Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 10/3/20

We have a doozy of a review pile this week, folks! The next chapter of X of Swords is a bit of a let down, but we’ve also got pretty wild issues of Power Rangers, Strange Academy and Legion of Super-Heroes. Not to mention the first issue of a new Shang-Chi ongoing!

Comic Book of the Week goes to Fantastic Four #24 for an utterly delightful love letter to classic Marvel Comics. Did you know Iceman was once a member of the Fantastic Four?

The Fantastic Four that could have been

Meanwhile, I’ve started playing Hollow Knight and it’s pretty fun. I’m in a bit of video game limbo at the moment as I await Cyberpunk 2077. I played my way through Wasteland 3, but wasn’t taken by it. I had a lot of fun with the Tony Hawk remaster…but using the D-pad so much sprained my thumb. And I can’t seem to get into the Avengers game.

Maybe Baldur’s Gate 3 next week will help fill this void in my gamer soul. Either that, or season 2 of Fall Guys.

Comic Reviews: Fantastic Four #24, Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey #3, Legion of Super-Heroes #9, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #54, Shang-Chi #1, Strange Academy #3 and X-Factor #4.


Fantastic Four #24

Fantastic Four #24
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Paco Medina
Colorist: Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

So I fell off Dan Slott’s Fantastic Four a handful of issues ago. I was enjoying the series, but I’ve never been a big FF fan and I just let it get away from me. I’m coming back for this issue because it is Slott’s long awaited promise to reveal how Iceman was once a member of the Fantastic Four! He teased this way back towards the start of the series, and I’m a big Iceman fan.

The Fantastic Four are settling down for a big family dinner to celebrate Ben and Alicia adopting the two alien kids they picked up during Empyre. Franklin is hanging out on Krakoa with his mutant friends and Iceman gives him a ride home and pops in to say hello, rather tickled with the fact that the security system still recognizes him as a member of the F4. Human Torch is pissed and starts an argument, eventually flashing us back to a groovy story set during the 1960s era of Marvel.

In the flashback, Human Torch has quit the team to focus on his own popularity, and Iceman has sulked away from the X-Men after an embarrassing Danger Room session. Iceman bumps into the rest of the F4 while they’re fighting bad guys in NYC, and they invite him to hang out and lend a hand. Iceman spends the day fighting bad guys with the team until the Human Torch sees this on TV and rushes off to start an argument — right in the middle of the F4 fighting a big Celestial with a giant hammer in downtown. Sue puts the boys in their place and they work together to help defeat the bad guy. Iceman is told he’s welcome to hang out anytime.

Back in the present day, Torch and Iceman bury the hatchet as Torch explains that being a member of the Fantastic Four isn’t just about joining a superhero team. The Fantastic Four is a family — so Iceman is, of course, invited to dinner.

Comic Rating: 10/10 – Fantastic!

This comic is the very definition of delightful. Everything about this issue is so wonderfully wholesome and beautiful. And it’s also such a love-letter to Marvel comics. Slott took this silly little nugget of an idea — some untold adventure where Iceman teamed up with the Fantastic Four — and has delivered on it all these issues later to such perfection. The flashback story is a thing of pure comic book beauty. Medina and Aburtov flex their muscles to create an old-timey, Silver Age comic book look that works so well its crazy. And the story is just so dang wholesome! The F4 is so friendly to Iceman, and he’s so young and impressionable, and everybody has a great time working together and being superheroes. It’s precious.

He’s in the big leagues now

Then the book-ends are so darn good as well. This isn’t just a silly story, it’s a treatise on the importance of the F4 as a family. And it ends in such a beautiful way. Slott sets up this big family celebration dinner based all around the new characters he’s added to the family, from Ben and Alicia’s new adopted alien kids to Johnny’s soulmate/girlfriend he picked up a couple issues ago. And as he’s explaining this family aspect to Iceman, it’s just such a wonderful moment that Iceman gets invited to family dinner. Such a perfect little ending.

TL;DR: This is good comics, people. This is wholesome, heart-warming, clever, beautifully-drawn comics. This is as wonderful a love letter to the Fantastic Four as has ever been written or drawn.


Harley Quinn and BoP #3

Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey #3
Writers: Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Amanda Conner
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: John J. Hill

I’ve decided to just enjoy this mini as the capstone to Conner and Palmiotti’s excellent Harley Quinn run from a couple years ago. It’s simple, with gorgeous art, and disconnected from everything else.

Harley Quinn wakes up in Wayne Manor and Alfred does what he can to be a good host and help her figure out her next move. Harley invites the media, and Renee Montoya, to the stash she stole from the Joker in order to return all of the stolen goods (many of which come with a big reward). The villains in Arkham watch on the news as Harley gives away their years of stolen loot so they turn on the Joker, who then offers a $20 million bounty on Harley. The villains break out and everybody in the city starts going after Harley — who apparently didn’t predict this kind of blowback?

Anyway, it all leads to a big brawl at a local Gotham precinct between all the villains and all the heroes, and Harley slips away in the confusion. She shows up at the home of the crime boss from the first issue who burned down her hotel for the overdue mortgage, burning down his home in return and settling their beef. Harley then goes to visit Poison Ivy, but she’s strung up in her apartment by the Joker!

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

I feel like this comic is a direct response to the amazing Harley Quinn TV show. I know it’s got a lot to do with the Birds of Prey movie that came out at the beginning of the year. But this issue, especially, feels like Conner and Palmiotti trying their damnedest to match the speed, intensity and wit of the cartoon show’s style and humor. This issue is a rapid-fire train of gags, zingers, wackiness and violent action. And as much as I love these writers, and the Harley Quinn cartoon show, I don’t think they succeed. This is still a fun and engaging comic, though. I liked this issue a bit better than last issue. There were some funny quips here and there, and the story keeps moving right along. There are also some real stinkers. An extended bit about how Clayface poops and whether or not he has a penis falls really flat.

He has been missed

This definitely doesn’t work as a Birds of Prey comic. Huntress, Black Canary and Orphan barely factor into the comic, this issue especially. Mostly it’s Renee Montoya being overly angry at everything Harley does, with Harley just doing everything she always does. The stuff with Renee feels weird. She was never a part of Conner and Palmiotti’s original comic, but these past few issues make it seem like Renee is Harley’s personal keeper, and is constantly grinding-her-teeth angry at Harley’s every move. If you’re this angry, why even associate with Harley at all, Renee? Save yourself the stress.

Red Tool gets thrown into the mix, which is fun. I always liked him. And the opening interactions between Harley and Alfred are simply amazing. Their scenes together are a great showcase of how Alfred Pennyworth reacts under pressure, never losing control of the situation. The Joker and the villains are good too — though why anybody takes Joker’s word for it that he’s got $20 million just stashed away to offer up as a bounty is beyond me.

TL;DR: This mini-series has been all over the place and it doesn’t stop with this issue. It’s almost a stream of consciousness outpouring of Harley Quinn antics, some of which land and some of which don’t.


Legion of Super-Heroes #9

Legion of Super-Heroes #9
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: 22 different artists and teams
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Dave Sharpe

Another issue highlighting some individual characters with a whole bunch of nifty art teams. The art isn’t as fun and diverse as last issue, but this was still an overall enjoyable issue.

The trial of the Legion continues as the President of the United Planets uses recordings of various recruitments — including Bouncing Boy and Dawnstar — to show that the Legion sought out youths who were opposed to the United Planets. The Legionnaires then counter with recruitment videos of heroes who were very much in favor of the United Planets, like Wildfire. The issue is a bit of a jumble as we visit with a bunch of different Legionnaires. It all leads to the revelation that a great darkness is coming, foreseen by the precog Dream Girl. A bit more jumbling and angry shouting leads us to the next revelation, that the general of Rimbor has been gathering powerful artifacts (like Aquaman’s trident) because Rimbor already knows the great darkness is coming and he’s preparing. The White Witch is able to trick the general into angrily admitting to this, proving that he’s been acting in bad faith this whole time and that the Legion was right to stop him and capture him. So the President rules that the general is the bad guy and the trial of the Legion is over.

As everyone is heading out, Superboy and Saturn Girl start smoochin’.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

The best part of this issue were the various member vignettes. Bouncing Boy had a great one, and Wildfire continues to be a very interesting character. Tons of people got some really interesting bits, not all of them vignettes or flashbacks. Mon-El got into a fight and quit the team. Blok got really mad at the President. Gold Lantern dropped some flavor text about the state of Lantern Corps throughout the galaxy. We finally saw Doctor Fate in action, including how he is regarded by people in authority. That was neat. Triplicate Girl had a fun page. This issue was a roller coaster ride of artwork and character personalities, giving us little tastes here and there about a bunch of Legionnaires. It was really fun!

Dr. Bouncing Boy

We haven’t had a scene starring Matter-Eater-Lad, though, so that’s a shame. I love his redesign and am dying to get to know him.

This was another fine issue exploring the various Legion members, with great artwork from everyone involved. I especially liked the cover, comprised of mini-covers, as if the individual Legionnaires had their own comics. The story felt a bit jumbled with so much going on, but I’m fairly confident I understood everything that played out. This definitely isn’t the way to do every issue of Legion of Super-Heroes, but this was a fun two-parter that gave us a good look at a couple individual members.

TL;DR: Another art spectacular gives us a bunch of new looks at some Legionnaires, while moving the story along nicely. This is a pretty wild issue overall.


Power Rangers #54

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #54
Writer: Ryan Parrott
Artist: Moises Hidalgo
Colorist: Igor Monti, with assistance from Sabrina Del Grosso
Letterer: Ed Dukeshire

This issue is just a quickie to set up the upcoming Omega Rangers ongoing series. Simple stuff.

The Omega Rangers find themselves face-to-face with Empyreal, a cosmic being that claims responsibility for cleansing the alien planet of its civilization. Empyreal explains that they have existed for all time, a tool for their master to wipe out civilizations that don’t meet a certain standard so that the planet can be reborn in the future. The Omega Rangers don’t like this one bit and attempt to fight Empyreal, even though they are pretty much a god, and are capable of swatting away the Rangers’ attacks like insects. The Rangers manage to annoy Empyreal enough for them to create a lava monster, which leads to a fight with the Omegazords. Xi and Trini eventually work together to defeat the monster, but Empyreal has since left.

Back on the ship, they decide to take the family they were carrying back to Safe Haven. And Xi reveals that he has no records of Empyreal, despite their claim that they’ve been around for a long time wiping out planets. Jason decides to take them back to Earth to consult with Zordon.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

This is what happens when a Power Rangers comic doesn’t really feature any of the grounded, character-based stuff that makes these comics so great. This is all fight. And while it’s still good and entertaining, and a solid set-up for stories to come, it lacks that personal magic. It’s just a solid, enjoyable comic. The Rangers fight a monster, they call on their Zords for a bigger fight, and we get an ending. It’s all good, just nothing overly special. I like the set-up for the Omega Rangers comic, and the characters remain fun together.

That was hilarious!

If anything, I’m a little disappointed in Empyreal. This is clearly an attempt to make a Galactus-like character, of which I am fully in favor. Taking classic superhero comic ideas — like an alternate universe — and applying them to these Power Rangers comics has worked wonders. So putting the space-based Rangers up against a Galactus-like being sounds great! The problem is that Parrott gave Empyreal a real snippy, hoity-toity attitude. He humanized Empyreal. Galactus is one of my favorite comic book characters, and he works because he exists on an entirely different level of existence from the superheroes he goes up against. Humans are to Galactus like ants are to humans.

So while, yes, heroes like the Power Rangers would have a major problem with the genocide that Galactus commits, the concept of ‘genocide’ is so meaningless to Galactus that you get some really interesting cosmic storytelling. I think it would be really neat to pit the Power Rangers up against a villain like that, rather than the usual low level warlords and their monster assembly lines. Which is why it’s a little annoying that Empyreal engages the Rangers with their hoity toity attitude and mentions having a master. Their actions seem big…but their concept seems ordinary, at least from what little we’ve seen so far. I’m going to get my hopes up anyway.

TL;DR: The seeds are planted for the new ongoing Omega Rangers comic. This is a fine issue, but I’m a little worried that the upcoming comic will be more Power and not enough Ranger.


Shang-Chi #1

Shang-Chi #1
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artists: Dike Ruan and Philip Tan
Colorist: Sebastian Cheng
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham

You know me, I’ll try any series at least once! I’m excited for the Shang-Chi movie, so how about a new comic relaunch in his name?

Once upon a time and throughout the ages, China was protected by the Five Weapons Society. One of the original masters, Zheng Zu, eventually took over full control and developed a longevity spell to keep himself alive all these many years — until he was killed(?) by his favorite son, Shang-Chi, in the present day, Shang-Chi. Also in the present day, the Society remains, though it is scattered. Sister Hammer tracks down the House of the Deadly Staff and kills Brother Staff. She wants to take over as leader of the remaining Society, but an ancient shrine — possibly controlled by Zheng Zu’s ghost — names Shang-Chi (Brother Fist) as the new leader. Sister Hammer swears vengeance.

We check in with Shang-Chi in San Francisco. He’s working for a nice old baker and staying in an apartment she has. It’s not explained why he’s slumming it, he just is. And the nice old baker lady has a cute niece…

But then an old spy acquaintance, Leiko Wu, pays him a visit to warn him about the Society coming for him. They are very soon attacked, only for Brother Sabre and Sister Dagger to reveal themselves and betray the assassin squad they came with. They are eager for Shang-Chi to join them in stopping Sister Hammer and taking his rightful place as leader of the Society, but Shang-Chi has no idea at all what they’re talking about (apparently he was not raised in the Society, despite being part of it). The two leave in anger, but not before something they say tips off Shang-Chi: Sister Hammer is his blood sister and they grew up together! He thought she was dead! Now he has to go back and save his little sister from this cult…meanwhile, Sister Hammer is determined to murder her big brother!

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

First things first, the art in this comic is really rough. Distractingly rough. Characters are not strongly defined and the inking has a scratchiness to it that doesn’t fit the story. What action we do get this issue also isn’t as sharp or as dynamic as it could be. A Shang-Chi comic needs crisp martial arts artwork, and we don’t get that in this issue. Here’s one of the major fight scenes.

Action words and speed lines!

Beyond the sketchy artwork, I actually rather like most of the story we get here. I don’t know anything about Shang-Chi’s actual comic book past, but this issue sets up a solid foundation. If this Five Weapons Society thing is a brand new concept, this issue sells it well. There are definitely shades of the Invincible Iron Fist reboot from years ago, which retconned and expanded on Iron Fist’s origins. This issue isn’t as elegant or as fulfilling as that Iron Fist comic, but then that series had two god-tier comic book writers coming up with everything. I’m not familiar with Yang’s work as a writer, but he does a solid job setting up the Five Weapons Society and Shang-Chi’s place in it. I’m definitely interested enough to keep reading — though if I’m being honest, there’s a bit of inelegance in everyone’s introductions. This is only the first issue, yet we’ve already met all of the modern day Five Weapons? Couldn’t have hidden a few of those members to be introduced later? And we don’t get a very good look at how the Society is shaped in the modern day. Part of it seemed like it had fallen into ruin…and yet Brother Staff has a whole dojo of warriors? Could have used a bit more clarity.

Likewise, Shang-Chi’s living situation is a little weird. The comic acknowledges that he used to be a spy and an Avenger, but then we’re just supposed to accept at face value that he’s randomly choosing to work at a small bakery and live in a small apartment upstairs? It’s especially troublesome when he acknowledges that he’s going to be the target of bad guys and that’s going to put his new friends in jeopardy.

TL;DR: This new Shang-Chi comic is a bit of a mixed bag, though it’s generally good overall. The story is interesting, if not particularly fine-tuned, and the main character is solid, but the artwork was a little too rough for my tastes.


Strange Academy #3

Strange Academy #3
Writer: Skottie Young
Artist: Humberto Ramos
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles

It’s nice that Strange Academy is still trying. I hope the pandemic didn’t kill this comic.

The students sit down for a class with the Ancient One, who teaches them about seeing with their Third Eye. Only Emily is able to nail it on the first go. Then they break for the weekend and the kids head out into New Orleans to look around. Some break off to check out a voodoo shop, where an old voodoo lady shows Doyle Dormammu dark visions of his future. She finds this very funny, but Zoe is some kind of voodoo priestess and puts the woman in her place. The crew are then pulled to an alley, where some thugs are roughing up the other students. Everybody is itching to fight, but Alvi points out that their magic would obliterate these normal humans. So Emily opens her third eye and scares the thugs with visions of interdimensional beings. The kids are alright after that.

As they head back into the city, some creepy looking monster dudes comment on how they’ll enjoy devouring the kids’ magic.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

This issue is a good reminder why the Harry Potter novels only had three main protagonists. Young is juggling way too many characters. He’s treating every single one as a protagonist, as if this were an ensemble and no one characters stood out more than any other. Even with a helpful name/face glossary at the front of the comic, it’s still quite difficult to follow every single character, every single personality, every power set, every budding relationship or in-joke or a million other things. This would have normally been an excellent issue as the teens have some downtime and some bonding, but I couldn’t really focus on anyone. I couldn’t remember if Doyle Dormammu was acting in character, and Zoe came out of nowhere. Also, that voodoo lady was pretty cavalier considering she was dealing with some kind of Dormammu Junior. Is she not aware of the evil lord of the dark dimension?

At any rate, this is a fine issue that remains well-written with good art. I love downtime issues and I’m glad this hasn’t devolved into all-superheroics all the time. But the comic is spread too thin trying to use and develop so many characters.

TL;DR: An otherwise enjoyable issue is hampered by too many main characters. The focus is spread too thin and nobody is getting enough attention to really make this comic stand out.


X-Factor #4

X-Factor #4
Writer: Leah Williams
Artist: Carlos Gomez
Colorist: Israel Silva
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

Honestly, this second chapter sucks a lot of wind out of the sails of X of Swords.

The X-Men retreat from Otherworld with their dead and wounded. Specifically, Rockslide is dead, but when they try to resurrect him, they discover that dying in Otherworld messes up the protocols. Rockslide is dead for good, as will be anybody who dies in this upcoming tournament. We also find out that Saturnyne filled Polaris’ head with riddles about who the ten champions will be (information that we, the reader, already know because of marketing). Polaris is very upset over both Rockslide’s death and the prophecies, and she uses Rockslide’s rocky remains to construct a special portal to Otherworld. Once all 10 X-Men have their swords, the portal will open and take them to the tournament.

Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.

Talk about pumping the brakes. Did we know that the 10 X-Men for this event were going to have to all individually be identified via riddle, and then would all have to go and get their swords? No wonder this is going to be a 22-part event. That sounds exhausting, especially since marketing for this event has already revealed everybody and their swords. There goes all the dramatic tension. This issue is just one long series of explanations peppered with attempts at drama. None of it really worked for me, not even the sad fate of Rockslide. Sure didn’t take long for Marvel to start killing random X-Men again, eh? Mark my words, they’re going to find a way to send Multiple Man and Mimic, my two favorite X-Men, to Otherworld just so they can kill them for real. That’s how my luck works.

Art was great, at least.

TL;DR: Apparently instead of jumping right into the X of Swords tournament, we’re going to have to recruit and arm all 10 combatants. And apparently instead of jumping right into that, we need this over-sized issue to explain it.


The comics I review in my Hench-Sized reviews are just the usual comics I grab from Comixology 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 3, 2020, in Comics, Marvel, Reviews, X-Men and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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