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Last Call Comics: Wednesday 12/20/23

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 12/20/23

Even more reviews of comics from Image Comics, BOOM! Studios, DC Comics, and Dark Horse 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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Hexagon Bridge #4

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 12/20/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

In all of my reviews so far, I’ve been most interested in the size and scope of Hexagon Bridge. Writer-artist Richard Blake has played around with the geometry of both characters and spaces, and the end result has been a compelling journey into The Bridge and what it truly represents. Issue #4, then, may be the most busy, oversized, and dynamic — and the book is all the better for it.

This time around, it didn’t feel as if Blake was interested in trying to be one thing or the other as we got a few different speeds here. As Staden made his way across The Bridge, he came across a few different new characters, including some potential new allies and even a foe or two. What we got was both a sudden surge of action — which Blake handles really well given his work with scope and overall deliberate approach — while leaving just as much space for vital character development from Staden.

It was an issue that felt both chaotic and measured in the same breath, and worked to dazzle the readers’ eye with explosions and more grand architecture as much as it presented a keener understanding of Staden’s immersion here and how it delves into the thematic ideas of humanity and interpersonal connections. That mix of the quaint and chaotic, as it were, really worked — it’s nice to see this book’s interest in scope develop in such a way that it extends the narrative in some engaging and novel ways. It also made time for big developments, which counter the slower, methodical pace that’s defined this book to an extent, by presenting an even more nuanced and balanced take. What we experienced, then, is something with energy and heart alike, and a chapter that showed this world with a heft and intensity that hadn’t existed even in the stream of otherwise rich moments beforehand. It’s as if the kinetic charge brought us closer to Staden, and his heart makes him such a compelling hero in these robust set pieces.

And, sure, it wasn’t an entirely perfect issue for every character here. I did miss, to a rather noticeable extent, some more overt moments between Adley and Staden. In the past three issues, that relationship has been built as perfectly as these massive sets. It’s especially hard given that, while I appreciate the injection, some of the other characters didn’t quite sizzle as much as the Adley and Staden dynamic. Adley mostly felt like a support character here, and it felt a tad worrisome given what big things Staden went through.

At the same time, though, I think Blake was smart in trying to maintain that important relationship in some other compelling ways. Namely, in the places he built in this issue — Blake seemingly maintained that relationship, and that overall nougat of humanity, through the geography itself. So, when Staden is making his way into a new and strange city, you get a sense of familiarity, as if it’s connected back to the city the two “trained in” even as it’s different. (And that feels like a really important way to grow what Adley represents for Staden and how he’s on his own journey to extend this spark into something truly grand and transformative for himself.) All of that’s then perfectly echoed in a physical transformation that Blake has Staden undergo, which is another neat visual exploration of those rather big ideas.

Even when Staden makes his way deeper into this city, what he finds isn’t just a connection back to Adley (and a way to further the story), but infusing these worlds with new emotional textures and energies that inform so much of the journey and the larger interests of this book. It felt like a more subtle, almost playful spin for the art, and after blowing our minds, it was the first time these otherworldly places cut us truly deep.

January’s issue #5 is meant to be the finale, and it promises a “new purpose” for Adley and a “profound fate” for Staden. Whatever that actually means, I know it’ll seemingly be the just desserts for a long, strange trip for the two. But even before all that, issue #4 made some big decisions to alter these characters, and even the universe around them, in some compelling ways. For the penultimate chapter, it felt like a big deal, and it’s just one reason why Hexagon Bridge has already defied physics, expectations, and the parameters for love, loss, and carrying on.

Final Thought: A busy issue proves just as heartfelt and essential as ever.

Score: 8.5/10

Green Lantern: War Journal #4

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 12/20/23

Courtesy of DC Comics.

Here’s how I know that Green Lantern: War Journal is a good book: John Stewart can play a support role and still shine. At least, that’s sort of how issue #3 played out, as we got more emphasis on building the world and cast of characters around Stewart.

But after that turn, writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson, artist Montos, and colorist Adriano Lucas used issue #4 to show us what Stewart’s really made of — literally.

Without revealing too much, we start the issue by diving into John’s essence alongside the Marine himself, Lantern Shepherd, and another guest revealed at the end of #3. This “soul trek” is a device used throughout the issue not only as Stewart battles back against the infection of the Revenant Dead, but also to see how John experiences the world (or, at least how he filters it for others to understand). It’s a battlefield for sure, which makes sense given his background, but it’s also a way to demonstrate the passion for creativity, problem solving, and unyielding dedication that define Stewart.

Those ideals are really central to him and his “career,” and seeing this kind of character work/development play out in such a deliberate and novel manner makes it ring a little more true. It’s the second use of this “trek” trope that actually ties things back to the Revenant Dead specifically, and it’s really great to see Stewart grow not just in a kind of vacuum but in a way that feels really connected to the threat of this book and what it ultimately represents for the larger Lantern mythos and this corner of the Dawn of DC.

And as much as I really enjoyed the insight, I did have some issues with this chapter. Again, without revealing too much, part of this issue’s aim is to given Lantern Stewart a new ring, which initially didn’t make initial sense given that he’s meant to have transcended that need and is a unique powerhouse in and of himself. Yes, there’s ultimately an important reason for the ring, but it does feel a touch weird and, perhaps unwittingly, makes Stewart’s arc feel a little less “special.” It’s a decision that definitely stymies the momentum of how this Stewart might ultimately “become” the much-lauded Builder of that other universe, which seems like an important enough thread so far.

It’s also this sense of minor disconnect and feeling a touch underwhelmed that informed a lot of the art across #4. Again, the bulk of the visuals were still pretty cool: Steel’s New Genesis-aping lab, for one, feels like a slice of Kirby-esque cosmic goodness. The same goes for John’s Revenant-related transformations, and even a solid battle with the “former” Lantern Varron. (The latter confrontation did a lot to compare and juxtapose Lantern and Revenant “powers” in a really telling manner.) Yet there were times where I think the art perhaps didn’t meet the sheer stakes or the air of the moment at-hand — and that includes some of the times we were inside Stewart’s “essence.” I guess I wanted more than just monsters and fire and a dash of darkness; if this whole story is about evolving Stewart further, then such uninspired landscapes (and slightly hackneyed power displays like a battalion of soldiers) actually limits John and some of his larger potential.

It felt like the real world had more heft and magic, and John’s more minimalist inner life doesn’t really reflect the layers of his personality, especially at a time when he’s coming into his own and trying to be someone who believes in his path toward something new. It felt like a rare misstep for this book, and a way to take some of the spotlight off our hero in a wholly accidental fashion.

Even without those generally minor (but still mostly important) issues/concerns, this issue was still a resounding success. Stewart is at a pivotal moment in his personal and “professional” development, and he’s about to take bigger, bolder steps into a strange corner of the universe. After this issue, it seems like he’s more poised than ever for his grand ascension as one of the DCU’s biggest and brightest heroes.

Final Thought: We’re building up John Stewart in a thoughtful, impactful manner.

Score: 7.5/10

Newburn #13

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 12/20/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

Anyone who has ever grown their hair out knows of the dreaded awkward phase. You know, that time where it’s not quite long enough, and if you’re anything like me, you look like a shaggy Pomeranian.

Newburn #13 is at its own sort of awkward phase — only instead of a bad haircut, it’s drama and high stakes galore as we delve ever closer to the true beating heart of Mr. Easton Newburn.

This is the issue where Newburn’s tenuous relationship with the crime families/The Black Castle reaches its breaking point. Without revealing too much, everyone seems to be aware of the truth in the ongoing saga of the dead Yakuza boss and the Angelo nephew, Michael. And while Newburn is mostly bulletproof, we learn there’s plenty for him to lose — and that proves double for his protege, Emily.

Writer Chip Zdarsky’s story has been careful in showing us just enough of Newburn, and it’s teased his development from unlikely hero (that seems like a stretch, but feels closest to the truth) into this deeply paranoid man across this latest arc. This issue, then, is the moment where those walls begin to drop, and we’re about to see why he’s launched this masterful plan with Emily and what it all really means. Sure, we don’t get too much of a reveal quite yet (ergo, my slightly flimsy awkward haircut analogy), but it already feels like a massive payoff given how masterfully this “evolution” of Newburn has played out since issue #9.

More than that, Emily plays a central role in Newburn “coming clean,” and their connection feels more robust and frazzled than ever before. After Emily’s star turn in #12, her continued development has proven just as exciting — she’s a kind of truth serum, as it were, that’s made Newburn’s shift feel all the more interesting. Plus, their fates seem more aligned now, and it’s not just about Newburn’s journey/process but how that informs the larger story and the development of this gritty little noir universe. Some of that surely cemented in #12, but this is the time where the story’s really clicking, and the way things opened up in this issue wasn’t just entertaining as heck but the kind of incremental payoff that proves the true feats in which this story accomplishes with every issue.

And speaking of robust accomplishments, artist Jacob Phillips has another hugely effective but understated performance across issue #13. Once more, his action scenes are like the best, most gritty Michael Mann film — he imbues a chase scene and shoot-out with edge and heft and endless style, and these scenes are never a distraction but a novel release for the larger drama and emotional focus of this issue.

And that comes even with a confrontation between Newburn and Emily, which proves just as riveting and intense as those aforementioned set pieces. Part of is that Phillips knows how to emphasize and de-emphasize details and personality with such skill and grace, and what we get is like a piece of music. Which is to say, the energies and intentions ebb and flow, and we can practically feel the overt drama and layers during the Newburn-Emily convo. Newburn, especially, reaches new levels of emoting, and while they’re tiny glances, they hold so much power in furthering this coming to terms that he experiences across the issue. Even the actual “set” of their convo, a smashed room covered in blood, has as much force and liveliness as the characters, and it adds even more layers to their discussion in a way that felt profoundly subtle.

Unlike even the best haircut I’ve ever had, Newburn works through this “awkward” stage to give us something truly great. When the -ish finally does hit the fan in full force, and Newburn and company spill every last bean, I imagine it’s going to be this massive catharsis even as more questions (and alarms) are raised. But as far as effective set-ups go, issue #13 is the equivalent to whatever dope ass cut Harry Style’s rocking.

Final Thought: The life of Easton Newburn grows ever darker, compelling, complicated, etc.

Score: 7.5/10

Borealis #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 12/20/23

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

A great lead will get you very far in comics.

That’s just what writers Mark Verheiden (Swamp Thing) and Aaron Douglas (actor, Hemlock Grove), alongside artist Cliff Richards (Justice League Odyssey) and colorist Guy Major (Uncanny X-Men), have cooked up with Borealis.

The lead in question is Alaska state trooper Silaluk “Sil” Osha. A foul-mouthed, no nonsense cop (like a really badass Kate Beckett or a more ornery Vic Mackey), Osha is forced to relive her past (a drug-addicted mother, general strife from being half white, half Inuit) as she returns to her tiny home of Qinu, Alaska to solve a case. It ain’t exactly a novel plot, but then that’s not the point at all.

Because even just part way through issue #1, Osha feels really vivid and already fully fleshed out. It’s markedly easier to understand her struggles, and to see how much her specific experiences shaped her worldview and approach to policing. At the same time, she’s still more robust and complicated than what we initially see, and I get the feeling there’s so many layers still left to uncover. But liking her so much (and feeling sympathy without it boiling into pity) is so crucial to not only engaging with the story but understanding the specific tone and intent of this book. It wants to be a deeply pulp-y piece, but it approaches that framework with more wit and humor to add something novel.

At the same time, though, the book also adds something new to the tried-and-true cop story with supernatural elements. Basically, Osha’s connected to some supernatural forces in Qinu, and she’s discovering this “bond” as the case of several mysterious deaths overtakes the small oil town.

Sure, a bit of dark magic is always a nice addition, but I’m of two minds. One, the connection isn’t entirely clear (which makes sense given that this is issue #1), but I already get the sense that it may just be more demons and default supernatural hullabaloo. (Which is a tad disconcerting given that the book focuses on First People, and their portrayal so far via Osha feels earnest and interesting.) But more than that, I just like Osha as is, and the little “twist” of magic/spirits feels like adding a scarf to an already perfect outfit. I’ll definitely give the book the benefit of the doubt (again, the supernatural stuff is subtle enough thus far), but there’s a reason that straight cop stories work over some supernatural cop stories. (For every Lockwood & Co. and Angel, there’s also The Dresden Files and Warehouse 13.)

Luckily, the art from Richards and Major does a good job of furthering and enhancing what the story already does well. There’s a certain, Vertigo-ian level of grit and constrained chaos to the art itself, and I think that works well to shape this very specific cop story/procedural. That, and there’s a real honest take on gore and blood, which tells you that this book is really leaning into a properly gritty and unflinching depiction. There’s a bad-ass death in the book’s first half that makes me equally queasy and excited for the book’s overall tone.

As for the fully supernatural stuff, it’s pretty basic thus far (mostly glowing green eyes and hints of spirits). Again, that approach helps ground and contextualize these elements while keeping the focus where you really want (on Osha). When the supernatural elements do take off a bit — mostly toward the climax of issue #1 — it also balances a kind of vivid detail with the sheer otherworldliness, which shows the value of these moments and that perhaps that the magic bits won’t be misused. Aside from that one big ending set piece, the rest of the book tries to draw something evocative and engaging about the real world, and while it’s all ugly (in the very best way), you can’t help but feel as if the real world/the non-fantastical stuff has ample force and oomph to bring us into this place and keep us feeling uneasy as the case slowly, deliberately unfolds.

Sure, Borealis has more than a solid lead. (Like an interesting enough premise, a balance of sentiments and ideas, and gore a plenty.) But it’s Osha who stands out as someone to engage with person to (fictional) person while perhaps even presenting a lesson in what coming home really means. Wherever she goes, the battles she has ahead, and the foes she dispatches, I can’t wait to see how our cop cracks this case wide open.

Final Thought: A truly dynamic lead helps establish this supernatural cop story.

Score: 7/10

Hunt for the Skinwalker #4

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 12/20/23

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

I feel like I really tried to like Hunt for the Skinwalker. I’ve given the benefit of the doubt as the team (writer Zac Thompson, artist Valeria Burzo, and colorist Jason Wordie) tried to balance nonfiction reporting with the weirdness of a great alien story. There’s been some upsides — the distinct edge of the art, the presence of lead Tom Gorman — just as much as the title’s struggled with giving us what we want (alien craziness!) amid all that investigatory pedigree.

But issue #4, the grand finale, mostly cemented that this experiment was maybe better left on Alpha Centauri or wherever else.

The biggest issue is that #4 didn’t really reveal all that much: NOSS and Gorman did a bunch of experiments, and while there was clearly proof, nothing definitive seemed to have actually happened. And so that really didn’t give them much to go with beyond, “I’m still a believer,” which is sort of an odd concluding lesson given that it ignores the actual evidence and just generally feels as if it was placed in quite incongruously. All of it just expertly encapsulated how this series never got beyond that shadow of its source material, and how bonkers it felt that we didn’t get something more robust and important just because it never happened in the book. The best adaptations engage their medium, and given the mounds of alien malarkey that happens in other comics, it seems down right dumb to have stayed so true to the book’s scope when there was real potential here.

Namely, that potential was Tom Gorman, who as I’ve noted in my other reviews, is a massive source of humanity. I wanted to follow him through this world, and to see how it affected him and his everyman character. There were bits of that across the first three issues, and in #4 especially, it is Tom who drives home what you might call the larger lesson of this book (the importance of belief) and the shred of insight it provides. Yet again, however, we got more needless stuff with NOSS, and an even a weird interlude with a totally new, utterly unimportant character, and that pretty much ruined any sustained focus on Tom’s larger journey. It felt so often like he was the story, and the way to honor the book’s core and still take some liberties to get a little more out there with the alien “shenanigans.” But as we see in issue #4, the team either didn’t believe or didn’t have the foresight to give Tom more room to grow and develop and just shine across this whole run.

A similar kind of thing happens with the art in #4. Sure, I’ve mentioned before how the pair of Burzo and Wordie combined forces to make a weird, weird world that felt like a lot of underground ’60s comics (in the best way), and how much oomph that gave the book. That, and it was the art where just a few extra tidbits really drove home how insane this whole story was at its core (even as it didn’t really engage with that fully and bring it home elsewhere). Issue #4 was almost nearly a nice addition to these achievements as well as a proper ending, as the pacing and the creature feature visuals did a lot to instill both fear and wonder. Again, though, it just didn’t feel like enough — even the very end, where the narration and visuals almost married for a perfect moment of brain-melting wonder — there’s just not enough depth and impact to the images to make it really and truly happen. And that’s a shame because it felt like the perfect, slightly nebulous ending, and while the ideas and intent were there, that lacking execution proved quite bothersome.

I assume by now you’re wondering, if I didn’t love this book, why I stuck around for four whole issues. Part of that is, as mentioned, that I thought there was potential. But mostly it was that sometimes we should read things we just can’t seem to like (or might even actively dislike). It’s those stories that can reaffirm what we believe proper storytelling can accomplish, and how we relate and engage with these stories as the means of better understanding the world (and our own inner lives).

Maybe Hunt for the Skinwalker didn’t reach its true potential, but I think it still did something similar — it showed me, at least, that good ideas can only get you so far. Or, that sometimes truth is less important in the name of deeper personal insights and interpersonal connections. Even this idea that belief in something bigger than you is good, but it has to ring more true to really shake us. So, no, it wasn’t an out-of-this-world experience, but it’s about taking what we can get. In this case, an underwhelming alien story whose greatest achievement may just be “better luck next time.”

Final Thought: This alien invasion mostly landed as a disappointing dud.

Score: 5.5/10

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