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Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/28/23

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/28/23

More comics reviews from Image Comics, IDW, DC Comics, 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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Vanish #8

Comics

Courtesy of Image Comics.

In my review of issue #7 of Vanish, I mentioned how Donny Cates wasn’t satisfied with Oliver Harrison as some mere stand-in/representation. No, Cates went all the way with it, and The Boy Who Lived (Like A Loser Grouch) was transmogrified into a full on voodoo doll. It was certainly a compelling spin for the book, which mostly left behind the Harry Potter-esque connotations for a full on The Crow-ian experiment in torturing your darlings in the name of greater truth.

And in issue #8, we get to really and truly see what happens when Oliver suffers, as he contends with the final battle (of this arc, at least) in his lifelong obsession with combating the shadow of Everkeep.

The result is perhaps the most uncomfortable and yet somehow poignant expression of this book’s efforts, with Oliver deliberately engaging in torture and mutilation to banish his demons (both metaphorical and the literal, evil wizard kind). It feels hugely shocking, yeah, but never in a way that the specific act is somehow cheapened. This is a story about destruction — not only of the evil in the world but how those very same acts and instincts can build something new. New isn’t always better, as Oliver sees first hand, but transformation through sacrifice seems to be a perfect lesson for our wayward hero.

It’s a process made all the more gory and unsettling (and super effective from a storytelling perspective) thanks to Ryan Stegman’s art. It’s clear that Stegman knows how to use the human anatomy to churn stomachs while also extending the process of Oliver giving in to finally let go of it all. And Stegman’s art for this issue gets other places to shine, including a great little twist involving Oliver’s wife, Elynor, that sets up some huge stakes for the second arc. Really, Stegman’s art has been a consistent source of joy (and terror) across this arc; it’s captured the ’90s edge every time but kept everything feeling deeply human and nearly intimate.

My only issue, though, is the state of Oliver in this forthcoming arc. Without spoiling too much, it would seem he’s going to take on perhaps a more antagonistic role, and that could be interesting if not a little hard to swallow given the inroads that he’s made to becoming a better person. But then maybe that’s the point: if we’re to see Oliver’s redemption, he needs to get into some truly deep and dark places. And if Cates and Stegman are on the case, then we’re going to be delightfully wading in the filth right alongside Oliver and company.

Final Thought: No one can hate you the way you fully hate yourself.

Score: 7/10

Creed: The Next Round #1

Comics

Courtesy of BOOM!

I’m a very wary person. Not of anything that really matters, but certainly when it comes to comics like the adaptation-continuation Creed: The Next Round, which promises participation from the original’s big star (Michael B. Jordan). Luckily, we’ve got a crack creative team — writers LaToya Morgan (Dark Blood) and Jai Jamison (Superman & Lois) and artist Wilton Santos (Break Out) — to keep this grounded in the very specific waters of comics-dom.

That dichotomous team approach is perhaps why issue #1 works really well. You can see Jordan’s Hollywood fingerprints all across this book, guiding the story of young Amara Creed trying in proving her worth to her father and making it on her own terms despite said mega-lineage. It’s a slightly cutesy, borderline cheesy tale — but then that’s sort of the point, as boxing is really just the lens for a more poignant tale of family trying to sort out its future.

At the same time, though, Morgan and Jamison are there to carefully and deliberately temper some of the more cinematic tendencies, and that includes not only that uber dramatic sheen but also round out the story in a way that it moves and sticks like a proper comic. It’s less about, say, the dialogue (which still feels very movie-esque) and just the movement from scene to scene, and that helps a lot in keeping things fluid and focused on tentpoles. Comics ain’t movies, and not having that distinction would hurt or hinder this book’s ability to jab at our heartstrings.

And that’s really a core strength of this story so far — those big moments of intense family drama and bigger fights, something which Santos’ work is hugely responsible for facilitating with ample life and color. He tends to set up fights and conversations with the same kind of overall structure and similar level of dynamic action — it really helps make every moment feel aligned and all the more integral to the story. Sometimes that means even little moments/gestures feel exaggerated —like a ride in a car, for instance — but that’s the price we pay for such visual pep.

Ironically enough, what I’m looking forward to in issue #2 and beyond has little to do with giant fights, but more of the human stuff, especially the subplot with Creed and Bianca’s business ventures that could inform the rest of this story (or merely serve as a proper foil). That’s because this book has already studied all the right tapes, finding a way to balance its many parts into a complicated dance of the physical and emotional, the dramatic and the adorably poignant. It will, pardon the clichéd analogy, float across your heart like a butterfly and sting your sensibilities like a bee.

Final Thought: A comic that plays rope-a-dope with your own familial relationships.

Score: 7/10

The Seasons Have Teeth #3

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/28/23

Courtesy of BOOM!

With Vanish, what we really see is the story of an artist working things out via the singular media of comics. I think a lot of that also holds true for The Seasons Have Teeth, from writer Dan Watters and artist Sebastián Cabrol. Primarily a kind of eco-horror — the seasons have come alive and they’re hungry for tasty humans — its most biting tendencies are the poignant human drama at its core.

Because our hero, Andrew, isn’t trying to merely save the world, but rather photograph these “seasons” as a means of redemption over “failing” his dead wife. Having already captured spring and summer, Andrew hits the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to capture autumn.

The locale alone is perfect for Cabrol, who warps our already messed up perception of the place into this nightmare of bio-terrors. But more than all the gross and weird vibes, Cabrol also captures a sense of peace and tranquility, and it’s the perfect setting for Andrew to truly lay things bare about his life and his deceased love. Watters’ monologues in issue #1 and #2 were great, but those in #3 really hit the mark; we see Andrew more as a person, and we can trace the anger and frustration of his life, and that really informs the bonkers retirement project that he’s chosen for himself.

The fact that we get to see Andrew more — emotionally but also as Cabrol finds new ways to portray him amid his perilous work — speaks to the greater scope of this book. Watters is clearly working out some issues of his own (no matter how far removed), and rather than torture his protagonist, he lets him merely walk through the (super terrifying) world. It’s then that Andrew really breaks himself down and comes to term with his place in this world and what it might all mean. It’s the difference between making characters open up and allowing readers to “find” them instead.

Sure, it ain’t as cool as vivid body horror torture, but it feels more gentle and thoughtful, and from that pace we get insights that feel especially cutting and equally important. It may be that Cates or Watters feels more differently about their respective paths, but what Watters has done is to create space between himself, Andrew, and the reader, and it’s this nook where we can meet and compare ideas/issues. It’s a thrilling experience so far, and I can’t wait for what the crushing weight of winter has to offer.

Final Thought: Seasons may change, but a gut-wrenching human drama remains eternal.

Score: 8/10

Dark Spaces: Good Deeds #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/28/23

Courtesy of IDW.

I adored Dark Spaces: Wildfire. The tale of empowerment wrapped in an action/heist flick was not only quintessential Scott Snyder (big worlds and big characters, really), but came alive in glorious detail and color thanks to Hayden Sherman and Ronda Pattison.

But Dark Spaces: Good Deeds is another beast entirely — with a distinct supernatural focus, we follow mother and daughter, Rebecca and Cheyenne, and a reporter, Jean, as they converge on a small Florida town with a bloody history. Fortunately, issue #1 wasted no time in distinguishing Good Deeds.

Whether it’s writer Che Grayson’s more poetic and earnest approach to storytelling, or artist Kelsey Ramsay’s frenetic, impassioned art, this latest title has played off like a more subtle but equally gripping drama a la Sharp Objects. But where the debut really focused on the Jean-Cheyenne dynamic — which made for some gripping interplay that spoke to bigger thematic issues — and only a little on the supernatural plot (there’s some grisly murders and other terrors afoot), issue #2 wasted little time in getting this spooky engine truly a hummin’.

All it took was the murder of a local man, Tom Foster, whose grisly demise manages to 1) jumpstart Jean’s extended trip in St. Augustine; 2) drive greater focus on Cheyenne (as the witchy new girl who joins the nerdy archaeology club, which in turn sets off more supernatural goodness with a final, horrific reveal); and 3) align (or maybe set against one another?!) Cheyenne, Rebecca, and Jean. There’s more too — tidbits about Tom, some beef with the widow Foster, seedy dealings from the town’s founders — and all of it leaps away from issue #1’s “friendly” introduction and more like jumping head first into a haunted pond. Case in point: Jean has an issue with a gnarly hangnail that sets up some insight into her own dark history with a former source named Sara Kinglsey — it’s brutal and efficient and pretty much ties all the main parts of this story in a properly delicious package. It’s also a moment for Ramsay’s art to shiny with grit and inventive scope for body horror.

Are there some downsides? Sure, beyond the hangnail stuff, there’s not a lot of big set pieces or moments visually speaking, and that harms some sense of intrigue. Wildfire really had great visuals that informed the narrative’s goals, and this series hasn’t quite found that same level of cohesion. (Which isn’t to say Ramsay’s work is bad — her style is suited to capturing the many, often blurry shades of humanity here.) Rather, I think it’s going to take more time before story and art can whip each other into a frenzy.

But in the meantime, we’ve leapt from a solid first issue into a proper mystery, with all the ideas and energies exploding onto the surface as the story prepares us for whatever humanity and horror awaits. None of that’s totally clear yet, but what we do know is that there’s heaps to truly like, if not actually love, about Good Deeds.

Final Thought: The gators ain’t the worst part of this hellish hamlet.

Score: 6.5/10

City Boy #2

DC Preview: City Boy #2

Courtesy of DC Comics.

I really enjoyed City Boy #1. Even if I thought that not a whole heck of a lot happened, we really got some important and fundamental insight into Cameron Kim as he begins his adventures as what I can only describe as a “City Wizard.” We know his origins (to a point); we have an idea of his personality (he’s sweet and earnest despite all that he’s gone through); and we can see that his city-harnessing powers are going to be important for this new era of DC storytelling.

But even with all of that, I’m rather glad that issue #2 kicks things up a few notches in terms of plot and action. A lot of that was in the way that Cameron’s powers operate, and that let artist Minkyu Jung and colorist Sunny Gho really show off their inventive work to “living city magic.” There’s heaps of moments where they got to expertly highlight Cameron’s connection to and influence over the city, injecting lots of big colors and bold lines to play up the sheer metaphysical madness while still keeping things feel grounded and not overly removed from what’s effectively the story of a young orphan coming into his own.

And writer Greg Pak used all of that sci-fi-fantasy insanity to maintain a great portrayal of Cameron. He didn’t so much offer up new ideas or even insights (although there’s clearly some) but rather it felt like Pak was trying to both connect Cameron’s emotions to these abilities and drive home how much his powers have begun to shape this youngster, for better and worse. Intergang play a big role in this early story, and Cameron’s treatment at their hands is a vital part of how his morals and understanding of basic heroics will form, and all of that comes together perfectly in the marriage between the over-sized visual magic and the poignant narrative.

While seeing more of Cameron the person was compelling, the issue was just as much about his future, using two characters (that I dare not spoil!) to position him as big-ish player. The first may be just to scare folks, but the second “reveal” feels extra intriguing. It could be not only a way to test Cameron’s prowess as a beacon in the Dawn of DC but focus on the book’s greatest strength: it’s emotional development of a young man we can’t help but cheer on (even as we hope things don’t ultimately go astray).

Final Thought: We built this city — on poignant human drama and superhero action.

Score: 7.5/10

Local Man #5

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/28/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

I’ve had conversations with folks that left Local Man behind after just one or two issues. Some of them seemed to regret the decision, and can’t fully encapsulate just why they dropped an entertaining book. Others just couldn’t get past the overt ’90s-ness of it all. But as I tried to explain in my review of issue #4, this book’s no joke, and it uses that ’90s obsession to explore nostalgia, a sense of belonging, and growing up with oversized intensity.

Issue #4 seemed liked a proper high point, as our “hero,” Jack Xavier, had to to battle with his own superhero father figure as he tried to further crack the case surrounding the death of his “villain” Hodag. (What a wonderful and tragic storyline that isn’t even half of what makes Local Man so good.) But issue #5 somehow ups the stakes further, with Jack seeing the mystery resolved thanks to an especially brutal and innovative fight scene with the true perpetrator. Seriously, the creative team (writers-artists Tim Seeley and Tony Fleecs, and colorist Brad Simpson) deliver a gripping murder-mystery final act that plays dress up as an insane sequence a la Jumper meets A Nightmare on Elm Street — it’s a massive bit of nerdy payoff in every dark and gory way imaginable.

And, sure, Jack pretty much gets to limp off into the sunset as the victor, but the battle left its scars, and he’s clearly a changed man. Not in any way that feels overly hokey or needlessly cheesy — I mean, there’s a whole gag about an undying dog, for crying out loud — but rather in a way that affirms Jack’s good parts (his heroic instincts and decency) while trying to have him grow out of his lesser traits (his need for approval and his latent hero worshipping). Plus, things aren’t quite so done with the story of Third Gen and possible hero clonings — there’s a hugely personal twist for Jack that’s going to test him big time in the subsequent arc.

But for now, let’s go ahead and call issue #5 a proper victory for Jack. Sure, it’s one that was brutal and bloody, and maybe only a small glimmer of hope before the -ish really hits the fans. But if Jack’s learned anything in this story so far, it’s often that the little things are worth holding on to and celebrating.

Final Thought: Let’s hear it for the man-child for a job done well (enough).

Score: 8/10

Alien #3

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/28/23

Courtesy of Marvel.

I get that telling an Alien story ain’t exactly rocket science. (Get it?!) Assemble a group of future citizens/workers (the gruffer the better), toss in a giant acid lizard, and enjoy the rampant carnage. But that doesn’t change the fact that the latest series — from writer Declan Shalvey, artist Andrea Broccardo, and colorist Triona Farrell — isn’t giving us the best iteration I’ve seen in quite some time.

After the solid developments of issues #1 and #2, we get some even bigger stakes in #3. Dr. Batya and her daughter Zasha run around trying to find their specimen before escaping this clearly doomed compound. Daddy Dayton (I use that term in every conceivable iteration) broke outta jail and set up their escape. And the rest of the crew got busy breaking some Xenomorph faces. (That last bit was really helped by the art team, who nailed the wholly rough and tumble crew vibes with just a dash of body horror.)

And speaking of the art team, they had the interesting work of balancing a few different “speeds” across this issue — and they managed to give everything, from a cutesy family moment in an interrogation room to the blasted-out corpse of a mis-colored Xenomorph, varying levels of gravitas and depth. It’s a function in part facilitated by Shalvey’s narrative — he really sees the franchise’s “equation” and tries to forge things it in a way that feels deeply connected to what makes all Alien titles important: life and death stories of the everyman fighting the odds.

Yet there’s little bits — the family dynamic, the frozen planet setting, etc. — that push this title just far away enough that it still feels novel. (Again, the art helps; there are influences and aesthetics here that play up a more cartoonish vibe without lacking that grit and serious tone.) All of that mostly comes together to make some big decisions — just how will Batya smuggle samples off-world? What will Dayton decide to do once the escape plans are, um, complicated? — that will play out across the final two issues.

That’s all well and good if you’re looking for a big second half, but I also want every reader to realize the magic of this first “half.” Especially as issue #3 feels like a snapshot of what you do to further Alien while infusing little energies and ideas to make it feel like more of what it really is. That answer might vary from fan to fan — for me, it’s an exploration of man’s shortcomings and this drive for transcendence— but it checks the boxes and pushes the line forward with a commitment in a way that anyone can engage. There’s more to come but don’t think that this issue will let you ever stop gleefully running from that giant acid lizard.

Final Thought: Maybe you can beat Xenomorphs with the power of family?

Score: 7.5/10

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