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Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/14/23

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/14/23

More comics reviews from Marvel, Image, and BOOM!.

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.

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Black Panther #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/14/23

Courtesy of Marvel.

From the jump, this all-new Black Panther series made some fairly big promises.

Not only did a dynamic new creative team promote a “new direction and new villains,” but this is a soft reboot, as it were — a chance to get in on the ground floor that’s evidently far removed from current storylines or happenings in the MCU.

So, does Black Panther deliver on that robust potential, or is this kitty battling without any claws?

As it turns out, the book will disarm readers in a way that’s both novel and also important. I absolutely adore the premise: an exiled T’Challa sneaks back into the city of Birnin T’Chaka (father of his city — ouchies) and effectively acts as Batman in Gotham City. (With waaay more political overtures, of course.) Writer Eve Ewing takes that idea and gives us a lot of deep character development and exploration; T’Challa beats up baddies just as much as he pontificates, and this wounded uncertainty is a great way to re-build the character and flesh out new elements and angles of his world. I feel like we’re seeing a side of him removed from the glamour and hype — a chance to watch T’Challa be a man of robust uncertainty and not just a super-powered king.

A lot of that is only really possible from the work of Chris Allan (pencils and inks), Craig Yeung (inks), and Jesus Aburtov (colors). Together, they make Birnin T’Chaka feel really organic and multifaceted — it’s a mix of a decidedly stereotypical inner city and a futuristic hub, and it’s this truly living organism that reflects a lot of the book’s core ideals (how do systems help or hurt people, and how should heroes really make a difference) while serving as the perfect playground for T’Challa. It’s slightly anachronistic and also perfectly developed in terms of its overall feel; the artistic team build on great Marvel cities of yesteryear while offering something suited for T’Challa’s new mission. It’s a place integral to how T’Challa will grow and develop.

But there’s also some potential flaws or future crises across this still-young book. T’Challa isn’t king anymore, and this issue doesn’t always do an even job of fostering his outsider status. Was I excited when they introduced a wide-eyed young lawyer named N’Yobi Umaru? Yes — he’ll be a perfect agent to ground T’Challa’s superhero hijinks and explore the book’s politics. Only he kind of plays like a fanboy, and that only fans the flames of me thinking this book is no destination for T’Challa, and once his vacation “slumming it” is over, it’s back to world-saving king status. It’s hard to shake that sense even further when the issue ends with a big bad reveal, which doubles down on the whole notion of this story’s permeance so early on.

The thing about making big promises is that you can’t always deliver. Issue #1 gives us a lot to be happy about, and sets the stage for some powerful person moments for T’Challa. But if it can’t let these things have value beyond as a stop-gap for the next Avengers-sized tale, then all this change seems for not.

Final Thought: This title promises big, thoughtful development it might not be totally invested in.

Score: 6.5/10

Old Dog #5

Comics

Courtesy of Image Comics.

I see you, Declan Shalvey.

You’ve spent the first four issues crafting a very different kind of spy thriller. Sure, Jack Lynch looks and acts like your typical grizzled hero –until he awakens from a coma and everything we know about the genre gets dropkicked into the rubbish bin. Timelines get torn asunder and pieced back together; Lynch is revealed as this complex figure with less of a James Bond swagger and more a barn full of psychic trauma; and we see the real impact of a globe-spanning conspiracy that not even our characters are fully aware. It was, in all its complexity and many layers, a breathtaking spin on an old-hat story, with sleek, stark visuals to drive home how confrontational and evocative this series was from panel one.

But what’s it all building toward? What’s really going on here?

Here’s a spoiler for issue #5: we still don’t know, but we’re certainly a tad closer to the “truth.” It’s hard to talk in-depth about this issue without spoiling the brilliant “twist” involved. Let’s just say that the cover tells you everything you need to know — which is that there be monsters ahead. Beyond that, what I can say is that the action here isn’t just super sweet — lots of Cronenberg-ian body horror thanks to Shalvey’s frenetic, impassioned design work and art — but it represents a daring new development for an already daring title.

It’s sort of like a bottle episode (an interrogation regarding an incident at Black Circle’s facilities) that doesn’t so much slow things down but reveal things methodically. We get ample chances to understand Lynch’s evolution in new and thoughtful ways while opening the world up to new dynamics (the Jack-Keelin family connection grows ever more robust and layered). If this is the direction it’s indeed headed — something like Akira meets Blame! with a heaping helping of, say, Hellboy — then it’s wildly exciting. Even if this is another Kansas City Shuffle or whatnot,  it’s utterly on the nose for a series that continues to bash our perceptions at every turn.

Seriously — this issue is a masterclass of subtle narrative turns and visual trickery, where Shalvey lures us into an exciting story we experience eagerly and with jaw firmly on the floor. I have some idea of where it’s going, but I mostly know that it’s “forward into something bizarre and wonderful.” Issue #5 cements Old Dog as a spy series for anyone who couldn’t care less for gadgets and cocktails and loves the magic a good mystery can invoke in our lives. It’s daring, inventive, and deeply committed to shocking and surprising in the most thoughtful and inventive ways.

Your move, Shalvey.

Final Thought: You are not ready or prepared enough for what Lynch is about to cram down your gullet.

Score: 9.5/10

Something Epic #2

Comics

Courtesy of Image Comics.

In his review of Something Epic #1, my colleague Connor Boyd called it “a grand epic and a quiet personal story of a young boy struggling alone.” And I agree with that — in that it seemed the book couldn’t really make up its mind.

Because I found some big issues with #1. Mainly, the drawn out explanations of how the heroes and monsters we imagine somehow actually exist (even if writer-artist Szymon Kudrański has a thoughtful and romantic way with words). Or, the disconnect between our hero, Daniel, and the imagination folk that he’s surrounded by on the daily. And speaking of disconnect, the way this inventive enough premise felt a little unremarkable in its goals and inability to drive home the larger emotional stakes.

With issue #2, Kudrański addresses, without entirely resolving, a lot of these issues. The poetic monologue from Daniel that runs throughout connects to big ideas: of escapism, language and storytelling, connecting with others, and even believing in things beyond us. Daniel still feels very much removed from what should be this magical thing, but it feels more deliberate — as if Kudrański is finally drawing Daniel out on some island so he can really get to the core of this kid. And we even see more stakes here — a big superhero battle has some real-world impact — and that makes this more than just an extended journal entry but a proper story.

The one area where Kudrański hasn’t faltered across either issue are the visuals. That’s especially true in #2 — there’s lots of quiet moments and displays of fictitious characters that draw out Daniel’s isolation. Or, how these characters exist inside and out of step with the world, and what that does for the story’s interest in fact vs. fiction. Even the designs of some characters — like the Minecraft rip-off — feel like a way to connect this book with its obvious predecessors (Crossover and Ready Player One) while letting it standalone as something all the more singular in its identity.

I’d hope the end goal is to further bridge any gaps, especially between the magic of the premise and Daniel’s isolation — only then will both elements feel important and finally unified. Issue #2 made some Iron Giant-sized steps to get there, but only time will tell if this story has potential or we just imagined it entirely.

Final Thought: It’s all in your head — and that’s what makes it so dang entertaining.

Score: 7/10

Ghostlore #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/14/23

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Sometimes modern comics can feel a little like the Enhancement Stoner from Half Baked. Case in point: Ghostlore from Cullen Bunn and company (including artists Leomacs and Brian Hurtt, colorist Jason Wordie, and letterer Ed Dukeshire). The book asks that most stoner-y question, “What if ghosts told ghost stories?!” It’s not a bad premise at all, but it does speak to the over-gimmick-ization of certain titles — this unintended focus on the razzle dazzle over substance. (Or, trying to make something more from what’s only ever a decent idea.)

And, sure, Bunn is no stranger to gimmicky horror stories, but he knows enough to pivot quickly from that premise into something more substantial. Issue #1 set the framework — a family of four get into a car accident; mother and son die, leaving the daughter (Harmony) and the dad (the good reverend); and now they must live with ghosts telling them their stories. It could’ve been some Tales from the Crypt thing before Bunn shrunk it all down to an effective family drama.

Issue #2 maintains the gimmick but it focuses on the remaining family in some interesting ways. While Harmony uses kindness to help ghosts in #1, dear old dad has a more, let’s say, reactive take in helping a surgeon who, and I kid you not, died after being infected by a psychic patient whose nightmares come to life. (You can only escape HBO horror vibes for so long.) But that dichotomy really plays up the themes of guilt and how we live with death, and it makes a silly approach feel real and focused on the actual humanity. Add in some other elements — the aforementioned patient, a possible conspiracy surrounding people who can see ghosts — and Bunn is building another big world focused on the scariest thing of all: poignant character development and storytelling.

At the same time, there’s a few things here that have me feeling a tad hesitant. I’m all for body horror, but the monsters here all sort of skew toward distinctly Cronenberg-ian, a decision that feels really limiting and uninspired (especially given the rotating nature of the artists). In turn, that has me fearing that we’re going to get the same sort of tragic, super violent tales of death, and it makes me care less about the ghosts and the happenings with the family. Which shouldn’t be the case — this is about the family experiencing different things to question their own feelings and to build these effective metaphors for exploring the nuances of death. As it is now, it still feels like a gimmick — albeit for a compelling slice of family drama — and we really need a touch more variety this early on.

Gimmicky titles like this are fun, but they’re often uneven. They work when they actively celebrate that schlockiness while tackling giant-sized human drama. Ghostlore is on the right track, and the creative team are clearly building toward something. But if there’s more shock and awe over heart, this spirited effort ain’t moving anywhere but down.

Final Thought: The dead do tell tales, and you’d be wise to listen.

Score: 7/10

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