with it. Everybody gets a bit of fun in this issue, even if fleeting. And everything looks great. I’ve always been a fan of Ramos’ artwork, and its used to great effect with all the wild visuals of Strange Academy. You really just have to ask yourself if you’re willing to spend more time with yet another Marvel academy setting starring a bunch of brand new young characters who may or may not stick around.
The mutant students of Wolverine and the X-Men are finding some footing in Dawn of X. But then the superhero students of Avengers Academy eventually got served up as fodder in Avengers Arena. So what shall become of the magic students of Strange Academy? I wish them all the best.
TL;DR: An enjoyable first issue lays out all of the pieces for the upcoming series, but it lacks any major hook or twist to make it more interesting. We’ll just have to hope for the best going forward, and the creative team shows they are capable of pulling that off.
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!