Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 2/5/22

Welcome to another wonderful week of comic book reviews! It’s also been a week of a big snowstorm in the Northeast, but let’s not worry about that when we’ve got some Amazing Spider-Man, some One-Star Squadron and some excellent X-Cellent.

Comic Book of the Week goes to Batman #120, and not just for the Robin back-up story this time! The actual Batman comic was really good, with a pretty fun twist! But then the Maps Mizoguchi as Robin story is also amazing again.

The perfect Robin

Meanwhile, I have come to the realization that the Star Wars TV shows might not actually be trying to be the best shows on TV, and I’m perfectly fine with that. It’s made me start questioning what the point is of TV shows, you know? Obviously the people involved want to make a good show…but what qualifies as good? Does it need to be some epic drama worthy of awards? Or can it just be an episode filled with so much awesome fan service that it’s just plain fun? Suffice to say, I’m enjoying the last couple episodes of The Book of Boba Fett.

Comic Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man #88, Batman #120, Dark Knights of Steel #4, One-Star Squadron #3, Sabretooth #1 and X-Cellent #1.

Amazing Spider-Man #88

Amazing Spider-Man #88
Writer: Zeb Wells
Artist: Michael Dowling
Colorist: Bryan Valenza
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

Next week, the Slingers return! Thankfully, this week isn’t so bad.

Janine and Mary Jane take the data drive to Glory Grant at the Daily Bugle, so Maxine Waters and Beyond decide to stop them in a real gnarly way. It seems they’ve transformed Dr. Kafka into the Goblin Queen, and she attacks the Daily Bugle. Ben shows up and fights her, though the Goblin Queen manages to destroy the drive. When Ben has the Goblin Queen knocked out for a bit, he grabs Janine and just leaves, which is not what anybody expected.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

Good stuff all around. I continue to enjoy the character development for Ben Reilly. I especially liked the surprise ending, where Ben just grabs Janine and nopes out of the situation. I like how it took Maxine Danger by surprise. Ben has decided that he’s no longer playing by either the rules of Beyond or the rules of Spider-Man, and that could be a fascinating way to bring this story to its climax. The decision leaves Mary Jane in the lurch in the cliffhanger, and probably won’t sit right with Janine, but I found it fascinating. I am really looking forward to where this craziness takes Ben Reilly in the end. The rest of the issue was a nice build up to that moment. We’ve got Maxine making villain moves, we’ve got a crazy but slightly redundant villain and we’ve got some really good artwork. It looks like typical comic book art, but there’s a layer of sketchiness to it that I liked. Very nice touch by Dowling and Valenza.

TL;DR: Some really fun character development elevates another fun Spider-Man comic. I like where this story is going and I’m excited to see how it all ends.

Batman #120

Batman #120
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artists: Jorge Molina and Mikel Janin
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

Color me surprised! I didn’t know a twist this good was coming!

Detective Cayha helps Batman escape the police and she takes him back to his apartment so he can figure out his next move. With Abyss alive, he knows the members of Batman Inc. are innocent, so he breaks into their prison to free them and get their help against Abyss. But the members turn on him and tell him to back off. They all flee to the roof, where Lex Luthor shows up in his new Batman-themed armor (we learned earlier in the issue that Lex had some kind of deal with Abyss in the past). Once everyone is together, Batman Inc. reveals that they may have accepted Luthor’s money, but in actuality, their leader is Abyss and they all want Batman to join them in killing Lex Luthor!

In the Maps Mizoguchi as Robin back-up feature, creator Karl Kerschl continues the story of Maps helping Batman fight some mythical Kappa, who possibly kidnapped her friend. It continues to be awesome. What I wouldn’t give for this to actually be the in-canon origin story of a new Robin.

Batman Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
Robin Back-Up Rating: 9/10 – Great.

Batman and Robin both kicking butt this issue! Good times all around! I would definitely say that the twist in this issue of Batman raises the whole story up a notch. I didn’t see it coming, and I’m definitely intrigued. I’ve got some nitpicks, like I always do, because I suck. But the story was really awesome and enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the artwork in this issue. It was bold and a little grainy, and it really worked for me to help elevate the story. And again, it’s a really fun story! Batman Inc. working with a new villain to set-up Lex Luthor? That’s a really fun idea! I’ve always rather liked the idea of minor heroes doing something major like this. We all know why Superman and Batman would never kill Lex Luthor, but Man-of-Bats? Why not? So I really enjoyed how this issue evolved, leading us to that awesome cliffhanger at the end.

OK, Zoomer

Honestly, my only real nitpick is this Detective Cayha character. It’s always fun when Batman makes friends…but a smoking hot police detective who just happens to be the only officer in the department who isn’t in Luthor’s pocket, and Batman immediately trusts so completely? I think a little more could have been done with this ally role.

Speaking of ally roles, I am still loving Karl Kerschl’s Maps Mizoguchi story! It’s taken a turn for the weird, but remains an utter delight as the character fills in as Robin. Batman still calls her “Maps” in the scene. It’s probably too much to ask for him to actually call her “Robin” while she’s wearing the costume and helping him in an investigation. But a man can dream! This back-up is worth the price of admission alone, at least for me.

TL;DR: Some really great twists, some really great story developments, and another banger of a back-up feature make this a real quality Batman comic.

Dark Knights of Steel #4

Dark Knights of Steel #4
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Bengal
Colorist: Arif Prianto
Letterer: Wes Abbott

I’m just not gelling very well with this series. I can recognize that it’s very well-made, and a lot of thought has been put into it…just not my kind of thoughts, I guess.

Alfred gives Bruce all the backstory about his parents and the Els. When the Kryptonians landed on Earth, they mostly kept to themselves in their own little cottage, until they realized that a local volcano was going to explode. They tried to pass along word to King Thomas and Queen Martha Wayne, but their advisor, Lex Luthor, never passed the message along. When the volcano did explode, Jor-El and Lara fought the volcano and saved the kingdom, quickly becoming lifelong friends with the Waynes, while Luthor was banished.

Everybody lived happily ever after, until Jor-El and Lara randomly hooked up one night. Everybody got mad, until Bruce was born and then Thomas Wayne (who conveniently couldn’t have children) forgives everything. They then continue to live happily ever after, until it’s revealed that Lex Luthor is the Green Man! He is the one with the Green Lantern ring, and he’s also the Joker. He killed the Waynes by attacking their carriage. With her dying breath, Martha Wayne asks the Els to rule the kingdom and to raise Bruce until he’s ready.

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

I dunno, I was just mostly put off by a lot of choices in this back story. Part of me thinks it’s a little too soon to be getting this back story. It just feels weirdly placed. The main story has barely gotten started, rushing through a lot of big twists and shocking moments. And now we pause to learn some rather mundane backstory that is only necessary because of some weird story choices made for Dark Knights of Steel. I guess I just don’t yet understand why Bruce Wayne needs to be the illegitimate son of Jor-El and Martha Wayne. And the backstory doesn’t provide a compelling reason for it. Jor-El and Martha…just hooked up one night. They were just close friends who decided to hook up one night, cheating on both of their spouses. I’ll grant you that this sort of infidelity happens all the time in real life, but it feels much too plain when we’re talking about completely rewriting the origin and nature of Batman and Superman. Especially since Dark Knights of Steel already has so much else going for it. This extra twist to Batman feels extraneous.

All there is to it

Likewise, we still don’t know what prompted Bruce Wayne to become Batman. When his parents were killed — and we’ll get to that in a second — he was clearly just adopted by the Els and continued to live/hang out with his close family friends and half-siblings. Not exactly the grim, lonely childhood that normally produces Batman. So this whole big, story-driving reinvention that Batman is the son of Jor-El all just boils down to some common infidelity with no greater meaning or story importance behind it (at least for now. Perhaps further twists are coming?). This doesn’t just work for me to justify the twist, nor to justify a full-issue flashback.

The other big reveal is that Lex Luthor is the Green Man. Obviously we all thought the Green Man was a take on Green Lantern, which was fine by me. But nope! It’s Lex Luthor, because that’s weird, I guess? It’s even weirder that the Joker is also thrown into the mix. It apparently wouldn’t be enough for Lex Luthor to just get his hands on some Kryptonite. That Kryptonite had to become a Green Lantern ring? Or maybe it was never Kryptonite? And then when he attacks the Waynes, he’s also grinning and laughing, and the text calls him a Joker? I feel it’s a bit much to combine three villains into one for no particular reason other than to be big and bold, I guess. It doesn’t fit the medieval world at all for that to be the reason.

This was a whole lot of nitpicking, and I’ll be the first to say this all might just be on me. Everyone else might be loving this story and these changes. But they’re not sticking well with me, and throwing the whole rest of the story off. Maybe this comic just isn’t for me.

TL;DR: An issue-long flashback interrupts the main story just as it’s really getting started, and the flashback itself doesn’t provide good enough revelations to make it worth the trouble.

One-Star Squadron #3

One-Star Squadron #3
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Steve Lieber
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Dave Sharpe

Mark Russell is in his element and I’m loving it.

Superman pays a visit to the corporate offices of Heroz4U and he’s simply none too happy with how they do business. When Irish superhero Jack O’Lantern skipped out on saving some people from a plane crash in order to earn triple rates at a Halloween store sale, Superman declares that the Justice League will withdraw its endorsement of the company. The board decides to take quick action and they ask Red Tornado to visit them the following morning. Red assumes he’s going to get fired (happened to his predecessor), so he spends the day moping and worrying about his future. Everyone at the office still kinda hates him though.

When Red shows up to meet with the higher ups, they explain about the Justice League and how they expect profits to go down. Their plan is to quickly sell the company, and they need Red Tornado to layoff half the staff — which they argue should be fine, since they all kinda hate him anyway. And first on their chopping block is Power Girl, for her attempted coup in the previous two issues.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

I found it a little difficult to put down into words what exactly I like about this series and what it’s doing so well. I think it’s doing everything very well, and clearly meeting its stated goals. This is just a dryly fun look at superheroing in the gig economy, of superheroing as a business. And Russell is doing a phenomenal job of keeping things fresh and interesting while telling this story. You think he’s going one way with it, then he turns around and spins off in a whole new direction, while always keeping with the understated drudgery of work. For example, when the board called in Red Tornado for a meeting. I was fairly confident he wasn’t going to get fired…but then I definitely didn’t expect the board to actually tell Red Tornado the truth. I thought they were going to flim flam him, set him up as the fall guy. Instead, they fill him in completely, come up with a very clever way to use him, and then turn the tables on Power Girl! I did not see that coming at all, and it’s so much sweeter that way.

He brings it on himself

Likewise, I’m simply really enjoying the ground-floor humor and drama that comes from just working in this business. From Flying Fox having trouble on sales calls, to Jack O’Lantern blowing off a rescue to attend a Halloween event; it’s all funny and it all works for me. Though I don’t think it’s reaching truly glorious heights quite yet. Mark Russell’s humor mixed with social commentary has resulted in some of my all-time favorite comics over the past few years. But he’s not yet reached the same levels of Wonder Twins or The Flintstones quite yet with One-Star Squadron. It’s the same sensibilities, I can feel the Mark Russell magic at play, and I will just keep holding on and hoping for true, elevated greatness before the end.

Lieber’s art also remains perfect, putting all these comic book heroes in their crazy costumes into cramped cubicles.

TL;DR: This crazy workplace comedy takes some really interesting twists this issue, making me even more excited to see where all of this is going.

Sabretooth #1

Sabretooth #1
Writer: Victor LaValle
Artist: Leonard Kirk
Colorist: Rain Beredo
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit

I like Sabretooth well enough and I’m down to see what the X-Office has planned for him.

Sabretooth has been trapped in The Pit since the start of Krakoa. But Cypher and Krakoa don’t cotton to that treatment, so they make a deal with Creed wherein his body will remain in The Pitt, but his mind will be allowed to exist in a mental mind palace limited only by his imagination. So Sabretooth just sorta imagines himself all sorts of fun scenarios to live through, from killing all of his enemies to living as a barbarian warrior to becoming ruler of his own personal version of Hell. The fantasies get so vivid that people on Krakoa start seeing ghostly visions of Sabretooth. In the end, a bunch of other mutants randomly show up in The Pit and Hell King Sabretooth welcomes them to pain.

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

This issue was fine, though not particularly engaging, in my opinion. It’s just Sabretooth having a vivid imagination. LaValle has a solid handle on the character, I think. Creed’s personality definitely came across. And Kirk did a great job on the artwork. A scene where Sabretooth rips of Cyclops’ face and uses the optic blasts to kill the rest of the X-Men is particularly gnarly. I just don’t think the story accomplished all that much. There’s nothing new about Sabretooth presented, and he doesn’t actually do anything. This is just a look at how Sabretooth passes the time while trapped in The Pit. We don’t even get to see what it looks like down there…unless I’m not understanding that The Pit actually, physically looks like his mind palace visions? Because when those random mutants show up — admittedly a buncha fun cameos — they all appear to be in Hell King Sabretooth’s domain. So yeah, that part of it was confusing as well. But that confusion might be part of the ongoing story, I suppose.

TL;DR: Lackluster start to whatever this story is actually going to be, but the artwork is really good and at least the main character is clearly defined and well-written. There’s just a bit of confusion as to what’s happening, how and why.

X-Cellent #1

X-Cellent #1
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Michael Allred
Colorist: Laura Allred
Letterer: Nate Piekos

I am coming off a reread of the full X-Statix run, since it’s being collected in a couple new omnibuses and the second one just came out. I would say the old comics hold up nicely, though they were far ahead of their time. I’m excited to see what Milligan and the Family Allred do with the idea now that we’re in the perfect time for X-Statix.

Zeitgeist and the X-Cellent have been crashing celebrity events and exposing the people at them for the frauds they are, all while gaining a large social media following and snubbing X-Statix at every opportunity. But is Zeitgeist really a good guy? X-Statix are still at each other’s throats, though, and they have a new member: Rosa Lemper, the second mutant created for X-Statix based off the Berlin Wall. Weird. Anyway, X-Statix try to intercept the X-Cellent’s latest stunt and Vivisector gets blasted!

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

This issue is not as strong as I would have liked it to be. I’ve got a whole pile of nitpicks, along with things I liked. But on the whole, the point of this story is a little lost. X-Cellent #1 picks up right where Giant-Size X-Statix left off…but that comic came out in July 2019! That was pre-pandemic! Heck, that was also pre-Krakoa. Both the world and the comic world of mutants have changed a lot since Milligan and the Allreds started reviving X-Statix, and this issue leaves a lot to be desired due to the long wait. You can’t just jump into X-Cellent #1 and expect to fully understand what’s going on. And the story itself isn’t particularly clear either. It’s all a bit muddled. But at the same time, it looks gorgeous, with that Allred style easily stealing the show. And I got the gist of everything going down, so at least there’s that.

Milligan remains a master of codenames, at least

Also, I want to know more about the X-Cellent than I do X-Statix, if I’m being honest. This is just my personal take on the layout of the series, but I wish Milligan had come up with new mutants for this X-Statix revival instead of filling the team with knock-off versions of the original team. The A is just an angrier, less complex version of The Anarchist. Phatty has even less to do than Phat. Gone Girl is just a carbon copy of U-Go Girl, though I’ll admit she has some story potential. Then Mr. Sensitive, Vivisector and Dead Girl are just back, no questions asked. I like this new Berlin Wall character, though again, it’s the second Berlin Wall-based mutant Milligan has created for this series. That’s weird, right? Still, at least she’s new blood. Likewise, the X-Cellent are almost all new characters, and I prefer that to all the children and secret clones that are just carbon copies of the original team.

It’s even weirder when you put X-Statix up against the Krakoan resurrection protocols. How do Milligan and Marvel expect us to care about X-Statix deaths when they can easily be resurrected? When every dead team member they’ve ever had can and should have been easily resurrected?

Wall-based List of Six incoming soon

Honestly, seeing X-Statix characters on Krakoa would be a dream come true. Having Milligan and the Allreds tie their wild and crazy world into the rules/existence of Krakoa would be fascinating and fun! But they seem to ignore that completely. And again, granted, they came up with this story before Krakoa was a thing. But Krakoa and mutant resurrection are set in stone right now and have been for nearly three years. If Marvel was going to delay X-Cellent this long, they should have had Milligan and the Allreds go back to the drawing board and reshape things, at least a little. And, again, only in my opinion.

I imagine we’re going to get a fun and interesting story regardless of whether or not they tie into Krakoa. But considering the status of the mutant race these days, I think this is the perfect opportunity for this world to finally be fully integrated into the rest of the X-Men.

TL;DR: This first issue is a little too reliant on that Giant-Size issue that came out nearly three years ago, but it’s great having Milligan and the Allreds working in this world again, so I’m excited to see what’s to come. The artwork is sublime.

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 February 5, 2022, in Batman, Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Robin, Spider-Man, X-Men and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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