Lightning Review #49

Only one more to go! Welcome to the 49th Lightning Review, my weekly article of sometimes lengthy mini-reviews of everything* I read this week. (I did extra this week, but for another project discussed in the Outro). So, I’m getting behind on my nerd culture… I saw episode 7 of Legion, but haven’t started Iron Fist and am at least a week overdue on my other comic shows. Still haven’t seen Kong: Skull Island, but did see Power Rangers on Sunday and let me tell you, those teenagers have attitude! Despite some flaws (namely the villains), it was really fun to watch and made the fan in me smile ear to ear. (For the movie review by resident cinephile Gar Cremona, CLICK HERE!) Big couple weeks for me, so comics culture is on overdrive until next week’s finale Lightning Review is done. Until then enjoy this incredibly positive collection of comics!

 

PICK LIST

Alters #5- PULL! When this title first released last year, I thought it would be a pandering gimmick geared toward liberals and the LGBTQ+ community while not delivering on good superhero story or any real substance. I was wrong. While the main character’s identity as transgender does play a significant role in Charlie/Chalice’s character development, it is but a single note in the chord that plays out. There is also the coming out as a superhero, the villain whose powers rival Chalice’s, the inclusion of a severely disabled brother (who also happens to be an Alter), and finding a balance in life. Paul Jenkins really took a huge risk in deciding to tackle such a hot topic in our society that could have easily backfired on him hard and caused more offense than intended, but with plenty of support and smart choices, he really does a bang up job. Leila Leiz and Tamra Bonvillian bring his vision to life, making Charlie  and Chalice one in the same through subtle differences. With the first arc completed, I’m sure the next step will continue to please anyone open enough to read it.

Amazing Spider-Man Renew your Vows #5- PULL! Many factors led to my adding this to the pick list this week, even before I knew I’d cover it on No Prize Podcast. I have enjoyed previous issues of the series, but when Nate Stockman was credited with the art, I knew I’d have to check it out. I loved his work on Spidey, and with Spider-Man veteran Gerry Conway writing makes this a wonderful read! Newly christened hero Spiderling is a ball of energy who talks her parents Spider-Man and Spinneret into going to a kid’s playplace restaurant. Coincidentally, the bank next door falls victim to a heist by Sandman and some goons, so who better to foil the robbery? And what does the billionaire orphan of Harry Osborn have to do with it? Although they made Sandman a real idiot in this (not a far stretch), he still makes far a tough villain! I love when classic and modern elements blend together in out-of-continuity stories like this. It was a blast to read, from family dynamics to the witty combat banter, and I say you should grab a copy. Also, next issue guest stars the X-Men!

The Best There Is At What He Does: Examining Chris Claremont’s X-Men SC- PULL! I asked for a copy of this book when the hardcover was released back in October with no real intention of reviewing it. I just love the X-Men and Chris Claremont is, without a doubt, the single greatest creator for the team of mutant superheroes (even though it is Dave Cockrum who is still dearest to me for his love of Nightcrawler). Jason Powell writes this comprehensive analysis of every issue Claremont penned during his seventeen continuous years as writer of (Uncanny) X-Men #94-#279, as well as various other important works in the appendices. Rather than include plot summaries and a multitude of comic panels like you’d find on the internet, this novel explores cultural influence/impact, stylistic growth, thematic elements, character development, and editorial insight, complete with references and footnotes from various sources. Although I only read this little by little at bedtime and have only finished reading through issue #174, I am just loving this book. Any X-Men fan can appreciate what Powell does here and I feel so much more connected to the X-Men now.

Bloodshot Reborn #0- PULL! After the conclusion of Bloodshot USA, the readers were left with a cookie jars worth of questions. What will happen to the Bloodshot Squad and Deathmate? Will Ray and Magic finally get to live happily ever after? And is Project Rising Spirit truly gone for good? Well, I’m happy to report that all these and more are addressed in this primer issue for the upcoming Bloodshot Reborn  series. I know Ray Garrison isn’t exactly one for happy endings, but as far as our protagonists and allies are concerned, things seems to be going smoothly as can be expected. But you know what they say about things that are too good to be true… Jeff Lemire uses his knack for interpreting broken characters expertly and the art by Renato Guedes and Andrew Dalhouse is definitely of a more cheery variety than Bloodshot USA. I’m really forward to where this goes because there are some exciting prospective stories ahead. Also, side note, I’m going to see Jason David Frank (Power Ranger and Bloodshot in the upcoming miniseries Ninjak vs the Valiant Universe) at C2E2, so I’m hoping to discuss the project and maybe set up a Skype interview. We’ll see.

Curse Words #3- PULL! With his magical abilities and glorious beard now gone, Wizord feels hopeless to defeat Sizzajee in his quest to destroy Earth and resorts to drinking his worries away. Fortunately, his companion koala Margaret is insightful to the sources of magic found in our world, apparently including the film Titanic, that could reawaken his mojo. Meanwhile, his former lover Ruby crafts an ultra-powerful sword embedded with… wait for it… rubies that is enough to obliterate anything in its path. I believe Sizzajee might be one of the coolest character designs I’ve encountered, a black figure of a man whose eyes and edges glow with an ever-changing spectrum of beautiful color. Michael Garland delivers amazing colors all over, rivaling the best books on the market. Ryan Browne’s art is impressive to say the least and Charles Soule proves that he can write great original content outside of his Marvel work. I hope his upcoming Astonishing X-Men is as entertaining as this is. Curse Words is a comic that perfectly blends fantasy into a realistic setting, with characters worth investing time in and beauty on every page.

Darth Maul #2- PULL! I don’t what his specific vendetta is against the Jedi aside from them wiping out countless Sith, but Darth Maul’s singular motivation is what makes this comic so good. Since the character is the strong, silent type, Cullen Bunn drives the plot along through internal monologue, flashbacks, and the dialogue of secondary characters. After catching wind of a Jedi Padawan up for auction, Maul goes to the smuggler’s moon Nar Shaddaa looking for information but getting a fight. He is aided by a band of bounty hunters who are able to get him to the party where the auction is to commence. Question is: does he plan to kill her or does his plan involve using her to larger dividends? The artwork by Luke Ross is as good as ever, proving this guy have a real knack for the Star Wars universe. Same can be said for colorist Nolan Woodard. I’m a sucker for Darth Maul stuff since he was so impressionable on my childhood fandom, but it is comforting that he gets proper treatment in the comics.

Dollface #3- PULL! After three issues (if you include the disappointing St. Patty’s Special), we get a much needed explanation why Ivan is now a spermy, computer ghost. The issue is almost entirely a flashback to Dollface and Ivan tracking down their first witch, who was aa member of the coven who murdered her sisters. Once that battle is won at the cost of Ivan’s life, the narrative skips back to the present when Zombie Tramp is able to retrieve a mystical book that has unexpected effectively on the Ball-Jointed Witch Hunter. There are several instances of topless ladies in this, but all are fairly justified (maybe with the exception of one. I could never justify why explosions that blast away buildings and catch stuff on fire never remove clothing from characters, but Dan Mendoza uses this as an excuse for reasonable nudity. Even though it is not really a high-brow concept, I really enjoy reading Dollface because I don’t take it too seriously and just have fun. Mature audiences only.

Extraordinary X-Men #20- PULL! This title has been a disappointment for me ever since the beginning, from the uncharacteristic heroes to the wild goose chase missions, but since this is the final issue before ResurrXion, I have to give credit to what they did right. Everyone seems glad to be done with this chapter of their history, but leaving is always a bittersweet process. In one final mission as the Extraordinary X-Men, Logan, Forge, Jean, and the younger students travel to South Dakota following a very weak distress call. The place is crawling with Sentinel drones and they find Cerebra’s consciousness in a scrap head. They all return to Limbo for a final game of baseball, which any X-fan knows is one of their favorite pastimes. This comic is still flawed, both in art and story, but having the team leave on good terms and hopeful futures is more important than any action scene. Now, we have much better things (hopefully) to look forward to and I am so ready.

Judge Dredd Deviations #1- PULL!  Last week when I wrote the advanced review of Jughead The Hunger (CLICK HERE), I commented on my love of werewolf lore from my impressionable years. Even though Judge Dredd is not usually on my Pick List, I could not pass up a chance to read IDW’s Deviation of the classic “Cry of the Werewolf” story by John Wagner, Steve Dillon, and Alan Grant in which a lycanthropic outbreak must be stopped by Dredd. In this version, after being bitten and turned, Judge Dredd is not given the cure and despite controlling the beast, he is exiled from Mega City. Teaming up with another Judge outside the wall, they wipe out all the robots controlling the east undercity. This is dark and feral and true to the spirit of Judge Dredd, which made this all the more enjoyable. John McCrea did both story and art as a thank you to the creators, but it turned into a tribute after the passing of Steve Dillon in October. Well, John, I think he’d be proud of this fine work. (Also, IDW could easily make Deviations an ongoing title that would be akin to Marvel’s “What If…?” and I’d read it. Just saying.)

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #17- PULL! It’s safe to say that any comic book with Nightcrawler is on the cover of is something I am interested in reading, so this issue guest starring the X-Men was slated for my consumption months ago. Moon Girl and Forge have connections from the Inhumans vs X-Men event, so when she needs to rebuild a modified version of Cerebro to find Doctor Doom, the other Extraordinary X-Men tag along. In an odd turn of events, they are transported back to eighties (complete with their awesome uniforms drawn by Natacha Bustos) to fight a mall full of Doombots! The story was an entertaining read with nostalgia and a dinosaur, but I feel writers Montclare and Reader didn’t characterize Nightcrawler properly. Fellow fan @Slicknickshady pointed out how whiny and impatient he was portrayed, and while I think Kurt would find most travel tedious, he has never been a complainer. There was still plenty of action and Moon Girl’s awesome brainpower at work, so I really enjoyed it.

My Little Pony Friendship is Magic #52- PULL! Continuing the story of a darkly clad unicorn called Shadow Lock erasing the contents of Equestria’s literature, the Mane Six are on a mission to protect those most in danger and discover how to stop him! After battling fictional monsters in the local library and doing what they can for the schoolhouse and the newspaper, they make their final stand at the history museum. There Twilight decides to go the diplomatic route to save history, but what cost must her friends make in the meantime? James Asmus, Tony Fleecs, and Heather Breckel continue to present entertaining work full of detail and references for those who can appreciate them. I’m glad Twilight Sparkle isn’t written as such a pretentious know-it-all in this arc because that is one of her character traits that I can’t stand. Instead, we get to see the best parts of the princess shine. Book nerds rejoice!

Reborn #5- PULL! Battles and monsters are all fine and dandy, but I was pulled into this title because of the unique predicament of the characters. The last couple of issues have glanced over the overwhelming family loyalties and rebirth complexities, but this one brings the focus back to Bonnie and her father coping with their missing spouses. Even their dog Roy-Boy comes back and together, they face a situation that is emotionally draining and carrying dire consequences if they fail. Mark Millar has my attention once more. Also, kudos for addressing Bonnie’s renewed, youthful body with associated reproductive processes. With only one more issue left, there are plenty of questions still unanswered to address, but I think we’re getting a happy ending out of this one. Greg Capullo is doing excellent work, along with his inker and colorist, to make Reborn come to life every issue. I really am a fan of the Millarverse and the short, stand alone stories in place of ongoing titles. Well done all around.

Teen Titans #6- PULL! Although I much rather prefer the 5 member roster and would like to see that grow on it’s own before adding a sixth member, I cannot argue with the fact that Aqualad will add new dimension to the young superteam. His story and that of the Titans never cross paths in this issue, which succeeds in building up Jackson (water boy) while also showing off the others in a non-combat situation. Beast Boy schedules a news crew to take a tour of Titan Tower in San Francisco, but Robin is not a fan. When the reporter gets pulled to the depths of the sea, they search all over until they encounter the culprit. Meanwhile, Aqualad shows off his powers to his boyfriend, who abruptly breaks things off, proving that anyone can be bigoted against the proper minority. Making him gay adds diversity to the team, but in all honesty I’d prefer if instead Raven came out as a non-heterosexual since the last Teen Titan group also had a gay guy. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would and hope future issues continue to exceed my expectations.

X-O Manowar #1- PULL! When Valiant advertised a new start to Aric’s story, they were definitely not bluffing! This doesn’t even feel like an X-O Manowar book! If anything, it had more of an Eternal Warrior vibe to it, and trust me when I say that is a good thing. Aric is hiding on another planet as a farmer, parting with the sentient X-O Manowar armor to live out his life in peace. However, when he gets drafted by the army of his lover’s people, he must fight against all odds to escape with his life! It’s a blend of ancient warfare and advanced technology that plays to our hero’s favor, and his skill on the battlefield does not go unnoticed. No supersuit in this oversized first issue, but if Aric wants to continue life in peace, he will need to go to war! In short, this was phenomenal comic book. Kudos to the creative team of Matt Kindt (the fantastic writer), Tomas Riogello (the incredible artist), and Diego Rodriguez  (the vibrant colorist). If you have never read a comic about this character before, here is the place to start since it introduces you to the man beneath the armor and makes you care about what happens to him. All the sci-fi awesomeness in future issues will be a bonus too.

 

VARIETY LIST

Doctor Who The Twelfth Doctor Year Two #15- PULL! Comic book creators within a comic is about as meta as it gets, and this final issue of Year Two uses them to their full creative potential. The Doctor is on the planet Zarma which has been overrun by Mindmorphs that feed on psychic energy, draining the intellectual wealth of the citizens. The creative team of the “Time Surgeon” comic is able to save the Doctor, but not before the enemy absorbs the information needed to recreate his most fearsome foes. Luckily, there is an underground resistance and with all their resources pooled, they are about to defeat the Mindmorphs and restore the planet. There are two spreads in particular that blew me away, the first of which involving the psychic vampires diving into the Doctor’s mind and each of his previous incarnations. The second is a spoiler, sorry. Written by Robbie Morrison with artwork by Rachael Stott, this offers a happy ending to this leg of the Twelfth Doctor’s comic story that I found to be quite satisfying.

E.V.I.L. Heroes #6- PASS! I reviewed issue #4 I believe and stated that this series was a blatant and unashamed knock-off off DC. I stand by this statement. Even though this was a better comic in my opinion, the similarities to heroes like Superman, the Flash, Wonder Woman, and others is just too much to overlook. Earth has been destroyed by these faux heroes that see themselves as gods, and only when one of their own betrays them does the future of the planet have any hope of defeating them. There are a few really cool moments and cannot really discredit the artist for realizing Joe Brusha’s vision, but this might as well be a dark parody of the comic titan that is DC. Since these classic characters are the inspiration for all who’ve come since, there is bound to be certain similarities, but there is so much variety nowadays, this is almost plagiarism. I’d only recommend this to people who are boycotting DC but still want to read it.

The Gamma Gals #1- PULL! Created, written, and drawn by Stefano Terry, this is a comic about three girlfriends who gain amazing abilities in a freak storm and fight crime in their spare time. Their origin is summed up in one page, which was great for the story but left me with questions until the character bio page. They are all 15 and 16 years old, so high school dominates their life and they have to deal with body image, bullies, and concealing their powers. When the school bully discovers his own powers, it creates a new level of conflict for the heroes. I could go into much more detail, but I don’t have time this week for a full review of this Fanbase Press comic (even if I kinda want to). Terry seems to have a solid handle on every aspect of this, making it truly his comic, and I applaud his decision to write about teenage girls. Cool powers, dorky and diverse characters, expressive art, and grounded plot make Gamma Girls an indie comic worth checking out.

Lumberjanes #36- PULL! My opinion of this title varies from complete disinterest to moderate satisfaction, but this issue may have pushed that threshold a bit further. This has more to do with the specific content of the plot than any drastic changes in the book’s art or tone. The Lumberjanes are in a roller derby competition against some Sasquatch ladies fighting to hang onto a treehouse they are squatting in. Even though the cryptozoological elements keep things new and fresh, it is the addition of the unique sporting event and the additional complications associated with it that made this such a fun read. Our girls go through the ringer, overcoming their personal boundaries to give the Sasquatches a good match. The last few pages returned to what I have come to expect from Lumberjanes, but most of the comic is all action and sports drama. This was pleasantly different and I hope more issues entertain me as much as this did.

Rebels: These Free and Independent States #1- PULL! If you like stories about historical fiction, child prodigies, or lots of boats, this is the comic for you. Personally, many of the themes weren’t very appealing, but it is well written by Brian Wood and carefully crafted by Andrea Mutti. In 1796, congress is debating whether or not to form a federal navy to protect their ships that keep falling under attack, with flashes of burning boats and Alexander Hamilton championing the cause. The comic frequently cuts back eight years prior to the youth of a savant named John Abbott and his obsession with boats and ships of all kinds. His passion is so strong that he disappears for days to build a boat from memory, yet in terms of social acceptance, he is lacking. He will prove to play a major role in the plan to build a navy, but that will be in later issues. I hate continuity errors, so I found the disclaimer about historical inaccuracies being at the discretion of the writer to be very fulfilling. As I said, the material may not be for everyone, but I would be amiss to persuade you not to try this high quality comic.

Suicide Squad Director’s Cut #1- PULL! Normally, when a publisher re-releases a comic in some form, the content remains the same overall to ensure everyone gets the same finished product. However, this special “Director’s Cut” does something I’ve never come across before by delivering what appears to be an unfinished product. Including the first two issues of Rebirth Suicide Squad, this 64 page collector’s item consists of Rob Williams’ original scripting and Jim Lee’s pencils, with scattered inking and almost complete lettering for ease of reading. No finishes or coloring gives this a raw look into the creativity that goes into comic book publishing, much like some blu rays of classic Disney animated features include drawing board sequences of unused material. Not only that, but the final pages consist of actual scripts and unused artwork. While I did read the original SS #1, this was a more satisfying experience in the same way taking a behind the scenes tour opens your eyes to what goes into a production. Read this more for the insight than the content. It’s enlightening.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #68- PULL! I was surprised by how little of the Ninja Turtles were actually in this comic, there is enough action, personality, and mutated animal goodness to keep me satisfied from beginning to end. I don’t watch the cartoon on Nickelodeon, nor do I follow the comics regularly, so I would be lying if I said I was current with TMNT. However, the plot is explained along the way so I was never too far behind. The Mutanimals (non-turtle mutates) have all been captured by an agency whose mission is to weaponize and/or eradicate them, all except for the feline frienemy Hob seeking the aide of the Ninja Turtles. While they work out their internal conflicts, Pete the manta man proves more difficult than expected and the other Mutanimals make a getaway in the confusion! I really liked getting to know these new characters, with Pete reminding me of Hank McCoy, but also seeing the four brothers living up to their character as well. Pepperoni, their pet, was adorable and the overall art style by Mateus Santolouco was top notch. Very fun read, courtesy of Tom Waltz and his plotters.

World War X #4- PULL! This is a mixed bag for me, but the overall impression I took away from it way positive. An alien race has awakened after years on Earth in a dormant state and while many after fighting the threat they pose, some are allied with these extraterrestrials. Although set in 2017, this comic has an active base located on the moon, where the alien threat has been awakened, and all communications have been gone down. The military and an ancient warrior team up to create a weapon to destroy the invaders, but a power amplifier has been used on a captive, used to awaken his fellow green men! The art has darker lighting and a palette focusing on greens and blues, which worked well with all the supernatural energies and mystery involved. The writing was less character driven than I’d like, but the military experimentation aspect was well received. This wasn’t an outstanding comic, but I enjoyed it and that is really what counts.

Only one PASS this week! Out of 22, that is pretty impressive! The weekly rating is 4.8 out of 5 Lightning Bolts!

ELECTRIC! Now, to be fair, I did read EVERY Marvel Comic this week to prepare for my first ever podcast next weekend. No Prize Podcast is the Marvel-centric podcast by @cemberfrostt and @Dodgy86inthemix which has decided to bring me into the fold. I read Rocket Raccoon #4, Spider-Gwen #18,and Uncanny Inhumans #20 with extra scrutiny to be able to provide commentary if need be, but I’m not including them here. Check out the podcast! Besides, I was already practically done with this when I got the comic haul.

Well, get ready for the big 50th Lightning Review next weekend! I’m hoping you all enjoy it! And I’ll be recording on Saturday as well, so it’s gonna be hectic. Plus I have full C2E2 coverage to prepare for and possibly a smaller convention Easter weekend. Be sure to follow me on Twitter because even though I won’t have this nice summary of comics every week, I still post about the great stuff I encounter on my feed. The handle is @bamfingbob. Until next week, BAMF!

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