Connect with us
Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/23/23

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/23/23

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.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly comics podcast!

Knight Terrors: Angel Breaker #2

DC Preview: Knight Terrors: Angel Breaker #2

Courtesy of DC Comics.

Knight Terrors has been weird, yeah? I mean that in this sense that the story’s been pretty out there but also that it’s been both entertaining and refreshingly effective. (I love you, DC, but you don’t have the best track record with events.)

Part of what informs that last bit is that there’s been space made for smaller characters and moments to shine beyond the heavy hitters, and that most certainly includes Knight Terrors: Angel Breaker. I certainly admired the first issue, as Angel Breaker and Raptor (alongside students of the Kobra cult) teamed up against a supernatural foe while trying to survive the Nightmare Wave. And issue #2 not only solidifies what made that first issue so genuinely great but builds on it expertly and with plenty of geeky comics joy to boot.

In fact, there’s so many darn things to love in this latest issue that it speaks to just how systemically sound this story is by now. Tim Seeley’s narrative really builds here, and he forges some great insights and a profound connection between Angel Breaker and Raptor that pushes these C-ish-level heroes to a solid B- tier. (That includes one perfect callback that will break your heart in the absolute best way.) As an extension of that, the story itself is structured in a way to not only focus on our leads, but also imbue other characters and this microcosm of the DCU with lots of significance. That, in turn, helped create some real stakes for this story — it made it seem less like a little tangent but something valuable to the larger story.

And even if that’s not the case (as tends to happen with some tie-in story stuff), it mattered because we saw these characters laid bare for both issues (but especially in #2) and got to see what this event’s theme speaks to about characters beyond Batman and Wonder Woman. (Specifically, how we all engage with fear, and what those accompanying feats of bravery and/or defeat mean for us as people.)

And, of course, as with #1, I don’t think it’d be the same kind of impactful tale without the art from Acky Bright and Brian Reber (and letterer Saida Temofonte). Issue #2 did as I’d hoped and really leaned into some extra cheesy, totally wonderful ‘90s horror flick vibes. Be it the movements of our hero to the unrelentingly scary design of this story’s nightmare monster, it played up DC-centric cheerfulness without making this feel any less of the understated, intense, and foreboding experience of some other Knight Terrors books. It’s hard to balance a specific story arc with so many moving different parts, but the visuals here weren’t so much a shorthand but a way to inflate and subvert the narrative as needed to give us big, hugely compelling moments of pure horror and humanity alike. The story is the setup and there’s heaps of visual punchlines to delight and scare alike.

So all of this is a slightly long-winded way of saying this was by far my favorite of all the tie-ins. Do I hope everyone reads it alongside some other tales? Totally, it’s going to be the one, I think, with the most lasting mileage. But even if you do miss out for whatever reason, I think there’s enough of this story resonating in the event proper, and that feels like something resembling a proper victory. But do go out of your way to follow this story to its poignant, totally scary conclusion.

Final Thought: A fun and important addition to this event’s deluge of tie-ins.

Score: 8/10

Creed: The Next Round #3

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/23/23

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Say what you will about the 9,764 Marvel movies, but their villains varied between “quite well done” and, at the very least, “moderately compelling.” The studio may have doubled tripled down on their use of CGI effects, but they knew that some level of sympathy and even an innate connection with your big bad could make all the difference.

And that’s very much yet another pillar of Creed: The Next Round, as issue #3 takes ample time to give us some insight and backstory into Jamie “Slayer” Pierce, the burgeoning rival of our hero, Amara Creed.

Herself a (grand)daughter of a true boxing legend, Jamie’s whole story perfectly mirrors a lot of Amara’s — sure, they may come from different socio-economic rungs , but both have each struggled to emerge from the shadows of their mighty families. But where Amara has been “coddled” to an extent, and often prevented from fighting (i.e., the core tension of this story), Jamie has been taught to battle on her own and build a legacy for herself. So, yes, we’re supposed to boo against her because she’s an opposition for our strong, spunky lead, but there’s ample time across this entire issue spent making Jamie very much her own person and someone you want to genuinely succeed.

A lot of that is facilitate with the art, as guest artist Valentine De Landro (X-Factor, Black Manta) steps in for some robust flashbacks with a grit and heft that contrast nicely to the more stylized and playful work of Wilton Santos and DJ Chavis (handling Amara’s “segments”). However, seeing Jamie in both “worlds,” as it were, gives us a balanced approach into her strengths and swagger and all-around gnarly prowess — not to mention the inner battles for connection and community that she’s struggled with since her youth. And by understanding her a bit more, and seeing the opposition she’s faced and the way she’s hungry for a place in the world that’s all her own, your desire to see her excel engages with the story itself. The true tension, then, comes not from right versus wrong, but the shared desire for transcendence, and to see which of these characters has the fire and heart to win out in the end. It makes the book all the more impactful by not shirking away from that rather complicated process for readers, and for giving us a proper mental battle in deciding who we care about (and why) and what that means to us as individuals.

There were other big happenings in this issue, too. Amara tries to bond with Jamie, and that conversation furthers both of them as individuals and also further energizes (and complicates) this defining dynamic. Meanwhile, Bianca and Adonis reach a peak of sorts in figuring out who’s trying to undercut their business ventures, which is a solid sub-story that continues to mostly work. But it was Jamie who was the true star of this issue, and having that time, energy, and commitment spent to make her real beyond “bully with a mohawk” is one of the better moves this book could have made so early on. It’s a powerful moment in character development that further proves the sweet science that defines this story, and why it continues to deliver subtle haymakers to our very sensibilities.

Final Thought: If you don’t have a villain, you don’t have story.

Score: 7.5/10

Newburn #10

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/23/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

Previously on Newburn (issue #9): Is our “hero” heading even further south on his already-tenuous moral standing toward the realm of true villain?

OK, maybe that’s a touch extreme, but as this second arc has tried to emphasize with subtle grace, Newburn may be undergoing a rather important change. Because, after years of dancing like a prima ballerina between the many crime families of New York, it seems like the curtain may be closing for Newburn’s little business. (Or, at the very least, he could be on the way out and his protege Emily could be on the way in.)

But where #9 sort of introduced that very idea, this latest issue smacked us in the face with that very real dynamic as Newburn and company tackled a case involving the Triad. I don’t want to spoil too much of the actual proceedings — mostly because it’s quite a tasty slice of noir — but it’s a powerful demonstration of storytelling that shows us what happens when Newburn is cornered. Said reaction — one of efficient brutality (of the psychic variety, for now) — speaks volumes about the shape of this story while keeping everything open and unpredictable. At the same time, though, we get a singular moment of weakness in this issue from Newburn, and that dichotomy contextualizes the story with so many layers of emotion and intent, which is something this book’s always done so well. Something is happening and we get a very entertaining, hugely uncomfortable seat.

A huge part of that is artist Jacob Phillips’ performance across the entire issue. It’s a real subtle outing for him — there’s maybe only one notable moment of genuinely high-level action — but it’s a chance to show off just how much humanity and grit he can pump into everything from a terse car ride to a quiet but profound moment between Newburn and Emily. I think Phillips was made for noir-y stuff — just look at his work on That Texas Blood — but Newburn just feels extra special. It’s where he takes a lot of the big ideas — nasty mafiosa, gritty cityscapes, people wearing dope jackets galore — and infuses them with a heft and energy that feels vaguely surreal and not unlike more Euro-centric comics. And that noticeable twist does wonders as he and Chip Zdarsky are trying to build this massive world that’s both everything we know of the genre and with pockets of tension and emotionality you may not always connect with the larger genre tradition.

That’s likely why this book, and maybe this issue in particular, works so dang well: it follows a lot of the same noir-ish beats but there’s a subtext and sense of intent here that imbues this whole thing with some slightly unknowable quality. As such, we’re left to walk through the world with these characters, and try and sort out who’s on top, who’s coming down, and what it all really means. It’s a treat to be amid this story, and whatever happens with Newburn, it’s going to be a proper thrill ride.

Final Thought: The case (and our hero’s mind?) may be about to crack wide open.

Score: 7/10

Black Panther #3

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/23/23

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

I’ve made a few comments, bordering on light jabs, that Black Panther is very much Batman-ing it with this latest series. And while that continues to be true, it’s also worth noting that the creative team — Eve Ewing, Chris Allan, Craig Yeung, and Jesus Aburtov — are very much adding their own thing to both the character and that grander comics storytelling tradition.

It begins, of course, with the dynamic between T’Challa and his own “Catwoman,” Natima (aka Beisa). Like that age-old love affair, there’s a certain level of flirtation involved. Unlike Bat and Cat, however, T’Challa and Natima represent something unique — a more pointed and essential commentary on, among other things, the exploration of class and social structures at the heart of any good Black Panther story. It’s a decidedly playful, appropriately contentious dynamic, which plays out brilliantly as the pair spend the bulk of the issue infiltrating a wedding that involves a potentially important name (more on that later).

But Natima also operates on her own beyond being a truly perfect foil for T’Challa, and we even get the very first hint of an “origins” story that plays up her uniqueness. That’s going to be really vital as she stands on her own as a proper character while furthering T’Challa’s own story of finding a new way of hero-ing.

Since every dynamic duo needs a good villain, we get that promise in Baba Nkisu, a kind of crime lord of Birnin T’Chaka. The idea of another crime lord seems a little uninspired (Nkisu already screams lowkey Kingpin despite his early introduction), but I can forgive that if 1) it makes this city feel more alive and 2) it improves on the only other big bad introduced thus far (who also makes another climatic appearance at the end of this issue). At the end of the day, this is about a new era for T’Challa, and having another new rogue in his gallery could be another shortcut to this character’s much-needed sea change.

There’s other little things too — T’Challa’s “secret identity” as the delivery man/worker named Ize, the organic cast of supporting characters — that build out this world in some similarly unique and meaningful ways. Of course, the last lynchpin of that is the art itself, which from issue #1 has helped cultivate an identity for the city and set this story apart in some important ways. But as I read through #3, I was struck by the idea of how familiar it all felt by now. That the gritty city vibes, touched by the tinges of afro-futurism, seemed as approachable and comforting as Gotham City itself. Which is a weird feeling given that city’s crime rate, but it speaks to this idea of how much Birnin T’Chaka is both a character in its own right and how vital it is in taking these story elements that seem familiar and imbuing them with new life/meanings/intentions. This city needs layers to reflect T’Challa’s journey, and it has that in spades.

It’s all of this together that informs what I really mean when I speak of Batman-ing: this story already feels like a warm slice of powerful superhero storytelling, and in just three issues it’s built an exciting and poignant new chapter for Black Panther while he works toward a future that still readily engages with his roots as a man and a hero. If the team can keep it up, maybe some future Batman story will instead be Panther-ing it.

Final Thought: Na na na na na, great issue!

Score: 7.5/10

Scrapper #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/23/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

I’ll be the first to admit that maybe I was a little hard on Scrapper #1. As a dog lover myself, I should know that some pups just need time to show you who they really are. Still, issue #1 perhaps suffered from a certain mix of over-enthusiasm, as we leapt right into the tale of our titular canine hero battling corporate fascists in a Blade Runner-aping dystopia. (It was basically the equivalent of getting a new dog and they instantly eat your shoes — I get that you feel “comfy,” but let’s slow it down a bit and just have a walk, yeah?)

Luckily, issue #2 tries to foster some of that emotional content that felt rushed or even slightly lackluster amid that first go-around. Because after the big reveal of #1 — Scrapper’s basically an engineered bio-weapon by the big bads from SMITE — writers Cliff Bleszinski and Alex de Campi use #2 as a kind of tour of the city. Scrapper, and his pal Tank, basically walk through sewers as we see and hear story bits and other convos that build this world. And while it’s a decidedly slower pace, it’s one that really works. It’s a speed that lets the book show off its humor (I loved the intricate and slightly regal rat society) and its all-around heart. It’s a tempo that lets me understand the balance between the jokey and the serious that defines this book and lets all of its over-the-top, totes bonkers components and energies ring all that more earnest. (It’s basically like a PG-13 Pixar movie, and I mean that in the best way imaginable.)

Of course, so much of that speed and larger approach wouldn’t work without Sandy Jarrell’s art. Where issue #1 gave us a lot of big visuals — i.e., the aforementioned transforming monster dog — there wasn’t nearly as much “noise” in this issue. And, much like how we got a more poignant and thoughtful narrative, that reduction, as it were, let the look of this world build in its own way. It’s here that some of the overt joy and playfulness comes into focus — more Pixar-ian vibes but with a little more nuance and texture (see, the rat kingdom). Or, plenty of solid sci-fi tropes repurposed visually, which did a lot to make a decidedly familiar world and circumstances feel all the more different by embracing more distinctly cartoonish vibes. Even those old-school, slightly gritty comics vibes I’d mentioned from issue #1 continue on here to further play with the confines and structures of this story in a really fun but subtle way.

It’s that one-two punch, then, that made issue #2 a marked improvement — without making it seem like a big deal. Because it was less that the book had to make up for any noticeable missteps and instead gave itself the time and space to let these characters and storylines do their magic. It was about letting us get to know Scrapper as you would any dog: by talking a walk and giving him ample play time. And thus far, it’s a dog-gone solid story that expertly tosses around genres, aesthetics, and timelines like a squeaky toy.

Final Thought: Every dog has his day (when you give him the chance).

Score: 6.5/10

Terrorwar #5

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/23/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

I’ve had the good enough fortune to be reading a few different Saladin Ahmed-penned series at the same time, Starsigns and Terrorwar. And while they’re both distinctly different tales, there’s no denying that both share one major element: a super subtle pacing.

Maybe it’s because I’m used to the more frenetic intention of a lot of recent stories. (If you only get five or six issues these days, you better get moving.) Yet Ahmed and his various collaborators have truly taken their sweet time in developing and building both of these books. It’s a pacing that might be good for slow-building your world and characters but it doesn’t always generate the most excitement right away. Luckily, just as Starsigns finally picked up the pace with the recent issue #4, so too is Terrorwar making some big moves as we close out issue #5.

That’s not to say, however, that the two books have had the same core issues or even journeys-paths. Whereas Starsigns tried to be especially methodical from day one (whether that was the right move or not), Terrorwar actually had a massive start and sort of wasted some moves between issues #2 and #4. What makes #5 so compelling is that it shifts the setting and action a bit, as we mostly follow our intrepid hero, Muhammad Cho, as he’s kidnapped by the Terrors. I won’t spoil what that whole process is like, but I will say it was a much-needed change for this book.

Mostly because, from a visual standpoint, it let Dave Acosta and Jay Leisten play around with different concepts and ideas, including some pretty primo body horror for the Terrors (which take on a real DIY-esque spin on The Thing vibe for sure). But more than all the sweet gross monstrosities, it was a chance for the visuals to facilitate both a sense of humanity and finally push the story forward. This especially horror-tinged feel to this entire issue let a lot of the core motifs and messaging (boo capitalism, the world’s basically us versus them, etc.) really resonate for the first time both in a couple issues and in a way that finally felt impactful and vibrant. It may be obvious but having a monster eat a person actually drives home some decidedly big ideas.

By having that kind of directness from a visual standpoint, Ahmed’s narrative work got to resonate more acutely as well. We cut a lot of the world-building out for a chance to see who Muhammad is, and his connection to those aforementioned ideas as well as just being this very likable human that’s at the core of all this super madness. And in that way, it made this story feel very real for perhaps the first time, and take it from the realm of gimmicky sci-fi tale with solid aspirations into a really human tale about how we’re all just getting by. And a resulting “twist,” as it were, involving Terrors opens up the story even more with these deeply personal explorations of politics and how we all are a part of great societal change.

Do I think the rest of this book could keep up this tone and pace and really and truly deliver? Sure, especially because #5 was such a quiet but monumental victory for a book with a lot still going for it. That doesn’t mean anything is set in stone, but to reference that other Ahmed book, I’m feeling extra starry-eyed about this story’s chances.

Final Thought: It’s good to see more of the humanity amid all the monstrosities.

Score: 7/10

The Oddly Pedestrian Life of Christopher Chaos #3

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 08/23/23

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the theory “Indy Doesn’t Matter.” It posits that if Indiana Jones were removed from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the film would continue uninterrupted. Sure there’s some plot holes in that plot hole-addressing theory, as well as valid criticisms in favor of effective storytelling, but none of that changes a simple truth: you’re not necessarily dealing with a compelling hero in a compelling story if your fans are playing surgeon with your narrative.

It’s a feeling I first experienced during issue #2 of The Oddly Pedestrian Life Of Christopher Chaos #2 but which then engulfed me in full as I made my way through issue #3.

Because as this story moves on more toward its own ambitions, it’s less that I see an actual need for young Mr. Chaos — he certainly plays something of a role — and more that I just don’t care about him by now. Some of that’s the way he’s treated in issue #3, as either a joke or even something less than a sidekick in his own series. (It’s especially confounding because both of the book’s writers, James Tynion IV and Tate Brombal, have a solid enough history of compelling character creations with a sense of actual authenticity.) But more so, and as I’d already mentioned in my review of #2, there’s just way more compelling characters.

Whether that’s Jordi/Dracula Boy (he’s got a connection to our dead teen Hayden, a solid horror-themed superhero gimmick, and lots to add to the queer-centric themes of openness); Viveka (she’s a little one note at this point but she’s got potential thematically and as a more adorably irksome lead); and Jesse Tombs (a local detective with a lot of the same potential as Jordi and Viveka), Mr. Chaos is a total bore.

If I had read a version where Chaos had been edited out of issue #3, I swear I wouldn’t notice beyond that briefest sense that something was…different. And when I first felt this in #2, it made me feel a little sad 00 if this is his story, his absence felt somehow like a betrayal. Only now, I don’t mourn our lackluster protagonist and instead wish he were simply gone. Maybe then we could get going with something that doesn’t pander to an obvious weakness. And we could tell a story that feels like it engages its essential themes and horror-centric influences for something actually about outcasts striking back at a dumb and loveless society.

I thought (even briefly) that the art team — Isaac Goodhart, Miquel Muerto, and Aditya Bidikar — could somehow redeem Mr. Chaos. That his mad scientist ways infused the rest of the story with a zany sci-fi shtick to make up for his abysmal lack of charisma. But then I saw how rich the rest of the world was, from the vampire hunting cult (tell me that all-white thing isn’t a smashing bit of commentary) to the way magic behaves in this world (energy cat!), and realized we still don’t need Chaos. In fact, even when he’s just standing there, it’s even more clear that he doesn’t belong in this story, and he clearly has all the appeal and presence of a cardboard cutout someone dragged into frame. Both the art and story all but confirm it: Christopher Chaos ought to go the way of the Ark itself.

Final Thought: Who says your hero has to appear in a story?

Score: 5/10

Join the AIPT Patreon

Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:

  • ❌ Remove all ads on the website
  • 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
  • 📗 Access to our monthly book club
  • 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
  • 💥 And more!
Sign up today
Comments

In Case You Missed It

Gotham by Gaslight: The Kryptonian Age #1's cover Gotham by Gaslight: The Kryptonian Age #1's cover

‘Gotham by Gaslight: The Kryptonian Age’ #1 veers away from Gotham

Comic Books

X-Men Monday #255 - The Jordan D. White X-It Interview X-Men Monday #255 - The Jordan D. White X-It Interview

X-Men Monday #255 – The Jordan D. White X-It Interview

Comic Books

X-Men Monday Call for Questions: Jed MacKay & Ryan Stegman for 'X-Men' #1 X-Men Monday Call for Questions: Jed MacKay & Ryan Stegman for 'X-Men' #1

X-Men Monday Call for Questions: Jed MacKay & Ryan Stegman for ‘X-Men’ #1

Comic Books

EXCLUSIVE: 'Epitaphs from the Abyss' #3 and 'Cruel Universe' #2 scares up impressive creatives EXCLUSIVE: 'Epitaphs from the Abyss' #3 and 'Cruel Universe' #2 scares up impressive creatives

EXCLUSIVE: ‘Epitaphs from the Abyss’ #3 and ‘Cruel Universe’ #2 scares up impressive creatives

Comic Books

Connect
Newsletter Signup