Comic Reviews 4/5/17

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Superman #20

After everything that happened with Mxyzptlk, Superman and his family finally have some peace and quiet. That is, until Barman and Robin show back up on their farm in the middle of the night, with some questions about Jon. Bruce claims that Jon should already be more powerful than his father, and begins investigating anything in the environment that might be holding him back…which leads to the Kents’ Dairy Farmer neighbors.

With a title like Black Dawn, you know that this issue is going to end darker than its almost too sunny and wholesome opening pages would indicate, but what I enjoyed about the issue is how long that initially brightness lasts. That first splash of Superman, Jon, Batman, and Robin sitting around a dinner table in full costume, Bruce grimacing as Lois pours him coffee, is an all timer. Clark and Bruce are already well into their old rapport, with this issue’s colors really highlighting the differences in their heroic philosophies.

Despite leaning a bit much on Batman by the end of the issue, tonally, it’s classic Superman all the way through.

 

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Batman #20

This is an underwhelming issue until the very last pages, which themselves feel bigger than the rest of the issue, but doesn’t pull the entire thing up with it.

What you get with this issue is 20-something pages of Bane tossing Batman around, followed by a couple pages that put a cap onto King’s run on the series to this point and contextualize its place in Bruce Wayne’s oath to spend his life warring on criminals. The issue teases that nugget from the beginning, starting at issue #1, and bringing things ever closer to a point that the in-comic ad for Batman #21 reminds you won’t actually happen, before reaching this denouement…but the whole thing feels like it works better for the end of a collection rather than of a single issue or even arc.

 

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Green Arrow #20

Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Arsenal take the fight to the Mad Dogs; and as Roy approaches the Sherriff, he remembers guilty thing he’s done in his life that’s brought him to this point.

In its final issue, Roy fully takes over the arc, turning it into one-part origin story, one-part abridged recap of his superhero career, and one-part redemption tale. We witness the events that separated Roy from his family, caused the rift between himself and Ollie, and how Roy plans to use these current events as a way to excuse himself of all the guilt he’s carried with him.

Ollie manages to squeeze in a small redemption of his own, finally showing up to support his former sidekick when he’s at his lowest, raising him up to the high standards that he sets for himself and his partners.

The issue also continues to pay lip-service to the ripped-from-the-headlines setting of the arc, but it about stops at lip-service, throwing in some specific pointed words and bringing up ideas of white “economic anxiety” without really tying them into the story. Thankfully, it also doesn’t treat the villain’s motivations as just, more or less ignoring them to focus more on Roy’s story.

 

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Steve Rogers: Captain America #15

In 1945 Steve Rogers meets the Red Skull for the first time. And in the present day, they meet for the last time. And the world shakes as it learns that Hydra has nuclear weapons.

Welp, it’s about time for all these books to really gear up for that big summer crossover event, ain’t it, and Steve Rogers is leading the charge. That means this is pretty much just one big plot point for that story, stretched over an entire issue.

Also, if I may digress a little; it’s weird how Nick Spenser has been trying to distance the plot of this series and the upcoming crossover from any real world politics – going so far as to say that his version of Hydra is apolitical – when he writes the story as so obviously topically political on its face. His Hydra may not be 100% certified Nazi, but they are a supremacy-based fascist army led by megalomaniacs so if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

Also, trying to remove any story from anything that would give it real world context and resonance only makes that story worse. Art dies in a vacuum. And if you’re making a story with controversial subject matter, your job as an artist shouldn’t be to distance yourself from that controversy, but make it clear through the text what you believe the right and wrong sides are. And if Spencer is trying to distance this story from Nazis because he doesn’t think he has what it takes as a writer to make it clear in the story that he thinks Nazis are the bad guys then dude is in the wrong line of work.

 

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America #2

America is all over the place in this issue. The issue starts on Maltixa, the planet America saved in the beginning of the last issue, where a small but passionate fan-club has assembled around America. The hero herself is stuck in WWII, where – just after socking Hitler in the jaw – she’s joined by Peggy Carter, who, for some reason, was expecting her. America discovers that the power to time-travel was in her all along, so she warps back to the present, where we find out that instead of dorming, she’s living out of a windowless van that she bought for herself because she’s still broken up over her break-up. The next day, at school, she’s charged with chaperoning a group of high schoolers around campus, and also sits in on a lecture by Lunella Lafayette. And then the high-schoolers turn out to be cyborgs, the fan-club kidnaps America’s ex, and one of her teachers is working with a mysterious hooded figure to help America ­something.

There’s way too much happening in this issue, and it all happens so fast that it renders the issue’s character work – a strong point from the last issue – broad and distracted. America hops through emotions as easily as she does through dimensions, which doesn’t give the book time to show each fading in and out or develop one from the other. She goes from crying the back of her van to indignant at the High Schoolers in a single transition. And of course, no single plot beat has any real room to breathe either. America’s new power basically doesn’t concern her the moment after she discovers it, the reason for the cyborg high-schoolers is hand-waved, the teacher talking to the hooded figure is purely a tease for who-knows-what, and the story for next issue gets basically no lead-in.

Right now it really is America’s strong characterization and dialogue that’s keeping this together. America herself is still a pleasure to read, even when this issue’s structure (or lack thereof) makes it hard to get a read on her. Lunella’s cameo here is also super fun, but doesn’t feel like it contributes much of anything to the larger story.

 

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Hawkeye #5

Jessica Jones leads Hawkeye on an investigation into a missing woman, an ex of Asshat Brad’s by the name of Rebecca Brown. And of course, finding her is just the easy part.

In this issue Hawkeye goes from PI start-up to buddy-cop film, and it nails that transition with Jessica playing experienced stoic cop opposite Kate’s newbie emotional cop. Kate fan-girling over Jessica also gives Walsh a great opportunity to draw huge happy emotions on her face that turn into confusion and frustration as the two continue on their case.

The case itself seems to escape the book and the characters a bit by the end, but only because of a big out-there kind of twist that the story will definitely reposition itself for next issue. After all, this is a mystery to be solved. And Jessica and Kate just work so well together that I hope it takes them a while to solve it.

 

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Paper Girls #13

Erin and Tiff follow Wari, who tells them more about the three men and the mysterious gifts her people find from portals that appear from nowhere, and also mentions something that the translator cannot translate. Meanwhile, Mac and KJ find Dr. Braunstein’s abandoned time-machine, from which they find another interesting mystery to investigate. And Braunstein herself wakes up, tied to a tree, by the three men, who ask her to help them find their son.

This issue has a little bit of everything, even indulging in what I think is the series’ first time paradox. Splitting the team up works great for pacing and characterization, especially for Mac and KJ. There’s always been a sense of comradery between the two, but this issue in particular really exemplifies the way that two old and close friends talk to each-other when nobody else is around. Their separation from the group, as well as the instance KJ’s period, also lets Mac be vulnerable and open about how little she knows about the world and her own body, and we see how KJ takes charge and still treats Mac with patience despite Mac still acting like…Mac.

 

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Uber: Invasion #5

Stephanie and Alan help the American R&D create a new type of enhanced soldier, which involves experiments on human volunteers, none of which go as planned. Meanwhile, the Nazis continue the invasion of the east coast, and word arrives about a Japanese attack on the west.

This issue is a reminder that for all the horrors of a theater of war, things aren’t any less ugly behind the curtains. The creation of enhanced soldiers is shown to be just as gruesome as what the results are capable of, with men exploding, their bones being flung from their skin. No progress comes without a heavy price in blood, and as quickly as that process goes – and it isn’t very quick at all – the enemy armies continue their destruction of America city by city.

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