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Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/07/23

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/07/23

More comics reviews from Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, and more!

Welcome to another edition of Last Call Comics. Here, as we continually bolster AIPT’s weekly comics coverage, we catch any titles that might’ve fallen through the cracks. Or, those books that we might not cover but still deserve a little spotlight. Either way, it’s a chance to explore more comics, generate some novel insights, and maybe add to everyone’s to-be-read pile.

Once more, happy New Comic Book Day to everyone.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly comics podcast!

— Chris Coplan, Comics Editor

Fence Redemption #1

Comics

Courtesy of Boom! Studios.

I get that, as a 37-year-old cishet dude, I’m not exactly the target audience for Fence Redemption. But when a series gets this much attention, including a handful of GLAAD Media Award nominations, you have to pick up a sabre and grapple with the wildly popular series.

So, how did I fare against this latest continuation? Well, I wouldn’t say the book defeated me handedly, but there were some things that caught me off-guard. Writer C. S. Pacat understands the core of this book, and manages to make Halverton feel really alive as this den of robust interpersonal conflict. It’s a little over-the-top, sure, but then that’s sort of the point — and Pacat is dedicated enough to assign some proper high stakes to this uber adorable spectacle of hyper teen drama.

A lot of that success has to do with the work of Johanna the Mad, whose artistic approach really nails the super cutesy style and makes everyone feel like a ’90s-esque heartthrob (which makes caring about their drama so much more compelling). Beyond that, it’s the art itself that does a lot of heavy lifting — breaking down the actual art of fencing in such a vivid and compelling way isn’t just cool but it drives home the sport as a larger metaphor for the real emotional crux of this book. (Which is, love is a battlefield, basically.) Everything may be super-stylized but there’s substance galore.

While I may not have been completley disarmed (I still feel the gap between myself the reader and the subject matter), I’ve certainly taken enough licks that I’d like a rematch. If this book can keep up its core strengths — a dynamic visual style that supports and drives the teeny-bopper narrative with endless heart — than more people may be enrolling at Halverton posthaste.

Final Thought: Come for the expert sportsmanship, stay for the dreamy, dreamy boys and girls.

Score: 6.5/10

Starsigns #2

Comics

Courtesy of Image.

I loved Heroes. It took everyday people, gave them superpowers, and let us watch the cheesy drama unfold.

I also hated Heroes.

Because just when things were getting good, the whole thing sort of lost the plot — too many characters, derivative storylines, and a general loss of focus on what mattered most (the beefs, like Sylar vs. Peter Petrelli).

Luckily, even just two issues in, Starsigns seems to be picking up where Heroes dropped the ball. Writer Saladin Ahmed used issue #1 to efficiently give us a protagonist (the super charming, mega-retable Rana) before quickly spinning her into a world where the Zodiac’s fallen to Earth and gave people powers. Rana, who can now stop/control time, became a super compelling anchor in a world that exploded before our eyes but never felt any less real or engaging. That gave us a really sturdy foundation for whatever was to come next.

As such, issue #2 hit the ground flying at super speed. Rana comes face to face with Tatiana/Leo, who has some kind of enhanced physicality — and immediately complicates the narrative by serving the role of obvious protagonist. Luckily, there’s the shape-shifting Clarence/Gemini, and it’s his presence that balances things out (get it?!) by making this as much another super-powered caper as it is a heartfelt exploration of people trying to find connection in a disconnected world and change themselves and their situation for the better. Add in the super-empath Alejandro, and it’s clear that whatever humanity was teased in #1 becomes even more grand and complex as the story develops in some intriguing new directions. (Read: Like Heroes, but so much more dynamic and layered.)

The art, to extend, does help contribute to this process, but it also feels a little uneven. The duo of Kelly Fitzpatrick and Megan Levens foster a lot of the organic qualities of this book — their design and approach together feels grounded if not altogether a little basic. They do show some magic when there’s powers involved — Clarence’s transformations are dazzling — but the rest often lacks some oomph and power. (Rana’s time power, for one, somehow feels stunted in its presentation). They certainly uplift the narrative — and the pure emotionality of these characters shines thanks to core character designs — but that disconnect does feel a tad irksome.

Heroes worked because it made people the main attraction, and that’s something that Starsigns has done and then some. If it can keep it up — even as the powers and the number of players builds in complexity — then this series could be a true standout. Plus, it’s already beaten the pants off Heroes Reborn.

Final Thought: The only thing cooler than freezing time is making new friends.

Score: 8/10

Hairball #3

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/07/23

Courtesy of Dark Horse.

When I read issue #1 of Hairball, I felt fear.

Between the earnest, organic storytelling of Matt Kindt (he always knows how to wring the most humanity from his characters) to the abstract-meets-Norman-Rockwell art style of Tyler and Hilary Jenkins, the debut was a tense, slow-moving slice of horror a la The Ring.

The fear subsided some in issue #2, when the action picked up (a house fire effectively ended the mirage of young Anna’s family) and transformed our black cat protagonist into some Jason-esque monster. But while it focused more on traditional horror approaches/tropes, there was still tension galore throughout.

Issue #3 certainly diminishes even more of the tension — but it’s all for the best. The Friday the 13th vibes pull back some for a decidedly more supernatural-oriented feel (think the The Omen meets Evil Dead) as Anna launches a full-on assault on Bestie the cat. It’s a balance between the psychological and visceral that really fits the proceedings — a way to explore more horror ideas and still generate robust interest. Plus, we develop much more of an emotional core for Anna as she’s placed in a highly aggressive role. It’s a novel way to see her development from this fearful girl into someone fully grasping the true value of darkness.

Similarly, it’s also a really big moment for the Jenkins family, as the pair have heaps more opportunities to show off. They employ Anna’s therapy sessions with more lethal efficiency, drawing out the quiet tension better than ever. And a more action-esque bent also means plenty of great scenes, including an Anna-Bestie battle that should stir hearts and stomachs, as well as more great, horror-inspired moments once Anna leaves the farm (itself a kind of super metaphor for the series at-large).

The only thing I didn’t like was Aunt Joyce — she’s a great support system for Anna in #2 and #3, but her seemingly laissez faire reaction to cat murder and barn burnings seems out of place. But then maybe that’s the point: we all need someone to see us through the horrors. And with one more chapter — seemingly about Bestie’s origins — there’s still more hellish trials to come.

Final Thought: To quote Mischief Makers, “Through fire, justice is served!”

Score: 8.5/10

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – The Empire #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/07/23

Courtesy of Marvel.

This year marks the 40th anniversary for the true crown jewel of the Star Wars franchise, Return of the Jedi. And what better way to celebrate than with even more Star Wars comics from Marvel?

This time, Jody Houser and Jethro Morales have launched Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – The Empire #1, in which just as the operations on Endor kick off, a “technician must figure out how to live under the control of The Empire.” So, like, a serious version of that one SNL skit, yeah?

In a lot of important ways, this is very much a Star Wars story. Especially in the sense that it’s a mostly shoed-in tale between movies/existing properties to wring out a little more action and world-building. In that sense, this book’s entertaining enough: our technician, Rilo Grenth, is a lovable loser who gets in waaaay over his head, and we get to see both more development of the Return-era story while also seeing what it really means to be a meaningless little cog.

Yet, as is tradition with titles like Andor and Solo, everything returns to normal by the end, and Rilo’s story just feels a little empty. It may have mattered more if his impact felt a little more apparent, but for now his story ended as it played out: quiet and unimportant. (Although, in their defense, more “writing to home” stories would be great as Star Wars clearly focuses more and more on poignant, everyman stories.)

The real upside of this issue, though, was the art of Morales and colorist Dee Cunniffe. There’s so many great Star Wars books out there, but the duo made something truly notable. They brought robust life and vibrancy to Endor; managed to blur some lines in the canon proper (this book felt like Andor‘s aesthetic mixed with the top-notch Darth Vader work from Giuseppe Camuncoli); and even injected some more nuanced emotion thanks to the design of Rilo. (Also, the look of the EE-Sevenwhy droid is a proper standout.) Where the narrative itself feels a little incomplete or aimless, the visuals made some solid decisions to highlight whatever made this story important: a dude trying to sort out a world far beyond his own grasp.

I guess the point of seeing Rilo run afoul of The Empire (and where that ultimately lands him) is that The Empire was this awful machine that swallowed goodness. Or, that there’s also some kind of thrill to finding a way to battle back against meaningless amid space fascism. But all of that felt apparent already with the franchise’s recent offerings, and ultimately this book couldn’t find more reasons to stand out. But, hey, any excuse for more Ewoks, amirite?!

Final Thought: In space, everyone knows that you’re a giant loser.

Score: 6/10

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