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Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/21/23

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/21/23

More comics reviews from Image, Marvel, 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.

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Guardians of the Galaxy #3

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/21/23

Courtesy of Marvel.

Perhaps like so many others, I’ve was immediately impressed with the first two issues of Guardians of the Galaxy. Writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing did something novel by managing to engage the team’s singular comic history and still make it palatable for people who only know the movie version. But more than that, they’ve piqued our collective interest with Grootfall. What better way to challenge the team’s dynamic than to take one of its own (and arguably the best of ’em, really) and turn them into some unknown super-foe waiting on the horizon?

And like the ever-encroaching Grootfall itself, it was only a matter of time before we’d get to see what it all really meant up close. Issue #3 is a master stroke, and exemplifies not only a step forward but how this book facilitates painfully wonderful progress toward a “resolution.” As Peter Quill (who is really rocking the badass space cowboy gimmick in this run) turns to the Spartoi (of which he’s a prince), he and Drax find themselves on a Grootfallen planet. What should be a hunt becomes something all the more intense — a profound exploration of why Quill calls the Guardians family and their singular connection. Further still, it shows us what happens post-Grootfall: life, in all its maddening beauty and aching horror. More specifically, Quill understands the impact of a Grootfall by connecting with Groot himself.

I won’t spoil the specific tidbits, but what matters is that it’s a massive moment of realization — a connection to the stakes here and what may really be happening to their “friend.” It is a moment further heightened by the ending itself, in which Quill cleans up after the hunt in a display of shocking brutality and quiet dignity that’s surely going to reverberate as the Grootfall saga grows deeper and wider. Seriously, that end page should slice you like a laser sword.

Similarly, I think the visuals (from Kev Walker and Matt Hollingsworth) really resonated for the first time. Their work in the prior two issues was certainly important, but it’s in #4 where everything really aligned. From the framing (like an old-school samurai flick) to the very designs (again, Cowboy Quill but even the emotionally of Bowie/their ship and Gamora’s more multifaceted garb), the art set the tone and mood. There were even moments here — the faux masculinity of Quill’s lame Spartoi hunting hat, the way his actual hat hangs over his space visor, the stance of Drax battling Spartoi — that extended the emotions and motifs of the issue with the utmost effectiveness. It’s a thing we take for granted, but that cohesion pushed the story forward while allowing the narrative and visuals a little room to extend on their own, and that really made this issue feel compelling and layered on so many levels.

And speaking of levels, our first time truly seeing the mechanics and ideas behind Grootfall was a success. This first interaction was terrifying, thrilling, and ultimately heart-wrenching. It’s a journey that we have to make but will only get harder for both the Guardians and readers alike. One thing is sure, though: we’ll be right there with the team when it all comes crashing down.

Final Thought: Friend is a four letter word, indeed.

Score: 8.5/10

Wild’s End #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/21/23

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

It seems like the duo behind Wild’s End — Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard — are playing a kind of continual one-upmanship. They started with a crew of anthropomorphized animals — the stern and sagely Skipper, the rough and tumble Roddy, the lovable loser Edwin, etc. — and made them sailors in a quiet stand-in for New England. But if that weren’t cute enough to be truly compelling, they add in layers of family/interpersonal drama, adding real true heart and depth (and even a dash of intrigue) when they never had to be so raw and real.

But because you can’t just have a human drama without some stakes (fun fact: you often can), the crew quickly enter a supernatural-extraterrestrial tale of mystery like The Tommyknockers meets Ghost Ship. For now, the build is effective enough — Culbard’s art is both gritty and charming enough to make these characters feel hugely evocative and create a bond from the moment we enter this sleepy little burg (like a poignant, still mature cartoon from HBO over Adult Swim). But the question begs, how much stranger can things really get before we lose sight of the heart of this book: hugely personable animal-people.

And, similarly, could even more moving parts down the line only complicate this tight-knit “family” dynamic? Blame the book’s early work in building both momentum and a running sense of intrigue for having me fixated on the future already. If things can stabilize, I’m more than ready to have my heart broken at this giant-sized drama about the scariest thing of them all: small town life.

Final Thought: It’s basically Fabulous Mr. Fox as written by Stephen King.

Score: 6.5/10

Tales of Syzpense #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/21/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

It was a damn good idea when Image Comics gave Chris Ryall (Zombies vs. Robots) his very own imprint. And the semi-titular Tales of Szypense is a decent enough start for Syzygy. For one, an anthology with just two stories is a good idea — less crowded and more room for stories to actually exist. And even the juxtaposition so far — the indie horror tale of “Les Mort 13” versus the indie superhero saga of “Dreamweaver” — does wonders to help inform the interests and aesthetics of the title and the imprint.

But none of that means we’re dealing with a well-rounded issue. “Les Mort 13” — from T.P. Louise and Ashley Wood — feels decidedly concerned with building an overly dramatic, extra foreboding tension; it’s mostly hard to follow early on, and the surrealness of the story, and blend of supernatural elements, becomes both lost in the mix and decidedly bland feeling so far. It’s needlessly artsy and obtuse, and the sort of derivative stories we actually expect from anthologies.

And all of that’s in marked contrast to “Dreamweaver” from Ryall and Nelson Daniel. This story of aging supernatural hero shines from panel one — we see the world of the titular hero, feel the layers of history and context, and empathize as he’s forced to give up the mantle and find a predecessor. It’s the exact sort of fare you’d want from an anthology: quick and efficient, it gives you all the moving parts to get invested big time. And it seems like there’s a reward a comin’ for that devotion.

Do I wish we’d just get a “Dreamweaver” book instead? Maybe — “Les Mort 13” could win me over if the next “chapters” can coalesce a little more effectively. But if nothing else, that one story alone has proven that Tales of Syzpense is already sy-n-tillating.

Final Thought: A compelling new anthology gets it at least 75% right, and that’s a win.

Score: 7/10

Terrorwar #3

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/21/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

I’ve been on board for Terrorwars since the book was initially announced. And the first two issues certainly supported that early commitment — Saladin Ahmed and Dave Acosta have built a thoughtful and hugely entertaining socio-political action extravaganza from spare parts of the ’80s and ’90s.

But with issue #3, some of the frenetic momentum and unassuming satire and commentary feels a little stymied. We slow things down to a big pivot moment — Muhammad Cho and his rag-tag band of Terrorfighters are given their big mission — and that’s mostly a great development after how issues #1 and 2 seemed more interested in “minor” conflicts. The only problem, then, is that this book’s success mostly comes with that go-go-go pace — and slowing things down this much ironically gives us less humanity and accompanying insights and instead more statecraft and politics that just doesn’t quite dazzle.

Acosta’s art certainly tries to help address this issue; his design of Paradise Park (that place will prove vital in the future) feels grand in its intentions and aesthetic. Plus, we get to see a bit more of the world’s structure, and that visual metaphor for class only extends the book’s core outlook and politics. But even all that can’t really help distinguish #3 beyond filler, something to pause for a moment and let us look around (only there’s not as much to see) before the action picks up again.

Sure, it’s ultimately high-level filler, but this minor misstep from a book that’s killed it in terms of pace, world-building, character development, etc. just feels all the more significant. Wake me up when the team’s landed at the park, and all hell’s about to break loose.

Final Thought: There’s nothing more terrifying than when a great book hits a stumble.

Score: 6/10

Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/21/23

Courtesy of IDW.

When I covered Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons #1 during this week’s Judging by the Cover, I readily embraced the pure silliness. Godzilla is less of a monstrous threat these days and more a storytelling advice to explore important issues (race, politics, environmentalism, etc.) through the lens of a giant atomic lizard. But how does that translate to the page? Well, as issue #1 demonstrated, it’s perhaps not as magical and bonkers as I’d initially hoped.

Sure, there’s just enough weirdness and self-awareness to make the premise — “Sir Francis Drake meets Godzilla” — land well enough. But the tone so far is more Pirates of the Caribbean then what I really wanted, Hook as if directed by Terry Gilliam. (Still, writer Frank Tieri nails the pirate vibe through dialogue that’s entertaining without feeling painful in its historical accuracy.) And being more bizarre and less a feasible tweaking of history just feels like a lost opportunity — treating Godzilla as some real, slightly mysterious threat undercuts an utterly bonkers premise.

At the same time, though, the art from Inaki Miranda and colors by Eva de la Cruz actually double down on some sense of period accuracy, and that actually works less to “ground” the story but perhaps place it in a context we’re more familiar with (i.e., stylized pirate flicks). There’s heaps of design choices beyond the monster stuff — like these sick sea battles and just the feel of the world at-large — that prove how fleshed out this world is, and thus Godzilla simply isn’t shoe-horned in. And that matters so early on; if the visuals can nail some level of groundedness, that supports any “weirdness” the narrative may suggest.

It’s my hope that things will get even more extreme in subsequent issues — this book really feels like it understands its chosen “genres” and the weirdness of it all to make something new and totally left-field. If it can’t, it’ll just feel like a really good idea that lacked the courage to embrace how cheesy and deliberately shlocky it needed to be to fully flourish. There be promise here no doubt, but I’ll have my eye on all you scallywags until Godzilla makes some bigger moves.

Final Thought: In which Godzilla makes pirates truly cool again…for now.

Score: 6.5/10

All Eight Eyes #3

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/21/23

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Unlike Terrowars, when All Eight Eyes took a “break” with issue #2, we got something truly compelling. Namely, said “pause” generated tension and let us really sit down in this dynamic world from Steve Foxe, Piotr Kowalski, and Brad Simpson that married classic horror with an intense, post-9/11 world. But AEE‘s biggest problem/concern with its own third issue is that when they push forward some, things somehow still don’t feel quite so effective.

I’m not talking about the actual world-building; visually and from a narrative perspective, the giant spider threat is spinning new webs of political intrigue and greater social messaging that grow the story in novel ways. Nor do I mean in terms of every character — Vin, the newbie in the world of spider-smashing, continues to develop in new ways as our lens into to this weird, multilayered world.

No, I’m referring to the grizzled veteran Reynolds, whose “origin story” across #3 is a little cliched, unbecoming to his ongoing depiction, and just a little flat overall. What should have been an utterly poignant moment just felt forced — even the art here seemed unsure about most things. (Except for the I-won’t-dare-spoil depiction of his wife amid the character-building tragedy, which felt haunting and resonated beyond this backstory that was lacking more depth and heart.) In a lot of ways, it had me wishing we’d focus almost solely on Vin; his whole presence felt more compartmentalized despite this book basically being his story (in all the best ways, of course).

But as with Terrorwars, I think this is only a momentary stumble for AEE, and the book could easily regain that momentum as a poignant horror story with layers of social insight and relevance. Do I think that means less focus on Reynolds? Maybe, but if the scariest thing in an issue is how bored you are and not the giant spiders, you may need to momentarily recalibrate.

Final Thought: Not everyone deserves to be hero, if I’m being honest.

Score: 6.5/10

Hellcat #4

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/21/23

Courtesy of Marvel.

If I was a little vague in my review of Hellcat #3, it was in the name of both hyping and safeguarding a genuinely great issue. Writer Christopher Cantwell continued to show a deep and abiding affinity for Patsy Walker, crafting this dynamic murder mystery/prestige drama to delve into her history and cement her as a compelling and complicated hero.

If I’m more vocal and deliberate about issue #4, it’s because I’m trying a different approach for an even more essential issue. Here, in the penultimate issue of this five-parter, the mystery around who killed Patsy’s beau, Spalding, becomes all the more clear. If you haven’t guessed already, Patsy certainly played a role — in concert with her former beau, Daimon Hellstrom, who has spent most of this series trapped as a toy rabbit. And the grand revelation may not be especially shocking, but that’s not the point. Like the flashback bits to Patsy’s early life — leading to a tragic death that echoes some of the events of the modern day — all of it is in service of revealing Patsy. And by the end of the issue, I mean that in a very literal sense, as the finale of #4 reveals the supernatural part of this drama that cuts squarely to the core of Patsy’s iffy power situation, her various returns from the grave, and her tragic childhood and how it informs the present. It is the ultimate baring of the soul, something shocking and altogether hugely exciting.

It’s not just Cantwell’s writing that’s done heaps to reveal a multilayered story. The art from Alex Lins and Kike J. Diaz did wonders to balance things — the past and the present, the organic drama and the maddening supernatural elements, the sense of intimacy and the darker subtext informing this story’s core. More than that, the art managed to condense a lot of the transitions between big moments and distinguish the various layers here while remaining continually eye-catching (especially when a bit more exposition and dialogue were needed to further the story’s more involved revelations).

My only complaint is that, as much of a shining star as Patsy’s clearly become, her male co-stars (Daimon, Sleepwalker) often feel like literary devices convenient to driving the story. But how many women, including Patsy herself, have had to play that role before? And isn’t it time to make a star out of someone whose history and values make for such compelling storytelling about identity, the nature of good versus evil, and even what makes a hero (and why it matters)? I anxiously await this finale, and I think it could be a moment to see Patsy like we never have before. Because we’ve only just begun to see the real Patsy in issue #4, and it’s a sight both terrifying and endlessly evocative, the purest sort of storytelling magic that comics needs more of pronto.

Final Thought: Coming clean can be both a beautiful and horrific prospect.

Score: 8/10

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