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Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/26/23

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/26/23

New comics reviews from Image Comics, BOOM! Studios, 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 Seasons Have Teeth #4

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/26/23

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

It doesn’t happen all the time, but sometimes a story pulls the wind from your body and leaves you stuck in a moment.

Which is a little funny because, until now, I’ve only mostly enjoyed The Seasons Have Teeth.

The book — from Dan Watters, Sebastian Cabrol, Nate Piekos, and Dan Jackson — follows Andrew Bates as he attempted to photograph the living personifications of the seasons. (It’s like Pokemon Snap if it were hugely poignant and also everything tried to murder you.) After some mostly impactful moments of Bates trying to capture these pics in the name of his dead wife, struggling with her absence and the scant joy he received from this assignment, we’ve reached the end: Winter.

As far as sticking the landing, the creative team did it — and then some. There’s so many important reasons in which this finale worked so perfectly when even the other issues were just mostly great. It’s the framing of the story, and how we see it from Bates’ perspective and from that of his colleagues, which fostered some tension and structure. The personal nature of the Winter monster; Cabrol and Jackson’s design was terrifying but also somehow whimsical, and that one-two punch was lethally effective. Even Piekos’ lettering this issue had more chances to show off some of the physical world, Bates’ personality, and the lore of this story universe.

But the biggest accomplishment is that actual ending, with Bates meeting someone else to forge a partnership that pushed the book’s emotional strength to the next echelon. Was it a little hokey and slightly gimmicky (you’ll see why)? Yeah, and it also drove home just how sort of obvious and deliberate this book’s been — especially in this finale — in exploring grief and those bigger messages about letting go. But then, maybe that’s been the whole point. In a book where seasons actually come alive to kill folks, maybe we need these big, over-the-top gestures to make us see some things. To demonstrate that the “show, don’t tell” approach doesn’t always work, and that something as simple as “life is worth living over most things” or “art is dumb compared to actually connecting with others” are worth screaming as loudly and shrilly as possible.

And so that’s mostly how we end this book: not with some sense of completion (mostly), or that giant moment we’ve all been waiting for. Rather, a sense that things go on, and they may only get worse, but they’re still ours to wander through regardless. That the true art is making something of value with the world, and not just a painting/portrait/song/etc. that you can show off. It took a lot of death and dying to remind us of that, but it’s been more than worth it for such a powerful and lasting affirmation.

Final Thought: Just ’cause you see it coming doesn’t mean it won’t rip you in two.

Score: 9.5/10

Newburn #9

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/26/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

I came to Newburn a little late. I read the TPB of Chip Zdarsky and Jacob Phillips’ tale of our titular fixer/investigator, and I found the collective experience utterly compelling. It was the eight issues back-to-back that really let me see the nuances of the mystery unfolding, and to watch as the book’s visual identity helped foster that suspense and tension. But issue #9 reminded me of what Zdarsky and Phillips can do with one single issue.

Yes, the whole thing is another one-in-done tale, this time about someone from the Albano family trying to fake their death. But Newburn is always so much more across its various issues, and Zdarsky is a pro in connecting back to the larger happenings to build this rich tapestry of a story that’d make any MAX prestige drama feel woefully inferior. But after the events of the first volume, it’s less a case we’re building toward and more a deeper exploration of Newburn. He’s grappling with his own morality and sense of effectiveness, and that’s showing us some truly frightening layers. Emily, especially, gets a first-hand view as his assistant, and their dynamic (given how he saved her from the Albano family) feeds into this larger dissection of Newburn potentially growing into a monster. It’s a novel spin for a story like this: he’s not losing his edge but clearly coalescing his power and skills, and this “transformation” is as gripping as it is interesting from a creative standpoint.

Of course, none of that could be possible without Phillips’ artwork (and that Zdarsky himself is a damn fine artist and continues to write with that in mind like few other creators). There’s several moments here — a passing phone conversation, a slight shift in Newburn’s face, an awkward car ride, etc. — that speak volumes about the tension slowly mounting within this book. The storyline may push it all forward, but it’s the art where we get that deliciously uneasy emotionality as we work toward this volume’s big climax. Phillips also knows how to deliver bigger moments — his depictions of fights feel grounded but add a lot of energy and heft to the story — and it’s clear in #9 that he’s a pro at building the mood with Zdarsky as well in those ways that sometimes go unspoken.

This issue also introduces “Go Back,” a backup story from David Brothers and Nick Dragotta. I’m a little unsure about how this tale fits in — it’s got a similar tone but much more of a street-level feel about a young thief’s misadventures — but then that’s the point. The whole power of Newburn is in that slow, methodical approach, and from the dialogue to the coloring, it’s about piecing it all together in real-time. Sure, you can binge watch this drama and get some true thrills and chills, but it’s the issue-by-issue approach, especially in this latest arc, that’s going to whack you in the knee like a collapsible baton.

Final Thought: No one’s eventual downfall has ever seemed so delicious.

Score: 7.5/10

Alice Never After #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/26/23

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

As a rule, sequels to beloved stories can often be pretty hit or miss. That’s especially true when the stories hop medium for whatever reason. But rather early on, Alice Never After grabs us by the hands and guides us through a decidedly wonderful and unnerving version of Wonderland.

The story itself follows Alice across two worlds: in Wonderland, where she’s dealing with the threat of a returning, perpetually smiling foe, and in the real world, where her sister Edith tries desperately to bring Alice back from her beloved fantasy realm. It’s a well-balanced approach whose biggest strength is that both worlds feel distinct and yet intertwined in all the right ways.

Part of that is the visuals, with writer-artist Dan Panosian handling “London,” developing a grounded visual style that has this distinctly late Victorian charm with just a dash of noir-ish glamor. It’s here in reality that the story cements a proper mystery, as we try and discern who exactly is working for and against Alice (and why that actually matters). From there, Giorgio Spalletta manages Wonderland, crafting something that’s just as bizarre and whimsical as any version depicted elsewhere. There’s so much life and energy within the lives of these bright, oddball denizens, and yet Spalletta remains just as committed to portraying that sense of unease and tension to reflect what’s happening in “London.”

And that’s really the most impactful and essential aspect of this debut: there’s the real world and then how it translates in the mind of Alice. We’re left to mostly sort out how she really feels, and what’s actually real to her and what’s likely not. It’s clearly a hallmark of this beloved character’s story, but done in a way here to really put the onus on the reader to crack this mystery while dealing with their own history to Alice and this newfound, understated sense of anxiety and minor dread. It’s the feelings of this tale, more than even all the visual magic, that should have you following this White Rabbit up and down and back again.

One of the things I couldn’t shake while reading #1 is that this isn’t just a tale about Alice; it’s a tale about any of us who can’t exactly live in the world in any “normal” way. And after the last few years of socio-political madness, it makes this long-running tale feel all the more fresh and vivid. It both honors Alice’s legacy while making Wonderland a slice of weird magic all our own.

Final Thought: Drink the tea, eat the pastry — just get to Wonderland pronto.

Score: 8/10

Creed: The Next Round #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/26/23

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

With issue #1, Creed: The Next Round nearly knocked me out.

I loved Amara, and her spitfire, never-say-die attitude. I loved the storyline with Bianca and Adonis growing their family and their business ventures. And I loved that this was a story that was deeply inclusive by including deaf/mostly-deaf characters.

Yet the series didn’t exactly pummel me into total submission; I couldn’t shake the sense that having some star power attached (like “creative director” Michael B. Jordan and Hollywood scribe LaToya Morgan) meant that this might be more movie than comic. Fortunately, as I wrapped up issue #2, I felt more at ease about how this book sticks and weaves as a proper “fighter.”

A big part of that is how the book furthers nails down some of the core visual elements. Mostly in trying to make the very bulk of the book — riveting conversations but conversations nonetheless — feel important and exciting. And that means integrating some Black American Sign Language in a way that it kept a really solid pace and didn’t overwhelm non-speakers (while still supporting BASL speakers, of course). Also, like last time, the book adds a drama and tension to these “slower” movements to make them nearly as dynamic as any fight sequence.

This was further facilitated by basically having two art teams. Wilton Santos and DJ Chavis tackled the parts between Amara and Adonis (this father daughter-combo engage like a big-time prize fight) while Joe Jaro, Maria Keane, and Joana Lafuente handled a story about Artemis (Creed’s half-sister, Amara’s aunt) as she recalls her career as “The Butcher.” That sense of balance, from both a visual standpoint but also in how the stories stood individually, made this second issue feel even more successful. It gave us the big-time action balanced with the thoughtful character development; it built the world (especially how the newer Artemis played a role and her terse relationship with Adonis) with record efficiency; and put the focus on Artemis-Amara (there’s so much robust potential here) while placing the Adonis-Bianca storyline in a secondary position (without make that feel any less significant to the plot and the themes of family and loyalty).

I think what this distinct split approach accomplished — as with Alice Never After — is that it lets all the moving parts turn on their own and still contribute to something greater. In the case of this story specifically, it was a coalescing of ideas and a build-up to some big tentpole moments and character interplay. In boxing parlance, it was the haymaker straight to the brachial nerve. But keeping watch for that big left anytime now.

Final Thought: The issue dances around you before pummeling your chest.

Score: 7.5/10

Old Dog #6

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/26/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

I was mostly hoping I’d have another feeling devastatingly winded moment with Old Dog #6.

Lord knows I’ve been championing this Declan Shalvey book as much as humanly possible. And I want to say that I’m decidedly satisfied for the most part, because issue #6 has a lot of truly great points. The sort of bottle episode approach that keeps the focus almost exclusively on Jack Lynch and his daughter/colleague Keelin. Or, the plethora of great action scenes as Jack runs afoul of some Black Circle agents — the scene with the ax in particular is bloody and inventive and exactly what this book has delivered in its other five issues (and in spades, I might add).

Yet there’s no denying that I didn’t absolutely love or feel the need to wildly gush over the ending proper. It certainly was a definitive close for this chapter, and it was also done in such a way to foster more questions and intrigue for the future. (It also hinted at some things that made me think Shalvey didn’t tell us everything, and that’s mostly an exciting development.) Yet while this book certainly needed to spell a few things out — that sense of slow-building mystery is great but some payoff was hotly anticipated — the big turn/reveal felt a little cliched or hackneyed. To some extent, it was a sense of familiarity, as if  this particular moment just felt overdone in comics especially. As if it the book did so much to stand out and then it just didn’t momentarily.

Regardless, I wasn’t exactly left reeling, and that felt, oddly enough, like a minor betrayal. Still, I think that means that I might have wrapped a lot of my feelings in having something bigger and bolder having occurred as this arc’s massive swan song. I wanted that big moment because it felt like a proper payoff, but that’s not alway how it works. Because even now, the book’s made it abundantly clear that its future will still be thoughtful, deliberate, and as deeply and richly human as possible. And that it can still focus on the things that actually matter (i.e., that triply poignant Jack-Keelin relationship that speaks volumes to the book’s core interests and themes)

Because without having that momentary mindf***, this arc and this story in general manage to accomplish other vital feats. Like, build us a compelling, multifaceted lead; play endlessly and expertly with tropes from sci-fi and spy thrillers; and keep us guessing about what might come next and the joy of the uncertainty. In a way, I’m still kind of left reeling, and so the book wins once again. It continues to poke and prod in some of the best ways, and that’s the grandest prize of ‘em all.

The fact that the ending was only a gut punch and not having all my bones ripped out ultimately isn’t a big deal; my love for this book clearly expects some twists and turns as part of the larger experience. So cunt me in for arc #2, and may this book continue to learn new tricks in deeply affecting all careful readers.

Final Thought: An ending, for sure, but hopefully the start of something else entirely.

Score: 8/10

Purr Evil #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/26/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

With Sweet Paprika, Mirka Andolfo crafted what she called an “urban fairy tale for adults.” It was super bright, cute and kitschy in equal measures, and sometimes a little uneven in its approach and execution.

And that feels a lot like Andolfo’s latest Purr Evil, with art from Laura Braga (Witchblade). How do I truly encapsulate this book? It’s basically about a mother and daughter, Rita and Deb, who “need to figure out her [the daughter’s] role in a world that she’s about to doom!” There’s also some stuff about demonic-looking purple cats, a band who may also be magical, a dead/missing rock star, and a charming father and son, Steve and Rob, as love interests (?!) and the perfect foils. In a word, insanity.

I’d spoil more but it’s really in your best interest to delve into what feels quintessentially Andolfo: a soap opera/anime hybrid big on sex appeal, brightly-colored hair, supernatural hijinks, and much more. It’s also, as I’d hinted at, a similarly fast-paced approach to the point of being overwhelming at times; a little overly hokey (sometimes the dialogue is too much); and with 1,000 different ideas and approaches all competing for attention. So if you like Andolfo’s other work, this is a perfect continuation, and a story that brings that same mix of magic and mayhem that’s too much for others and like tasty bon bons covered in Pixy Stix for everyone else.

It’s worth nothing that Braga’s art especially is a huge draw for this book. It’s not only where a lot of the book’s most overt power comes from — and its over-the-top personality and sex appeal and manga-leaning blend of cute and creepy and etc. — but it’s just really compelling. There’s some solid moments — the dynamic moments between the two teens in Deb and Rob, for instance — that are made all the more charming and important for how they play out visually over anything that’s actually spoken. Braga’s art also feels perfectly suited for Andolfo’s tendencies as a writer, and the cohesion and layered approach helps keep your eyes locked even when this may get hokey to the point of being physically painful.

If you’ve never read Andolfo, I’d earnestly urge you to still give it a try. You may feel like you just main-lined SweeTarts, but you may also find the experience surprisingly addictive.

Final Thought: I can’t explain it and you wouldn’t want to me to — just read it.

Score: 6.5/10

Klik Klik Boom #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/26/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

When I read issue #1 of Klik Klik Boom (be sure to read Ronnie Gorham’s review, too), I kept thinking about Bart Curlish. You know, that effectively immortal “holistic assassin” from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. She was the irreverent, doubly violent centerpiece of the whole series, sort of like this book’s own Sprout. Sure, there’s some differences — Sprout doesn’t speak, and she’s also decidedly more charming and human — but they’re the same in that both are a wild and weird entry point into their respective worlds.

But as issue #2 demonstrated fairly quickly, the book readily moves on from those comparisons.

Not that it’s still not an apt comparison (and certainly helps contextualize this book), but rather writer Doug Wagner doesn’t let that serve as the book’s defining factor (even as his other books, like Plush and Vinyl, were good if not quite happy to live in a rather similar box). That’s because the characters here — Sprout but also the straight woman Serena — feel more deeply human than heroes from his other titles. Sprout may be a rather massive gimmick — talking through Polaroids, dressing like a Harajuku 007, etc. — but her spirit and mission feel grounded and real as anything.

The fact that she drags Serena along — this issue focuses on some momentary mercenary battles before moving to the home of a judge to aid in Sprout’s mission of revenge — is both super silly and a way to build a poignant connection. And it’s that friendship that continues to be the defining part of this still-young book, a partnership that makes for silly jokes and sight gags without hampering our ability to let them engage and perhaps grow with and alongside one another.

You can’t talk about that burgeoning friendship, though, without the art of Matt Wilson and Doug Dabbs. They’ve shown promise before — that Polaroid thing remains fun and quite clever — but they further develop across #2. There’s great moments to connect visually with Sprout; the ongoing development of a cutesy DIY aesthetic that really makes this book feel novel; some top-notch action that extends the book’s humor (I’ll never look at bedsheets the same again); a slight haze to Sprout’s flashbacks with her grandpa that feels genuinely endearing and romantic; and so many little goodies and other decisions that define this book and set it apart (while even connecting back spiritually and tangentially to Wagner’s other projects).

It’s often those really small moments that make this book feel charming and more engaging, and while it’s not necessarily easy to miss, it’s not exactly going to be the most obvious without a careful read, and the pace and approach here doesn’t always foster that so effectively.

But what this book does foster is endless charm — a charm that’s goofy and dark and a little dumb but mostly in the very best ways. Because at the end of the day, the book knows what it is beyond its core gimmicks and shtick: about how we connect with the world and the ways we’ll fight to preserve or honor these bonds. The fact that it can shed blood and feature glitter dance parties along the way is the definition of an added bonus.

Final Thought: Friends are fun (and so are booby-trapped warehouses and karate kicks).

Score: 7/10

Knight Terrors: Angel Breaker #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 07/26/23

Courtesy of DC Comics.

You’d be justified in not really knowing much about Angel Breaker. The Joshua Williamson/Howard Porter creation only debuted in spring 2022’s Shadow War: Alpha #1. And, sure, she’s got connections to Black Canary and even the League of Shadows, but that doesn’t mean she’s some proven star.

Yet perhaps in even more proof that Knight Terrors is a different class of events entirely, Angel Breaker (in a story from Tim Seeley, Acky Bright, and Brian Reber) teams up with Raptor to steal a device that can access Doctor Destiny’s dream powers.

I’m of two minds when it comes to the actual story. I have my doubts if this will have as much impact as other stories, even as Seeley connects stuff with the other books and even his own Nightwing run (specifically “Fighting Destiny”). But then I don’t think that’s an issue as this whole story feels like it’s just meant to be a little window into small corner of the DCU, and the event at-large has tried to do that several times (like with my fave thus far in the Zatanna-Robotman team-up).

As such, the story makes great decisions in support of that. Like the Angel Breaker-Raptor dynamic, which is multifaceted and a great source of humanity into these niche parts of the DCU. Or that the story involves Kobra’s bordering school; cutesy would-be cult priests/priestesses make for a silly idea that also further grows chunks of this world at-large. Even the fact that we get to see a different opponent emerge post-Nightmare Wave, presenting a rather big challenge for Angel Breaker (that builds her character) and setting up a proper slasher flick dynamic to play out in #2.

Plus, I don’t think any of this editorial decisions would be as compelling without the art. Bright and Reber manage to accomplish a few different feats across these 20 pages. We get a style that feels pretty connected to DC proper (it reminds me a lot of Seeley’s Nightwing, and that bit of happenstance is great). Yet there’s also something a bit more playful here, and the Breaker and Raptor designs especially feel properly superhero-esque while blending other ideas and influences. Even some of the color choices and general textures do a great job to foster that initial slasher feel without making it feel forced or like this wasn’t some great but subtle turn for the story (that also makes the development land with true horror heft). It’s a presentation and visual style that brings to mind a lot of what made DC good at the early parts of Rebirth, and that connection really helps ground this story more effectively in grander DC lore.

Even from a mere storyline perspective, I think this tale works. It manages to connect with the universe and the event, but we get things — like more insight into Angel Breaker’s whole bag — that push this from mere event fodder into a great extension of what makes DC and it’s many events more meaningful. Not all of these tie-in titles can claim that, and this one does so by embracing the overt cheese and big sense of humanity that should ultimately define Knight Terrors.

Final Thought: A slice of what makes DC Comics so fun and charming (and totes weird).

Score: 6.5/10

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