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Mini Reviews and Recommendations For The Week Ending 03/21/2021

Sometimes, the staff at Graphic Policy read more comics than we’re able to get reviewed. When that happens you’ll see a weekly feature compiling short reviews from the staff of the comics, or graphic novels, we just didn’t get a chance to write a full review for. Given the lack of new comics, expect this weekly update to begin featuring comics that we think you’ll enjoy while you can’t get anything new to read – only new to you.

These are Graphic Policy’s Mini Reviews and Recommendations.


Barbalien: Red Planet #5 (Dark Horse)– Jeff Lemire, Tate Brombal, Gabriel Walta, and Jordie Bellaire really stick the landing in Barbalien: Red Planet #5. They cleverly use a nine panel grid and cross-cutting to show the parallels between Miguel fighting for queer rights and the government to do something about the AIDS crisis on Earth, and Barbalien fighting for his life on Mars. Barbalien Red Planet #5 is a true paean to queer rage as Lemire, Brombal, Walta, and Bellaire show that the riot is the language of the unheard while Barbalien finally gets to cut loose in word and deed on Mars turning his chains into a weapon. While wrapping up Barbalien/Mark Markz/Luke’s struggle with identity as well as Miguel’s activist arc, Barbalien Red Planet #5 also acts as a huge recontextualization of the superhero and sword and planetgenres taking the latent queer subtext of these stories and making them text. Barbalien Red Planet is easily my favorite of the Black Hammer spinoffs, and it functions on many levels as an emotionally honest character study, genre exercise, and an homage to Black and Latinx activists who fought for LGBTQ rights during a really scary time period. It’s also basically “No Cops at Pride” the comic. I definitely plan on revisiting Barbalien Red Planet many times in the years to come. Overall: 10 Verdict: Buy

Detective Comics #1034 (DC)– Mariko Tamaki, Dan Mora, and Jordie Bellaire explore the storytelling potential of Batman being (relatively) broke in Detective Comics #1034, which true to its title is a murder mystery set in the world of the upper crust of Gotham. There’s a satirical edge and a dash of humor and mischief to Tamaki’s writing with the comic’s inciting incident being an attack on Gotham’s very style over substance mayor Nakano. He’s portrayed as being utterly incompetent in everything from getting a power point to work to protecting his wealthy donors. Mora and Bellaire nail the chaos of the very on the nose Party Crashers’ fight against Batman with speed lines, jagged panels, and punches and kicks that explode off the page. However, Mora also excels at the quiet scenes as Bruce gets to know his (first ever) neighbors that also introduces the players in this murder mystery. You can tell each person’s opinion of Bruce from their facial expressions alone. In the backup story, Joshua Williamson and “Big” Gleb Melnikov wrap up their Damian Wayne serial and set the stage for his shonen tournament ongoing series. Melnikov has a real gift for using body weight, lighting, and layouts to make a fight exciting and suspenseful so it should be a fun book, and these backups in Batman and Detective Comics have introduced the premise while throwing in some new wrinkles in Damian’s life. Overall: 8.6 Verdict: Buy

Harley Quinn #1 (DC)– The new Harley Quinn series is a bit of mixed bag and definitely feels like an ancillary book to Batman instead of being its own wacky, independent thing in previous volumes. That being said, Riley Rossmo’s anarchic, cartoon-y art style is perfect for Harley and her hijinks, and he makes jumping from fire escape to fire escape look entertaining. Ivan Plascencia’s colors pair well with his line art bringing a Sour Patch Kid on acid palette to drab, gritty Gotham City. Harley Quinn #1’s weakness lies in Stephanie Phillips’ writing where she ends up focusing on Batman a little too much and makes him drive Harley’s action and the scope of the book instead of its actual protagonist. She does write good one-liners, and the first arc villain she introduces on the last couple pages is the perfect foil for Dr. Quinzel. I’m surprised no one else has used this character as an antagonist for Harley in the past. Overall: 7.4 Verdict: Read

Stray Dogs #2 (Image)– Stray Dogs is the equivalent of a pop song with bright sound, but dark lyrics. Tony Fleecs, Trish Forstner, Tone Rodriguez, and Brad Simpson deliver a haunting story to go with the high concept premise of a serial killer story told from the POV of his victim’s dogs. Forstner’s art for the different dogs is adorable, yet heart-breaking when she and colorist Simpson revisit the protagonist Sophie’s trauma as her owner was strangled in front of her. This issue goes deeper into the dogs’ owner’s twisted psyche and also shows that he treats animals as terribly as humans. Stray Dogs is like a twisted Disney cartoon, but with heart and suspense not juvenile edginess. Overall: 9.1 Verdict: Buy

Cable #9 (Marvel)– Cable #9 deals with the whole “missing the old man Cable” criticism that’s been levied at it from the beginning of the series head on. Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto put their protagonist through the wringer as he can’t find Stryfe despite help from a parade of guest stars like Wolverine, Magik, and all of the Summerses except Alex and Vulcan. Cable #9 has its humorous moments like Cable calling Wolverine Patch even though he’s blown his cover, but Noto’s facial expressions dig into the rage and responsibility that Cable feels with letting his clone run around and kidnap mutant children. Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto turn a labyrinthine 1990s character into a solid character motivation for Cable, and to top things off, the comic has a cool ending that definitely breaks the Krakoan rules. Overall: 8.3 Verdict: Buy

Excalibur #19 (Marvel)– This whole Psylocke/Captain Britain/Betsy Braddock body swap/energy arc is really starting to drag on in Excalibur #19. Tini Howard and Marcus To have made the book seem like more of a Captain Britain or Psylocke solo title than an ensemble piece with the actual members of Excalibur watching from the sideline. The omniverse and different aspects of Captain Britain are interesting, if very nationalistic, but Howard and To have abandoned it to tell an overlong body swap story. There’s a new bad guy in the end, but it’s a case of too little too late. Hopefully, this series can move onto better things. However, Erick Arciniega colors are gorgeous especially when Betsy’s violet emanation is streaking through Otherworld. Overall: 5.0 Verdict: Pass

Carnage: Black, White, and Blood #1 (Marvel)– Carnage joins the black and white/spot color anthology with decent results. The first story is Bonnie and Clyde with Carnage and Shriek that takes a trippy detour into ancient Rome. Tini Howard’s script is imaginative, and Ken Lashley and Juan Fernandez’s depiction of the battle between Carnage and Shriek and Cloak and Dagger is quite elemental. However, Lashley’s rubbery 1990s art style doesn’t really fit with the monochromatic, and the splashes of red don’t fit the story like the other two. Benjamin Percy and Sara Pichelli definitely understood the assignment in the second story, which is a Western about a sheriff who is corrupted by the Carnage symbiote. Mattia Iacono uses the red to symbolize his corruption, and Pichelli’s art for the gun fight is visceral in all the right ways. Plus it’s a clever use for the character as the hunter becomes the hunted. Carnage #1 wraps up with its best story as Al Ewing and John McCrea do an ultraviolent “choose your own adventure” story, but with Carnage. It’s like a mini, more gore-splattered version of Ewing’s You Are Deadpool, and McCrea’s experience doing black and white, satirical comics in 2000 AD comes in handy in this story. I definitely wanna go back and try to get the “good” ending if any such thing exists. Overall: 8.4 Verdict: Buy

Well, there you have it, folks. The reviews we didn’t quite get a chance to write. See you next week!

Please note that with some of the above comics, Graphic Policy was provided FREE copies for review. Where we purchased the comics, you’ll see an asterisk (*). If you don’t see that, you can infer the comic was a review copy. In cases where we were provided a review copy and we also purchased the comic you’ll see two asterisks (**).

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