Comic Reviews 5/10/17

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All-Star Batman #10

Alfred narrates this story that takes Batman and himself to Miami to intercept the sale of the Genesis Engine – a dangerous Soviet weapon – from a crime family descended from pirates to Hush. But, at the sale, Alfred recognizes a calling card from his youth. And in the back-up, Bruce goes undercover in Russia to break-up a Russian crime family.

Miami doesn’t just give this arc a new location, but a new tone, with Snyder’s American Vampire collaborator Rafael Albuquerque giving the issue a dash of Miami Vice flavor, putting Bruce in a tight button down shirt, and setting the story entirely during sunset.

Also like Miami Vice, the issue’s most notable set-piece is a car-chase that sees the Batmobile drive through a baseball stadium, and ends on what amounts to a super fancy criminal yacht. The sun even seems to get to Bruce, as he starts cracking pirate jokes to Alfred.

But the most remarkable part of this issue is Snyder’s choice to have Alfred narrate the book. As this arc’s title reminds us, Alfred is Batman’s first ally, and more than that, his father. It’s rare that we see comics’ most famous orphan referred to as a “son,” but Alfred’s continued use of the pronoun reinforces their relationship, and helps put readers into the shoes of parent perpetually worried about a child that puts themselves at risk every night for the greater good. It provides the rare moment where we see Bruce leap before looking, and have a twinge of worry that he might not land as planned. Snyder realizes that the easiest way to make people care about Batman’s mortality is to put us inside the head of the person who would care most should he die.

 

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Wonder Woman #22

Diana auctions off a date for charity, and the highest bidder is Veronica Cale. And Dr. Cale has quite the night planned for them.

What I like about this issue is how low key everything appears. For the first 2/3rds of the issue, it really is just Diana and Veronica talking and getting to know each-other, with Veronica seeming to want nothing more than to get Diana to see some things – completely unrelated to the Olympus stuff – from her perspective. And even when Diana has to start stopping bullets, it seems to be completely unrelated from the arc so far. Of course, Cale has plans on plans on plans; something Diana gets a whiff of before the last panel.

Andolfo draws a cute Wonder Woman, with really round features and an adorable rosey nose, and there are a couple panels, where Diana is confused, that look like they could be stills from a slice-of-life anime like Lucky Star or something. More than anything, the style reminds me of stuff Marvel is doing in books like Hellcat, granted, not to that degree of chibi-fication. This is still visually very much in DC’s house style, just…a bit more cute than usual.

 

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Amazing Spider-Man #27

Spider-Man and Silver Sable fly a fleet of Parker Industry military vehicles into Symkaria, where they meet up with Mockingbird and the new Wild Pack to begin the insurgency against Osborn in an effort to free the country.

Somewhere between last issue and this one, this story stopped feeling like a Spider-Man story, and now I’m not really sure what it is. I mentioned how this arc had a much stronger action movie tone to it, and I think this issue might have slipped entirely into 90’s Beefcake action movie territory. Like, full on Stallone/Schwarzenegger.

To have Spider-Man – SPIDER-MAN! – of all heroes, lead a militarized NGO into a sovereign country to topple a government… Captain America – I’d buy it – Iron Man, I’d buy it; Captain Marvel, the X-Men, Hawkeye, Black Widow, The Inhumans, The Fantastic Four – I’d buy it; but Spider-Man!?

Since this past soft-reboot and the introduction of Parker Industries, Slott has proven that Spidey can go international, but potentially War-triggering international military operations might be a step too far.

 

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Ms. Marvel #18

This issue switches focus and perspective from Kamala, and reunites readers with Bruno as he struggles to keep up with his new Wakandan classmates and adjust to his recent disabilities, while also getting roped into a plot with a classmate to steal a chunk of Vibranium from a royal research facility.

It’s always refreshing to jump into another characters head, and it’s been long enough where it’s entirely possible to forget how likable Bruno is as a character, something this issue more than happily reminds us of. Despite all that’s changed, Bruno is still the most reliable guy in comics since Alfred Pennyworth, even when he really should bail. He’s loyal to a fault, and someone who does always try to help his friends despite whatever personal and literal handicaps he’s facing.

And with regards to those handicaps, G. Willow Wilson demonstrates the same gentleness she does with other markers of “outsiderness.” She writes Bruno as someone who is slowly realizing what his physical limitations are becoming, while also putting him in situations where he can realize all the things he’s still more than capable of, and which of those limitations where just in his head. Bruno is frightened of a life of wheelchair ramps and being unable to do things he used to find simple – but is resolute in still not letting what he can’t do get in the way of what he wants to do.

The issue also introduces Bruno’s roommate Kwezi, a teenaged Wakandan genius and troublemaker who I definitely want to see more of.

 

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America #3

I hate to say it, but this issue really just feels like fan fic. America flies off to rescue her ex from the fanclub she didn’t know she inspired, but instead of teleporting to their planet, she finds herself in the 80’s with the X-Men, where Storm – who was expecting her similar to how Peggy Carter was in the last issue – teaches America how to further tap into her powers.

It’s a story where the main character gets sidetracked from her journey so that an iconic hero she looks up to can tell her that the power was inside her all along. It’s very cliché fan-fic-y, and not that entertaining a read. Yes, it is cool that a big two publisher is finally giving the opportunity for this sort of trite story to a queer Latina coded character rather than another straight white dude, but that doesn’t really make it that much better of a story.

And really, the experience doesn’t even seem to have changed America much. She’s the same at the end of the issue as she was in the beginning. No real lesson learned, no real change in even to her inner monologue. And the Leelumultipass Phi Theta Betas don’t have the same impact after the third time they miraculously show up out of nowhere to pull America out of a jam like the zords at the end of a Power Rangers episode.

 

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Black Panther and The Crew #2

This issue takes the story from Misty Knight, and hands it over to Storm, who tells Misty about her connection to Ezra and Harlem as the two follow a trail to solving the mystery behind Ezra’s death.

The story loses a lot of steam in the transition of perspective, not really finding a good stylistic replacement for the noir detective propulsion of Misty’s POV. The opening pages are interesting enough, depicting a scene from the past where Ezra is in Indonesia, still working out the specifics of his new super-team; but Ororo’s self-reflecting narration is an obstacle in the way of engaging with the story in the present.

Where Misty’s inner monologue followed her piecing together clues, Ororo feels more like she’s drifting from one scene to the next, eventually ending up in a diner on a hunch rather than through following up on the last clue. A train explodes somewhere in this book, and you almost forget about it by the very next page. In a good mystery, the journey and process of discovery is often more important that the eventual result; the last panel of this issue is the most interesting thing it’s got.

 

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Green Valley #8

Returning to Green Valley, Gulliver finally lives up to his moniker, “The Dragon Slayer,” while Bertwald and Ralphus fight over the ramifications of using the time machine to fix their own histories.

I don’t think this issue was long enough to establish the emotional weight each scene needed to land properly. Gulliver standing up to and slaying the dinosaurs is fun to read, but his switch from coward to hero feels almost too sudden. Meanwhile, despite seven previous issues of build-up, the duel between Bert and Ralphus fails to cash in on what should be the series’ major emotional climax. It’s dramatic, but it isn’t as big and climactic as it should be, considering. The fight is just two short for them to have the back-and-forth such a scene really requires to establish how hard fighting the other is for each of them.

Hopefully, the double sized final issue will make up for the lack of room in this one.

 

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AD: After Death #3

The final book in this series elevates the story to the upper echelons of comic book storytelling, successfully turning a story that has been about death and depression into one that reveals why we keep going in spite of all the tragedy we face.

Successfully having rescued Claire, the girl he stole in order to complete the cure for death, Jonah takes her down from the mountain facility towards the signal of life calling out to him. And as they venture through the transformed wilds, Jonah recalls and writes down the final chapter of his life as a mortal, how he became one of the undying, and what happened to the planet in those last years.

More than probably any other comic I’ve reviewed, AD: After Death is a story that deserves to be read in its entirety all at once, and as soon as I have the time, that’s what I intend to do. It’s more formally novelistic, and that also makes it much denser with ideas and themes and emotional narrative than most other comics. And while even the three-part release structure of the story is accounted for within the story proper, it still feels to me like a story that should be read without the large gaps of a publishing schedule getting in the way.

And while the art by Jeff Lamire is incredible, adding lots of tone and emotion to the story in its own right, this feels a lot more like the writer’s story illustrated than the usual type of sequential art you’d expect from a comic book. Lemire’s art is fantastic, but even if you think that this is Snyder’s best work of his career – which, I want to be clear, I do – it’s difficult to call it his best comic work.

Regardless, AD: After Death is a series I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading, comic fan or not. It’s a series I plan to return to as soon as I can, and many times again and again, whenever I feel like I need help rationalizing my own death, and what makes its inevitability worth resisting.

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