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Last Call Comics: Wednesday 5/24/23

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 5/24/23

The debut of a new weekly column at AIPT reviewing the comics we normally wouldn’t have the time to look at.

Let’s do some math.

If DC and Marvel release 60 to 70 books every month, that’s about 15 to 20 fresh weekly titles. Then, add in those books from Image Comics, Dark Horse, Vault Comics, Scout Comics, Mad Cave Studios, etc. (again, say four to six each, sometimes more), that’s 50 to 65 comics every. single. week. And that’s just a ballpark estimate, too.

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It all means that there’s always heaps of great stuff to read. It also means some books ultimately get left on the shelf.

Since we can’t stand the thought of comics going unread, we’ve launched a new feature in Last Call Comics. Inspired by the capsule reviews of famed rock critic Robert Christgau, these blurbs/micro-reviews will be a chance to extend AIPT’s weekly review coverage as much as possible. To bolster and grow the kinds of books we read, and cover anything else that might fall through the cracks — and always with the same level of thoughtfulness and commitment. In short, more great reviews that you’ve come to love and expect.

If you’ve got a project or a suggestion that you think we should feature, please let us know. In the meantime, happy New Comic Book day — to everyone.

— Chris Coplan, Comics Editor

City Boy #1 (DC Comics)

City Boy #1 cover

DC Comics

Cameron Kim talks to cities. It’s quite the power if you’re an orphan fending for yourself on the rough and tumble streets. It’s perhaps less advantageous when Mr. Kim finds himself  hopping across some of the DCU’s busiest cities (Gotham, Metropolis, Amnesty Bay, etc.) in a massive conspiracy tied directly to both Dawn of DC and the Lazarus Planet events. Writer Greg Pak takes his time in building the world of Cameron; issue #1 is heavy on the evocative backstory but can often feel a little light elsewhere. Luckily, the art of Minkyu Jing bridges the gap, with a style made for DC proper while evoking other ideas and influences to feel kinetic without distracting from Pak’s slow assembly process.

Issue #1 doesn’t so much deliver on Cameron’s true potential — though there’s some big moves in building up his powers as an interesting storytelling device — but it sets the stage for a compelling character study and a thoughtful exploration of family, city life, and unlikely heroics. If the book’s closing big reveal is any indication at all, Cameron could be doing a lot more than talking in the very near future.

Final Thought: This City Boy’s still under construction, but man oh man, does it have damn good bones.

Score: 6.5/10

Hellcat #3 (Marvel Comics)

Hellcat #3 cover

Marvel Comics

The question that’s existed since Hellcat was announced seems to have been, “Can Christopher Cantwell do for Patsy Walker what he did for Tony Stark?” Which is to say, further strip the myth away from the human and reveal a deep ocean of organic emotionality. In the first two issues, the answer’s been, “Heck yeah,” as Cantwell and artist Alex Lins have crafted a noir-ish murder mystery that would rival almost any prestige television darling of the last five years. Those first two issues were also brilliant in delving into the complicated world of Walker; Cantwell’s got a keen understanding of her complicated suffering and robust resolve, and Lins built this slick world that toed the line between hard-hitting comic and gritty drama.

Issue #3, then, felt like a genuinely big moment, as the conspiracy around who killed Patsy’s beau, Spalding, grew increasingly complicated and all the more rich and compelling thanks to more thoughtful character development and a super effective twist. Forget the big fights and the universe-spanning action — this title gives you HBO-level storytelling with the joy and potential of mainstream comics.

Final Thought: Bring the popcorn and the Kleenex, ’cause you’re going to need both to tackle this giant-sized drama.

Score: 7.5/10

Vanish #7 (Image Comics)

Vanish #7 cover

Image Comics

Over the last six issues of Vanish, a not insignificant number of folks believed our “hero” (Christ am I’m using that term lightly) Oliver Harrison is effectively a stand-in for writer Donny Cates. After reading issue #7, I see that Oliver is not only a voodoo doll for Cates’ own anxiety and identity issues, but a means of hope for the creator. Because if Oliver can stand a battle with another nasty foe (this one’s a real demonic pain in the tuchus), all while getting some major help from his friends and family, maybe thing can become whole again.

It’s a bit of development that feels almost magical in its own right — a narrative pathway that adds some much-needed wish fulfillment and some corresponding intrigue. Just don’t assume that Oliver’s safe or anything; he’s as tortured as ever as he painfully inches his way closer and closer to a bloody confrontation with his big bad (and the layers of psychic trauma that are decidedly more villainous and destructive). Supported by his own magic (i.e., Ryan Stegman’s art as a grand, swooning love letter to ’90s-style awesomeness), Cates’ narrative gets about as deep and personal as invasive surgery.

Final Thought: Love and friendship might save the day, but there’s still plenty of hell to pay on the road to decency.

Score: 6/10

Terrorwar #2 (Image Comics)

Terrorwar #2 cover

Image comics

Previously on Terrowar: A motley crew of Joe Schmos try to make it through a hellish post-capitalist future the only way they know how: fighting the personification of social terrors. Writer Saladin Ahmed has done wonders in just two issues, not only introducing a pretty heady concept (terrors come to life, people fight and sell the corresponding “data” like the worst gig economy ever) but doing so with a lethal efficiency and without getting lost up the concept’s rear end.

That latter bit is just as much thanks to the art of Dave Acosta, who has resoundingly forged a visual world and overarching identity that’s fully fleshed out and nonetheless accessible to a new audience. Together, the duo play around with ideas of capitalist critique by blending in ’80s action flicks and Saturday morning cartoons, crafting a big book about people and communities that never scrimps on the bonkers set pieces. The end result is a series with a lot of work to complete but is just as likely to succeed thanks to its mix of huge ideas and energies and larger social motifs and commentary. War is hell? Maybe if you’re the feckless and boring bourgeoisie.

Final Thought: The real terror is having to work for a living.

Score: 8/10

The Forged #3 (Image Comics)

The Forged #3 over

Image Comics

The creative team of The Forged — writers Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann alongside artist Mike Henderson — made some seemingly lofty promises before issue #1 ever debuted. But have they delivered? Like, is it a spiritual cousin and predecessor to Conan and Heavy Metal? Check. Lots of over-the-top sci-fi action? The team evades a crashing spaceship midway into issue #1, so also check.

But they’ve also achieved other, similarly lofty promises, the bulk of which become clear in issue #3. Like, the way the team’s dynamic continues to grow and develop in some compelling ways (especially in relation to the increasingly intriguing leaders of the Eternal Empire). Or, the way the conspiracy surrounding the Empress and her consortium of magic space queens deepens in some novel ways. Even the way this issue treats the long-awaited first contact is both utterly hilarious and a little depressing — the perfect mix for such an inventive take on long-running sci-fi tropes. It’s this issue that crystalizes what makes The Forged such an important book — just before it headbutts you in the chin and leaves you gasping for whatever comes next.

Final Thought: War is hell, but not nearly as hellacious as working for a spoiled space goddesses.

Score: 8.5/10

All Eight Eyes #2 (Dark Horse Comics)

All Eight Eyes #2 cover

Dark Horse Comics

Issue #1 wasted little time in leaping (as if on eight legs, perhaps?) into a story about two very different dudes coming together to murder giant spiders. And if you’re going to do so — not to mention in the framework of a post-9/11 New York City — efficiency is really key. But issue #2 isn’t nearly the same beast; things get slowed way down from the Jaws-meets-Arachnophobia tagline into something far more interested in interpersonal politics over mega-spiders. We get to see more of the nuanced dynamic between our heroes — the young and still partially ignorant Vin and the decidedly grizzled Reynolds — and their conversations touch on ideas of gentrification and the unhoused, the decay of modern American life, and a prevailing us-versus-them mentality.

Sure, the action picks up, and some sweet giant spider appearance pushes us back into high gear. (Artist Piotr Kowalski and colorist Brad Simpson are killing it together — their NYC is equally depressive, uplifting, quaint, and horrific.) But it’s this beat or two of “rest” that makes this drama all the more real, and shows us there’s more to dread and fear than even a sedan-sized spider.

Final Thought: Somehow the people and the politics are the most nasty and venomous.

Score: 7.5/10

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