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Dave's Comicbook Capsules for December 2020 [message #403412] Thu, 31 December 2020 00:32
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Dave's Comicbook Capsules Et Cetera
Intermittent Picks and Pans of Comics and Related Media

Standard Disclaimers: Please set appropriate followups. Recommendation does
not factor in price. Not all books will have arrived in your area this month.
An archive can be found on my homepage, http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/Rants
Diagnosed a little over a year ago, cancer-free for a little less.

Items of Note (strongly recommended or otherwise worthy): nothing this
week.

In this installment: Mercury Man, Overwatch Tracer - London Calling #3
(of 5), Adventure Finders Book 2 vol 1 Chapter 13, Astronauts: Women on the
Final Frontier, Avatar the Last Airbender: the Promise TPB, The Other History
of the DC Universe #1, Maestro #5 (of 5), The Rise of Ultraman #4 (of 5),
U.S.Agent #2 (of 5), Shang-Chi #4 (of 5), Bill and Ted are Doomed #4 (of 4),
The Orville #4, Norse Mythology #3-4, Sacred Six #5, Vampirella #16, Big
Girls #5 (of 6), Giga #2, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic #92,
Transformers #25, Transformers Galaxies #12, Transformers Escape #1 (of 5).

Current Wait List (books either Diamond didn't ship or my store failed
to order): Nothing. I'll review WW84 once it's out on disc.


"Other Media" Capsules:

Things that are comics-related but not necessarily comics (i.e.
comics-based movies like Iron Man or Hulk), or that aren't going to be
available via comic shops (like comic pack-ins with DVDs) will go in this
section when I have any to mention. They may not be as timely as comic
reviews, especially if I decide to review novels that take me a week or two
(or ten) to get around to.

Mercury Man: Magnolia Home Entertainment (U.S. distributor) - A 2006
Thai superhero film that I stumbled across for cheap at Big Lots. (There's
another contemporary cheap superhero movie called Mirage Man out of Chile
that I decided to pass on at Dollar Tree this month.) It had a few too many
threads for a single movie and the protagonist actually wasn't the one who
saved the day (a random soldier manning an AA gun for a "show off for the
kids" event did that), he just cleaned up afterwards. Y'know how the
Transformers movies feel like extended army recruitment ads? That sort of
thing, but just cropping up for one scene. Still, a more satisfying climax
than Gundala had. Worth the time, it cost me $3.


Digital Content:

Unless I find a really compelling reason to do so (such as a lack of
regular comics), I won't be turning this into a webcomic review column.
Rather, stuff in this section will generally be full books available for
reading online or for download, usually for pay.

Overwatch Tracer - London Calling #3 (of 5): Dark Horse - Note, #1 and
#2 came out this month in paper form. This is the dramatic low point, with
Tracer full of self-doubt and recriminations, her Omnic friends suffering
physically and emotionally, and things looking like they're only going to get
worse (given that there's two more issues and no guarantee that anyone's
getting out of this who isn't in the game). Recommended. Free on
ComiXology.

Adventure Finders Book 2 vol 1 Chapter 13: Patreon.com - Another
downtime issue, but more explicitly a sort of Rivendell visit. Or a more
explicit Rivendell visit, given the NSFW sequence near the end. :) I'll
admit I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and the monkey's paw to curl
in a finger. Recommended. $1/month on Patreon.


Trades:

Trade paperbacks, collections, graphic novels, pocket manga, whatever.
If it's bigger than a "floppy" it goes here.

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier: :01 First Second - I kind of
slipped out of the habit of keeping en eye out for Ottaviani's science comics
a few years ago, but I spotted this on the shelf while browsing at B&N and
grabbed it (I'll be catching up on the rest over the next few months). While
written with astronaut Mary Cleave as the narrator of the whole thing,
Ottaviani assembled it from several interviews and autobiographies (such as
with Sally Ride, including the infamous "how many tampons would they need?"
anecdote), but all people who Mary knew and could have heard the stories from
directly. It'd be nice if this were purely an inspirational story, but the
story of women in space involves a LOT of sexism and setbacks, even the first
woman in space was chosen by the Soviet Union for sexist bourgie reasons.
But artist Maris Wicks helps sell the lighter parts, and while I sometimes
had trouble figuring out who was on-screen at any given time (some caption
boxes would've helped), Wicks kept everyone sufficiently on model I could
figure it out with some searching about. Recommended. $12.99/$17.50Cn

Avatar the Last Airbender: The Promise TPB: Dark Horse - Okay, THIS is
the first comic series set after the end of ATLA, the Search follows this.
The main story involves a promise Aang makes to Zuko that he won't let the
new Firelord turn into his own father...even if it means killing him. So...
plenty of angst for Aang when Zuko gets caught in a dilemma regarding removal
of the Fire Nation Colonies (which does lead eventually to Republic City, but
that's many volumes in the future). But this is only a facet of the main
conflict, which is "How can Aang reconcile his roles as the Avatar and the
last Airbender with each other, and with his obligations to his friends?"
Meeting a few fan clubs only makes things worse, adding another conflict: is
it better to protect his culture from imitators who see it as a fandom, at
the risk of letting that culture die with him? To avoid drowning in Aangst,
though, there's a b-plot in which Toph gets her first metalbending students
and discovers that there's more to teaching than yelling at people.
Recommended. $24.99/$33.99Cn

The Other History of the DC Universe #1: DC Black Label - This is a
square bound, magazine-sized book done as an illustrated novella...which is
to say a lot of splash pages or pseudo-panel layouts with narration rather
than dialogue. It's set up as an autobiography of Jefferson Pierce, focusing
on 1972 through 1995. Yeah, it's outside any of the current DC continuities,
and treats events as having happened during the years they were published.
So Pierce isn't a nebulous Olympic athlete, he specifically competed in
Munich. One exception to the "real time is publication time" is that the
founding of the JLA happens in 1976, and the "current" age of superheroes
started shortly before Black Lightning started his career. It's very
Jeff-centric. It's also pretty bitter and the through-line is dominated by
the idea that superheroes are damaged people who only do good in order to
fight their own demons by proxy. A VERY Iron Age stance, so I guess it's
appropriate to the chosen timeframe. While I get that a big part of the arc
in this installment is Black Lightning learning to take a more positive view
of heroism, the drumbeat of negativity did get on my nerves a bit. While a
series that's about the side of the story from outside the White Male
Hegemony certainly shouldn't be all smiles and light, I do hope that along
with a diversity of viewpoints in this series, we get a diversity of
attitudes. Next issue, John Ridley focuses on Bumblebee and Mal Duncan,
though, so there may well still be some bitterness (especially if the fact BB
has gotten lots of media time lately and Mal has not is leveraged in-story).
Recommended. $6.99


Floppies:

No, I don't have any particular disdain for the monthlies, but they
*are* floppy, yes? (And not all of them come out monthly, or on a regular
schedule in general, so I can't just call this section "Monthlies" or even
"Periodicals" as that implies a regular period.)

Maestro #5 (of 5): Marvel - Well, one last big fight before Banner takes
on the mantle of Maestro and assumes control of Dystopia. Fairly clever
setup for it, and in keeping with the characters involved (nice Classical
touch having Herc get a pyre). The intermittent backup feature with Rick
Jones gets its third part, as he deals with the ghosts of his past...one of
whom isn't dead, but might as well be. Of course, in an IDW-ish move, #6
will be called #1 of a second 5 issue miniseries. Mildly recommended. $3.99

The Rise of Ultraman #4 (of 5): Marvel - While there's some fighting,
this is the "Secret Behind The World" issue, explaining why everyone's been
so cagey about the K-rays, and also setting up the transition from kaiju to
daikaiju. The Ultra alien continues to be a real ray of sunshine, but really
anyone in this book who actually knows what's going on thinks the world is
doomed. Recommended. $3.99

U.S.Agent #2 (of 5): Marvel - Stepping back to establish a bit more
about how Walker is acting in good faith but he might be the only person
involved in this whole mess doing so. A lot of flashbacks about his
childhood trauma and a touch of "You're remembering it wrong, because that's
what trauma does to kids" rewriting (dunno how much of the rewritten
background appeared elsewhere as opposed to being set up and knocked down in
this story, though). USAjerk does continue to live up to that nickname, but
he's also true to his usual portrayal as trying to do the right thing but
with a dodgy moral compass and a lot of gaps in his intellectual/emotional
toolbox. (He really only came across as a shallow self-serving garbage
person when he was Super-Patriot, and he was fully in the kayfabe at that
time.) Recommended. $3.99

Shang-Chi #4 (of 5): Marvel - So, I typed up the reviews for all the
other stuff prior to the last week's comics coming out (this comic being one
of the December 30 releases), and in reviewing Giga #2 below, I really got on
a bit of a roll complaining about a lack of structural storytelling. I also
got a bit miffed by the "You won't remember this, but..." trope used in
Transformers #25, because Ruckley wouldn't use narration to get across things
he wanted the reader to know but the characters to not know. Mulling it over
after writing the review, I thought back to the transition about 20 years
ago, where it became the standard to ditch the existing structural language
(omniscient narrators, captions, thought bubbles, footnotes, use of all upper
case as the standard with lower case used for special purposes like
whispering, rounded panels for flashbacks, etc) in favor of treating comics
like movies that didn't move. Just images and spoken dialogue. What does
all this have to do with Shang-Chi? Well, Shang-Chi has captions. It has
time-and-place captions to make it clear when a flashback is happening or the
action has moved elsewhere. No thought bubbles, but Shang-Chi gets captions
that do the same thing. Normal dialogue is in upper case, with lower-case
used for translated speech...and footnotes indicating what it's translated
from. More than anything else in the actual story, the creative team has
created a strong sense of nostalgia through purely structural means...quite
appropriate for a story about delving into one's own past and that of their
family. And delve he does, finding a truth behind the lies, a truth that may
be as relevant today as it was centuries ago. And perhaps he will bring
balance to the four eleme...er, to the five houses. Recommended. $3.99

Bill & Ted Are Doomed #4 (of 4): Dark Horse Comics - I watched the new
movie in between reading #3 and #4, so it was pretty clear how much this
interquel could and couldn't do. Ultimately, as I expected last month,
there's not a lot of growth or fundamental change for the characters who
stick around for the third movie, but Station and the Robot Bill & Ted get
significant (if often relegated to the background and b-plot) development and
head off onto their own thing. About the only thing we know about the robots
following this is that they're probably still "alive" by the time of Face the
Music. And that's more a guess on my part. Oh, and Rufus does get a nice
farewell, something they couldn't really do in the movie without Deepfake
(and I'm kinda glad they didn't go beyond the holographic recording bit in
the movie). All in all, though, it feels more like it was marking time, it
didn't even resolve the immediate plot complication set up in the first part.
Ah well. Mildly recommended. $3.99

The Orville #4: Dark Horse Comics - Almost didn't get this one, due to
the screwed up numbering system they've adopted for solicitations, my store
didn't realize it was the same series as I'd added to my pull two months
earlier. Anyway, this wraps up the two part "Heroes" story, in which the
crew's clever and very against Union orders plan accomplishes its goals, but
not in a way they would have wanted. As with the first arc, there's a strong
theme of "Be careful what you wish for, you might get it" monkey paw running
through this one. Goodman continues to bring the character voices as well to
the printed page as to the script, and Cabeza's likenesses are spot-on
without the results being wooden. Recommeded. $3.99

Norse Mythology #3: Dark Horse - Ah, another of the stories that made an
impression on me from D'Aulaire's Norse Mythology...Sleipnir's origin story
starts in this issue. I do kinda wonder if there's anyone reading this
series who isn't familiar with the myth already, but if there are, they're in
for a bit of a shock. Piotr Kowalski does the art this issue, and his Loki
is a little more rugged than Ordway's, but still recognizable as the same
model. In fact, everyone's kinda rugged, including Freya, which I guess
would explain how Thor can impersonate her in another story I expect will be
adapted in a future issue. Recommended. $3.99

Norse Mythology #4: Dark Horse - Whoops, missed this on the Previews
list, the title's doubling up this month. I'll leave the review I wrote
above alone and go forwards. Anyway, it takes only about half the issue to
wrap up the Master Builder myth, and the remainder starts the story of Loki's
children. Well, his other children. The ones he sired. Mostly the famous
three he had with Angrboda, although his sons by Sigyn get a few panels.
While the last two stories were "Loki screws up and needs to squirm out of
it" myths, this one is solidly Odin's fault. Sure, Loki literally screwing
around was a problem, but the Aesir's high-handed way of dealing with the
resulting children sowed the seeds of Ragnarok. Recommended. $3.99

Sacred Six #5: Dynamite - One of the big problems this book has had (and
it has had several) is that the changing art teams and generally murky
aesthetic means that a lot of "surprise reveals" are just, "Um, who's that
person? Are we supposed to know them?" situations. And so it is on the last
page of this issue, where a surprise reveal might be a new character, might
be one of several characters already seen, I really don't know. At least the
no-longer-drawn-by-Jae-Lee Samira origin story ends and the characters get
folded into the main narrative. Mildly recommended, but I'm beginning to
lose hope that this is going to come together coherently. $3.99

Vampirella #16: Dynamite - Well. This appears to take place after
Sacred Six wraps up its first arc, #6 at the earliest. On the plus side,
it's got plenty of footnotes to clarify how badly the publishing schedule got
screwed up and guide later reading. (And captions, and narration, and
rounded panels to indicate flashbacks.) And since the "telling Doc Chary
about it" device is still in full force (and Priest might have been
suspecting production schedules would be slipping badly by this point),
there's plenty of explanation. That's a bit of a downside, to be honest...
the story has to spend so much time explaining itself that not a lot actually
happens. It's a summary of another two to three issues of a comic we'll
never get to see. It's an interesting story, I just wish it could have
unfolded a little more naturally. Oh, and possibly unintended Underworld
Unleashed reference in the middle of it. Mildly recommended. $3.99

Big Girls #5: Image - In some ways, this is a major turning point, a big
victory for a better way of doing things. A major antagonist is (probably)
dead, the "good guy" leader who is very definitely part of the problem is at
least having a very bad day, and the rampaging monsters are dealt with in a
constructive fashion. But then there's a big explosion and next issue will
be a huge fight scene anyway, which really felt like an unnecessary "what a
tweeest!" bit of writing. Mildly recommended. $3.99

Giga #2: Vault - This one took a re-read to figure out, in part because
I was thrown by the flashback sequence that didn't look like one. When
you're going to tell a story out of order, you need to establish a clear
visual language about where scenes fall in the timeline. There's no
structural cues, you just have to know the hairstyles and scars or lack
thereof for the characters. It's a pity, because the artist does use the
gutters for aesthetic purposes, sometimes having them white, sometimes black,
sometimes rusted. He was clearly willing to use the gutters, just not for
signalling anything consistent. It just seemed to be "this would look cool,"
which is okay, but a book that bounces around viewpoints and timelines really
needs to use the visuals to tell that part of the story. Failing that, put
datestamp captions at the starts of scenes. It's a good story, but harder to
follow than it needs to be, and the obscurity does not seem to be
intentional...just an artist reinventing the wheel and getting it a little
wobbly. Mildly recommended. $3.99

My Little Pony Friendship is Magic #92: IDW - This arc has been about
expanding the world, further demonstrating that while Equestria may be super
important due to the whole "control the Sun and the Moon" thing, other lands
have their own magics and in this case their own Elements of Harmony (the
Tree for which appeared at the end of #91). But where Equestria's holders of
the Elements of Harmony were literally thrown together on the road to finding
them, now we get a group that was once together and then separated, but now
healing their rifts...on the road to finding the Elements. So, finding the
Elements of Harmony is kinda like going on a life-changing adventure with
Zuko. And yes, I've complained recently about going to the well of the
Elements of Harmony too often to wrap up a story, but Whitley and Price do it
very well here. Recommended. $3.99

Transformers #25: IDW - "War World" arc trade dress. Okay, Ruckley
skipped over the resolution of #24 for the most apart and jumped to the
expected Big Climactic Issue anyway. The first two thirds focus on an
attempt by the Senate Guard to rescue the Senate and Sentinel Prime in
particular, but because he's basically a Donald Trump pastiche in this series
he screws up his own rescue. Seriously, his portrayal as such in Alan
Young's http://www.toyboxcomics.com is meant to be over the top satire, and
Ruckley's Sentinel Prime is almost indistinguishable from Young's. Mind you,
the orange Sentinel Prime was outright evil in IDW1, and the only significant
use of the name before that (TF:Animated) had him as a pompous boor, so I
guess at this point he's never going to have two brain cells to rub together.
A bunch of toy characters show up, some die horribly, and then Orion Pax
accidentally gets the Matrix, gets told a lot of truths that he is told he
will forget once he wakes up (aka blatant exposition to the reader), and then
wakes up to declare himself Optimus Prime. Man, this may have had some good
character bits, but it was otherwise a steaming pile of idiot plot. All that
buildup, and Ruckley not only fails to stick the landing, he faceplants.
Meh. $7.99.

Transformers Galaxies #12: IDW - So, it's Gunbuster time for Ultra
Magnus and his crew, in a desperate fight dangerously close to the event
horizon of a black hole, with all the fun time dilation effects that entails
(no one gets spaghettified, though). The establishment of the new continuity
Magnus's personality is reasonably complete, along with a nigh-Arthurian
mission and an outside view on Megatron's takeover (which, frankly, works
better than in the main title). And part of that mission appears to lead
directly into Escape, so I'm glad I read this one first. Recommended. $3.99

Transformers Escape #1 (of 5): IDW - Ruckley's back to writing two books
a month as he pens this miniseries about getting the Ark outtahere.
Specifically, there's four Arks, but also more evacuees than just Autobots...
there's all those organic races that established presences on Cybertron and
are not going to fare well under the Decepticon rule (or in Insecticon
bellies). Looks like Wheeljack, Hoist, Nautica, Road Rage, and Hound will be
the core protagonists here, trying to save refugees from the chaos of War
World. Artist Beth McGuire-Smith manages to do both good Cybertronians and
good organics, a necessity for a story like this. Maybe with a more focused
remit, Ruckley will do a better job of moving the story forwards and giving
it a satisfying conclusion. Provisionally recommended. $3.99

Bonus content! I decided after all that nattering about structural
elements in some of the reviews to go over the books in this review and see
how many times they use various pieces of traditional comics structural
language (multiple issues of a single title, like Overwatch or Norse
Mythology, will be counted as a single instance. Sixteen total books
involved. I was counting lettering, but it looks like that fad has largely
faded, at least in the books I get...only the Other History of the DC
Universe used primarily mixed-case, although Shang-Chi used it to indicate
when someone was speaking in Mandarin. One thing I didn't track is the use
of narration-style boxes to indicate someone speaking off-panel or bridging
to/from another scene, which is AFIAK a more recent thing.

Thought Bubbles: 2, plus one "sleeping" bubble.

Narration: 8, mostly from a character in the story

Narration in place of Thought Bubbles: 2

Footnotes: 3

Time/Location Captions: 10, but only used consistently on scene-change
in some of them. Most would use them once or twice, but not every time the
scene shifted, nor did they always identify what some scenes were at all.

Altered panels or coloring to indicate flashback: 4 consistently, one
inconsistently, one not at all. The other 10 books had no flashbacks.

To be fair, there's three Priest books in that lot, and he's pretty
consistent in the visual language he puts in the scripts, especially the
time/location captions. Anyway, while some of the "Comics Are Serious Art"
changes of 20 years ago have reverted, things like thought bubbles and
footnotes have largely stayed gone. Even the two books with text in thought
bubbles only had one or two bubbles all issue, characters aren't allowed to
just think anymore, it has to be all out loud. And footnotes are too much
work, I guess. (For reference, Shang-Chi just had the "translated from
ancient Mandarin" footnote, USAgent had footnotes explaining various acronyms
and jargon used in dialogue, and Vampirella had loads of cross-reference
footnotes telling readers where to go to read more.) Anyway, I leave it to
actual scholars of comics to answer the question of overall trends, my tastes
are "fringe of the mainstream" and likely not representative. But I wanted
to go on about this topic a bit, and didn't want to do it as a separate
essay.

In short: comics spent 50-60 years building up a distinctive language
combining words and art to tell stories, then 20 years ago threw it away in
favor of being non-moving movies. Some of the old ways have returned, but
some remain largely lost, with creators uncomfortable with the past of their
own medium.


Dave Van Domelen, "NECRONOMICLOWN! Whose gimmick I admit I am not a
huge fan of, but who are nonetheless EVIL METAL PERSONIFIED!" - frontman of
Vile Empire, Bill & Ted Are Doomed #4 (of 4)
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