Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 4/3/21
What a week! I got some dental work done on Monday and could only eat soft foods — so this big dummy just went out and bought a bunch of pudding and Jell-O cups. They’re not as tasty as I imagined. Thankfully, I had some really good Marvel comics this week! Like a new issue of The Union and X-Men!
Comic Book of the Week goes to Beta Ray Bill #1! I had high hopes for this new mini-series and this first issue blew them out of the water! I’m really looking forward to this adventure with the greatest comic book character in the world!
Meanwhile, Godzilla vs. Kong was pretty cool! I saw it on the big screen because movie theaters have reopened in my area, and I had a blast. As always, the moviemakers couldn’t seem to do squat with the human characters, but the monster battles were neat. The logic, script and monster height inconsistencies bugged the heck out of me, though.
Comic Reviews: Beta Ray Bill #1, The Union #4 and X-Men #19.
Beta Ray Bill #1
Writer and artist: Daniel Warren Johnson
Colorist: Mike Spicer
Letterers: VC’s Joe Sabino with Johnson
As we all know, Beta Ray Bill is the greatest comic book character of all time. So I’m excited to read a new mini-series!
Taking place at the tail end of King in Black (and after the current storyline in Thor), Beta Ray Bill leads the forces of Asgard in battle against a Knull-possessed Fin Fang Foom. He’s got Sif by his side, and he’s ready for battle, but Foom really mops the floor with Bill and the lot of them. Thankfully, Thor shows up and saves the day…leaving Bill to wallow in Thor’s shadow at the afterparty. Bill is about so sulk away when Sif finds him and they rekindle their romance…only for Bill to reveal that he’s stuck in his horse-man form ever since Thor destroyed Stormbreaker. Bill’s ugliness is apparently a deal-breaker for Sif, and Bill leaves the bedroom in shame.
Bill summons Skuttlebutt, his spaceship, and they prepare to leave. Thor finds him and asks why, and Bill gets angry. Bill is always in Thor’s shadow, and it was Thor who destroyed Stormbreaker, taking so much away from Bill. So he’s going to head off and find Odin to make a new one.
Also, we get a couple flashbacks to Bill as a child, being chosen for the project. And also, the same Rufio scene from the movie Hook is constantly playing on TVs in various backgrounds for some reason…
Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
This is a great kick-off to a new mini-series, regardless of character. The writing is strong, the art is unique and perfect, and the story fits neatly in the character’s current continuity. We’ve also got a clear driving plot that is firmly and touchingly established in this issue. It all works perfectly. Bill is a bit depressed. And why wouldn’t he be? This is the proper fallout to Thor destroying Stormbreaker the way he did. Thor was being a big bully, and his mission resulted in very little blowback against him. Thor is back to being the all-conquering hero. But Bill is forced to go on, having lost his mojo. This issue really hammers that home in the battle against Fin Fang Foom. Johnson expertly builds up Beta Ray Bill as a champion of Asgard, only to have him wallowing in failure by the time Thor arrives. The moment with Sif is the painful straw that snaps the camel’s back.
It seems a little out of character for Bill’s look to be a deal-breaker for Sif in the bedroom…but it had to happen for the story, and it works. I’ve always really liked the Bill/Sif romance. She’s always positioned as a possible love interest for Thor, but that story is never going to happen. It makes perfect sense for Sif to instead find somebody else to love, and Bill is awesome. I hope Johnson has more plans for those two in this mini-series, they are a great couple. But the focus is on Bill and it’s great! You really feel the conflicting emotions inside the character this issue, you really get into Bill’s head. I loved it. And Johnson does the artwork himself, giving the whole thing this ink-heavy, powerful and also heart-breaking look.
I loved pretty much everything about this issue.
TL;DR: Through strong character writing and gorgeous artwork, the first issue of this new mini-series really gets at the heart of Beta Ray Bill and his current troubles. Great start to a new story.
The Union #4
Writer: Paul Grist
Artist: Andrea Di Vito
Inker: Le Beau Underwood
Colorist: Nolan Woodard
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
Penultimate issue! I’ve enjoyed this little comic and its characters. But man…what was the point?
After a flashback to 30 years ago, when Britannia first fought Doc Croc, his goons, and the Sponge, we find our heroes stationed at the Tower of London trying to protect the crown jewels. Doc Croc and his new goons arrive, including the Choir, who has reverted back to the villainous Skreem. Our heroes face off against the villains one-by-one for some reason and all get easily defeated. Union Jack and tech developer/team financier Steve Darwin try to protect the jewels, but Darwin knocks out Union Jack.
Doc Croc eventually arrives to take the magical gem that gave England all its power in the colonial period, but Darwin grabbed it first and now declares himself Emperor.
Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.
The thing about The Union is that it seems Grist came up with a whole big tapestry of British heroes and villains…and then was only given five issues to tell his story. I would love a whole series on these characters, exploring the ins and outs of British superhero politics, with plenty of flashbacks to see how the past informs the present. But then Grist went and killed Britannia in the first issue and has barely given himself any breathing room to explore the other characters. Now we’ve got a whole villain team to contend with, and a betrayal from barely used side character Steve Darwin. The comic simply doesn’t make very good use of its characters.
Why the heck would the team take on the bad guys one-by-one? What does that serve? Perhaps there’s an upcoming twist in the final issue? I doubt it. All I know is that Grist and Di Vito are telling a nice little story with some really interesting characters, but they don’t have enough time to flesh anybody out. We get an extended sequence this issue with one of the guards protecting the crown jewels, some old dude who considers it his royal duty as the “last Beefeater” to protect the crown jewels. And it’s neat! It’s full of British lore! But the dude comes out of nowhere, is no challenge for the bad guys, and he takes away page time for the established characters.
In the end, I fear The Union is going to simply be a fun, generic story with so so much lost potential.
TL;DR: Another fine issue of The Union does a lot to expand the lore, but does too little with the existing characters to make this short mini-series very memorable.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colorist: Sunny Gho
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Thankfully, we did not have to wait another year to get the next chapter in this Vault saga. I didn’t much care for the first two issues of this little story because there just wasn’t much to those issues. It was two issues of set-up. Welp, this third chapter is the pay-off and it’s great! Real interesting stuff here!
Synch narrates the issue as we speed through the 100+ years that Synch, Wolverine and Darwin spend in the Vault. We see actual scenes of the events, and then a running infographic gives us a rough timeline as well throughout the issue. Basically, the trio survived the explosion and made camp, then went out exploring over the years. They learned that the Vault created three generations of Children before hitting a roadblock…so the Vault kidnapped Darwin and began experimenting on him, allowing the Vault to create an even more powerful fourth generation. Decades passed as the team fought the Children, searched for answers, split up, regrouped, got imprisoned, escaped, and much more.
The heart of the story is that Synch and Wolverine fell in love over the decades. A real deep, personal love that one might get while fighting hardships together with just that one person for decades. In the end, Synch and Wolverine found out what was happening with Darwin and made their escape. Wolverine stayed behind to hold off the Children while Synch, at long last, escaped the Vault to the outside world — only to be killed almost immediately by the Children.
But being outside was enough for Professor X to make contact and download Synch’s memories and psyche. Synch, Wolverine and Darwin are all resurrected on Krakoa, their mission a success…but Darwin and Wolverine weren’t recovered. Only Synch has any memory of what happened…only Synch knows about his deep love affair with Laura. What can he do about it?
Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
I knew to trust Jonathan Hickman. I still think those first two issues could have been better utilized to set up the story. But the pay-off is more than worth those previous issues. And I feel like the pay-off could only happen in a single issue.
We needed one single time jump issue to truly understand and appreciate the massive story Hickman tells here. Granted, it all gets largely undone in the end. I doubt any future comics are going to be spent exploring Synch. But for this single issue, I had a blast! I love a real ballsy move like playing with time travel to tell a story full of character growth over hundreds of years. Hickman clearly put some thought into the mechanics and he uses them to great effect for a compelling story. I liked the infographic as well, letting us know of some other adventures that they couldn’t squeeze into the panels.
Then to tie it all off with a now lost Synch/Wolverine romance was really sweet. I did not see that coming, but Hickman and Asrar did a great job bringing it to life. I loved the older, grizzlier versions of the characters. I loved the deepness of the romance, without the need for anything gratuitous. I was a little confused in the final pages, with whether or not Synch was resurrected as an old man or a young teen again. The artwork was a little confusing there. But I love the storytelling in having Synch be the only one with memories of what happened. It creates a really neat story going forward…even if I doubt Synch will get much attention. I hope I’m wrong.
TL;DR: Hickman uses the passage of time and resurrection to create a really compelling, really fascinating story that ties up one chapter and opens up several more.
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!