Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 12/31/22
Happy New Year, everyone! It’s the last day of 2022 and I’m sure we’re all ready to bid this year farewell and start anew with plans, hopes, dreams and more. And to finish off this year, I’ve got a whole pile of comic reviews, from the end of several comics, like Thunderbolts, to the start of something new with Action Comics!
In fact, Comic Book of the Week goes to Action Comics #1050 because it succeeds in being a nice, new start to a new Superman era. Once again, I will find myself attempting to get into an era of Superman.
Meanwhile, my Christmas gift to myself this year is a Playstation 5, so that’s pretty exciting. It was supposed to arrive today, so if you’re reading this review column the day it was posted, know that I’ll be gradually hitting refresh on the tracking page all day long until it shows up and I rush down and snatch it up! Wish me luck! I’ve got a good year of gaming ahead of me.
Comic Reviews: Action Comics #1050, She-Hulk #9, Strange Academy: Finals #3, Thunderbolts #5, and X-Terminators #4.
Action Comics #1050
Writers: Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Tom Taylor and Joshua Williamson
Artists: Mike Perkins, Clayton Henry and Nick Dragotta
Colorist: Frank Martin
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
I’ve never really gotten into reading Superman comics. I like the character just fine, but every time I try to get on board with a new relaunch, I eventually fall off. Will this time be any different? Let’s find out!
Lex Luthor has kidnapped Manchester Black and hooked him up to a machine that uses his telekinesis to make the entire world forget that Superman is Clark Kent, and install a psychic block that will give them a stroke if they ever learn the truth. This kills Black in the process. On the Kent Farm, Perry White comes over for dinner, and when Supes and his family act like everything is normal, learning the truth gives Petty a small stroke. He’s saved, but now Superman is alerted to the problem, and he confronts Lex. The villain has decided that the world needs Superman, and they need to see Superman as a god, hence the mind manipulation. But Superman rejects Lex, and they get into a big fight that stretches up to the moon. Superman is different after his time on Warworld, he’s much angrier and more aggressive. He defeats Lex and has him imprisoned.
The stage is now set for a new Superman era, with all sorts of fun times planned for Superman, his son Jon and everybody.
Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
This is a good, strong starter issue. It draws from the previous stories in a way that continues the story but doesn’t overwhelm the new stuff, which is nice. It focuses around a big moment that sets the stage for what’s to come, that of Lex using his evil to revert Clark Kent’s secret identity to a secret again. That sort of thing is annoying, how comic book companies can’t live with big changes they do to themselves, but whatever. It’s no big deal. I prefer his identity being secret anyway. So I’m all in favor of these changes. And they lead to a truly awesome brawl between Superman and Lex Luthor, which is a great middle part of this debut issue. Get their battle out of the way early, and the possibilities are endless going forward. It’s an awesome fight, too, with both going all-out as they brawl. It also serves to introduce the reader to Superman’s new edge after Warworld, and makes me feel disappointed that I didn’t read that story. Good stuff there.
I think this issue does a really nice job of setting up what’s to come, while delivering a strong, done-in-one story all in its own right. Superman vs. Lex Luthor is classic, and we get a nice, epic fight between the pair, each one having changed from recent events. It works nicely. The artwork is hit or miss for me. I like some of the artists much more than some of the others, but it all works as a solid blend throughout. So this is a good start to this new era, and the various epilogues set up some solid comics going forward. I will definitely check some of them out.
TL;DR: Superman is relaunching again, and some things are new and some things are old again. This issue serves as a really fun launching pad, with some epic superhero stuff in its own right, and a lot of cool set-ups for future stories.
Writer: Rainbow Rowell
Artist: Takeshi Miyazawa
Colorist: Rico Renzi
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
I am compelled to keep reading this comic even though it has largely let me down at every turn. I love Rainbow Rowell’s writing, but the direction for this series just isn’t working for me.
Mark and April have Jen captive and monologue their plan to use Jack of Hearts’ zero fluid powers to drain her gamma radiation. But Jack has tracked Jen to their basement, and his interruption allows her to escape. There’s a big fight and April uses the zero fluid to drain the gamma out of Mark, turning her more Hulk-like herself. Jack decides he needs to stop this by re-absorbing all the zero fluid energy they stole from him — so Jen tears open the fourth wall to yell at the creative team for taking away the one good thing she had going for her.
When the issue resumes, April and Mark flee and Jack absorbs the energy, then promptly faints because he’s not wearing a containment suit. So he accomplished nothing by taking that energy other than possibly killing himself.
Comic Rating: 5/10 – Alright.
Jack of Hearts is holding this series back. Has been from the beginning. Jack of Hearts shows up in this issue and decides he needs to absorb his powers back in order to stop the villain. He promptly does so and then dies, while the villains escape. He was a drag on this series when he was a forced love interest, and now he’s a drag on the series in fight scenes. She-Hulk was doing fine in the fight without him lifting a finger, and there’s nothing about these villains that really pushes the need for Jack to sacrifice himself in order to win the fight. It comes off as just Jack doing something really dumb, and then She-Hulk pushing the fourth wall breaking to try to make it feel more emotional. And coming off the huge, episode/show-altering fourth wall break from the TV show, I was hoping for much more from that moment. Instead, Shulkie just rips the pages apart to yell at Rowell a bit, instead of using that power to change anything or alter the story.
The villains are not compelling. the inclusion of Jack of Hearts at all still feels very contrived, and then he goes and does something stupid. The world was not clamoring for Jack of Hearts to come back, and it definitely wasn’t clamoring for him to come back and then have his changes undone within the same story. It’s just not as emotionally compelling or superheroically exciting as the issue seems to think.
TL;DR: This issue raises the stakes a whole bunch, but not in any particularly compelling direction.
Strange Academy: Finals #3
Writer: Skottie Young
Artist: Humberto Ramos
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Truly an excellent series! I can’t wait to see how it ends!
Doctor Voodoo is summoned to the New Orlean’s magical council to answer for the destruction caused by his students defeating Gaslamp. Voodoo says the students have agreed to pay for all repairs…by hosting a school carnival! It’s great! Until one of the students accidentally summons Shuma-Gorath! But the fight happens off-panel as we focus on Doyle and Alvi welcoming a remorseful Calvin back to their ranks, and then when they get called away to fight, Emily, Iric and Dessy show up to try and recruit Calvin to their side. They’ve even recreated his magical coat. But Calvin is a changed man and he rejects them, choosing to instead join the fight against the monster.
Emily, Eric and Dessy then head out and meet with the Dread Dormammu!
Comic Rating: 9/10 – Great.
Will wonders never cease? Now that Calvin’s redemption arc has kicked off, I actually like the kid now! I liked everybody in this very character-focused issue, and that’s what I like in my comics. Young and Ramos have spent a lot of time setting these characters up and setting up this situation, and this is one of those issues where all that hard work pays off. I loved the idea of Doctor Voodoo meeting with this sage magical council, only for that to lead into a school carnival. Hilarious twist. And then we just get some meaty character bits, like Doyle and Alvi accepting the reformed Calvin, and then Calvin standing up for himself against the wickedly evil Emily and her gang.
There is some juicy character development and dialogue at play in this issue and I loved it all. Even the little stuff, like Iric’s hesitancy to go full evil and perhaps help the good guys a bit. Everybody is getting fleshed out nicely as we build up to what will hopefully be a grand finale. The battle lines are drawn, the characters are being put into place, and fate will all come down to the heroes and the villains. Hopefully these characters and this school don’t simply fade into nothingness after all of this is over. Or maybe in a few years it’ll be rebooted as Strange Arena and a bunch of them will be killed off? Eeeehhhh!
TL;DR: This character-focused issue really lays out all the players and raises the stakes for what’s to come.
Writer: Jim Zub
Artists: Sean Izaakse, with Netho Diaz
Inkers: Izaakse, with Victor Nava
Colorist: Java Tartaglia
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Shame this was such a short mini-series. I liked the writing, the art, the characters, the roster and everything Zub appeared to be building. Oh well. Such are modern comics.
The big villain is revealed to be Nightmare, who is here to steal America’s powers so that he can absorb nightmare energy from all the worst timelines out there. But she’s not gonna let that happen, so she fights back, frees her teammates from his psychic torture, and then they beat him into submission. Afterwards, everyone is fine, the team is still gonna operate, and Hawkeye calls his ex-wife to get together.
Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.
I don’t mean to sound cruel, but Thunderbolts ended with a whimper instead of a bang. Nightmare comes out of nowhere as the villain, at least in my opinion, and then he’s simply defeated when the Thunderbolts find the willpower to defeat him. He’s not really connected to any of them in any narratively satisfying way, and I don’t think his use builds on any of the plot threads or character arcs set up in this series. The lord of nightmares doesn’t really gel with a team built around bureaucracy and/or team disfunction. Those parts of the story were great, but this fight with Nightmare wasn’t anything special. He monologues for a bit, has some nightmares taunt our heroes, and then America decides she’s strong enough to beat him.
It’s not bad. Nothing here is bad. And the art is really solid still. I just really wish Zub had more time and more issues to tell his story. There were a lot of interesting details set up in the first couple of issues, and we had a lot of fun with some done-in-one stories. But nothing that was set up really gets to pay off all that much, at least not that strongly. This issue is half another done-in-one story and half attempting to tie a bow on everything so far. And it’s just pretty good in those regards.
TL;DR: I feel bad for writers who have to cram all the ideas they might have for a new team book into only five issues. This ending is a fine and somewhat simple ending to this excellent mini-series.
Writer: Leah Williams
Artist: Carlos Gomez
Colorist: Bryan Valenza
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
At least X-Terminators feels like it was planned for just a 5-issue romp.
The X-Terminators are now trapped in a special harem housing pen created by Alex the Vampire on the Collector’s ship, and he spends some time taunting them, while they taunt right back. When Alex leaves, they figure out that this place has plumbing, so they flush some bombs into the system and blow a hole in the ship. In the chaos, they free all the prisoners, both from the harem and monster menagerie, and take a portal back to Krakoa. But our heroes are taken into custody because Dracula and the Vampire Nation are upset at all the vampires they killed at the fighting arena. But our heroes point out that those vampires were defectors, who probably have bounties on their heads, and Dracula reluctantly agrees. He grants Dazzler dibs on beating up Alex.
Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
This comic has momentum in its favor and that capitalizes into another satisfying and entertaining issue. I love all the places this issue goes. From teasing the villain about being a piss boy to deciding to drop some bombs into the ship’s septic system to a classic X-Men baseball game on Krakoa to negotiations with Dracula and the Vampire Nation. It’s wild and fun, with the sharp writing behind the main cast to carry us through, along with some cute and funny art. This is the ultimate wild road trip comic, and Williams and Gomez keep piling on the insanity in fun ways.
In this specific issue, I loved how the girls interacted. They’re so friendly, yet they tease each other nicely, and can still be sexy without drawing attention to it. I love how they bounce off one another and it really keeps the story flowing. The arrival back on Krakoa is a hoot, because who doesn’t love the X-Men playing baseball? And then the ante is upped even more when they get dragged before the Vampire Nation, who have also been sitting right off panel in the Quiet Council chambers. This whole thing is one big hoot, and it comes to a satisfying end in this issue. So I’m excited to see what Williams and Co. have planned for a fifth issue.
Also, as someone slightly obsessed with the ground-level infrastructure of Krakoa, I’m pleased to get confirmation of an intramural baseball league on the island.
TL;DR: Silliness and sexiness abound in this delightful comic, with this penultimate issue upping the improv teasing and the wild escalations.
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.
Posted on December 31, 2022, in Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, Superman, X-Men and tagged Action Comics, She-Hulk, Strange Academy, Strange Academy: Finals, Thunderbolts, X-Terminators. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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