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Bodies #2 – Review

By: Si Spencer (story), Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ornston, Tula Lotay, Phil Winslade (art), Lee Loughridge (colors)

The Story: Four detectives are better than one.

The Review: I speak from some experience when I say that when you have a lot of people working on the same project, no matter how different they may be from each other, there has to be some common ground for them to stand on or the project fails. In Bodies, the differences between our four detectives are even greater from the spans of time that lies between them, but there has to be some reason why these four were chosen, and the best way to discover it is to see what they have in common.

This issue makes that task easy by calling attention to something the last issue downplayed: each of our detectives live under the pressure of discrimination. Edmond muses how his closeted homosexuality may result in his imprisonment; Charles Whiteman changed his name (Karl Weissman) to escape from anti-Semitic barbs like the one thrown by Sean Mahoney, uncle of the man he interrogated; Shahara can’t freely discuss her Muslim faith with comrade/romantic interest Barber, much less the racist protestors bashing her car.
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Saga #22 – Review

By: Brian K. Vaughan (story), Fiona Staples (art)

The Story: Drugs, affairs, and murder. Alana and Marko sure live the celebrity life.

The Review: It’s not a pleasant experience to witness a couple’s row, but it has its fascinations. There’s a reason why these things are often referred to as train wrecks; from the outside, the disinterested bystander can clearly see what’s going wrong, though the people involved seem completely oblivious. And while the old adage is right in saying it takes two to tango, you can usually pin the larger share of blame to one person or the other.

Alana and Marko’s spat thus breaks against the mold in that you come away as bewildered and at a loss as to what happened as they, Klara, and Izabel do. When it starts, you’re ready to side with Marko on this: he’s the thankless stay-at-home parent who never gets a break ever while his wife’s flying high at her job. Even Alana’s anger about him muttering Ginny’s name in his sleep doesn’t shift your opinion much; we know Marko’s not actually cheating with the purple-skinned dancer. Marko’s actually in a very good position to be self-righteous—at first.

The problem is instead of engaging Alana on the Ginny thing and sweeping it out of the way, he very obviously changes the subject to whether she’s ever been high in front of Hazel, which is a vaguer point of contention. His avoidance means one thing: there’s a genuine interest in Ginny, even if it isn’t physical (yet). So when he finally lashes at Alana, there’s guilt mixed in with the insecurity of not being the breadwinner (he cuts off Alana’s complaints about working and finishes “—so you can take care of helpless me…”), and the resentment that his wife isn’t at home even when she’s at home.

Ultimately, you’ll be able to forgive Marko easier than Alana, probably. While he’s immediately apologetic for his loss of temper, Alana escalates, ordering him to leave the house, which she significantly refers to as “…,” just as she refers to Hazel as “my house,” just as she refers to Hazel as “my daughter.” Having taken ownership of the rest of Marko’s life, he leaves him with nothing except—guess who?—Ginny. That won’t excuse any funny business that will likely happen between the two afterward, but it’ll be Alana who drove him there.

By doing so, they are now at their most vulnerable just when forces threaten to converge on the family once again. Not only does the unstable Dengo reach Alana’s workplace and violently leaves it in disarray, Prince Robot is on his trail thanks to assistance from Gale. The Landfallian agent claims to be doing so out of respect to the late princess, but as King Robot mentions earlier, the contract on Alana and Marko is still outstanding and Gale doesn’t seem like the type who forgets such things. So we’ve got two off-balance killer robots drawing towards our favorite couple; the fact that Upsher recognizes Alana’s Heist quote on the Open Circuit is negligible by comparison.*
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Uncanny Avengers #23 – Review

By: Rick Remender (Writer), Sanford Greene (Penciller), Dean White (Color Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer), Agustin Alessio (Cover Artist)

The Story: Whaddya know? Sometimes stories that say they were an event that “changes everything” actually do change pretty much everything.

The Review: The previous run on Uncanny Avengers could rightly be described as “epic,” and as I opened this issue, I was consciously hoping that we could get a more “downtime” story, as characters felt their way around its fallout and their new status quo. Thankfully, this issue was exactly what we needed.

Interestingly, the story begins a few weeks past the denouement of last issue, in case fans needed to reconcile whatever jumbled continuity got created by that a year-long story. What follows for 95% of the issue is really just characters talking to one another, but they treat each other as comrades-in-arms, as fellow veterans, as friends (or even more) as appropriate. The events of their time-traveling epic may have been erased, but that doesn’t mean they never happened, and these people have to deal with that.

Immortus, whose role in the previous arc was somewhat tenuous and thus relatively a weak link in an otherwise dense plot, shows up to offer, of all things, encouragement and promise, as long as they deal with the Red Skull, a teaser for the upcoming storyline and segue into an ominous Skull-focused cutscene. It’s an effective scene, taking the heinous Skull and matching him to the equally-heinous Ahab, throwing them both into Genosha. This is “high concept” that works, since there’s an immediate tension and horror-tinged atmosphere to lead into next issue.

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Fantastic Four #9 – Review

By: James Robinson (Writer), Marc Laming (Penciller), Scott Hanna (Inker, 4-6), Jesus Aburtov (Color Artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer), Leonard Kirk & Israel Silva (Cover Artists)

The Story: Problems are always made worse when running into your ex-girlfriend.

The Review: First of all, the cover. It’s something quite fun and exuberant, and it’s not often you can say that for today’s comics. Partly that comes from the smiles on the children’s faces, which, again, is not something that you’re likely to see on any given cover nowadays. (Assuming, of course, that Franklin’s expression is, in fact, a smile. How unfortunate that the most prominent face on the cover is also the most poorly depicted.) Also fun? The Kirby-crackle in the Human Torch’s powers, with flames that are also more bubbly instead of edgy.

Inside, it’s artist Laming’s turn to provide art, and he has a key set piece in presenting an Escher-like scientific Eden. By contrast, one of the other scenes really require much else, such as a window-paneled SHIELD headquarters and gray walls of a prison. What I’d like to see more of, overall, is some variety of expression by the characters. In general, everyone just slightly opens his/her mouth, as everyone is in a constant state of saying “uhhh….” until there is an occasional subtle smile. Push those expressions more, please, and have characters act/pose in a greater variety than simply lifting a hand to indicate they are talking.

I count a total of eight blows given by supervillains, making the first time in half a year or so that there’s been a hero-villain showdown, thanks to the Thing being imprisoned. It’s all a set-up for a surprising reveal of the She-Thing, which promises some interesting interaction for sure, at least for those that remember she was once Ms. Marvel, a member of the Fantastic Four, and love interest for Ben Grimm. (Still, some part of me wonders if there is a logical piece of the story missing– as in the actual investigation of Grimm’s accusation of murder. I get the sense that this is just taken for granted since the story that is “important” is the Thing’s life in prison, but it reflects poorly on any other aspect of the FF’s world.)

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C.O.W.L. #4 – Review

By: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel (writers), Rod Reis & Stéphanie Perger (art)

The Story: Blaze tries to keep the peace as a strike leaves Chicago’s superhero union feeling a little less united.

The Review: It feels like Alec Siegel and Kyle Higgins are reading my mind. After an amazing spotlight on Radia, they’ve immediately turned to the other contender for most interesting character and given us an issue heavily featuring Blaze.

To many the common denominator between these two might be their lack of privilege, but I think it’s better to look at them as unknowns. Radia’s key role in the destruction of the Chicago Six and the dramatically illustrated, but as of yet completely unsubstantiated, rumor that she and Geoffrey Warner are having an affair made her low profile in issue #2 stick out quite noticeably. On the other hand, Blaze is the deputy chief of C.O.W.L. but was one of the only characters we didn’t get to know in the first three issues. Add to that the fact that we had no idea how these characters responded to the times, with the zenith of the Civil Rights Movement swiftly approaching, and it’s no wonder that there was something of an air of mystery about them.

Thankfully this issue largely rectifies this situation. We learn a lot about who Blaze is: his background, his family, what weighs on him. More than ever the dossier at the back of the issue is essential and fascinating. Especially with the context contained in his bio, Blaze’s home life is particularly interesting. Here we’re introduced to two more instantly likeable characters in the form of Blaze’s nephew, Henry, and his sister-in-law, Anita. The resulting family dynamic is strange, personal, but still familiar. Blaze’s life seems good. He has people who love him and many who depend upon him. Still, Higgins and Siegel do a fine job of planting seeds of discord without making Blaze look bitter or suggestible.

Honestly, one of the strongest attributes of C.O.W.L. is that sense of discovery. With the series settled into a nice rhythm, the writers have given us enough to feel comfortable, but we’re still actively learning more about this alternate Chicago. Perhaps that’s why one completely reasonable twist grates so, as John Pierce’s investigation seemingly hits a wall. Of course, not all mysteries end in conspiracy, but it was such a fun one that it seems a shame to let it go. Then again, it’s possible that Geoffrey Warner, the head of C.O.W.L., is lying.
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Superman #34 – Review

By: Geoff Johns (story), John Romita Jr. (pencils), Klaus Janson (inks), Laura Martin (colors)

The Story: Superman and Ulysses’ first official team-up may be their last.

The Review: I don’t often speculate as to how a story will go—partly because of my natural cautiousness and partly because I’m frequently wrong—but I’m about 99.99% sure that a big showdown between Neil (a.k.a. Ulysses) and Clark will ensue sooner or later. I base this on one theory only: you don’t create a direct Superman analogue without intending to match him up with the real thing. That’s just how things roll in superhero comics; it’s almost a waste otherwise.

So every issue, I’m looking for signs of where Neil and Clark’s relationship will go sour. It’s a difficult task because the two of them are as similar as they can get without actually being the same character from parallel universes. Both are gentle giants who believe deeply in peace and hope (and who don’t stand for threats to any of those things). Neil’s forgiveness of his parents for rocketing him away (and his dad for giving up on the search for him) is gratefully given and free from bitterness. Even Clark couldn’t have done better in that situation.
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Avengers Undercover #9 – Review

By: Dennis Hopeless (Writer), Timothy Green II (Artist), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (Color Artist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Francesco Mattina (Cover Artist)

The Story: See what happens when you don’t have an Akbar to shout out “It’s a TRAP!”?

The Review: Interestingly, the cover of this issue does not feature any of the regular cast of Avengers Undercover. It’s still a dramatic and energetic picture, but it’s a telling sign how things have really shifted in this series, how the stakes have been raised, and how there are all kinds of wheels within wheels that the regular cast simply hasn’t seen.

And yet, the story does not abandon them. It’s still really about the young heroes of Avengers Academy/Arena/Etc., even with all the larger plots and machinations flying around them. This creates some tension and empathy for our characters, although it also contributes to a very rushed feeling as well. Some momentum is fine, and as a reader maybe even preferable, but here there are times when I wish the various story beats deserved a bit more room to breathe.   

This issue’s “point of view” is from Anachronism. There’s no ambiguity about that question, unlike the previous issue. There’s a panel with only him and a caption saying “This is me.” OK, gotcha.  And yet, this trick of using characters’ captions as a narrative frame worked for other issues, and it gets dropped here pretty quickly. The scenes are shifting to too many other characters and the plot is being driven so hard that it’s not longer a defining feature of the book. And then, suddenly, an omniscient narrator’s caption is telling me Cammi is breaking the fourth wall in order to shush me? That’s a bit too sudden a stylistic shift and ruins what could be a more effective cliffhanger.

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