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Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/19/23

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/19/23

New comics reviews from Image Comics, Dark Horse, 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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The Vigil #3

DC Preview: The Vigil #3

Courtesy of DC Comics.

Not only have I carefully read the first two issues of The Vigil, but I got to talk to co-creator/writer Ram V. I arrogantly thought that all of that had prepared me for this book, and what Ram V and company (artists Sid Kotian and Lalit Kumar Sharma alongside colorist Rain Beredo) were trying to do: tell a compelling story about a new, slightly mysterious team of superpowered covert operatives. But then issue #3 came along and blew me right out of the dang water.

Because it’s #3 where I finally see the teases and hints that Ram V had dropped in our convo about this being about conspiracies and having a distinct Planetary bent, all of which is now fully and abundantly clear to me. The issue’s framework is basic enough: the new handler/liaison, Nia Saha, reports on the team to her bosses (i.e., the Indian government). And from there the issue quickly becomes so much more — a really intriguing spotlight on the team that does so much to develop them individually. That includes opening up about the mysterious shapeshifter Saya (his story is hugely tragic and also doubly compelling) while showing the terrifying depths of the boy genius Castle. It’s character development done carefully and organically, to reveal little bits and ideas that we, the reader, are responsible for piecing together to our own shock/joy/amazement/horror/etc.

And while the issue could have felt a little slow or sluggish for what’s basically a long journal entry, the art team delivers with a case ripped from the best version of Planetary. I don’t want to spoil too much about it but it definitely takes things into a distinctly dark and metaphysical realm (with talk of restless psychics and dream worlds). The design of this resulting city is totally trippy but in the best most subtle way — preserving the reality and heft of this world as to remind us that this is a people-centric bit of heady espionage above everything else. I think that grounded quality from the art is what I’ve come to really admire about this book; it gives us cool bits of heady sci-fi — the psychics in this issue are Brazil-levels bonkers — but done in a way to not lean too heavily into its influences or get too far away from the Southeast Asian framework.

This whole issue clicked across the board, and it’s bound to be one of my favorites of the whole year. It officially launched a promising book into something that’s clearly going to be a big title for DC Comics’ We Are Legends imprint (and the publisher at-large to boot). You may not know exactly what’s about to happen across #3, but it’ll leave you shook, excited, and yearning for this title’s daring future.

Final Thought: You ain’t ready for this one, folks.

Score: 9.5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy #4

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/19/23

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

In a recent edition of Judging by the Cover, I made a joke about how this issue of Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be the “comics version of ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!'” And, sure, pretty classic little chestnut if I do say myself, but as it turns out, the joke’s entirely on me.

Because this whole issue was a deeply heartbreaking moment in a series that’s already done plenty to dropkick the ol’ cockles. We spend most of the time focusing on Rocket Racoon, who after the still unspecified issues that lead to this Grootfall mess, spends his days shooting down hellish meteor version of his best friend to save some dusty little planetoid. (That may be the most depressing sentence I’ve ever concocted.) While Rocket’s a damn good vehicle for torture, this issue wasn’t about making the old boy suffer for nothing. It was a way for writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing to explore how these core relationships help shape us and give our lives value, and what we do to keep them alive if only in our heads. In that way, Rocket’s a really relatable lens, and he has so much to tell us about that idea and this book’s larger interest in rebuilding and recontextualizing the Guardians at-large.

He’s also the perfect foil given his penchant for larger, planet-busting weaponry, and we got a lot of great moments like that in #4. In fact, it’s the first issue where I really see what they’re doing in repurposing the Old West vibes — not just aping cowboy flicks for their many dusty textures, but the way a lot of these old movies focused perfectly on interpersonal relations. And that ever-effective visual identity — the work of Kev Walker and Matt Hollingsworth — hit a genuine high here, with a perfect balance of over-the-top sci-fi madness and that aforementioned depressive grit working hand-in-hand to reflect and enhance a lot of the issues being worked through by Rocket. (For instance, the sense of isolation and distance, and how we build these little worlds to connect despite the frivolity of such tasks.)

But it was really hard not to focus on the profound emotional moments fostered by the dialogue/monologues here, which seem to be an unrelenting strength of Lanzing and Kelly. It’s a little piece of a larger story that puts us right into Rocket’s brain, a place of utter pain but also some light. And that mix, this recognizing the void and still journeying ever forward, is a solid motif for this book. The edge of new promise is there, but we’re certainly going to be dragged through a deep, dark hell before we get there. As it turns out, though, that process is truly life-affirming, and something that anyone whose life has been visited by grief can connect with in a big way. And that, folks, ain’t no joke.

Final Thought: I’m not crying, that’s just space dust in my eye.

Score: 8.5/10

Wild’s End #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/19/23

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios

The thing that got me about Wild’s End #1 was how decidedly human this animal-starring drama was from panel one. Co-creators Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard managed to make a sagely dog and a rough-and-tumble weasel feel more nuanced and organic than even some prestige TV titles.

But issue #2 was something of a marked shift, as the crew spent the issue sussing out the mystery of the missing townsfolk, playing up more of the supernatural/horror vibes hinted at earlier. And it’s a decidedly great move at that — that kind of tone and overall pacing fits really nicely with the slow-moving story of humanity animal-ity, and it lets all that interpersonal stuff fester and mingle even more effectively. (That includes the ongoing stuff with Skipper and his grandson, Edwin, and Roddy and pretty much everyone else on the crew.) But it’s not horror for horror’s sake, but a way to build this story. Even amid the methodical pacing, where people are stuck in conversations or sneaking into the local newspaper for more info-digging, that tense and thoguhtful interplay trumps any scary vibes and moods (while still feeling totes unsettling).

A big part of that is Culbard’s own inherent style and approach, which is so stylized and robust that it makes simple moments feel practically littered with an air of excitement. The designs of the animals here seem to take on an even more human-level of familiarity and emotional depth, which could be a visual trick or just the story landing even closer to home. (Either way, seems like a win.) And it’s also the visuals that make the introduction of these “supernatural” elements all the more effective. The appearance of what I can only describe as “automaton lampposts” is a big plot device made easier to digest considering how perfectly it aligns with the book’s singular aesthetic and charming, slightly timeless look and feel.

All said, it’s the way this book plays out across both story and visuals that has me charmed over the moon and back. Still, issue #2 could have been a scary turn (that still had to happen, obviously) but Abnett and Culbard worked together to make it happen while respecting the core of this story: messy, hugely appealing emotions. It’s that emotionality, in fact, that has me willing to follow this book no matter how deep down the rabbit hole of mysterious sci-fi it may tumble.

Final Thought: You’re the animal if this book doesn’t grab you by the heartstrings.

Score: 7.5/10

Terrorwar #4

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/19/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

Look, I get what Saladin Ahmed and Dave Acosta are doing with Terrorwar. Take ’90s comics, repurpose them with some overt social commentary, and voila, a comic that plays with our endless longing for nostalgia while showing us the path forward presented by a progressive outlook. (And, timing wise, it couldn’t have come at a better time than Strike Summer 2023, right?)

Though issue #3 felt like a (mostly needed) pause for world-building, issue #4 had me questioning the plan even more. And yet I still want to believe!

Most of that had to do with what I think was this issue’s biggest weakness: a ’90s-esque level of overt exposition. It felt like so much of this issue was dedicated to explaining what’s actually going on with the Terrors plaguing Blue City, and why those numbers of nasty monsters continue to grow. I won’t spoil that turn here, but I will say that it doesn’t exactly feel like some big, extra shocking development (as likely intended); rather, it mostly got in the way of what this book, including this issue, generally does well: badass Terror fights. Because when the exposition fest wasn’t clogging everything up, the big battles aren’t just cool to see but they’re an important moment for Muhammad Cho and his crew to 1) further their rapport (and thus our continued interest) and 2) explore (without bashing us over the head) the subtext of this book. (Which is, the rich screw the poor and only through collective action can we overcome the literal horrors of our past.)

It’s also where I think the visuals finally get a decent place to exist, and Acosta’s work (alongside Jay Leisten) is really and truly suited for these big action pieces involving deeply human stakes. Not only are the designs for the Terrors top-notch — issue #4 had some actual nightmare fuel, and their horrific appearances pull a lot of weight — but it’s here where the ’90s magic emanates the brightest. Sure, the story itself is indebted to all things extreme a la 1994 itself came alive, but the visuals especially give a lot of credibility. That goes a long way to letting this book develop its larger themes and motifs and even contextualize some of the commentary in a way that always feels novel and still in service of something larger.

So I definitely think #4 dragged a bit, but still managed to soar some when it got out of its own way. It’s my hope that as we get deeper into the story — and Cho and company seem to have their mission mostly down pat — we can focus on where this book really excels: smashing the heads of monsters and readers alike with a poignant tale with ample context and meaning.

Final Thought: The ’90s vibes may be too strong sometimes, yeah?

Score: 6.5/10

Scrapper #1

comics

Courtesy of Image Comics.

I’ve commented already that if there’s a dog-starring comic, I’ll read it 1,000% of the time. And so you’d assume that Scrapper would be right up my alley, as two stray dogs, Scrapper and Tank, “fight for justice against the totalitarian forces of a post-apocalyptic domed city.”

Sure, for the most part, I enjoyed the debut issue. A huge part of that is the art from Sandy Jarrell (DC: Bombshells), who manages to blend both the cute and the gritty in equal measure. There’s a lot happening from a visual perspective — cute animals, neon sci-fi landscapes, a distinct old-school comics charm and aesthetic, kaiju-style transformations, etc. — and sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming or even a tad uneven when it comes together. But I think Jarrell’s whole style makes it so these dichotomous ideas forge a real distinct visual identity, and it helps generate interest even when things get a little “wonky.” (I’m thinking of mostly tiny moments, like a confusing bit about a dog wall-run, or where the quality seems to take a momentary dip into the uncanny valley.)

Where I think the book tends have problems is with the story. It’s clear that from his work on designing big-time games like Unreal and Gears of War, Cliff Bleszinski has an eye for storytelling as it relates and connects to world-building. But that firm lack of sustained comics experience means that this book operates a little differently. We get dropped into the world pretty quickly, and that abruptness felt bothersome (even as things aren’t too hard to follow). It’s already my fear that with so many threads — why is this world the way it is; why can some people understand dogs and not others; what exactly is Skipper’s origins; etc. — we may not get the answers in a timely manner given the narrative’s slightly uneven approach. There’s teasing and then there’s not better preparing your readers in the first place.

Not even the presence of co-writer Alex de Campi (of the great Dracula, Motherf**ker! GN) made this feel more “aligned” with proper comics structures, and that really hurt the book’s cohesion and clarity at a time when it’s so vital. I get that Bleszinski represents a novel shot-in-the-arm, but there’s moments here when it feels written with the focus and abilities of a game, and that couldn’t be a more incongruous approach for comics storytelling.

Still, the book does earn some good-boy points for basically telling a dystopian superhero story with doggos, and for building a world that clearly knows what it is (even if readers still remain more clueless than we should already). There’s charm and heart here, and the only issue is if the book can work out some of its logistical shortcomings. If so, we’ve got a possible best-in-breed for sure.

Final Thought: Forget heaven, all dogs can be good and earnest superheroes.

Score: 5/10

All Eight Eyes #4

comics

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Did I love issue #2 of All Eight Eyes? Not really, it lost most of the momentum of a really solid debut. Did I then appreciate issue #3? Mostly, even if I didn’t care that much for the backstory of the grizzled Reynolds. So that leaves us in a really interesting spot, with a few mostly good issues as we leap into #4 and the ongoing battle of New York’s saddest against the scourge of giant spiders.

And for the most part, the finale pretty much nails what you’d want from this series — even if what that is might prove to be a little uneven or hard to categorize.

First and foremost, I wanted a really human story, and we get that with a proper showdown between Van, Reynolds, and Dani, a city worker who was circling the duo’s spider-smashing efforts before joining the fray proper in #4. There’s lots of stakes and emotional layers here, and it feels like the first time we don’t get some bifurcated character development but a properly epic human struggle.

Plus, it’s not just a struggle of man versus spiders, but the political as well. Writer Steve Foxe didn’t always do the most effective job in maintaining the post-9/11 tension of this story’s promise and how that informs its core themes. But #4’s end really brought it all home, breaking the story of mega-spiders and framing it in a way to comment on ideas of community action and the like amid an ever-complicated political landscape. Did it feel a little like placing a bow on the end of it all? Sure, but the fact that giant spiders and politics works together at all — and felt rather uplifting if not just deeply effective — feels like a big win.

Of course, the biggest win is that, after a few issues of great spider fighting action, the art team of Piotr Kowalski and Brad Simpson delivered the ultimate arachnoid showdown. It’s big and bloody and wonderful, and the exact sort of carnage the doesn’t distract but actually drive home some of human elements of this story. The action and visuals in general were pretty solid across these four issues, but #4 especially was were it all fell together in a way that you truly felt every blow and exploding human torso in a meaningful way. As if it took the book a second not to merely show us carnage but to remind us of the inherent message behind all that exaggerated violence.

That’s really the story of this entire book: it took a second to go from good to great (with some “meh” steps in between), and once it got there, it seemed mostly enough. (Again, even if that “enough” was only a pretty good story exploring the origins of our current hellish political hellscape.) The tease of subsequent stories has me excited, though. Not just for more spider-centric violence but what might happen if these creators had more time to build their world and fill it with all sorts of creepy-crawlies.

Final Thought: The only bug here is maybe not enough time and space?

Score: 7/10

Knight Terrors: Catwoman #1

DC Preview: Knight Terrors: Catwoman #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

I get that Knight Terrors is meant to be all about the horror — it’s all in that delightfully cheesy name, after all. But whereas this event has given us lots of creepy monsters and endless guilt and grief, Knight Terrors: Catwoman #1 offers something all the more horrifying: promise.

More specifically, writer Tini Howard drops Catwoman into a surreal world where she’s fighting crime alongside Sister Zero (her actual sister) and is chasing a psycho from her own twisted past. The fact that her sister isn’t used as some hokey device to poke at Selina, and rather is part of a well-rounded story exploring Ms. Kyle’s own complex morality, feels really significant. It takes this title far and away from its fellow books and into the realm of pointed character study. Throw in the appearance of an old beau, and we get to see what happens when Catwoman faces a world where she can perhaps make good on her promise and desires to be a positive force for Gotham. In essence, it’s a kind of reverse horror story, where finding herself and chasing something she knows she can’t have but yearns for regardless feels more tense and unnerving than 1 million chainsaw-wielding baddies.

And the only way we really know this is a dream is thanks to the top-notch work of artist Leila Leiz. There’s a distinctly ’90s, European-adjacent vibe to this book, a sleek and sexy aesthetic that works well for Catwoman tales. While there’s some solid design choices — Sister Zero is uplifting and terrifying, and I love the battle-damaged Catwoman look — the real magic is in the feelings that the art facilitates. It’s that unshakable sense that we’re not in Gotham City, baby, and the world around us twists and churns just a little out of synch. That really enhances the way the story is distinctly more “fantasy” than a nightmare, really twisting the knife into our hearts as we pray our own little prayer for Selina despite the fact we know what game is actually being played.

It’s also the visuals where we get to see a hint of what’s actually real or informing Catwoman’s dreaming (like our aforementioned laughing creeper that’s being pursued), and that bit really plays with our sensibilities in a way that drives home how much of a mind-screw this story is so far. And that’s a much-needed element or achievement for these tie-ins: a little diversity and nuance, something else to torture our favorite heroes and villains beyond more blood-curdling horror.

Maybe it’s that Catwoman’s in a unique approach where this sort of “punishment” works best, or that she’s so conflicted this makes the most sense. Either way, it plays on big themes and ideas about Catwoman in a way that feels both hugely novel and aligned perfectly with her unique place in DC Comics. I for one can’t wait for part two to see how much more my tiny heart can shatter.

Final Thought: Sometimes the real terror is getting exactly what you want.

Score: 8/10

Alien #4

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/19/23

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

I’ve said it a few times already, but the strength of this title has been just how deeply Alien it’s felt across each of its three issues. The team — writer Declan Shalvey, artist Andrea Broccardo, and colorists Triona Farrell and Ruth Redmond — clearly love and appreciate this franchise, and have put in work to add to its canon in some compelling ways.

As such, issue #4 is no different, and it continues to feel like the best sort of love letter to what makes Alien unique and compelling. I don’t want to spoil too much, but after last issue’s tease, we get a couple of big reveals that feel firmly indebted to the specific and bloody history of this franchise while spinning in some new bits that only extend the universe. One such big event has to do with the very pregnant Dr. Batya and her daughter Zasha, and that’s all that I’ll say. (Beyond it’s more solid but poignant body horror from this franchise.) The other involves our hero, Dayton, who last issue ended up getting their only space cruiser stuck in a icy ocean — his reveal isn’t quite as initially novel but it’s totally in line with this book. More than that, they’re both firmly the kind of moments that show the root of the team’s appreciation for Alien: amid all the chest-bursting action and space marine shtick, it’s a deeply human story of survival, and these characters are fighting for their lives in a setting that’s both refreshing and hugely familiar. We struggle right alongside them in beautiful symbiosis.

A part of that unique connection is the art team’s work, and I for one haven’t given them nearly enough credit so far. As with earlier, there’s several moments across the issue — the aforementioned Dayton reveal, some nasty business with a Chestburster, a moment with some gruff marines, etc. — that aren’t just visually compelling but let them build this unique feel for a book (one that’s more bright and over the top comparatively) that nonetheless feels indebted to the specifics of Alien. That space isn’t just great to see but I think it’s where Shalvey as the writer has the confidence to create moments and an overall feel that doesn’t so much push the franchise but evolve it by infusing new ideas and sentiments. (A younger, teen hero, for instance, isn’t a big deal but most certainly has that added weight and sense of oomph.)

Issue #4 felt like a bigger moment amid a title that’s already had heaps of ’em. Not so much a stand out — still, certainly outstanding enough — but rather a moment where all the good things coalesce in a way that things pay off before the mystery builds further. Whatever else happens on our icy moon, it’s going to have some proper teeth (or sets of teeth?)

Final Thought: Aliens, heartache, and stakes galore, oh my!

Score: 7.5/10

Black Panther #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/19/23

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Sure, it’s too early to really tell, but maybe I was wrong about Black Panther.

Not in the parts where I gushed about the new series. Like the poignant storyline that writer Eve Ewing has cooked up, with T’Challa getting his Batman on in Birnin T’Chaka. As we get into issue #2, that part remains deeply intriguing; we’re seeing this as a really important moment for Black Panther to reassess his life as both a hero and a king, and a chance to explore some really novel issues about wealth, equality, and what it really means to be socially mobile and prosperous.

Nor was I wrong about the art and visuals (courtesy of Chris Allan, Craig Yeung, and Jesus Aburtov). No, those continue to impress in some subtle but really effective ways. Issue #2, especially, is light on action (save for a thing I’ll get to shortly) but pretty heavy on immersing us deeper in the world of Birnin T’Chaka — there’s lots of vivid depictions of various corners and markets and shops and the like that define the spirit of this place. Having that visual shorthand both informs some of the themes of this series while also just letting it feel like T’Challa is in some new and especially novel place, which is sort of the both of this excursion/exile. The character designs, especially, feel like what you’d expect from Wakanda proper and still play up with the specific economics and working-class feel of Birnin T’Chaka.

Really and truly, the place where I think I was wrong was in my worries that this book might not be able to sustain its momentum. Or that it wasn’t perpetuating a world in which it could build up and facilitate in any meaningful way. Because not only did things like the visuals maintain that connection and momentum we needed to understand and engage the city, but a new player also made a big difference. Beisa seems like she may be a kind of Catwoman-esque foil for T’Challa, and someone who will complicate his work in the city and perhaps push him into new ways of seeing himself and his place in the grander scheme of things. (Beisa’s costume, especially, is really great and a super cool visual clue about her own role.) Having this new energy in the book, especially quite early on, feels essential in giving it some legs to stand on while making this more than just a momentary side quest for T’Challa.

Am I little mad that this intro wasn’t accompanied by even more from our young lawyer friend, N’Yobi Umaru? Maybe, if only for consistency sake. But if nothing else, Beisa’s “debut” felt like more of what this book needed: some shot in the arm that makes sense thematically. It’s a small thing, for sure, but it’s just the sort of gesture that makes this story go from entertaining to perhaps blazing an intriguing new trail for the modern Black Panther.

Final Thought: The new world of Black Panther grows ever more human and engaging.

Score: 7.5/10

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