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

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the Week of 12/7

Here we have a somewhat belated entry into the semi-weekly No Context Comics! I’ve been busy outside of Urbane Turtle dot com, lately. You can find my spotlight review for this week’s thrilling new series, ALL AGAINST ALL, over at The Comics Beat. I also had the chance to interview TMNT writer Tom Waltz and editor Charles Beacham about the super fun event series, THE ARMAGEDDON GAME.

I also had a couple days off from the day job, but spent them doing nothing productive whatsoever other than watching a few movies and the Rise of the TMNT series on Netflix. You see, I am teetering on the brink of ~*~ burn out ~*~ and some days of total vegging were paramount.

This week we’ve got a new superhero, fantasy misfits, and a longtime pro hero. So let’s get into it, shall we?

Monkey Prince #9 

DC. Gene Luen Yang, Writer. Bernard Chang, Artist. Marcelo Maiolo, Colors. Janice Chiang. Letters. Jessica Chen. Editor.

Gene Yuen Lang has written some of my favorite superhero stories of the last few years, and DC has seen a dearth of new superhero creations in the last ten years. So I should be excited by the prospect of the Monkey King, which draws from Chinese mythology to introduce a new player into the fold! Yang’s authentic voice deserves to be heard above the din of the corporate cape books. And yet I have been remiss in even looking twice at Monkey Prince, Yang’s latest mainstream series.

Despite Marvel’s reputation as being more “grounded” or “street level,” it has no shortage of characters pulled right out of mythic pantheons. In that way, Monkey Prince as an idea feels more at home in the Marvel U. DC has plenty of godly beings but most of them are DC originals, not pantheons or public domain heroes. Marvel is much more willing to do that kind of thing, historically.

There’s a LOT going on in this issue, and it feels very disorienting as a new reader. There are general ideas that feel familiar–Metropolis, Lexcorp, Bizarro Clones, and even the “Journey to the West” iconography (thanks, Dragonball!), but a lot that took a bit to put together. But everything needed to get caught up is here on the page.

Marcus, the main character’s, parents are two-bit henchpeople, and Marcus has to deal with that while juggling being a normal kid and also learning how to be a hero. His encounter with Supergirl here gives the reader a firm idea of his character, impetuous, petulant, and frankly, kind of unlikable!

There’s a big twist on the last page that gave me a big laugh. The villain of this piece is genuinely creepy and his attack that starts the issue is unsettling.

I get the point of making a young male hero kind of a jerk but it does make it hard to root for him, even if he is trying to learn. I’m certainly willing to give Yang the benefit of the doubt that Marcus is growign and learning, after all, his parents are crooks. It’s not like he’s had a strong role model.

Crossovers can get exhausting but I did get a little bit of a thrill to see this tie-in to the Devil Nezha and Mark Waid’s work over on World’ Finest/Batman vs. Robin/Lazarus Planet. It’s not ridiculously intrusive (yet, anyway; the next issue seems to be a full tie-in) but it makes all of these new elements feel important and tied into the larger DCU. Something a lot of new ideas in superhero universes fail to do authentically.

The art is serviceable if unremarkable all around. There are flashes of inventiveness and humor, particularly toward the end when the hero is transformed, that play into the Monkey Prince’s irreverent personality. I also really liked to see that most of the creative team is of Asian descent and their names credited in script as well as English.

Overall–this felt like a standard issue of a monthly comic book. Neither particularly good nor particularly bad. A perfectly serviceable diversion, with the bonus of introducing new representation.

Least We Can Do #4

Image. Iolanda Zanfardino, Writer.Elisa Romboli, Artist.

A caveat that I think is important here: I have never played Dungeons and Dragons or other tabletop RPGs. I have passing familiarity with some of the concepts, which let me generally understand some of the ideas here. I don’t know that the extreme number of word balloons here are specifically referencing Tabletop games but they certainyl seem to be. And boyoboy are there so many words here. And references to concepts that are not explained. And explaining powers and how powers work like it’s a gosh darn encyclopedia.

I found this book so hard to get through that it was a wonder to me that it exists? There is no compelling character within these pages, or even a plot that I can decipher. These characters seem to exist to talk about going on quests and to research magic we mostly do not see. It’s a real slog. 

The art is mostly okay with a few truly standout moments. There is a page in here where a character stops time and speeds past other characters that displayed the idea of superspeed or time manipulation better than almost anything else I’ve seen in comics. The first panel is a shot of three characters.  That is then cut through by a second panel with another caracter’s face in profile. In the third panel, the one who interrupted is suddenly standing behind the others, far in the distance. The way Romboli depicts the character slicing through the gutter where we usually read the passage of time is shockingly effective. The fight scene on the train toward issue’s end is well-staged and easy to follow (a trait not to be undervalued in comics!) with a dynamic sense of movement.

But beyond that there was nothing much here to draw me in. Romboli does the best she can with some exhausting exposition, giving the characters plenty of emotion as they shout about things I didn’t understand.

By issue’s end I just can’t help but wonder who this is for. I would like to see more of Romboli with something more to work with, though.

Captain Marvel #44 

Marvel. Kelly Thompson, Writer. Sergio Dávila, Artist. Arif Prianto, Colors. Clayton Cowles, Letters.

Kelly Thompson is a writer I have heard a lot of good things about that I always intend to look more into. But there’s always more books to read and I never get to it. She’s maintained an impressive run on this Captain Marvel series, which I am sure speaks to the quality of her work. 

At 44 issues of a character older than me, I don’t expect to know all the ins-and-outs of what is going on. Particularly when it seems to be a spiritual sequel to an old Claremont X-Men story. I am sure X-Men fans are happy to see this (or maybe not, X-Men fans are never happy). Ever since becoming Captain Marvel it has seemed like Marvel has tried to distance her from the mutants, despite her having had significant relationships with them during Claremont’s tenure.

I’m not an X-Men aficionado, but I am familiar enough with the broad strokes to appreciate Carol’s opening monologue here, about enjoying getting to bust on Rogue and the Brood simultaneously, in another life. I’m also able to appreciate how Thompson effectively builds this grand space drama around decades of publishing history to effectively tell a story of growth and empowerment over past trauma.

In many ways, this issue is a stellar example of how to tell superhero comics in a long-running shared universe. Just enough mentions of the past to orient newer readers while spurring interest in the old stories. It doesn’t spend pages explaining those events in detail, boring die-hards. And it moves Carol forward as a character forward and illustrates how she has grown and changed since she was Binary and Ms. Marvel. She’s no longer the B-List side character in a team book. Now she’s a blockbuster headliner, and how does that change how she approaches the things that have harmed her? 

I really enjoyed this, despite being years behind on Captain Marvel. Thompson has a clear vision for who Carol Danvers is and where she has come from. The art from Sergio Dávila is standard superhero fare. I particularly like how he illustrates Carol’s powers and the almost Super Saiyan way it blows her hair around.

Perhaps I need to stop overlooking Captain Marvel, and get down to finally reading more of Thompson’s work in full.

comics, comics criticism, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the week of 11/30

Welcome to another No Context Comics! 

No commentary or preamble from me this week. Enjoy the reviews.

The Boogyman #3 

Ablaze. Mathieu Salvia, Artist. Djet, Artist. Nathan Kempf, Letters. Kevin Ketner, Editor.

Respect to the creators here on opening up on several wordless pages of action in a row. It would be easy for that to not work but Djet’s manga-influenced action is fluid and balletic. A rush of fluid lines and dramatic, impressionist color that gives an explosive sense of motion and depth.

For my money, Djet is the star of the show here. He makes this spooky world of nightmares and monsters come to vibrant life with rich colors and cartoonish and expressive characters. There are plenty of incredible colorists out in the world but there is often something special when an artist is able to control all aspects of their work. By having total control over all of the art, Djet’s lines and colors work together to blend into something incredibly rich. There’s a dreamlike quality to the brush strokes that make up the backgrounds and panel lines that perfectly suits this surreal world.

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No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read From the Week of 11/16

The big releases this week were probably the final issue of Chris Cantwell’s Iron Man (which I just started this week), a new Immortal X-Men, World’s Finest, and Nightwing. Of course, I am not talking about any of those. Because I’m reading the latter 3 and I plan to do something more cohesive about Iron Man.

For a look at other books outside the big 2 this week, check out The Beat’s round-up of indie books that came out yesterday, featuring my first contribution to the site.

The biggest news in the comics-related world this week was probably the death of Kevin Conroy, the iconic voice of Batman for more than 30 years. I have toyed with eulogizing Mr. Conroy here on the site but ultimately, I find myself with a lack of words to describe his impact on me, his contributions to the world of animation. Here is what I posted on my personal Facebook page and on Twitter:

Heartbreaking to hear the news about Kevin Conroy’s passing. Because he was most connected to a superhero cartoon, the immensity of his talent as an actor is undervalued and underestimated. Conroy’s performance as Batman is immortal not because of Batman as a concept but because he made Batman so profoundly, painfully human. Kevin tapped into the loss and rage and sorrow that propels Batman. He became the indelible voice of Batman because he recontextualized the character into a complex man with emotional range. Conroy’s Batman could be frightening and intense. He could be soft and compassionate. He could be vulnerable and colder than ice. I have no doubt that Batman has become a cultural icon because of his seminal work. To understand the depth of that humanity I invite you to read Kevin Conroy’s short memoir and reflection on finding Batman in DC’s 2022 Pride Special. A painful, uplifting, and honest reflection. RIP, Batman.

If you’ve not read his contribution to the DC Pride special, DC made it free to read in his memory here.

Kevin’s death, from an aggressive and rapid cancer, hits especially hard given the recent loss in my own family under similar circumstances.

Obviously, my love for Batman and the Animated Series (and the DCAU it spawned) is well-documented. Kevin Conroy is to thank for so much of that. You can read my series of Batman essays from earlier this year at this link. And if you are interested in revisiting the DCAU, you can journey along with my watch-through from about ten years ago on my old tumblr (Which may become a replacement for my Twitter if that place keeps sinking).

Well, let’s get to the funny books.

Star Wars: Han Solo & Chewbacca #7

Marvel. Marc Guggenheim, Writer. Paul Fry, Artist. Alex Sinclair, Colors. Joe Caramagna, Letters. Mikey J Basso, Danny Khazen, Mark Paniccia, Editors. 

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this book. But there’s also nothing particularly compelling to sink your teeth into. It does very little to justify its existence and fails to leverage the iconic characters at its center in any meaningful or interesting way. Oh there’s plenty of Easter eggs, we’ve got Ponda Baba and Greedo and Maz Kanata. But none of them do anything that gives us more information about them that fills out this universe. 

It’s the worst type of Star Wars publishing. Playing with the old toys and adding nothing new. 

This is a prison break issue, which can be a fun trope for a sci-fi story. There have been lots of good ones. God knows I loved the scenes in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and the prisonbreak is one of my favorite Outlaw Star episodes. But to make it compelling there needs to be some investment in the stakes. What are the characters going through in this jail? How is the Imperial system degrading the people it incarcerates?

We are set firmly in the darkest moment of the Galaxy’s history, a period being explored brilliantly by the television show Andor, but Han Solo and Chewbacca fails to grapple with any themes at all. 

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No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read From the Week of 11/9

October has been a whirlwind of a month with some intense emotional highs and lows and incredibly heavy workloads and alas, once again, this little website fell to the wayside. The Phillies made an improbable push to a mere 2 games from winning the World Series, which was tremendously exciting and soul crushingly disappointing. We lost my aunt, and spent time with family. The day-job has never been more demanding. It’s all I’ve been able to do to stay afloat!

Outside of this week’s comics I’ve been continuing my reading of early 80s Spider-Man, though I switched over to Spectacular and that is markedly less good than Stern and DeFalco’s top-notch work on Amazing. Black Cat just doesn’t work in these early years, too desperately clingy to Spider-Man as a defining character feature. I’ve also been catching up on the world of Batman, particularly Meghan Fitzmartin’s work on Tim Drake. Belen Ortega, who did the art on the Urban Legends Robin story? Superstar! Need to see more of them stat.

I’ve also gotten all caught up on IDW’s TMNT to prep for an upcoming interview, after being quite behind. The Mutant Towm story and status quo I find, frankly, to be dreadfully boring. But the last few arcs leading up to Armageddon Game have been excellent, particularly the story that introduced Venus. Shout out to letterer Shawn Lee, whose work on TMNT has been nothing short of incredible. Every issue he does something that stops me in my tracks. If there are “superstar letterers”, Lee is definitely one of them.

The Armageddon Game is shaping up to be an extremely fun event, too. The art on the event series is fantastic and they brought in CUDDLY THE COWLICK. What’s not to love?

Enough rambling…Onto the main event: The comic books I’m not reading! I somehow accidentally made this week’s column for MATURE READERS ONLY, so no kids allowed.

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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.

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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.

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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”
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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!