by Mark Guggenheim, Carlos Pacheco, Mariano Taibo, Frank Martin, & VC’s Joe Caramagna

“Absolute power something something absolutely.”

It’s a domain of Battleworld run by supervillains— in this case, the analogues to the Justice League that are often the antagonists to the Avengers. The Squadron go about their business, which includes a lot of taking over nearby kingdoms, keeping tenuous peace with the Thor Corps, and preparing to backstab one another. And it’s *bloody.* There are a lot of deaths, here, and some gratuitous gut-spilling and arm-ripping-off. So, yeah, talk about your analogues to DC comics…

The stakes are high but it’s hard to care about such unrepentant villains. There are a couple pages of some resistance fighters, maybe? But it’s hard to tell as they aren’t set up or exposited in a concrete way. There’s a lot to set up with all the machinations floating about, which makes the comic feel a bit more rushed than it should, but that last page with a traditional Frightful Four has me intrigued. Especially since they apparently have given the Squadron a run for their money in the past. I can’t wait to see it, although I expect there will probably just be a lot more arm-ripping.

The figure drawing is frankly amazing, which is to be expected from Carlos Pacheco, a consistent favorite of mine. The characters are appropriately bold and god-like in their depictions, a kind of retro 70s/80s-style, classic and solid. It helps sell how real and how powerful these characters really are.

Grade: B+

PREZ #1 (DC)
by Mark Russell, Ben Caldwell, Mark Morales, Jeremy Lawson, & Travis Lanham

“If you can’t beat ‘em, vlog ‘em.”

It’s a brave new world in a future where online/social networking celebrity dictates everything, including the Leader of the Free World. We’re talking dizzying levels of satire here, from the overt and extended scene as a presidential candidate tries to be a guest on a YouTubber’s channel, to more subtle and background images like the hospital “Presented by the Wayne Foundation.” It’s not all fun and games, though, as there’s some cringe-worthy stakes such as a reality show that requires contestants to shoot themselves in the leg and the pathos of our main character who has to worry about her father’s medical bills.

That said, the focus of the issue really is all about the world-building. We don’t get to spend all that much time with the main character, Beth a.k.a. the Corndog Girl, in comparison to all the exposition and maneuvering of the politicians and the shadowy CEO board. She doesn’t seem to be making any decisions, which might be part of the satire, but also makes it hard to see if she has any agency at all, and thus the conflict and characterization is all just implicit at this point.

With enough discomforting satire and wonderfully detailed art, though, it’s almost like a Vertigo title or “indie” comic in its complexity and ambition.

Grade: A-

ASTRO CITY #24 (Vertigo/DC)
by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, John G. Roshell & Albert Deschesne

“You will believe a gorilla can jam.”

This is an example of good old classic Astro City stuff, the kind where extraordinary people (or, as the case may be, apes) struggle with doing ordinary things. The thematic resonance here is quite strong, as the main character, Sticks, is a talking, super-strong gorilla who dreams of being more than just a crimefighter. And so he does. There’s a lot here about living your dreams, but there’s more to it than that. It’s also about feeling comfortable with yourself, and the power of friendship to spur one another on.

Personally, I love this kind of message. I had to personally experience the complexity of learning that just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean that you must be doing that something. There’s more to passion and talent than just being capable of doing it.

Plus there’s all that fun Astro City stuff with awesome and creative codenames and character designs. It’s almost as if the whole issue is a build-up to the pun of the codename “Powerchord,” but what a fun ride along the way. Some of it is a bit silly, like a cybernetic character who makes a keyboard as part of her robotic body or a guitarist who can literally shape himself into music and looks like a tie-dyed Gumby, but it all is a part of the fantastic level of detail of both story and art that makes Astro City a must-buy every time.  

Grade: A

KAIJUMAX #3 (Oni Press)
by Zander Cannon

“More like ‘Jailhouse Boulder'”

The richness of the Kaijumax prison, mankind’s attempt to incarcerate giant monsters and Godzilla-like creatures, continues to develop. In this issue, the focus is arguably on the guard Jeong and the creature MechaZon and a few ongoing tensions and mysteries. With such a sprawling world that’s being created, there’s still a lot of info to exposit, but there seems to be a good balance between what’s go on with the world and what’s going on within it. These characters really feel real and the pathos, such as with MechaZon, is palpable, creating a nice narrative suspense.

As always, the art is cartoony and belies the gravitas of the characters and their situation, which sometimes seems a feature and sometimes a flaw. For example, Jeong’s resorting to extreme measures is a bit lost, as the staging is a bit confusing. Likewise his emotional reaction, which is presented fairly straightforward as any close up or medium shot.

There’s so much going on, in fact, that it’s a bit overwhelming. There’s not really a strong narrative through-line, and some characters who received the spotlight before are shuffled to the background a bit. It helps to create the sense of a big world, but it’s difficult to get a real, singular “hook.”

The letters page offers a lot of fan interaction, including links to Soundcloud commentary and design requests, which really helps connect the readers to the creator and his world. That’s pure fun and I love the investment into the world and the opportunity to create a real fandom.

Grade: B+   




Do you like the Lightning Round? I read more than I review, sometimes, and then suddenly I look up and it’s a new Wednesday with no opportunity to share any thoughts about the week’s comics. If this works, though, let me know in the comments! That’s the way you’ll see some more!