Comic Reviews for 8/9/17

Mister Miracle #1

Mister Miracle is a masterpiece.

Which, is to be expected from Tom King and Mitch Gerads at this point in their shared and separate careers. What’s really impressive is how they keep raising the bar, and this first issue already has deeper characterization and a more intriguing plot than some entire runs.

We open on Scott Free having just slashed his wrists open, and waking up in a hospital after being found on the bathroom floor by his wife, Big Barda. Even before he’s released, we see that Scott isn’t just a superhero, he’s a celebrity, and everyone from the press to Superman start asking him why he did it. But through all the noise – including a painful visit from his brother, Orion – Scott notices things have been off since his suicide attempt. For one thing, Barda’s eyes are brown now, instead of blue. For another, Barda tells him that his friend Oberon – who he was just talking to – has been dead for a month, and that they pulled the plug on him. But worse is that Darkseid has finally found the anti-life equation.

Starting with a suicide is a stunt, to be sure, but one that King doesn’t make light of; and while we’re not sure what pushed Scott over the edge just yet, the book does an amazing job of establishing that things aren’t right in the world that he’s waken back up in. Besides all the plot details, there are formal elements of the story that clue the reader in. Things become cyclical, with panel layouts and dialogue repeating themselves. And there’s the art. Gerard uses filter effects on his art to give the impression that we’re seeing the story played out through a camera lens, with different parts of any spread in focus at any given time; or color effects like what you’d get from a bad VHS recording. One character’s eyes appear to be taped onto the page rather than drawn on. And then there are things that I just appreciate, like how Barda towers over Orion, or how cartoony Scott looks with his mask on compared to the more realistic style Gerard uses for every other character.

But if there’s one thing that convinces me completely that King is the right writer for this book, it’s the two panels he writes of Barda putting Orion in his place, throwing his angst back in his face and telling him that he knows nothing of the pain that her and Scott share. Its two panels that show a greater understanding of Kirby’s 4th World mythos than, again, most other entire series. The entire scene it’s in is wonderful, but those two panels are key.

If you missed out on The Vision, don’t make the same mistake twice, pick up Mister Miracle.

 

The Flash #28

Following his last fight with Thawn and the encounter with the Negative Speed Force, Barry has some new and destructive powers that he’s yet to get the hang of. He’s also more irritable than usual.

Barry’s got a black suit! This one’s not an alien symbiote, but it the Negative Speed Force looks to be having the same effect on Barry; increasing his powers at the cost of his emotional stability. He’s even doing the whole “if they knew what I really sacrificed for this city” shtick in his inner-monologue. I’m having fun! Also, the black and red lighting that accompany Flash’s new powers the perfect amount of edgelord for the story. Man, I am so glad that we’re past the point of edgy superheroes being cool and can have stories that acknowledge how bad those are while still establishing that such a sudden change in character actually is narratively engaging just on a character standpoint. Because, and what keeps this story from being a parody, is that the negative powers do seem to be acting as a metaphor for depression, exhausting Barry, making him anti-social, and visibly destroying things around him. It’s being played for pathos instead of cool, and it works way better because of it.

 

Secret Empire #8

First thing I want to say about this issue, I love the cover art.

Second thing, it’s basically an issue-long deus ex machina, but it’s also one of the better issues of this event so far. Though events that I’m guessing happened mostly in the tie-in books I didn’t read, Sam Wilson is Captain America again, leading the Underground in their last ditch effort to use their fragment of the cosmic cube to rewrite just enough of reality to give them a fighting chance. And their plan to bring down the shield and the darkforce just so happens to coincide with the other heroes’ own plans to bring the fight to Hydra.

Basically, if this were an anime or a Sonic the Hedgehog game, this is right about where the main theme would kick in. It’s an issue that reminds me that when Nick Spencer doesn’t trip over the half-tied shoelaces of his political analogies, he can actually write a pretty good superhero story.

 

Amazing Spider-Man #31

Because of the serial nature of comics, you could easily measure a writer’s worth by how exciting they make the inevitable slide back into the status quo. And if that’s what you’re going by, then Dan Slott has to be one of the best. And that’s not in small part because of how broadly he deviates from it. In this issue, Slott demolishes years’ worth of contributions he’s made to Spider-Man to bring him back to basics; literally even stripping him down at one point; and he manages to do this in a way that also reinforces the themes and core values of the character.

I’m not sure if the rumor that he’ll be stepping away from the book at issue #800 has been confirmed or debunked, but if it is true, he leaves behind one of the greatest (and the longest) runs of the character.

 

Ms. Marvel #21

Ms. Marvel helps the captured inhumans and mutants escape the neighborhood militia, but only barely. They escape to the mosque, but Discord and his goons aren’t far behind, and Kamala is too exhausted to continue fighting much longer.

The shoe doesn’t drop until the last act of the issue, but when it does, it’s a doozy. Wilson is an expert in making weaving political commentary into her stories in ways that compliment both the message and the metaphor being used to tell it. In this case, how easy it is for allies to betray a cause when an opposing ideology appeals to their own bitterness. If you’ve been on left-wing twitter recently, you know it’s something that PoC’s, women, and LGBTQIA+ folks are constantly guarded about; and this comic manages to highlight the issue in a way that’s sympathetic without letting any actual villains off the hook for endangering people.

 

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #23

Squirrel Girl continues to be the best comic Marvel is putting out, using its recap page to skewer Secret Empire and event comics in general, and also Spider-Man, while affirming how much better a story it’s telling in its own little corner of the Marvel universe.

And that story is about how Doreen, Nancy, and the other contest winning programmers from Wakanda, K’un-L’un, and Latveria need to debug the programming in the 70 million year old alien computers that keep the Savage Land hospitable to dinosaurs before they all die out – again. But more importantly, Doreen wants to set Nancy up with the cute Latverian boy she’s crushing on, but all he can think about is Doom!

This issue squeezes a ridiculous amount of mileage from Latveria jokes, and every single one of them lands. Aside from some dinosaur puns, Latveria jokes are basically all this book is doing, but they are all so good. Who’da thunk a comic book dealing with characters living under an egomaniacal dictator could be so funny? Ryan North, that’s who.

 

The Wicked + The Divine #30

Dionysus waits in the underground for Morrigan to release Baphomet, enduring all of her abuse. But he can’t stay down there forever, as he’s a key part of Woden and the Norns’ plan to activate Ananke’s machine. Meanwhile, Baal and Ammy are still on the lookout for Sakhmet.

This issue, and probably this arc, will be pregnant with anticipation. In the backmatter, Gillen describes this arc as the two minutes before a set, and that feeling definitely comes across in this issue. The tension between Dio waiting underground and him needed to be present for Woden’s plan is palpable as the issue’s bumper-pages become a countdown clock.

There’s also a great couple pages where each panel shows a shot of some of the Pantheon’s Instagram accounts. Seeing the reflection of the phone in Woden’s helmet is one of those neat little details; while a Baal fanpage snapping a pic resembling the cover of The Dark Knight Returns might have taken me out of the book a little much.

 

Kill or Be Killed #11

Having discovered the demon in his father’s artwork, Dylan managed to convince himself that it was all in his head, renounced killing, got back on his meds, and started to catch up on his school work. He even reconnects with Kira, who invites him on a date to a Halloween party. Life’s looking up for him, and then he gets sick, like he did the first time after not killing for a while, and he finds out that the Russians are still on his trail.

This really is the “Spider-Man No More!” part of the story, down to a panel with him dramatically exiting an alley. He gives up the mask and things almost immediately improve. The cops stop looking for the vigilante, he catches up on the normal life he left behind, and even manages to pick things up with a newly interested Kira. But that makes for a boring story, so soon enough he gets pulled back in.

But as the beginning of the issue is quick to remind us, that was inevitable. Dylan still has to become the shotgun wielding badass we saw in medias res. The real genius of this brief period of happiness is to once more give Dylan something to lose when it all inevitably goes wrong again.

 

Redlands #1

Redlands, Florida 1977. The tree outside the local police station burns, nooses still hanging from its branches. The police inside barricade themselves in to defend against an enemy they thought they had hanged this morning, but is now clear they have no recourse against. A young girl approaches their door, and letting her in also lets in the evil they fought so hard to keep out.

The first issue of this series is the third act of a really good horror movie. The last fight against an unstoppable power. And the atmosphere is laid on thick from the first page. The burning tree, the nooses, the scared cops, there’s no need for exposition, we already know everything we need to understand that this night will be far shorter than the police barricaded inside want to believe.

This is also the book’s greatest weakness, too, however, as we have no sympathy for the cops. This issue essentially has no stakes. We want the cops to die, and their powerless to do anything but. Meanwhile, our protagonists, who don’t show up for most of the book, have nothing to lose, and because they haven’t been properly introduced, it’s hard to root for them yet.

But, just as a first issue to a new series, this is explosive; and the atmosphere goes a long way to telling you what this series will eventually be about, I think. Largely an issue-long cold open, I can’t wait to get the story started in the next one.

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