Hobby Hole: Sept. 11, 2013 Comic Reviews

Aquaman no. 23.1 Black Manta no. 1 by Geoff Johns, Tony Bedard and Claude St. Aubin | DC | $3.99/$2.99

Hands down, Black Manta is my favorite “Villain’s Month” issue so far. Granted, we’re only in the second week, but damn, the issue truly had everything I could want in a book about an antihero.

What made this issue so unique and special was its minimalist nature. While the events of Forever Evil no. 1 are partially retold, Black Manta strolls through the issue seemingly without care or concern, even breaking out of one panel to heighten the fact that he didn’t seem to belong among the other characters, which seemed somehow marginalized in his presence. It’s a credit to both the writing and the art that this was handled so expertly, as it could have easily driven into boring or frustrating.

The book also does one better: it makes Black Manta sympathetic. While his quest for revenge against Aquaman was somewhat understandable (though perhaps not to such extremes as he demonstrated), what occurs in the last few pages is so deplorable, disgusting and plain infuriating that, were I in a similar position as Black Manta, I would do the precise same thing.

This issue was refreshing, and even smart, exploring the consequences of a very comic book-like event from the event series with utter brilliance. Simply fantastic, from story to art to execution. It’ll be hard to top going forward this month.

Hobby Holy score: 9.8/Fantastic

Fantastic Four no. 12 by Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley | Marvel | $2.99

Prior to Fraction and Bagley’s relaunch, I hadn’t read Fantastic Four for a few years—having become dissatisfied with Hickman’s increasingly complex plot. What I found upon my return was a reinvigoration, an influx of family-driven humor I hadn’t realized was missing dabbled atop the title’s trademark science-fantasy.

Twelve issues later, Fraction has left for greener pastures like a Skrull cow and, though his name’s still on the cover, the book’s lost its magic. While a sense of humor remains, it’s no longer sharp and condensed. The plot linger too long compared to the earlier issues, with this two issue arc covering ground I can only imagine would’ve been handled expertly in one with Fraction. I understand this padding is an easy way to sell more books, but when it comes at a disservice to the title, it’s rather disheartening.

As with last issue, Bagley seems to have also lost his ability to channel a magic spark, offering scratchy, nearly unfinished pencils. Coupled with a different inker, perhaps it wouldn’t appear so harsh, but it’s also difficult to expect inkers to offer such levels of refinement. Fantastic Four has become disappointing all around, but hopefully, with Fraction having plotted through the sixteenth issue, we’ll see a semblance of the title’s former glory in the coming months.

Hobby Hole score: 6.8/Meh

Ghosted no. 3 by Joshua Williamson and Goran Sudzuka | Image | $2.99

The latest issue of Ghosted has one of the strongest openings I’ve read in awhile, making me smile and laugh by the second page. Unfortunately, it also has one of the weakest endings as well. With several jaw-dropping moments strewn throughout the book, Ghosted manages an emotional rollercoaster, from gaiety to shock to disappointment—something rarely seen by a series’ third book.

This unevenness makes the issue a little more difficult to review than normal, as, though a bit disconcerting, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the approach. Sure, the emotional impact of the “cliffhanger” was smothered by the opener, but, then again, based on the dialogue that continued from the page before, perhaps its implications are greater than I believe.

Thankfully, while the story was sporadic, the art remained as stunning as the first two issues. Fans of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America and Criminal will be right at home here, but the inclusion of the horrific elements and the methods in which we’re exposed to them elevate Ghosted to a completely different level.

Hobby Hole score: 8.4/Great

Justice League no. 23.2 Lobo no. 1 by Marguerite Bennett and Ben Oliver | DC | $3.99/$2.99

Unlike the mass of angry Brazilians that apparently worship him, I have absolutely no attachment to Lobo. I think he might have appeared once or twice in the old Superman animated series, but I can’t say for certain. So, I came into this issue with an open mind, knowing only that a new version of the character would be introduced.

Which is what happened. And, I’ve got to say, I think I enjoyed it. Though I’m not entirely certain. I mean, the new version has tons of potential, if not just an entertaining story arc in the near future, but this wasn’t the best introduction he could have had. The art was of particular concern, as the kinetic layouts, while imaginative, made it troublesome at times to decipher the plot and action’s flow.

It would have been fine if the story had packed a decent-sized punch, but unfortunately it was narrated in stilted, oddly phrased dialogue and captions. I enjoyed the “Sorry. Not sorry.” catchphrase (Can we call that a catchphrase?), but new Lobo’s stiff attitude and lack of humor—something I understand the original has in abundance—makes me a bit wary. Still, I wouldn’t mind coming back for a second outing at some point down the line.

Hobby Hole score: 7.5/Alright

Manhattan Projects no. 14 by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra | Image | $3.50

Due to a shipping error, it was only two weeks ago that I read the thirteenth issue of Manhattan Projects. Maybe it’s because that issue was so good, but no. 14 didn’t feel nearly as refined. Though there were some major plot developments—including the introduction of a The Walking Dead-type character I’m sure will develop into something greater—this issue didn’t feel exciting or nearly as gasp-inducing as I’m sure it was meant to be.

Reflecting on the matter overnight, I believe my disappointment stems from the issue being too crowded, with too little time devoted to any of the ongoing plot threads. For instance, Laika’s journey, covered in only a matter of pages, could have likely filled its own issue. And what little was shown, I absolutely adored. Perhaps I’ve grown too used to decompression in modern comics, but if any book could benefit from the practice, it would be this one.

The art was as great as always, but I noticed something this issue that I’m not entirely certain is new: many of the panels appear squished. Picture an old television show stretched to fill a full high definition television and you’ll know what I mean. It’s not necessarily an issue, but once I noticed it, I had trouble not seeing it.

Hobby Hole score: 7.7/Alright
Previous issue's score: 8.8/Great

Batman no. 23.2 Riddler no. 1 by Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes and Jeremy Haun | DC | $3.99/$2.99

This issue reminded me of The Dark Knight Rises. On the most basic level, it works pretty well, but if you take just a moment to think about it, you realize just how much is wrong with it.

Riddler offers a fun take on the character, further exploring his clever and relentless side, but touches on his humanity as well. It also includes a somewhat clever break-in, and even brings the story full circle with a smile-inducing conclusion.

However, the issue’s placement among the events of Forever Evil causes some alarming confusion. For instance, Riddler utilizes a flash mob only partially composed of his own men to distract attention from him. Let’s ignore the bright green suit and flashy purple tie he wears for a second; the world is being overtaken by a group claiming to have killed the Justice League (“THE WORLD IS OURS” was clearly displayed), yet the flash mob, and a news channel briefly tapped for plot development, is so enraged with potential embezzlement charges that they cannot help but focus on Wayne Enterprises.

Back to Riddler, he passes by and through the security systems without anyone ever batting an eye, because the facial recognition program is malfunctioning. Have none of the guards lived in Gotham the last five years? He even throws his cane over the metal detector, something clearly seen by the guards. Not only do they not say a word about it, they actually welcome him with open arms.

I don’t mean to rant (I could go on nearly as much with the occasional awkward art—was he jumping out of that elevator or flying into the ceiling?) I just wish, like The Dark Knight Rises, that this issue was actually as good as it seemed on the surface. Because it was sad that the best page was the last, not because it was pretty and well-written (it was), but because it actually made sense.

Hobby Hole score: 6.1/Meh

Secret no. 3 by Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim | Image | $2.99

Given the delay, this issue of Secret should have been perfect. But, even if the lengthy hiatus didn’t tint my memory of the first two issues with rose-colored glasses, I simply did not like this issue.

Three aspects of this outing killed the issue for me almost immediately:
  • Because of the delay, I no longer know these characters, their motivations or the main conflict (What’s a Kodiak again? Some kind of camera?). A recap page would have helped immensely. I recommend rereading the first two issues before diving into this entry.
  • On the second page, the two brothers exchange some dialogue as another group approaches them. One clearly indicates the new characters are coming from his “3 o’clock,” which would have been behind the other, though he effortlessly witnesses the approach. How, pray tell, does he see them? I imaged some slick use of a reflection, but no. The characters approach from the nine o’clock position instead—directly in front of the other brother. The writing and art simply don’t sync.
  • (Spoilers in this bullet) From a distance, both main characters have white hair. Up close, one has black, the other white. This leads to a confusing moment when one is standing over the other’s casket and, while initially thought to be the white-haired brother, turns out to be the other. The shading mix continues throughout the issue and never ceased to bother me.
After those first few pages, I no longer wanted to read the book because it seemed obvious the polish and finesse I saw in the first two issues was no longer present. I’ll be hesitant to continue with Secret now, despite having waiting with some rapt anticipation for this release. After all, who’s to say we’ll ever see another one anyway?

Hobby Hole score: 5.6/Forgettable

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys no. 4 by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon and Becky Cloonan | Dark Horse | $3.99

After the third issue, I realized that if Killjoys had been billed as an ongoing series rather than a six issue mini, I would have dropped it. My God, how wrong that decision would have been.

The fourth issue pays off several ongoing plot threads in incredible fashion. Shots are fired, people we’ve come to know and love take the long walk, and there’s a renewed sense that just about anything can happen as we close in on the conclusion. This is the issue I’ve been waiting for, the one that makes all the plodding and awkwardness from the earlier issues worthwhile.

Cloonan’s art even seems to improve, particularly in regard to her layouts, which have been relatively safe and certainly rather stiff but are used to full affect this issue. Sure, there are a few odd moments where it’s difficult to discern what’s happening, particularly in regard to the two porno droids, but in all this was my favorite issue of the series so far. I can’t wait to see what's waiting in the wings for the finale.

Hobby Holy score: 9.6/Fantastic