comics, comics criticism, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics: A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read for the Week of 9/21

The Flash #786

Writer: Jeremy Adams Artist: Amancay Nahuelpen Colors: Pete Pantazis & Jeromy Cox. Letters: Justin Birch. Editors: Chris Rosa, Paul Kaminski

By and large, I am enjoying DC’s event series of 2022, Dark Crisis, barring the latest issue which was an exhausting exposition-laden lecture on the fake science of the multiverse. Many of the most exhausting elements of DC crossovers reared their ugly heads. I’ve felt that the series has otherwise been focused on the characters and how they deal with a threat in the absence of the Justice League. It’s a dark but hopeful story. I wrote about it here.

Part of what can be exhausting with these big event stories is the tie-in issues that try to justify their connection to an ongoing event without adding anything to the main story and taking away from the ongoing series. A few event books have managed to  make it work. Infinite Crisis was largely successful, Final Night, back in the 90’s. Civil War’s tie-ins were better than the main book and the currently ongoing A.X.E. Judgment Day is exceptional. 

Unfortunately, this issue of Flash is not particularly successful. It’s a disjointed and relentless tie-in that sprints from moment to moment in an attempt to fill in gaps in story that don’t particularly need telling to make Dark Crisis any better. There’s barely a thread of story on its own here.  In one way it is friendly to new readers who might be following the events of Dark Crisis but on the other hand; what do Flash fans who want to follow Wally West really get out of this? I found this easy to follow because it is only dealing with things we see in that main series. But it doesn’t add anything. Even the cool ideas that could have been the focus of a better issue don’t get any time to have an impact. 

There is some fun stuff throughout this issue with Jai and Irey, particularly Jai learning how to do a Thunderclap from Power Girl. They are very likable. Adams has an excellent and clear voice for the West family and the script shines when it focuses on their family dynamics.

Unfortunately even those brief moments suffer from the shoddy and unappealing art.  It leans heavily on digital effects that clash with the characters and the layouts are flat and lifeless. Flash is a hard character to do well, a character defined by motion in a static medium. There needs to be more exaggerated movements and dynamism within the makeup of the page. This fails to give the character much life at all.

Ultimately this book flops because it tries to serve two masters and delivers nothing of substance for either one.

Rogues Gallery #3

Story: Declan Shalvey & Hannah Rose May. Script: Hannah Rose May. Artist: Justin Mason. Colors: Triona Farrell. Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. Editor: Heather Antos

I like being confused but wanting to learn more. I have no idea what’s going on in this book, who the costumed characters are, or even what the general conceit of this book is. By the time the issue ends I have a pretty good sense of what this is about which is a testament to Hannah Rose May and Declan Shalvey’s storytelling talents. 

Through every action and line of dialogue we learn something about the characters, their background, and motivations. Nothing feels wasted or thrown in just to have people talking, and there is no drawn out monologue or explanation of the rogues’ plot. The cool looking crow bad guy is constantly questioned about what he is doing but never gives an answer but becomes increasingly violent and panicked, making his true intentions clear and threatening. 

There’s a confidence here in the story that is being told; it doesn’t feel the need to backtrack and reexplain things but keeps all the events grounded in a central and focused story. It’s a great example of how you can make a middle chapter of a serialized story focused and engaging without cramming it full of needless dialogue.

Justin Mason’s lineart is great. The heavy, splotchy blacks give the book a moody sense of dread and unpredictability that amps up the tension and uncertainty between the crosscutting scenes of the break-in and romantic evening. Triona Farrell’s colors smartly pepper the issue with red amidst an otherwise cool mix of nighttime blues. It makes the red pop ad subtly hints at the gruesome shock at the issue’s climax, where the red tint then overtakes the entire palette.

BRZRKR #10

Story: Keanu Reeves & Matt Kindt. Script: Matt Kindt. Artist: Ron Garnet. Colors: Bill Crabtree. Letters: Clem Robins. Editors: Ramiro Portnoy, Eric Harburn

I don’t know what to say about this book. Keanu Reeves has created a comic book where he is a Wolverine with lightning powers. And good for him.

Like Rogues Gallery, there’s no recap or catching us up with what has happened leading into this issue, no Claremontian announcing of what the Brsrkr’s powers are, and only a vague hint about why our hero is a charred mess. But so little happens in this issue none of that information even matters.

This is one of those superhero comic issues where people stand around and talk about fake science and mysteries they are trying to cover up without saying what the mystery is. It feels very by the numbers. It’s not a mess or even completely uninteresting but it offers little. Even if you’re following this book and enjoying it I would imagine you’re probably putting this one down and hoping the next one has more to it. There are a lot of words and people have plenty of conversations where they don’t say anything of substance. Unlike Rogues Gallery, there is a lot of excess that tells us nothing about the characters or the plot. The amount of dialogue here comes across as padding for an eventual collected edition. What little is actually discussed could have been covered in half the amount of pages.

There is a cool bit in the middle of the book where we draw closer and closer to the Keanu Reeves character as his skin grows back and he lies in repose, staring blankly out at the middle distance. It A: gives a sense of the time passing and B: helps to build up some tension for the Brskr getting back into the field.

Unfortunately, its purpose is lost on me–He doesn’t really do anything when he is back in the field. For all of the words in this issue, I did not have a clear grasp of what these scientists were trying to accomplish or why this man is zapping things or if it is good or bad that these things are happening. It seems like it is probably bad but the lead character appears to be willingly taking part in it s who knows.

The art is fine; a bit messy but fitting for the rough and tumble tone it is trying to evoke. There’s only so much you can do with a dialogue heavy issue like this and Garney does a serviceable job

comics, comics criticism, dc comics, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics: A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the week of 9/14/22

It’s been a light week for comics that I am actually reading. The only new issues to come out of note were the latest chapters of Marvel’s, frankly, incredible A.X.E. JUDGMENT DAY event. Which I might write about soon–or perhaps I’ll wait until it’s over. If you aren’t reading it because the Eternals don’t interest you (I do not blame you) you’re missing out. Gillen’s Eternals series essentially reinvents the characters and concepts and introduces just about everything you need to know. His new revelations make a clash with the X-Men inevitable and compelling. The Avengers are there for set dressing and the rare chance to dunk on Captain America. It’s a propulsive, dramatic story that asks philosophical questions through the vehicle of big superhero sci-fi action, and isn’t that what we read superhero books for? It’s why I do, anyway.

But we aren’t here to talk about A.X.E. Judgment Day.  

My first draft of this week’s column included a review of Undiscovered Country #20 (which I did not like) before I discovered that it actually came out last month. I’m not sure how I got that release date so wrong. Anyway, Do A Power Bomb was a last-minute addition and saved this week from being a total wash, as I absolutely loved it.

Batgirls #10

Becky Cloonan, Michael Conrad: Writers. Neil Googe: Art.  Rico Renzi: Colors. Becca Carey: Letters. Jessica Chen, Jessica Berbey, Ben Abernathy: Editors

I want to love this book. I love these characters. I like a lighthearted take on superheroes. This doesn’t work for me on any level.  It’s not a disaster, I’m not sure it’s even that bad, all things considered. But it just doesn’t work as a story about Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown as I understand these characters. In this book, they come off as inexperienced and klutzy, not at all how they should operate. It works better for Steph than for Cass, with Steph’s character often being so much about proving herself and learning to be a hero. But Cassandra is too…Normal. Too light and talks way too much. There is a moment where they use an emoji in a word balloon for Cass to capture her nonverbal reaction and communication that is inspired. But it’s undercut by how much she talks in the rest of the book. That’s a common problem with writing Cassandra Cain and it can sometimes go the other direction and she is too nonverbal. 

This book radiates chaotic energy that I believe is intentional but is at odds with the leads. 

That chaotic energy comes through in the art and the writing. The pages are crowded. With characters. With dialogue. The art is light and fun and suits the tone of the series, with a cartoonish and playful style. The colors are dynamic and electric, leaning into the trademark Batgirl purple. It presents Gotham as a neon playground for the book’s young heroes.

The thing that I found strangest was the way the narrator was presented. It’s a winking, sarcastic omniscient narrator that pokes fun at the story itself. Instead of coming off charming, it took me out of the narrative and it was largely unnecessary. It felt less like winking at the fans and more like talking down to the reader. It doesn’t take its own story or characters seriously.

I like the general idea of this book– the three Batgirls working together with Barbara mentoring Steph and Cassandra. That’s a good hook and there are a few moments it works well. The scene toward the end, where they are all in the loft just hanging out gives the characters a sense of shared history and clearly illustrates how the three relate to one another. I also liked Steph cracking a cipher and solving a puzzle, using her dad’s Cluemaster skills for good.

Also–am I missing something with Renee Montoya being so anti-Batman? Was she always like that? It seemed a weird character beat to me but maybe I just don’t know Montoya well enough.

One more thing, since we’re talking about Stephanie Brown. The new costume is bad. She is not hiding her identity at all. 

Maybe if I had been reading since issue 1 I’d have a better sense of this book’s point of view and the heart of its premise, and the tone would click better for me. Or maybe this one just isn’t for me. That’s OK. 

I have no complaints about how Killer Moth is used here, though.

Godzilla vs Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers 5   

Cullen Bunn: Writer. Freddie E. Williams III: Artist. Andrew Dalhouse: Colors. Johanna Nattalie: Letters & Design. Tom Waltz, Charles Beacham, Nicolas Niño: Editors


I expect only one thing from a book called Godzilla vs. Power Rangers, and it’s not high art. I expect Godzilla to fight the Power Rangers.

Well, we certainly get that. So in that sense, this issue delivered.

Williams does some impressive layouts to fit the giant monsters and giant robots in a page. Every page is visually compelling and it’s quite an accomplishment.  He leans into the vertical axis, emphasizing the length of the figures. The judicious use of double-page spreads makes the most vicious moments of the battle have real visceral weight given how most of the pages emphasize the up-and-down. The addition of the left-to-right gives those two-pagers a real sense of the weight of these powers crashing into one another.

Unfortunately, the entire fight seems to take place in a desolate void. Without any objects to provide a sense of scale, you can’t appreciate the size of the Megazords or the monsters, which is half the fun. I wanted to see Dragonzord smash some buildings. It’s a bit disappointing though I am sure just drawing these pages full of monsters and robots was already a tough job. There’s already so much packed into these pages that adding much more may have also made the pages too crowded. But a few establishing shots would have helped—you can cheat background details in a comic in a way you can’t in other mediums. Just having them at least in rubble or even seeing Godzilla towering over the Green Ranger before he gets back in the Dragonzord.

Even though you don’t expect much in the way of a story in a book like this there doesn’t seem to be much here at all. Since this is the last issue I’d expect some kind of story resolution but instead, the fight just stops and the Rangers go home. What did they learn? What did Godzilla’s presence teach them?  

This series is probably a fun diversion but seems to lack the spark that made Williams’ Batman/TMNT or the JLA/Power Rangers crossovers work so well.

DO A POWERBOMB #4

Danniel Warren Johnson: Writer, Artist. Mike Spacier: Colors. Rus Wooton: Letters.

I’m a big fan of Daniel Warren Johnson despite not having read his first major debut, Murder Falcon. He first caught my eye on Twitter when he began sharing his screen-tone-heavy, messy-inked con commissions of Star Wars fighters and dope action scenes. Few in the game are as capable of drawing dynamic action and filling a static page with a sense of motion as DWJ. 

Despite my love for his artwork I was not super into the idea of this book. I read his Beta Ray Bill over at Marvel and while the fights and artwork were, predictably, incredible, I found the story not entirely compelling. And I have no interest in Professional Wrestling whatsoever. My understanding of this book was that it was about pro-wrestling so I passed on it completely. Opening this book and seeing that first page with a fantasy knight preparing for a universal cross-time wrestling match? Now THAT I can get into.

Do A Powerbomb  is like Ultimate MUSCLE meets Rocky with a splash of Dragonforce.  You can all but hear the killer guitar riffs and melodramatic fantasy lyrics. There is an earnestness to the story–an old man finding his fighting spirit again in the daughter of his deceased former partner–that gives the over the top action and intergalactic fantasy-sci-fi a human groundedness. Even the enemies, the medieval knight wrestlers, are given human motivation. It’s all wrapped up in a delightful sense of humor and Johnson’s incredible choreography and mastery of motion. 

What I admire about Johnson’s work is his complete lack of fear in getting messy with his layouts and lines. Heavy blacks fade out into jagged brush strokes, sound effects spill over the panels, stray brush strokes break fall off the figures, and insert panels bust in with electric borders. His motion blurs are not just clean, fluid lines but weighted, idiosyncratic waves of black.  Black splatters pepper the backgrounds. It feels handmade and adds to the underdog charm of (who I presume to be) the protagonists. There’s a clear manga influence in how he approaches his fights.

Rus Wooton’s letters are a great complement to Johnson’s inky art. The word balloons are imperfect and the actual words look hand scrawled. Once in a while you’ll get a book by a distinctive artist with letters that look obviously made in a vector art program and the dissonance pulls you out of the book completely. Here the whole package works together. The same goes for Mike Spicer’s colors. He doesn’t over render the colors with flashy effects or over-the-top shading.

We get enough here through dialogue, action, and body language to understand our characters, their background, and the stakes of winning–or losing– the tournament. And it’s done without laborious exposition or mystery box teasing which is an worn out storytelling trick particularly among creator owned books.

I’m looking forward to diving into the first 3 issues.

comics, comics criticism, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics: A Look at 3 New Books I Don’t Read from the Week of September 7th

What do Flashpoint Beyond, Starhenge, and the Dead Lucky have in common? 

Nothing, really. And that’s the beauty of this series for me. The breadth of what I can read and get out of it changes week-to-week.  This week’s books cover quite a wide swath of what comics are in today’s market which makes for a fun feature even if I can’t say I enjoyed them all. Well there’s really just one I didn’t enjoy.

Continue reading “No Context Comics: A Look at 3 New Books I Don’t Read from the Week of September 7th”
comics, comics criticism, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 New Comics I Don’t Read – 8/31/22 NCBD

A nice mix of characters and ideas I am familiar with but not following and things completely new to me in this week’s picks. Any week where I get to read a book with Phil Noto art is a good week.

I am enjoying the big events at Marvel and DC right now, but it is nice to jump into these one-off issues and free myself from the compulsion to read every chapter to enjoy a comic book.

The Variants #3

Gail Simone, Phil Noto, Cory Petit

I appreciate that Marvel provides the summary pages for their comics. Even when I am reading a book month-to-month I often refer to the summary page as a quick refresher. I think it is a great practice that doesn’t really steal away anything from the issue in total. That said, the intro here doesn’t provide a full picture of just what is going on.

And I think that’s a good thing! Jessica Jones has just encountered alternate universe versions of herself and has reason to believe her mind control by the Purple Man is going to come back to haunt her and hurt her family. She is disoriented and confused. 

I think Jessica Jones is a great character that hasn’t had a lot of chances to shine within the Marvel Universe proper. Bendis had her as a pretty big supporting player in his Avengers run but after he left she didn’t get as much play as she deserved, despite a Netflix show whose first season was a critical darling. Gail Simone (who we really don’t see enough of anymore) channels what made the character special under Bendis’s pen, making Jess feel both gruff and compassionate. Her reaction to seeing a younger version of herself untouched by the Purple Man’s evil was a particularly powerful moment. 

I know we are going all-in on multiverse stuff in pop culture right now for some reason (existential dread of planetary collapse and a desire to imagine a different world maybe?) and it is occasionally groan-worthy when we get, particularly at Marvel, so many “What if this character had another character’s powers?” This book manages to make it work, however, because there is a real desire to explore how different choices color Jessica’s already complicated opinion of herself. How does seeing herself as the hopeful, optimistic hero she envisioned herself to be when she was younger impact her in the present? How does seeing herself as the leader of the Avengers make her feel about her choices to step away from superheroics? All of that is compelling, even if it is not fully dug into in this issue. The threads are there, though, and they work as a character study.

One thing that is often missing in modern superhero stories, particularly with the glut of them in various media, is how they can be used to powerfully grapple with real, personal issues on an exaggerated scale. Creators who do not really get superheroes often reduce them to action smashemups without much under the surface. Really, it’s the source of the “Superman isn’t an interesting character” argument. If you only view superhero stories in terms of power level and who is stronger, then you miss a key element of what made them so enduring and culturally powerful. 

Continue reading “No Context Comics – A Look at 3 New Comics I Don’t Read – 8/31/22 NCBD”
comics, comics criticism, no context comics, Uncategorized, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 New Comics I Don’t Read

Welcome back to another edition of No Context Comics. A look at three new issues of comics this week that I do not read.

What will we learn this week? Anything? Is there a reason for doing this? Is there a reason for doing anything? I don’t know but I just had $10,000 of student loan debt forgiven which shaves about a week of payments off my very worthwhile loans that requires me to scramble for a way to make money with my writing to offset my low nonprofit salary (Which this website does not do. It’s a loss leader, baby. You can send me money here though if you like what I’m doing.) So I’m feeling pretty much the same as I did yesterday.


Let’s get to some COMICS.

GUNSLINGER SPAWN #11

By Todd McFarlane, Brett Booth, Adelso Corona, Ivan Nunes, Tom Orzechowski

Would you believe I’ve never read a Spawn before? Not any form of Spawn. I don’t know anyone who has ever read an issue of Spawn. And yet Spawn remains a comic book industry powerhouse. Jamie Foxx is going to make a new Spawn movie. I have only the vaguest understanding of the general conceit behind Spawn–He was a guy who died and is now possessed by a demon and maybe punishes evildoers? Am I close?

Continue reading “No Context Comics – A Look at 3 New Comics I Don’t Read”
comics, comics criticism, writing

You Are The Wall – Character Outshines Spectacle in Vault Comics’ We Ride Titans

“The first thing you need to understand is that it’s going to come at you fast, and you’re gonna freeze. You’re gonna feel fear–real fear, the kind that rattles your bones. Because there will be nothing else standing between it and all that you know. When that happens, I want you to remember this: You are the wall.”

This monologue opens Vault Comics’ We Ride Titans. With a disorienting cacophony of monster and mech, we are introduced to Dej Hobbs–the single protector of New Hyperion city against mindless kaiju monsters.

He is the wall.

He is also drunk. 

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

I love my family but I have to confess I am a terrible sibling and child. I rarely check in on my loved ones or express that love. I don’t even do a good job having casual conversations. I never figured out how to tear down the walls I put up as a kid when the world was tough on me. 

Family is at the heart of We Ride Titans. Somehow, writer Tres Dean manages something nearly impossible, making a story about giant robots fighting giant monsters where the main draw is its characters and their relationships, with the spectacle in service of their personal story.

Continue reading “You Are The Wall – Character Outshines Spectacle in Vault Comics’ We Ride Titans”
writing, comics criticism, dc comics

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 New Comics I Don’t Read

Welcome to what I hope is a new regular feature at Urbane Turtle! In this column, I’ll be diving into 3 books already in progress. There are very few rules here—they just have to be a comic I am not currently reading, not a number one, and if I can help it, not an anthology series.

There’s an old saying “every issue is somebody’s first” but that rarely applies in today’s insular comics market. Comics are for an existing audience of comics readers. Most coverage for comic series is around premiere issues without much discussion beyond that. I want to keep talking about books beyond their first issue. So that’s what I’m doing here.

I am curious how my impression of a work can change without the full runup of first-issue exposition, and what makes a good single-issue of an ongoing serialized narrative work. What does it need to be a successful chapter on its own?

I have no idea what to expect here. Will I discover something strange and unexpected about comics storytelling in the contemporary market? Or will I just be confused? Does it matter if I’m confused jumping into the third issue of a series? Will I go mad??

I don’t know! That’s part of the fun. Or I hope it will be. 

Anyway, today we’re talking about 3 new books. Black Adam #3 from DC, Fire Power from Skybound, and Where Starships Go To Die from Aftershock.

Black Adam #3

Christopher Priest, Rafa Sandoval, Matt Herms, Troy Peteri

Is it fair to call an issue disjointed if you’re coming in with no pre-existing knowledge? This book does not hold together narratively—the jumping back and forth between Black Adam’s inner turmoil and the hospital scene is jarring. Black Adam himself jumps between illusions and worlds without clear differentiation between shifts. Characters speak in constantly interrupted or incomplete dialogue. It is fragmented and confounding. We have no context for where these characters physically are in either the story or the art. Is it a hospital? A jail? Kahndaq? Egypt? The US? No clue. 

I imagine Priest chose this structure to capture Adam’s own disorientation with his deadly predicament. But instead, it makes the thing difficult to get pulled into. I am all for nonlinear storytelling but this doesn’t make me want to read and find out what is going on, it just annoyed me.

The story is titled “Theogony” which is a reference to the Greek epic that traces the origin of the Greek gods starting from before the birth of the universe. It translates literally to “generation of the gods” or history of the gods. But if there’s any thematic relevance to the title it is absent from vthese pages and seems more like an attempt to add a fancy-sounding word to elevate the middling story. An old superhero comics trick.

The story gives us no information on Black Adam’s history or what his internal struggle is. There is a flood of words on every page but none of them are particularly engaging. Characters speechify to one another without saying anything that moves either the story or the characters forward. What is Black Adam fighting for? There’s a passing reference to a quest for absolution and a debate over whether someone with such a villainous past is worth saving but both of these things feel more like set dressing than the core of the story and come quite near the end of the issue.

I can’t say I feel compelled to go back and find out what befell Black Adam. Something to do with a tea cup. 

There is merit to experimenting with fragmented narrative but it requires a clear perspective and purpose. That perspective or purpose is absent. 

Then there are just simple storytelling failures. At one point Malik (and it took me multiple rereads to catch his name) used Black Adam’s magic to call down some thunder to act as a defibrillator, but then is shocked later to find he is flying and says in amazement “the magic is real.” You didn’t figure that out when you called down lightning??

The art is fine but unremarkable. Sandoval shines during the action scenes which are quite visceral but his dialogue scenes (and there is soooooo much dialogue) are stagnant. Characters lack emotion or any sense of characterization. The shift between illusions (at least I think that’s what is going on with Adam) are unclear and muddied. 

I don’t mind being confused and not knowing what is going on in a story. Often it inspires me to go back and find out how things got to the way they are. Here I get the distinct sense that the previous two issues offer very little to make Priest’s Black Adam compelling. 

FIRE POWER #23

Robert Kirkman, Chris Samnee, Matt Wilson, Russ Wooton

I am not the biggest Robert Kirkman fan. I find Walking Dead dreadfully boring and after 3 volumes of Invincible did not quite understand what everyone was so worked up about with this series. 


I am, however, an enormous fan of Chris Samnee. And perhaps that’s why I enjoyed this issue so much. 

Opening with an epic battle between an ancient dragon and a clan of bat-winged ninja certainly doesn’t hurt, either. 

Like the best of his collaboration with Mark Waid on their excellent Black Widow  series, Kirkman sits back and lets Samnee do the heavy lifting. There is no dialogue for first 8 pages, just some killer mid-air  kung-fu action. It’s thrillingly put together with dynamic layouts and dramatic scale. Samnee effectively emphasizes the dragon’s scale with careful staging. The first image is wide, the dragon taking up half of the panel, while dozens of ninja, tiny black specs, rain down from a blimp. The enxt image is another angle with the ninja in heavy perspective as they fall toward the dragon’s open maw. Even the largest and closest ninja to the viewer is smaller than the dragon. 

The hopelessness of their fight is emphasized on the page turn, where the dragon snaps its jaw shut, no doubt eating a host of the bat-ninjas, as it barrels through the rest, knocking them out of the sky.

Later in the issue, there is a grounded fight between shadowy figures. I do not know what was going on here, and I found it hard to follow who was the good guy or bad guy, but it cleared itself up by the end when the villain stood victorious. I am not sure of the thematic or storytelling purpose of the shadows–are these the ancient unknown masters whose identity are shrouded in generations of secrecy?

Matt Wilson’s colors give the villainous Master Shaw (I think that’s his name, given the summary at the front–so helpful!) a bright green visual motif to make the villain stand out. His eyes glow in the silhouette battle, and his actions are punctuated with green impact lines that help make the shadowy combat more legible. 

Rus Wooton’s letters have a handmade, imperfect feel. It gives it a sense of retro shonen manga styling or the feel of a classic underground comic. It really works well with Samnee’s cartooning to feel of a piece.

This issue of Firepower crackles with a kinetic life. I’m not sure it has convinced me to go back and read from the beginning just because of my past experience with Kirkman’s stuff but if he lets Samnee drive the storytelling like he does here, I might just need to dive in and see what other fun is in store.

WHERE STARSHIPS GO TO DIE #3

Mark Sable, Alberto Locatelli, Juancho!, Rob Steen

The place starships go to die must be the bottom of the ocean, but when I see a title with the word “starship” in it,  I kind of expect to see ships in the stars. This is, uh, not that. It feels like a Hardy Boys mystery or Scooby-Doo. That’s not, exactly, a bad thing. There is a ghostly apparition haunting an abandoned boat who is picking off crew. 

What I was able to pick up of the plot here is that this is a crew trying to reignite a dying Earth’s space race long after the world governments have abandoned the stars or the idea of doing anything to heal the Earth. A reluctant ragtag crew is plumbing the depths of the sea for a ship that works that can get them back into the air. 

That is actually pretty intriguing once I got over the initial shock of not getting to see spaceships go zoom.

I don’t know how effective this issue is as a whole. It jumps across scenes without clear transition, at one point the characters are in different parts of the ship, lightning strikes, and the they are in the water on the next page. Why or how they got there is not clear. It’s especially surprising because earlier, write Mark Sable and artist Alberto Locatelli do some clever flipping back and forth between scenes, with visuals and dialogue offering both natural and funny transitions. 

The mystery that is unfolding here is fairly by the numbers and, frankly, I think I watched this basic outline in an episode of Doctor Who. There’s an alien robot ghost and it sank the Russian spaceship. Now it’s going to kill the people trying to get it working again. There’s even a convenient recording where the crew discovers a secret nuclear warhead the Russian government tried to smuggle to Mars. 

This one isn’t a terrible issue but I don’t know that it is particularly good, either. I feel like what has been attempted here has been done often and many times better. The art is not bad, but the colors are muddy and a mostly monochrome blue that makes sense given it takes place mostly underwater, but is not visually exciting.

With Black Adam, which I read first, I thought maybe I was being unfair calling it disorienting. But this book tries to do some similar storytelling tricks and I could get a clear sense of what was going on and what the conflict was. But after reading Firepower which managed to be immediately engaging and had some impressive set pieces with a joyful kinetic artstyle, this feels particularly lackluster in comparison. That might be an unfair comparison given how good Chris Samnee is and that issue was an action-heavy climax where this is more act 2 set-up, there is just something missing in the visuals to give this story the oomph it needs to be more than a Doctor Who or X-Files homage.

I think that’s 4 other properties I’ve used as a reference point for this book…Well, I think that emphasizes how derivative it feels.

– – – – – 

What did we learn this week? 

  1. You can throw people into a story and make them want to read it if you trust your artist to set the stage clearly.
  2. You need to set your scene in any given issue. Even if it’s an initial establishing shot or a caption box. Either of those would have helped with Black Adam. Both Where Starships Go to Die and Firepower give us a clear sense of where this is taking place, in different ways, and what the main conflict is. 

I think point 2 is what I wasn’t sure of coming into this project. What does a comic book writer owe a reader in every issue? If I’m reading month-to-month or in a trade  I don’t need a full recap at the start of every issue. But there needs to be a grounding. And that is true for any change in scene within an issue. Where Black Adam and Starship fail is in that lack of staging. And if I’m reading month-to-month, chances are I need a little bit of a reminder.

Got a book coming out in the next couple weeks you want me to dive into? Happy to hear your suggestions. If I’m not reading it, you might find it featured here!

comics, comics criticism, dc comics, writing

Dark Crisis and the Looming Death of Everything


In the beginning, there was darkness. 

And then there was light. 

And everything came from the light.

So began Crisis on Infinite Earths. A single speck in the dark became many worlds expanding forever into infinity.

So begins Dark Crisis. A single tongue of flame flickers. Dick Grayson swore an oath to carry on in his parents’ memory and the legacy Batman created. From that single flickering candle came everything.

Robin was not the beginning. But he was a beginning. The beginning of the ever-expanding legacy of those original founding heroes. Robin was the spark. And the legacy grew and continues to grow into, perhaps, infinity.

Continue reading “Dark Crisis and the Looming Death of Everything”
comics, comics criticism, marvel, writing

Hank Pym, What is Your Legacy? Marvel’s ANT-MAN #1 Comic Review

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Al Ewing is one of the best writers active in comics today, and one of Marvel’s most gifted storytellers of all time. His work on Immortal Hulk alone, a deeply personal look at trauma, faith, and identity, through the elevated lens of the superheroic, cements his legacy at Marvel. His creator-owned series, We Only Find Them When They’re Dead tackles similar lofty themes in the search for the ineffable sublime.

Ant-Man #1 is neither of those books…And that’s good.

Because Ewing has also proven he can take all of these grand ideas, the many folds and hiccups of continuity, the nuanced understanding of what makes a superhero tick, and serve up books that are funny and character-driven, delivering set pieces and moments that celebrate the wonder and potential of superhero comics as a storytelling medium. Ant-Man is more in the school of Ewing’s work on Defenders, a rolicking adventure through the cosmic eons, with a tinge of his time on Mighty Avengers, which explored heroism through the lens of primarily street-level heroes while delivering depth of emotion and character.

Celebrating the character’s 60th anniversary, Ant-Man’s pitch is to explore the legacy of this founding member of the Avenger through the lens of the 3 men who have held the name and how that legacy inspires a fourth, new future version of the size-shifting superhero. Joining Ewing is artist Tom Reilly (most recently of the stupendously fun THE THING miniseries with novelist Walter Mosley), colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire (who also colors the sensational THE NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE), and letterer Cory Petit.

It seems strange to attach the word “legacy” to this character in particular, despite the fact that numerous people have taken the mantle, including thief-turned-hero Scott Lang and the amoral mercenary Eric O’Grady, now a super-villain-for hire named The Black Ant. Ant-Man’s profile has never been large (Giant though he may sometimes be), though it has grown recently thanks to Paul Rudd’s effortless charm in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But those movies primarily concern Scott Lang, the every-man and underdog out for redemption. For much of the culture at large, this is Ant-Man’s legacy: a tale of redemption and the potential for selflessness.

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang (Ant-Man #2)

But it is not Scott Lang’s legacy explored in this issue, or, really, the series at all. It is about Ant-Man’s legacy.

We are greeted in the first few pages by a robotic narrator welcoming us into a new Marvel Narrative Experience. The disembodied voice immediately invites us to ask a few choice questions:

“Who is the Ant-Man? What is the Ant-Man? Why is the Ant-Man?”

Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, has a complicated legacy. He never recovered from the events of 1981’s Avengers #213, where he slapped his wife Janet Van Dyne, the superhero known as The Wasp, across the face. It was an unforgivable sin, one that came to define the character, rightly, for such violence need be reconciled with.

Avengers #213. Words: Jim Shooter. Pencils: Bob Hall. Inks: Dan Green. Colors: Don Warfield. Letters: Janice Chiangmai

The issue’s writer, Jim Shooter, has long held that this act of violence was never his intention but a construction by the artist, Bob Hall, who misunderstood Shooter’s direction to have Pym accidentally push Janet. Bob Hall has even expressed regret for how he portrayed the moment. Intentional or not, the damage to Hank Pym’s legacy was cemented.  

Pym became synonymous with hubris and violence. It was he, after all, who created the android menace Ultron, one of the Avengers’ most dangerous adversaries.

For decades, then, Hank Pym became a character desperate for the approval of his more successful peers. Tony Stark and Reed Richards outclassed him as scientists. Scott Lang became a new Ant-Man without the baggage. How could Hank Pym redeem himself in the eyes of the other superheroes, who in time passed him by? How could he make right the death and chaos brought by his creation Ultron?

No writer has ever managed to truly rehabilitate Pym, though there has been an effort in recent years to simply sweep the events of Avengers 217 under the rug, as a brief dark moment of comics that has aged poorly. But the shadow of it looms over every story, every panel Pym appears in.


Dan Slott’s brief time on the Mighty Avengers series in 2008, following the events of the alien Skrull’s Secret Invasion and the death of The Wasp, seemed like an attempt to wash Hank of any lingering guilt. Pym, having been absent from Earth and replaced by an alien Skrull imposter, returned to see his planet in shambles, his ex-wife dead, and the Green Goblin in charge of America’s security apparatus. He took on Janet’s superhero name and reconnected with the android Jocasta, who held Janet’s psychic imprint as part of her being.

By having him carry on Wasp’s name and forging a new relationship with Jocasta, Slott attempted to absolve Pym of any lasting harm. Instead it only furthered his descent into a pathetic also-ran. This brief stint as leader of a B-Team of Avengers gave us a Hank Pym preoccupied with the past and his own absolution.

Hank Pym, ultimately, is a man obsessed with his legacy and his public perception. And it has been there since even the earliest days, before all the mistakes and dramatic loss. In Tales to Astonish #44, Hank Pym wonders what would happen if he someday meets defeat and death. He wants someone to carry on his crimefighting campaign if he dies. He empowers The Wasp as an agent of his own legacy.

He is haunted by the death of his first wife. Stan Lee’s narration notes that Pym is feverishly obsessed with forgetting the past, subsuming himself in his work in his lab, forgoing sleep or food. It is vengeance for her death that spurs him to action.

Tales to Astonish #44 Words: Stan Lee & H.E. Huntley. Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: Don Heck. Letters: Art Simek

The obsession is baked into Pym’s very DNA from the outset.

Tales to Astonish #44 Words: Stan Lee & H.E. Huntley. Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: Don Heck. Letters: Art Simek

Ewing knows that. His mastery of Marvel continuity as illustrated in Immortal Hulk, Defenders, and X-Men Red all make that an unquestionable fact. As does this issue’s use of the “ANT-AGONISTS” , a collection of Ant-Man’s rogues’ gallery from those early issues of Tales to Astonish.

But Ant-Man is not about these dark corners of Pym’s history, or at least not yet. Though there are hints at his obsessive and petty nature in the way he torments a young Eric O’Grady.

Instead, the issue is on its surface a loving send-up of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s early adventures, where Pym is a mostly prototypical everyman Marvel hero and Janet is still his beloved partner in life and superheroics. It is a delightful romp through the Silver Age that simultaneously ties Pym’s early adventures to both Lang and O’Grady as if destiny itself set each of them on a shared path.

In the issue’s main plot, the Ant-Agonists gives Pym a “Sinister Six” of his own. It is simultaneously outlandishly goofy and thematically resonant. These villains are nobodies and goons. As Ewing’s opening splash-page, a perfectly rendered Tom Reilly homage to Kirby’s opening salvos, narrates for us: 

It is said that you can judge a man by the enemies he makes! How, then, to judge THE ANT-MAN, whose rogues’ gallery includes Egghead, The Scarlet Beetle and The Cyclops? And even the Miniature Marvel’s LESSER foes could pose a DEADLY THREAT—if the dark day ever came that they united as a single fiendish force!

Ant-Man (2022) #1 Words: Al Ewing. Pencils & Inks: Tom Reilly. Colors: Jordie Bellaire. Letters: Cory Petit.

If you can indeed judge a man by the enemies he makes, what better enemy for a man obsessed with how future generations will judge him than a man who controls time and aging? What better enemy for a petty man who feels that life has passed him by than a nameless thug with a paralyzing spray?  What better enemy for a man who lashes out in violence than a villainous head of a protection racket who intimidates others with brute force? What better enemy for a man who unleashed a monster upon the world than a villain who brings nightmares to life?

Not since the 60s has Ant-Man been a solo hero, his adventures subsumed by his role as a supporting character in The Avengers.

In this issue Ewing provides Pym a chance for heroism–a rogues gallery of his own that does not rely on the failures and hubris of Hank Pym, but men obsessed with him. It is a kind of superheroic glory that Ant-Man has long been robbed of. 

What good is a superhero without a nemesis, after all?

And in the backdrop of this Silver Age homage (which it must be said channels the bombastic energy of the best of a classic Lee/Kirby joint), the mysterious future Ant-Man looms. He sets Hank on his journey and plucks him out of the past, for what purpose? That’s still to be determined. But it seems unlikely that Pym will get to avoid reckoning with his own shortcomings and the darker remnants of his own legacy.

Ant-Man is a name that has only been given to men of questionable character. Scott Lang represents the best of that story, O’Grady its worst, and Pym sits alone somewhere between them, never fully forgiven nor fully giving into his worst whims.

After the future Ant-Man plucks Pym out of the past, he falls through time and sees visions of the man he will become in all of its ugliness and does not recognize them. “Who are these men?!” he asks as the timestream flashes by him.

Hank Pym, welcome to your life.

Tom Reilly’s graphic sensibility, with its economy of line and expressive characters, is perfectly suited for this issue’s celebration of Silver Age storytelling. Like Darwyn Cooke and Evan Shaner or Elsa Charretier, Reilly marries classic cartooning comics with modern sensibilities. He lovingly invokes Kirby’s tight close ups and dynamism but maintains a more contemporary approach to the characters’ interactions that relies on subtlety of movement and expression. They are not the stiff and stoic heroes of old. Reilly paints Hank Pym as a man of haggard frustration, who smiles only in the presence of Janet, alone and away from villains or movie theater hecklers.

Reilly flexes his range in the story’s framing sequence in the future, trading in the scratchy faint lines of Don Heck inks for a streamlined future of curves and minimal strokes. The empty color backgrounds of the 60s are replaced with floating cities and harsh shadows.

Reilly is an artistic dynamo, and his work crackles with life. The range he shows here, though the differences between eras and even from his work on The Thing are subtle, they make a significant difference in the tone of the story. Compare the scratchier inks of this issue to the bold lines of his work on The Thing. There is a distinctive difference in how even those seemingly minor shift give volume and weight to these characters. Ben Grimm is sturdy as a rock, a trustworthy and straightforward presence. Hank Pym is anything but.

As gifted a visual storyteller as Reilly is, it is the work of colorist Jordie Bellaire that brings the entire issue together. The subtle misaligned colors, the texture of yellowed paper, the use of benday dots and the limited silver age palette all give the issue an authentic feeling of a “lost issue” of Tales to Astonish. It is not a 1-for-1 reproduction, however, relying on a far more painterly sensibility and subtlety of shading not possible in the early years of Marvel. This is good because it keeps the issue from being a too-cute parody. But the muted and textured colors evoke a feeling of a time gone-by.

In that way, the art itself reflects Pym’s perception of his past. These were the glory days.

It is a far cry from the slick, high contrast flat colors and rimlights of the future sequences.

Ant-Man #1 does not revolutionize comics or the character of Hank Pym. It does not even directly intimate toward much of the history discussed here. But it is a superb issue of a superhero comic that plays on knowing who Hank Pym is as a man— failures and all. Because here we get to see Hank as he always wanted to be: the Main Character, the swashbuckling super science adventurer.

But that is not who Hank Pym really is, and it is that aching hunger for an idealized legacy that makes Hank Pym a fascinating character.

As the robotic narrator compels us to wait for the continuation of this Marvel Narrative Experience, we await the future of a 60 year old character, trapped in a purgatory of his own legacy, overshadowed by the better man who came after him, who successfully found the redemption Hank Pym so desperately craved. What is the legacy of the Ant-Man?

I look forward to seeing what Al Ewing and Tom Reilly have in store as an answer to that complicated question.

comics, comics criticism, writing

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Writer Tom Waltz Looks Back on The Last Ronin

I, a lifelong TMNT fan (see proof below) recently had the chance to chat with Ninja Turtles writer Tom Waltz to look back on his run on the recent dystopian miniseries The Last Ronin, and ahead to the upcoming Armageddon Game storyline at IDW. This was a very exciting opportunity for me and I was thrilled with how it turned out.

Read the interview on CBR here.

A little Urbane Turtle