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Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/16/23

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/16/23

New comics reviews from Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Marvel, and DC Comics!

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 #4

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/16/23

Courtesy of DC Comics.

I gave the last issue of The Vigil some of my absolute highest praise. That whole chapter certainly deserve a 9.5 — writer Ram V and the rest of the creative team (artists Sid Kotian and Lalit Kumar Sharma alongside colorist Rain Beredo) truly came into their own with their Planetary-inspired tale of superhero espionage.

But could #4 meet all that hype, or is near-perfection just too much to live up to?

As it turns out, this latest issue may somehow be even better.

A huge part of that magic trick is that, where the last issue explored some fundamental emotional aspect of the team, this issue gives us a massive piece of the puzzle surrounding the group and their sagely leader, Doc. I wouldn’t dare spoil this new turn, but it’s certainly a big-time revelation that will have huge ramifications across the remainder of this book. Plus, it was done in such a way that things were teased out perfectly, and they really let the insight build in a way to engage the reader head-on with maximum force.

But this book wasn’t just about shocking us, either, as we got a really solid bit of background into Dodge, the speedster of the team (it’s really heightened fast-twitch muscle). She’s been a mostly unknown quantity to this point, but her whole story/power and her larger role coalesce here in a way that we finally get to know her while also framing this issue’s big reveal in such a way that it all slides the knife in even deeper. It was one of those perfect storytelling approaches that felt grounded and personal while pushing the larger story upward through that emotion and overt tension.

In fact, having this story work so well — the quiet moments feeding into the larger ones and vice versa — only proves how well the story’s been structured and developed. For instance, when they introduced another superpowered hero in this issue, this one with a really novel form of healing. That was done in a way to give us something cool — the art around that whole battle/confrontation is a massive highlight for the art team — and really shows the layers involved to what Doc is doing (or not doing) with the team at-large. It’s not just that the book works to be so singularly well-rounded, but that it treats every new development and moment with the proper levels of importance and intensity.

In that way, it makes the story vital no matter what’s happening or what’s being explored. All of this team is very much alive, and we’re getting to slowly learn about this dynamic organism in some utterly compelling ways. And the more we learn, the more we understand the universe of history, politics, magic, and culture that the creators have assembled to inform this title. If it can keep channeling all of that in such a massively visceral way, this book will break the upper atmosphere in no time.

Final Thought: Each new issue solidifies it: The Vigil is truly special.

Score 9.5/10

Alien #5

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/16/23

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Sure, everyone’s already looking ahead to the next chapter of Alien. Because, for some reason, and just five issues in, we need yet another #1 to drop in November. On the upside, though, writer Declan Shalvey and artist Andrea Broccardo will return for a story that’s “connected to the current series but offering a fresh start for new readers” (and with flashbacks drawn by Shalvey).

But all of that’s only going to mean a dang thing if this latest arc, “Thaw,” manages to stick the landing and not end up like so much Xenomorph excrement on the ship’s floor. (Those buggers do excrete, right?) And as a massive fan of the slow-building, family-oriented storyline thus far, I have to say I ain’t exactly cheering like it’s Kerri Strug at the ‘96 Olympics.

There’s no denying that this is a full and proper end for this part of the story — focusing on Zasha and the newly-resurrected Dayton trying to escape the planet/facility. Cue some solid backstory about Dayton and Zasha’s family, a battle with some nasty mercenaries, and perhaps even a blaze of glory, and the ending certainly had some major oomph. But the problem is, that not only did it not quite live up to the vision in my head, it felt mostly clear that the team were working toward that next chapter. And, as a fan, that’s a great enough development, and this ending provides a really solid focus on Zasha as she’s jettisoned into a new life.

But how it all happened mostly sapped the heart and intention out of this larger story, and we’re left with a few cheap thrills and some flashy explosions. (A lot of that is the mostly solid work from the art team — they continue to get the whole aesthetic of this universe and find impactful ways to build within and around it in some big action tentpole scenes.) What I really wanted, though, wasn’t something that tried to be an ending and still keep up some level of hype and/or optimism, especially as this story was primed for a truly heartbreaking level of finality. In a sense, then, the future of this story rendered it into this half-cocked finale, muting some of the power of the series proper with other grander intentions and ambitions. Something about stories need to end, yeah, and that’s maybe why they matter.

It’s especially confounding given that, to talk about the art once more, we get some great visual elements and whatnot about the devastation surrounding this story. Like the way Dayton looks totally destroyed as if a bomb went off (he’s fine since he’s a Synth after all); the quiet moment between Zasha and her mom, Batya, after the latter’s death; and the way the planet seemingly reacts/behaves toward the issue’s final moments. It was an unspoken bon voyage that really picked up the solemn but definitive vibes I was hoping the story itself could better facilitate. And it’s rare that this title ever suffered from any sustained imbalances between the story and the visuals.

I don’t want to sell it as if I’m entirely mad or disappointed by the end. This book definitively exceeded some of my initial expectations, and it did so by focusing on this big emotional stakes. In turn, I think that made me rethink what was possible with the entire franchise, and that also carries into whatever this team have planned for the next chapter.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t want more from the ending — it’s a level of engagement and humanity that this book has more than fostered in its readers until just now. I’m hopeful for the next part of this story, and for what will happen to our dear Zasha (hopefully it’ll be bleak!) One minor misstep doesn’t mean we’ve truly escaped the dual-mouthed grasp of this beast of a series.

Final Thought: There’s more horror to come, but for now a scary misstep.

Score: 7/10

Wild’s End #3

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/16/23

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

I nearly leapt for joy upon reading Wild’s End #2. Because as co-creators Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard used that issue to pivot into a proper horror story, all the tiny decisions behind this book (the animal stars, the quaint seaside setting, etc.) became all the more integral and compelling. And even still the series retained some of that Wes Anderson-esque charm and human drama of the debut, which augmented the issue even further.

With issue #3, then, the pivot goes even harder, as the book’s feel and tone takes on an even more robust horror tinge, like some cutesy reimagining of 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Only there’s no pod people here but rather the survivors — Skipper, Roddy, Eddie, Bernie, and Flo — dig deeper into the mystery behind the invaders and what role these menacing lamp posts play in controlling their family and friends. Again, I won’t spoil too much, but the whole issue plays out very much in line with how you’d expect a horror film to go. You’ve got the rag-tag crew of optimistic but terrified townsfolk; the slightly cliched bad guy (sure, they’re aliens, but bonus points for also being lamp posts); the potential bad guy/turncoat (I’m looking at you, Reckless Roddy); and all that corresponding tension played up by things like our setting and this certain je ne sais quoi of horror references/energies plucked from a time of a singular aesthetic.

And, sure, that decision really locks the story in to a certain extent — some of that undertone of quaintness is gone to make room for a more harrowing story of survival. Yet at the same time, the creative team provided just enough familiar understanding and corresponding conversation to make sure we’re still deeply connected to the survivors, and that’s really important in rounding out this story. Similarly, the art does enough to balance that clear influence of ’70s-leaning horror and the playful quality of a story starring humanized animals to foster a look that honors something of the past while fully promoting the singular feel and story-based opportunities of this little burg. If nothing else, we get a little more focus and some truly dire stakes, and that never actively interferes with some of those “kooky,” more novel decisions that make this book something else entirely.

I think leaning hard into the horror of it all was the obvious move from the get go, but it’s clear that the book wanted us to really experience another way into this world before smashing us with an alien invasion. It’s clear now that the “honeymoon” is over, and we’re getting into some specifically intense territory. But with that commitment also comes the notion that we’re in rather capable hands, and however this invasion plays out, there’s going to be a range of emotions attached and stakes galore.

Final Thought: They’re coming to take you away — to the realm of magically vintage horror.

Score: 7.5/10

The Lonesome Hunters: The Wolf Child #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/16/23

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Tyler Crook accomplished plenty with that first arc of The Lonesome Hunter. He managed to effortlessly blend bits of fantasy, horror, noir, and the road trip tale into a compelling little package that was ultimately about outcasts and finding one’s place.

Now, as we’ve move into The Wolf Child, some of that energy might have changed (for the better and/or worse) as Lupe and Howard continue their trail to destroy that massive magical sword.

And, sure, the dynamic does seem to have been expanded into a much larger world: you’ve got Howard and Lupe embarking on a brief sojourn with the deluxe wolf but also a group of nasty farmers with a stake in the wolf’s demise, some religious hunters seeking our duo, another fella preparing for the recent return of some great stone, and yet more truly solid world- and character-building. Yet amid all of that, the Howard-Lupe thing never feels any less important. It retains that power and openness that’s been building since that first arc — if anything, all these new layers only seem to make their dynamic all the more essential. It’s their relationship and organic back and forth that informs the rest of the happenings, and in like some grand feedback loop, is extended by these things that build the mystery and intrigue around them accordingly.

It’s a perfect example of making the world alive and never taking the focus away from the rich emotional core. I didn’t even fret when some of these other elements got more time then our leads — it only takes a few minutes of the pair to really cement the story’s direction and also unite these ideas and sentiments into a cohesive exploration of life on the outskirts of things. The issue especially focused on Lupe’s early days and her relationship with her dead mother, and that idea of her powerlessness to “act” informs the story’s swing here as other people struggle with similar, slightly connected notions of engagement and inability.

It’s also worth noting that Crook’s art here also really shines. (Though that’s nothing new — the first arc truly dazzled with an aesthetic both dark and joyous from the very start.) This whole book has a really solid feel, and the tone and feel of it really emphasizes the multiple genres and corresponding vibes of “modern epic or fairytale.” But issue #2 was a truly confident performance from Crook. Even without big battles or heaps of magic, he made a meeting of the hunters seem massively emotional and brimming with potential. Or, how he expertly drew out the story’s themes just by putting Lupe and Howard in some dumpy department store. It’s the way the lines seem to hum with life, and how Crook approaches each scene with the book’s pure heart in mind.

The visuals are not only reflective of what Crook is trying to do here but expressive and curious in their own right, pushing the tone and emotional content in new and wild directions. And that might be the secret of this book: more than all the big ideas about friendship and identity, Crook has forged a world that’s very much alive. He’s dutifully guiding us through this enchanted land to let us see things far removed from our imagination and also things that we know to be true deep within our bones. It’s an accomplishment, for sure, but we’re only still just getting started.

Final Thought: Big emotions more devastating than a giant magical sword.

Score: 8/10

Starsigns #4

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/16/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

Starsigns started out strong but it quickly got a case of cold feet. That’s not to say that some important work wasn’t being done — Rana felt like a great guide in this book; young Alejandro has big-time promise; and the lore’s slowly come together without overwhelming. (Even if said pace was maybe a tad too cautious at times.) Rather, it just felt like the book couldn’t make the big moves needed to make this deeply human superhero story feel more than promising or just initially compelling.

But, in a lot of ways, issue #4 made up for that with two big-time character introductions. The first is Cathy, who can project energy constructs, and who gave the story a much needed shot in the arm. She’s grounded and robust in all the right ways (as you’d expect from a firefighter) and those sentiments mixed with her matronly vibes made her really engaging. All that Canadian charm and grace really let Cathy guide this still-forming “team” of celestial-powered heroes into taking steps toward a genuine path forward — even if said path was basically, “Find more of ourselves and try not to get caught and/or killed.”

But it wasn’t all good news as the baddies — Mr. Duke and Tatiana– were joined by Dan, a self-proclaimed ninja assassin who can turn invisible. Even if Dan’s presence in the issue was super brief, he was also a shot in the arm for the “villains.” This book clearly needs baddies who seem especially mean and not just lamé government types. That distinctly over-the-top energy plays nicely with the confines of this story (and how it, in turn, plays with certain comics tropes) while, once again, simply pushing everything forward. Dan feels like a potentially one-note joke character — it’s my hope any backstory grounds him accordingly — and yet even that should be enough to get the story believing in itself after a couple uneven, uncertain issues.

The only thing that didn’t really seem to move forward was the art — and more specifically, it’s ongoing chance to further forge the book’s identity. Artists Kelly Fitzpatrick and Megan Levens got a few brief moments to shine with Cathy’s powers, but they haven’t really been able to do much over the last few issues. (Even a fight amid a forest fire in #4 doesn’t exactly pop.) And a lot of that is, much like the bulk of this issue taking place in a van, things feel a tad too stuck. You don’t want to over-indulge the readers with needlessly showy displays of superpowered magic but not nearly enough is being done to push these folks away from their solely human roots in any sort of sustained way. It’s made this human story of heroes more gentle and slow moving than it needs to be, and having more visual razzle dazzle would go a long way to landing closer to the realm of genuine thriller.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate the accomplishments of this issue and hope that as the book grows ever more robust with humanity, it can find its sense of magic across the board.

Final Thought: The best superpower is getting shit done.

Score 7.5/10

Sirens of the City #2

Comics

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Maybe issue #1 of Sirens of the City wasn’t perfect. In trying to build this gritty, wholly urban-leaning world of the supernatural, writer Joanne Starer didn’t exactly make things easier. (Even as the premise and the story’s politics were really clever and inventive.) But then, like any good partner, artist Khary Randolph was there to make it all better, and the story’s visuals hummed with overt intensity and a timely magical air of playfulness.

But as I quickly got into issue #2, it became clear that the story’s key issues were readily being resolved — for the most part.

Because where there was confusion, there now exists a solid enough understanding of this world. I’ll let you, dear reader, break down the larger context, but it’s sort of like the Jets and the Sharks only with Incubi and Succubi. Not only did it take very little to actually outline this whole mostly compelling dynamic, but it was centered in a decidedly human way, placing the emphasis on our two “lovebirds,” Rome and Layla. That added layer of emotionality made the magic world feel infinitely more approachable and far easier to track given how it all sort of breaks down conveniently enough. But even more than that, our little explanation came after the book had worked hard to ground this story in the “couple,” and by doing so, it meant less exposition overall and more emphasis on the multifaceted relationship between these two exceptional people (and all the layers of drama you might expect).

In that way, the book managed to build that world in a way that was lacking in our debut while still keeping things light and breezy enough to not overcomplicate a story that, at its heart, is about the many joys and dangers of puppy love. (But also sooo much more sturdier ideas.)

But for as much “growth” as the story demonstrated this time around, Randolph’s art has remained truly solid. That’s not at all a bad thing, obviously, and it actually meant that the visuals weren’t the only thing holding this ship afloat, and that’s probably better for this title in the long run. Still, there were some big moments for the art to further show off and even refine the book’s signature look and feel, like a little Succubi stand-off between Layla and Mari (who, in terms of the story in general, was another great point of pure emotional connection). Or even the way some of the powers here work, which further shows a grounded quality to this fantasy by keeping things real and organic (and further playing up the core social messaging here).

Maybe I wasn’t as dazzled quite as much by the art this issue, but then everything was sort of impressing me on most fronts. And that’s sort of what I wanted from the book: hold my hand long enough and then go about building the world for me to explore at my own approach and speed. I’m earnestly looking forward to that journey continuing in issue #3 as this book further shows us that perfect starts are nothing when the world is this rich with drama and potential.

Final Thought: The story and art align as this book makes good on its magical potential.

Score 7.5/10

Something Epic #4

Comics

Courtesy of Image Comics.

I think part of me has been struggling when it came to Something Epic. Had writer-artist Szymon Kudrański spilled his guts about the power and heartache that comes with a creative life? Absolutely. But had he also basically made something that’s basically yet another Ready Player One? Also absolutely. Until we got to issue #4, it was harder to decide if the former somehow made up for the latter.

Now that I’ve actually read issue #4, I think it’s abundantly clear that I don’t care.

Not about the book, mind you — I think that as it moves further along, my commitment for the book actually grows. Part of that is the art; after a really solid start of building this world that’s both bleak and depressive but brimming with pure creative magic, Kudrański has clearly upped his game. So as we’re moving into this mystical quest for our hero, Danny, the world opens further, with this multi-layered system of fantasy realms that not only create a proper lore for this book but continue to build its identity and prowess in the name of its larger thematic interests (i.e., just what creativity really means and how we feed it with our lives and our intentions). And really even if the art wasn’t as sharp and vivid as ever — playing with tropes of superhero comics and fantasy in general — this story finally moving along is a big enough deal. Yes, even if that’s toward a more cliched, Legend of Zelda-aping direction, it’s still given a lot of Kudrański’s core commentary and personal exploration some essential shape and form.

It’s been doubly important for those thoughts to further solidify as so much of this book is just dominated by big monologues about what it means to imagine things or how art shapes our perceptions. Even as those monologues are expanded with rules and insights into the world that’s being built here, I find myself, as I’d revealed earlier, not caring as much. Not that I don’t find all of this mega-exposition annoying any more, and in some way I’ve gotten used to it enough. These “pieces” also have just enough charm and emotional depth to be compelling, and even when it feels a little long-winded or overly engaging, I know there’s some piece of visual magic happening to round it all out. (The same goes for some awful dialogue in this issue — sure that banana joke took a few panels, but there’s a massive monster coming!)

All of that has become an integral part of the experience — the often overly involved, sometimes boring part of it that I want over pronto, but a part nonetheless. I’m just now fully open to allowing Kudrański to do what he needs to across this book because I’m certain of the end in the only way that it actually matters: it’s Kudrański showing us his robust creative light, and all of that is rich and intriguing enough to make it through uneven, sometimes overly plotted delays and storytelling side quests. His openness and vulnerability are the pull-through, and no matter how hackneyed or irksome things may become, it’s a light I’m willing to chase for at least a few more issues. It’s sometimes a struggle, yeah, but ain’t that what happens in a true hero’s tale?

Final Thought: The magic is real, but that don’t mean it’s perfect.

Score 6.5/10

Savage Squad 6 #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/16/23

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Well, I’d like to apologize to Savage Squad 6. Because I called that first issue — in which the titular squad deployed to Chernobyl for a mission to save their colony — a tad derivative. Surely, totally entertaining, with a thoughtful and compelling cast to go alongside the pure dystopian vibes, but also really familiar to a lot of series. (I call it the Band of Brothers Effect.)

But issue #2 stuck that Bowie knife deep into my gut and showed me another side of this title: as a horror story.

At least that’s what I’m led to believe at the end of this second issue, which did a lot to push the story and this world in a thoughtful new direction. I don’t want to spoil whether or not we lose yet another member (Shells disappeared in #1). However, if there is indeed another disappearance, it would only push this book further away from being an inspired enough sci-fi war story and into the realm of secret horror. And that, I suspect, would really round out all that violence and swagger. Again, I’m not confirming a thing, but there’s no denying we have a very real Final Girl trope that helped launch and facilitate #1.

There’s other developments in this issue, including the reveal of creatures that both fit into the realm of possibility for this future Chernobyl but also give us a proper big bad that is essential to driving the tension and sense of odds for any horror story. (The art team of Dalts Dalton and Geraldo Filho killed it with these creatures, keeping with their direct approach but also managing a kind of body horror-esque feel and a general frenetic sheen.)

And, wait, even more touches and various decisions that affirmed this book to its very core! The dialogue from writers Robert Venditti and Brockton McKinney, for instance, continues to be direct and essential — and yet in this new light of contextual understanding, it evokes some of the more prolific titles of the 1980s horror renaissance, and that mere association is doing wonders. Even the way the book structures our associations and understanding of the characters here is meant to foster an emotional connection as it also prepares us for the idea that anyone could be next. (Cap, especially, feels like a proper tentpole for this book and yet I’m never any less fearful she’ll be taken next.)

All of it together has given me a renewed interest and more robust connection to this book, and even if I’m way off on the whole horror gimmick, it nonetheless represents a commitment by this book to operate in a way as to facilitate less guiding and instead to allow the reader to shape this world on their own. That impressive feat alone has pushed this from the derivative into the land of generally exhilarating excitement and uncertainty. Let’s just see if it can keep the bloody nerve-wracking magic alive just a little bit longer.

Final Thought: A slight shift in perspective makes this series practically sing.

Score 7/10

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