Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Black Widow #4

Black Widow #4

Black Widow #4 continues what is a hell of a series. Each issue has built on the last to deliver an action-packed thriller whose twists, turns, and actions entertain. We get a better sense as to what has gone on as Black Widow’s memory comes back and she does what she does best, kick ass.

Writer Kelly Thompson just ups everything and delivers the outlandish story in a way that works. We now know where Natasha’s kid came from and a better sense of her husband. We also are delivered a real connection between them all upping the stakes of everything.

Thompson also makes sure to keep things fun. Whether it’s Clint and Bucky’s back and forth or the villains realizing how screwed they are, there’s some laughs keeping the overall tone light. This is an action packed story with a smile and a wink.

It also has a hell of a style. Elena Casagrande and Carlos Gómez split the art duties between the past and present. Jordie Bellaire and Federcio Blee split the color in the same way. There’s clearly a lot of coordination and work being down between the teams as sequences mirror each other in some ways. The use of panels really emphasizes the flow of the action. There’s also a solid amount of detail when it comes to faces and body language to really make the emotions pop. The colors too really differentiate between the two time periods of the comic.

Black Widow #4 continues what is a fantastic series. It really brings a lot of fun and action. Each issue delivers laughs and cool moments. This is one of the best debuts for the character in years. If you’ve missed out, it’s not too late to catch up and see the quality you’ve been missing.

Story: Kelly Thompson Art: Elena Casagrande, Carlos Gómez
Color: Jordie Bellaire, Federico Blee Letterer: Cory Petit
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: The Union #1

The Union #1

I read The Union #1 before King in Black #1 which actually helped the experience in some ways. Focused on a new team bringing together heroes from around the United Kingdom, the story is an introduction as it dives directly into an event tie-in.

Written by Paul Grist, The Union #1 is both good and bad. As far as an introduction to the team and their goal, there’s things that work. The issue revolves a lot around the team being introduced to the nation as an example of its unity. The use of the media and morning television smells of a realism and interesting aspect. The team is being introduced to the nation as well as to the reader. But, it also shows that the team is as much as public relations move as it is one of national security. It forces the reader to question why members have been chosen and if it’s due to their abilities or because they fit some aspect the PR team deemed important.

There’s a lot there to build off of as it shows some cracks already in the team and you wonder how it’ll play to the actual reality Britain and the region is going through. That’s touched upon but not really enough. That’s part of the bad of the issue as well. It touches upon reality and uses it to some extent but it mostly is just a line or two instead of a real discussion.

What really works is the tie-in to King in Black. The team is unaware as to what’s going to happen and if read before the main event issue (also out this week) it acts as a greater surprise to the reader. Like them, we’re surprised at the event unfolding before them and us. Reading the two issues in the reverse order, that surprise and sense of “what the hell” is lost. We the reader are no longer surprised, we have knowledge the comic characters don’t.

The art by Grist and Andrea Di Vito is pretty good. There’s a nice focus on the characters and their interactions that emphasizes the team dynamics. It doesn’t go over the top with the action but still delivers some solid designs and use of panels. Drew Geraci, Le Beau Underwood, and Grist provide the ink while Nolan Woodard handle colors. As the story progresses and the attack begins the art and color shift a bit to better show off the darkness coming. It never fully falls into darkness though and sticks to its lighter visuals.

The Union #1 is a rare debut tie-in that works really well. The issue plays off the attack quite well while building up an interesting dynamic for the team. The building blocks are here for what could potentially be a very entertaining story. It’s just a question to see what it does with the seeds its sown.

Story: Paul Grist Art: Andrea Di Vito, Paul Grist
Ink: Drew Geraci, Le Beau Underwood, Paul Grist Color: Nolan Woodard Letterer: Travis Lanham
Story: 7.0 Art: 7.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Read

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Review: Red Atlantis #2

It’s election day and individuals have decided to attack each other for unknown reasons. Was it an attack by a foreign country? Was it something else? Red Atlantis #2 reveals some of the mystery while opening up so many more questions.

Story: Stephanie Phillips
Art: Robert Carey
Color: Rosh
Letterer: Troy Peteri

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Review: M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games #1

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games #1

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games #1 had me rolling with laughter. Multiple times. The debut is kinetic, mad, insane, and completely hilarious.

Written by Jordan Blum and Patton Oswalt, the comic has M.O.D.O.K. suffering from visions of a family and life he doesn’t know. All the while, M.O.D.O.K. must also deal with other members of A.I.M. who are having issues with his distractions and wants him decommissioned.

Oswalt and Blum are the duo behind the upcoming Hulu series Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. which takes a similar concept of M.O.D.O.K. with a family. If the comic is any indication, that show will be amazing.

What M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games #1 delivers is laughs as he boasts and schemes in his over the top way. The situations are over the top absurd. The comic delivers kinetic energy where everything is exaggerated and to an extreme. A simple battle is done in such a way that it’s hard to not laugh at how over the top everything is. Every situation and detail are laid out in such a way that things are an extreme. While M.O.D.O.K. is being chastized for his failure, he’s also manipulating an over the top plan to raise money for A.I.M. It’s a Rube Goldberg type plan taking 20 steps instead of 4. It’s that sort of thing that helps deliver the laughs.

Scott Hepburn handles the art with Carlos Lopez on color and Travis Lanham on lettering. M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games #1 is great to look at with blasts and character designs and movements that match the tone of the writing. Everything is to an extreme. It’s not 5 bad guys, it’s 50. It’s not one or two weapons, it’s two dozen. There’s always been a bit of a joke when it comes to M.O.D.O.K. and his design and the team nails it with the look of the comic.

M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games #1 is just funny. It’s hard to not get to the end and smile and want more. It’s a comic that doesn’t take itself seriously and instead takes a goofy concept and villain and works with it. This is a comedy and knows it’s a comedy taking what we love about superhero comics and upping it to 11.

Story: Jordan Blum, Patton Oswalt Art: Scott Hepburn
Color: Carlos Lopez Letterer: Travis Lanham
Story: 8.5 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Kill a Man

Kill a Man

I’ve been a fan of MMA for quite some time. While my enthusiasm has waned in recent years, I still enjoy turning on the tv and catching the occasional fight. The sport, much like comics, has had a rocky relationship with the “outside” world. Both have been seen as juvenile and corrupting at various times. Both have also been accepted to become drivers in entertainment (ironically, also dominated by a few brands). Kill a Man is the latest comic to bring the world of MMA to the page. Unlike previous attempts, the focus isn’t so much about the punches and grappling but the fighters themselves. It delivers depth in character we haven’t really seen up to this point.

Written by Steve Orlando and Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Kill a Man takes us through a new generation of fighter, James Bellyi, impacted by the in-ring death of his father. James is also gay and not out. In a world of machismo, sexuality is still a touchy subject and when James is outed, his world is turned upside down.

Orlando and Johnson deliver the takedowns and knee kicks but they also focus on James’ journey of being outed and the rejection it brings. Bellyi’s father was killed in the ring as payback for homophobic slurs directed at his opponent. James himself is deeply repressed. He has hidden his sexuality from those closest to him. That’s partially due to the world of MMA that he has trained for his entire life. It’s also due to the homophobic views of his mother who blames a “gay man” for killing her husband.

The two creators have delivered a fantastic graphic novel. As the story progresses they make sure to add layers to James’ character. We get a brutal tale in both the fighting but also James’ world. As his upbringing is revealed, we’re given hints as to why he’s hidden his sexuality beyond what happened to his father.

Orlando and Kennedy don’t dive too much into the foreign language of holds and moves of the MMA world. There is more than enough for those who enjoy the matchups. There’s enough detail and focus on moves or even how to fighters compare that there’s an authenticity to it. It’s still accessible for that are not familiar or lacking depth. I don’t need to know what an armbar is. I might understand taking someone to the ground. That’s a difference between being for a wide audience and the MMA diehards.

The art by Al Morgan and lettering by Jim Campbell are fantastic. There’s a gritty dirtiness to it all that fits James’ brutal life. It’s not just the fighting, it’s his upbringing and the world around him. There’s the punch but there’s also the sex which is more carnal than about connection. That aspect of James’ life delivers visuals that make it feel as cold as the fights in the ring about the physical dance than a connection otherwise. There’s a rawness in the fighting and in James’ personal life that the visuals emphasize.

Kill a Man is amazing with aspects of what I liked about the flow of films like Rocky or Creed. Yes, there’s some formula to it but there’s a focus on James as a person that’s missing from so many other stories. It’s a graphic novel with honesty and truthfulness about James’ experience you don’t see too often. There’s a rawness to it all both in and out of the ring with emotion flowing through it all.

Story: Steve Orlando, Phillip Kennedy Johnson
Art: Al Morgan Letterer: Jim Campbell

Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Knock Em Dead #1

Knock Em Dead #1

When it comes to comic writers, Eliot Rahal often delivers some of the funniest comics on the market. His style often acts as an homage and a send-up to the genre he writes about. So, it’d seem natural for Rahal to take on the world of stand-up comedy in his new series. Knock Em Dead #1 might seem like it’s “all laughs” but it’s so much more as it progresses.

Knock Em Dead #1 follows Pryor Brice a young man who has the want to be a stand-up comedian. The comic takes us through his beginning stumbles as he attempts to make a career out of it.

Rahal does a fantastic job of giving us a character we can relate to. Whether this is something you want to do, we’ve all had that moment where we really wanted to do something. Some of us succeeded. Some of us failed. There’s those who were in between. But, it’s an experience we’ve had in our lives. We can have sympathy and empathy for Pryor as he stumbles. Boy does he stumble. But he tries over and over. It’s someone we can cheer for in a way.

But, Rahal also gives us some depth to the character. We get to meet Brice’s sister. We find out about his parents. In one issue we get a good sense of who he is and what he’s gone through. He’s a “person” by the issue’s end. And, he’s a person we can feel sorry for in his consistently being beaten down. He’s the sad sack we can root for.

Rahal also allows us to connect with Brice by leaving the jokes in an unknown space. With letterer Taylor Esposito, the jokes are hidden through squiggles or imagery. It allows the reader to put in what they think the humor is. It allows us to fill in the blank with our own humor and in that way can both ignore a specific joke that would turn us off but hooks the reader who puts themselves in Brice’s shoes. By having the reader “make the joke” they become Brice in a way furthering the hook of the comic.

Mattia Monaco‘s art is fantastic. There’s a style to it all that’s both grounded and exaggerated. When Brice bombs, that’s what we see as the audience blows up before his, and our eyes. Along with the color of Matt Mailia, we get not just Brice the comedian but jokes in a way too. The experience on the stage becomes a highly visual one between Esposito’s lettering and Monaco and Mailia’s art. We get a full sense of Brice’s failure and eventual slight success through all of the visuals, not in the dialogue. The audience reaction. The body language. It’s key to delivering the mood and lows (and some highs) of the stand-up experience.

Knock Em Dead #1 sets things up for what’s to come. It focuses on its main character to set him up before knocking him down. The second issue will be a shift from this and it’ll be interesting to see where it all goes but as a start, this is a comedy career I want to see explored and where it goes.

Story: Eliot Rahal Art: Mattia Monaco
Color: Matt Mailia Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Story: 8.35 Art: 8.35 Overall: 8.35 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: King in Black #1

King in Black #1

Marvel’s next event kicks off with King in Black #1, the culmination of years of build-up and teases throughout the Marvel Universe. This even sees Knull, the “god of the symbiotes” attack Earth with the heroes having to make a stand before he brings complete darkness to Earth and all of existence.

Marvel has had numerous events over the recent years and while many have had their moments, for the most part these events have fallen flat. They may start off with a bang but generally fizzle. King in Black #1 definitely launches with a hell of a start. It’s a disaster film in comic form. The heroes must scramble on a grand scale while the comic also focuses in on the micro scale as well.

Writer Donny Cates nails the opening with a little something for everyone. The heroes get their stand. There’s great moments like the X-Men swooping in. But, it’s the focus on Eddie Brock and his son that delivers heart for the series.

Eddie, also known as Venom, is directly tied to Knull and Cates has been building to this event through that series for years at this point. Cates has evolved Brock from the popular anti-hero to a father with concerns for his son. We see that here as he attempts to seek shelter and protect his kid. It’s a human detail that adds so much to this beginning. King in Black #1 could easily have just been battle after battle. But, this small part adds something we can relate to as parents and children. It adds a human aspect to the larger than life event and grounds it in some ways. It also allows us to connect and really care as to what happens.

Joining Cates is artist Ryan Stegman who has worked with Cates through so much of his Venom run. Stegman’s style is very much his with imagery that pops and comes off as larger than life. It’s a look I personally love and here it works so well with such grand-scale moments. Stegman’s style has a certain exaggeration and it helps emphasize the larger than life moments. Stegman is joined by JP Mayer on ink, Frank Martin on color, and Clayton Cowles with lettering. The art could easily fall into a space that’s too dark but despite the black and red, it never gets to a point it feels like a dirge. There’s still something that jumps from the page despite the “dark” nature of it all.

King in Black #1 kicks things off with jaw-dropping moments and unexpected twists. But, it’s the heart of it all where things succeed. Eddie Brock brings a touch to the story that we can all relate to. And, more importantly, he brings a character we can empathize with and feel sorry for. He’s likely sacrificing himself to save the world and his kid and knows it. Yet, he goes through with it. King in Black #1 is the shift of Eddie Brock from anti-hero to true hero willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. It’s the start of an event but also the next step for the character that Cates and Stegman have been adding depth to for years.

Darkness might reign but King in Black #1 shines.

Story: Donny Cates Art: Ryan Stegman
Ink: JP Mayer Color: Frank Martin Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Batman #104

Batman #104

Mixing Batman with Saw sounds like an awesome concept. Batman #104 dances around diving into that combination as Batman, Harley Quinn, and Clownhunter have been captured by Ghost-Maker. The first story arc after “The Joker War” continues to stumble as the series fails to excite.

Batman #104 has the group capture by Ghost-Maker bouncing between that and Nightwing and Oracle discussing Bruce’s history with Ghost-Maker. Writer James Tynion IV dips his toes in what could be a very interesting concept and direction. Ghost-Maker forcing Batman to make a tough decision with Clownhunter and Harley Quin while trapped within a room. But, the issue focuses mostly on Bruce’s past with the mysterious Ghost-Maker. By the end, we have learned only a little more than we knew before.

Almost half of the comic is dedicated to the past of Bruce and the anti-hero, about six times as is needed. We already knew they trained together, so adding in a little more is fine but much of the issue sets up the relationship between the two to once again emphasize that Bruce/Batman cares. The focus feels like filler to some extent presenting a sequence extended far more than it needs to be.

Where things would get interesting is presenting Batman with an actual dilemma, one where he needs to make a difficult choice. We get that tease in what looks like the set of Saw. Pitting Batman, Clownhunter, and Harley Quinn together in the situation really emphasizes Ghost-Maker’s point. And while the basics are there, it never really gets to the interesting aspects. That’s teased for the next issue.

Things aren’t helped with the art on the issue which is inconsistent. Ryan Benjamin, Danny Miki, Bengal, and Guillem March all contribute to the issue and it’s noticeable that there’s so many hands in it. There’s a dip in details from segment to segment and at times page to page that’s distracting. While DC has gotten away with multiple artists where things aren’t an issue, Batman #104 features such a variation that it’s jarring at times. Not even the art can really save the issue.

Much like much of the Ghost-Maker arc so far, Batman #104 continues a story which has potential but never quite nails the interesting meat of it. The issues feel like a build-up to what will be a packed final issue that really lays things out. This seems to be Tynion’s pattern with his multiple arcs so far. The initial issues lay out some interesting concepts, dances around them, and the final issue lays out the theme and “conclusion” of the arc. It creates for issues where things don’t feel satisfying and as a reader we’re left with potential with little payoff.

Story: James Tynion IV Art: Ryan Benjamin, Danny Miki, Bengal, Guillem March
Color: David Baron Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Story: 7.0 Art: 7.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation:
Read

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Review: Batman/Catwoman #1

Batman/Catwoman #1

After a lot of anticipation, Batman/Catwoman #1 kicks off off writer Tom King‘s next chapter in his Batman saga that began so many years ago. Spinning out of his Batman run, the series focuses on three eras in Batman and Catwoman’s lives. The past deals with Bruce Wayne and a previous love interest. The present has that love interest return as Bruce and Selina are now an item. And in the future, the two have found a sort of happiness in their lives. We’ve seen glimpses of the future King has envisioned before but this series expands upon that while reflecting on the past.

King is a solid writer, but Batman/Catwoman #1 falls into an issue that King’s work has run into in recent years. King has found a niche in maxi-series events where the whole is the piece of entertainment. But, the whole is made up of individual parts. That can work at times but it often leads to weaker individual issues compared to reading through the story in one go. That can result in a frustrating reading experience and that’s on display here.

Each era King takes us to is interesting and each could be a series by themselves. Batman/Catwoman #1 attempts to juggle its trio of stories resulting in at times confusing mess of a narrative. The shifts between eras aren’t clear such as in King’s Strange Adventures and too little time is spent with scenes. Things come off more as teases than an actual story. Yes, comics are serialized storytelling. They need to be judged by the individual chapter along with the whole. As a beginning chapter, the issue is a bit unsatisfying.

There are some great moments within Batman/Catwoman #1 but the issue as a whole is a tease of what’s to come. There doesn’t feel like an arc within the issue, instead it’s short segments setting up what’s to come. With the comic balancing it’s three story arcs, those setups are shortened and in the end choppy. That’s partially due to the art.

Clay Mann handles the art with colors by Tomeu Morey. The art is great, that’s not the issue. The problem comes with an unclear transition between the eras at times. Only in the future is it really clear when things shift. The present and past blend a bit too well. If that was part of the narrative, it’d be great but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The breaks aren’t clear enough resulting in at times a confusing reading where it’s not clear “when” the segment takes place. The character designs, colors, and inks look fantastic though. There are some great pages and panels and there’s strength there. It’s just a transition issue. The lettering by Clayton Cowles is solid as well. The lettering and speech bubbles let the art shine, even when a page is dialogue-heavy. The bubbles add to the flow of the visuals.

Batman/Catwoman #1 is a bad start, it’s just not as engaging as it thinks it is. There’s some great ideas and each era could be a hell of a story by itself. The issue is that there’s too much attempted in the first issue with not enough time spent on each. It makes for a beginning that sets things up but doesn’t feel satisfying by itself. It’s the teaser before a film’s credit. It can catch your attention but rarely is it good by itself.

Story: Tom King Art: Clay Mann
Color: Tomeu Morey Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Story: 7.0 Art: 7.85 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Read

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Apple TV+’s Wolfwalkers Shows 2-D Animation at its Finest

Wolfwalkers

Animated films have received a ton of attention this year (since the production of many live-action films was postponed), with more on the way. Despite many big studio releases, I think it will be very hard to top Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s Wolfwalkers, another visually stunning work heavily inspired by Irish history and folklore. I say “another” because Tomm Moore and the studio Cartoon Saloon have been consistently crafting fantastic films in this vein for years. Secret of the Kells, Song of the Sea, and now Wolfwalkers all pull from similar legends and historical art to create a trilogy of mesmerizing and joyous tales. All of the lessons learned from their previous works are on full display in this new release, as it deftly explores themes of otherness, transformation, and responsibility.

Wolfwalkers is set in Ireland during the Interregnum at the end of the Irish Confederate Wars, a period in English history where the monarch was overthrown and Oliver Cromwell made himself head of state and lord protector of the country. Cromwell then asserted control over Ireland, passing laws that discriminated against Irish Catholics and confiscating their land. This tension is baked into the story. As we are introduced to the main character Robyn and her father Goodfellowe, other children show disdain for Robyn because she’s English. Her father serves Cromwell in his crusade to tame the wild land (it’s not subtle, but it’s for kids, y’know?). Robyn’s desire to follow in her father’s footsteps lead her to meet Mebh, a girl who can turn into a wolf when she falls asleep. Robyn’s relationships with her father and with Mebh soon come into conflict after Cromwell orders all wolves in the forest killed.

In contrast to many of the Pixar-esque, 3-D animated films of this century, Wolfwalkers shows that 2-D animation is stronger than ever. The near death of 2-D animation in popular studios has led to innovation that few 3-D animated features have achieved. Even with several big 3-D movies being released this year, Wolfwalkers sets itself apart with its attention to visual storytelling.

Wolfwalkers

The film pulls heavily from Celtic art and imagery, while also using that imagery to contribute to the film’s story. The difference between settings is shown by the drastic visual contrast, as Robyn’s village is rendered in rigid, straight lines, while the surrounding forest is made up of semicircles and curves. As the villagers cut down the forest, we literally see the fields become drawn more like the town, with angular tree stumps covering the frame. This attention to detail is also present in the designs of the wolves, as the sketches their final animations were based on can be seen in many scenes. All these touches serve to emphasize Wolfwalkers’ themes, as the forest and the wolves feel unfettered and free while the inflexible angular lines of the town feel like a trap for the characters. Symbols of chains and prison bars are used in the village to highlight Robyn’s desires, while they reinforce her father’s worries.

All this artistry serves a well-told, if predictable story. This conflict has been seen in other children’s films (even other ones with wolves in them), but a smart script and a few twists and turns give the film enticing energy. I would rewatch this for the animation alone, but it’s so fun I ended up watching it twice before finishing this review! Wolfwalkers is an excellent addition to Tomm Moore’s unofficial Irish trilogy with stunning animation elevating its story to one of the best told of the year.

Review copy provided by Apple TV+

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