PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #2 — I like it. The deal with the A-Ha video is still charming and impressive and all. But I don’t know, y’all. Does this one read as a bit too samey to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE to anyone else? I’m already recognizing that Volume 2 of this title hit me at this like once-in-a-lifetime magical-moment sweet spot owing to where I was as a human being right at that time compounded by the fact that I could not bloody lay hands on #3 or #4 for weeks and weeks, which made the anticipation so much greater than if I’d just been on board picking up the singles from the get-go, so I’m not like expecting every issue of this third volume to have anything like the effect that THE SINGLES CLUB had on me, but this one just seemed to not quite be firing on as many cylinders. Or maybe failing to escalate from last issue? That might be it. I don’t know. There’s just not as much magic, Shambles. At least in the main feature. On the first pass through, I was a little bit bummed and kind of crumpled up until I turned to that back-up story “The Ice Storm” and cued up that The Go! Team track like you’re supposed to do, and I tell you what, I read those five pages over and over and over again for 4:12 and was bedazzled and impressed and enchanted and put the book down with a smile on my face and that song in my heart and didn’t even remember any of those other things I was thinking about the lead feature until I sat down to write this review. This book really is magic. Sometimes, most times, when you least expect it.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #14 — Is it wrong for me to feel cheated that they didn’t go with PHONOGRAM for the remix idea? And will I ever stop comparing this poor book to PHONOGRAM? A cool idea, the re-re-mix. I had no problem with it and actually didn’t even really start to spot it until halfway through, which possibly speaks to how frozen-fried all of those Go! Team chimes made me. I particularly dug on the McKelvie design on that double-page Who’s Next? spread right at the end. God, I miss YOUNG AVENGERS. This book will always make me yearn for all the others, apparently. So, of course this is the one they say they’re going to do for sixty issues.
DARTH VADER #009 — Well, this is apparently a Gillen hat-trick right here all of a sudden. For all the lightsaber action, this issue doesn’t really burn too much down, preferring to let the tension between Vader and the Emperor’s new guy (I forget his name, it’s not in the crawl, and no one addresses him directly all issue long; the “Fourth World Saga” this is not, my young Padawans!) simmer along, which is just fine. I could have used a few more pages with scene-stealers Dr. Aphra, BT, and 000, the former of whom at least must be eking out a limited lifespan. I mean, if I find myself suddenly indentured to that particular Dark Lord of the Sith above all others, the laaaaast thing I’m going to be doing is sneaking around the galaxy trying to scrape together a little bit of change and hope he never gets around to sensing any disturbances. If I was doing one thing in secret on Lord Vader’s watch, I’d be devoting every instant of spare time to figuring out the most surefire way to decapitate the fellow or trick him on to a rocket to the sun or something.
BEST OF WEEK: STAR WARS – JOURNEY TO THE FORCE AWAKENS: SHATTERED EMPIRE #1 — Well, I wasn’t going to pick up any post-VI canon until VII lands because I want to go in fresh, but I couldn’t say no to Rucka and that gorgeous Noto cover (which is perfect except it seems like probably Luke shouldn’t be showing any teeth; a grim little smile would do just fine, he’s either about to or just gone done burning his father’s body), and I am certainly glad that I picked it up. The first half of this issue drops in on the closing moments of the Battle of Endor, specifically what Lieutenant “Green-6” Bey was getting up to. Depicting a classic Star Wars dogfight-in-space in sequential form is no minor accomplishment, and the creative team does excellent work translating the excitement and momentum that we’ve come to expect from those things into this medium. There’s a nice little retcon where our new protagonist helps Commander Skywalker and aforementioned father’s body escape the doomed Death Star onboard that faithful old Imperial shuttle Tydirium before the lieutenant reunites with her true love amidst the sounds of wub-wub down below, going on to undoubtedly conceive Oscar Isaac that very night before goddang Han musters Dad-to-be right out of there first thing next morning. You really hope old Dameron makes it back from this one. Widowmaker’s not a good look for Han, but Daddy Dameron has done his job in terms of sperm-production. In terms of art, Marco Checchetto goes above and beyond, rendering iconic likenesses and intricately lined starships with apparent ease and always with an eye for ideal composition. This is yet another terrific opening issue of the new Marvel Star Wars, and I am definitely all in and looking forward to much more to come.
BITCH PLANET #5 — I thought “Bitch Planet” was the sub-title of my Gillen hat-trick review. But, seriously. This one keeps up the pace that #4 set. I’m still loving the De Landro art but not convinced or compelled by the amount of characterization Deconnick is packing in here. Or not. I just don’t care about these people. The backmatter talks about the creators falling in love with a doomed character or how cruel it’s going to be to give us her backstory next issue, but not enough of that passion transferred into the project to make it through the page to at least me. Folks in the letters column certainly feel differently. I wish I was more into it. Still picking this up as a curiosity but not terribly pumped about it, as I will be whenever that new PRETTY DEADLY hits.
INJECTION #5 — So. That’s everything with the origin pretty much explained and the present-day crisis resolved. I’ve made mention of it the past couple of issues, but the shape of this entire opening arc has just been odd. Pleasant odd. Or unpleasant in a lovely way. But certainly its own strange beast. It’s always a pleasure to see Uncle Warren writing exactly what it at least appears that he wants to, and Shalvey/Bellaire just look better and better together. I look forward to this team recharging their various creative energies and returning with the second arc as soon as possible.
A-FORCE #004 — Maybe they shouldn’t have put the big splash-page traitor reveal on the cover with basically the exact same layout? Not that it’s such a surprise, really, but it always disturbs me when they do this*. Deadline hustle is beginning to creep in here. You can tell that there are two inkers and one is moving a bit faster than the other, though I have no idea who’s who. Overall, though, the story remains crisp and scoots right along. And of course, that is one hell of a final double-page splash. Beautiful colors from Laura Martin, as ever. This is the first time I’ve read TO BE CONCLUDED on one of these minis and thought, “Awwww . . .”
STARFIRE #4 — This series remains a welcome breath of breezy fun starring a female protagonist with agency to spare who only happens to be a knockout gorgeous alien who leaves men drooling in her wake and whose innate goodness and optimism and automatic trust that actually borders on naïveté makes her all the more endearing. I was initially a little slow on the uptake, but Conner/Palmiotti have clearly imported this Atlee character in from their much-lauded-though-as-yet-unread-by-me run on POWER GIRL. I also dug that part at the end when Stella the sheriff hit threshold and lost her shit at the amount of nonsense that has erupted in Key West these past four issues. The most evocative image of the issue is wisely left off-panel: aforementioned sheriff underwater and punching the hell out of nothing/everything as a form of stress relief. I will say that as cool as it is to have three such strong female characters hanging out together and passing the Bechdel test all the time, I’m about ready for Sol and/or Boone or anybody else to graduate from the ogling-Kory/drooling-in-her-wake stage that has been this book’s go-to from the get-go. Lots to love in this title, though, not the least of which is the seamless efficiency that it has thus far coasted from issue to issue, each featuring a conflict with satisfactory resolution every time while always setting up the next thing, whetting readers’ appetites for the following issue.
GOTHAM ACADEMY #10 — This book is still such a fun ride, as dark as it is. I thought the first season of BUFFY (coming to it a few years after the whole series had ended, mind) was over-hyped shit and couldn’t begin to catch a glimpse of what everyone loved so much until, I think, the seventh episode when the gang for some reason had to get involved with a production of “Macbeth” and everything started to suddenly gel and become wonderful, so I immediately wondered if this was a callback to that. It’s executed with a far greater amount of craft, skill, and finesse, as I’ve loved these characters from Day One. This is a terrific and very satisfying done-in-one with a surprise villain whose presence seems perfectly obvious in hindsight. Kerschl/Lapointe/Msassyk continue to produce beautiful pages and craft memorable characters, and Cloonan/Fletcher are welcome to filch dialogue from The Bard as often as they like. Love this book.
BATMAN #44 — Usually a mid-arc fill-in is not something you want to have happen. Particularly with this book’s regular stellar team. But of course, old Jock is welcome any time, and this issue has more meat on its bones and very satisfying done-in-one qualities than most that have come down the pike in the last little bit here. It’s a nice shot of what we know and love about these mythos cast through more of a relatively topical filter (guest-co-writer Azzarello’s sensibilities no doubt tipping in here, and probably responsible for the third-person, I suspect) that almost conjures what might happen if David Simon brought his literary sensibilities and unflinching cameras to Gotham. We return to the era immediately following Zero Year, a young Batman still learning on the job every single night and a Gordon who does not disguise his awe at this still-new addition to the GCPD’s efforts. Despite the over-sized page count, this is a lean tale that pulls no punches, not letting the fantastic content of Langstrom serums and millionaire vigilantes temper the social concerns it calls into question. It is interesting that Superman has been directly dealing with police brutality in ACTION just these past couple of months and then here we have this, a powerful piece of sequential fiction that rewards rereading and will probably stand as one of the best singles of the year, which is no great surprise from the team who brought us “The Black Mirror” too long ago, but it is still a gift for which we should remain grateful.
ACTION COMICS #44 — And but then, I flew through this. No joke intended. Lee gets an upgrade that gives her so little cause for concern right off the bat that surely it’s not going to be good news in the long haul, while the big guy receives yet another dose of humility and being put in his place, but takes it in the good humor and centered spirit that he embodies. Pak/Kuder continue their run bringing the Man of Steel a bit more down to Earth but as noble and inspirational as ever. Thank goodness.
*while I’m voicing minor irritation at that, though, please indulge me in shrieking indolent raaaaaage at that fucking X-Men ad Marvel’s got inserted at every center staple so that you can’t miss it no matter what, even if your friend tries to hand you the book and you miss it and drop the issue and it opens up right there on the ground, it will still turn to that page and spoil the lineup for the new Lemire/Ramos** team, which normally wouldn’t be such a big deal, I mean nobody really gave a shit about knowing who the classic Blue/Gold teams were going to be ahead of time (back when Jim Lee convinced Marvel to go along with his bold vision for this group of merry mutants and not worry about what that other guy who’d been doing it for the past sixteen years thought), I mean, it seemed a little odd that Scott & Jean weren’t going to be on the same team, but oh well, only flash-forward to the present, the really absolute bullshit transpiring in the here and now is that the mere presence of certain individuals in this particular image goes a pretty far way toward ruining the endings of at least two (at least two, I looked away as soon as I realized what I was seeing) series that I am currently reading whose last issues have not been published as of yet, one of which, even MORE gallingly was originally solicited for May and then pushed back all the way to October, to the confusion of everyone up to and including the writer and architect of the entire situation, I speak of the final installment of Brian Michael Bendis’s excellent years’-long run split between ALL-NEW . . . & UNCANNY X-MEN, but the entire super-tense thing about his entire run from the first issue that I have been loving all this time is: what is going to be the final fate of the teenage X-Men who were picked up from #8? Well, now I and anyone else who picked up a Marvel comic this week know what’s going to happen to one/some of them. And this image wouldn’t have spoiled the ending of this multi-year running story that I have been happy to pour twelve dollars a month into if they had just fucking released it when they originally said they were going to. A serious dick move. A Frank-Miller-writing-Batman-level dick move, Marvel. End of rant in public, but never in my heart.
**a creative team that, of course, I am super pumped about seeing get their hands on the mutants, all of the bile washing up in the remainder of that first footnote up there notwithstanding