A Darth Vader, Vol. 1: Imperial Machine Review – Year One, Day One

TITLE: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine
AUTHOR: 
Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Giuseppe Camuncoli. Cover by Jim Cheung and Matthew Wilson.
COLLECTS: Darth Vader #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: 
November 22, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can we talk about the lightsaber for a minute? Because to be honest, I’m getting sick of them. Specifically, their overblown importance.

I’ve talked previously about how I subscribe to what I’ll call the Red Letter Media theory on lightsaber use. Generally, the less we see of them, the more impactful it is when someone finally ignites one. This becomes apparent when watching the prequel trilogy. But in recent years, lightsabers have been getting a strange in-universe reverence. Not just as cool or dangerous weapons, but artifacts with an increasing amount of personal and spiritual symbolism. They’re almost characters unto themselves. I understand this from a marketing standpoint, as a lightsaber is a fanboy’s wet dream. But to me it makes little sense from an in-story perspective.

Mind you, there is a certain precedent for it. Lightsabers act as an instantly recognizable symbol for the Jedi Order. Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber, which later plays a prominent role in The Force Awakens. Luke builds his own lightsaber, which we see in Return of the Jedi. General Grievous collected lightsabers like trophies from fallen Jedi. So let’s not go so far as to say they have no significance at all.

But while I appreciated the use of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens as a link to the past, and a sort of symbol of for the Skywalker family, the notion that the weapon itself “calls to” Rey was a little much for me. What the weapon symbolizes is one thing. Giving it special powers is another.

Rarely will you find a better example of this strange lightsaber reverence than in Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine. Immediately after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine sends Vader on a mission to obtain a new lightsaber for himself. “I have very high hopes for what we might achieve together,” the Emperor says. “But first…you will need your lightsaber.” Vader must take a lightsaber from a surviving Jedi and use the dark side to corrupt the kyber crystal inside. Make it “bleed.” Obtaining this new weapon won’t be easy. But it is the first trial the former Anakin Skywalker must now face as a dark lord of the Sith.

So because the kyber crystals are “alive” in their own way, Sith lords use their anger to make them “bleed,” thus the red lightsaber. The idea itself is actually pretty neat. But did it merit an entire story based around it? Did Darth Vader’s lightsaber really need an origin story?  I don’t think so.

This strikes me as the kind of thing they could have explained in a scene before Vader goes off on his first big mission. Or maybe a one-shot where Palpatine gives Vader a kyber crystal, and shows him how to corrupt it. At first Vader has trouble, but he conjures up images of Obi-Wan and Padme and gets the job done. It didn’t need to be the motivation for an entire story arc.

More interesting than Vader’s quest to steal a lightsaber is the surviving Jedi he’s tasked with taking it from. Kirak Infil’a has taken the “Barash Vow.” Under said vow, the individual in question must cut themselves off from Jedi affairs, living only for the Force. It sounds suspiciously like what Luke is doing when Rey finds him on Ahch-To. Kirak also has his hair pulled back in two braids, just as Rey’s is in the Last Jedi footage we’ve seen. Coincidence? Probably. But you never know…

It’s almost always interesting to see Vader’s agony at the loss of Padme, the state of his body, and all that’s come as a result of his actions. It’s a glimpse into the hellish reality his existence has become. We see surprisingly little of that in Imperial Machine, given how soon this is after Revenge of the Sith. It is touched on effectively, however, in issue #5. As Vader is trying to bend the crystal to his will, a scenario plays out in his mind in which he turns on Palpatine and re-unites with Obi-Wan. He’s fantasizing about making things right, and perhaps atoning for his actions. In theory, that’s a path he can take. But of course, he doesn’t. Not yet, at least.

I spent a good amount of time ragging on Salvador Larroca for some of the work he did on the previous Darth Vader book. Namely drawing certain characters based off still shots from the various movies. The upside to this approach, however, is that Larroca draws a picture-perfect Vader. For me, if you can get that mask right then half the battle is won.

Giuseppe Camuncoli gives us a different kind of Darth Vader. It’s hardly picture-perfect. For instance, I’m not a fan of the panel at left. But I nevertheless find Camuncoli’s version more artistically pure. He’s creating of his own mind, and at no point do I feel taken out of this book when I see a familiar image of Vader or Palpatine, pulled from a movie still. That’s a trade I’m willing to make.

Camuncoli, along with inker Cam Smith and colorist David Curiel, waste little time in ripping up Vader’s iconic suit. It’s already in tatters by issue #2. Things only get worse when we get into the fight with Kirak Infil’a. We end up with a partially skeletonized version of Vader’s suit, which he pieces together using droid parts after being incapacitated and effectively broken in combat. In the opening pages of issue #4 we see him using the Force to put all the little pieces into place so he can haul himself to his feet. It’s an awesome visual, and a fun callback to Anakin’s expertise with machines. It’s later followed up on in issue #6, when Vader gets to repair the suit to his liking.

Issue #6 takes us into the next arc, which will feature the Inquisitors we saw in Star Wars: Rebels. We get a confrontation between Vader and the Grand Inquisitor in the Jedi Temple, which is pretty decent. Fittingly, Vader’s next target will be someone Star Wars fans recognize as a face from the Jedi Temple…

I maintain there was no need to end the previous Darth Vader book. We all knew Marvel would come back to the character eventually. There’s no shortage of creators to work on the life and times of the dark lord. While I have a major gripe with a lightsaber being Vader’s motivation in this story, Imperial Machine is still a solid read with mostly good art. Star Wars fans who aren’t as finicky as I am will enjoy it.

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A Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4 Review – When Zordon Steals the Show

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4
AUTHORS: Kyle Higgins, Ryan Ferrier
PENCILLERS: Hendry Prasetya, Bachan, Daniel Bayliss. Cover by Goni Montes.
COLLECTS: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #13-16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: 
October 25, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The first act in the larger story of Lord Drakkon comes to an end in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4. Tommy’s evil doppleganger looks great here, and we also get an awesome character spotlight. Overall, this MMPR series still has a big up side. But once we get into issue #16, particularly the last few pages, things start to get rocky.

When we open the book, Tommy and Billy are still trapped in an alternate universe where the Green Ranger remained with Rita Repulsa after the events of “Green With Evil.” This turn of events led to the destruction of the Power Rangers, and Tommy’s rise as the evil Lord Drakkon. Now the Tommy and Billy that we know must join up with a resistance force (led  by familiar faces) to bring Drakkon down. Meanwhile, Jason and the others face Rita and her minions with reduced powers, and without Zordon. And where is Zordon anyway?

We get the answer to that last question in issue #15, and it’s the creative highlight of the book. Zordon has been absent for several issues at this point, so it’s obviously good to check in with him. But this issue goes above and beyond, following him into a rift between the dimensions. We see him meet his counterpart from Drakkon’s world, and how Zordon has continued to play a role in the conflict despite current predicament. More importantly, after witnessing how events have unfolded in this alternate reality, we see him speak from a place of uncertainty. We aren’t always shown that perspective from a wise old sage character like this. It’s an intriguing change up, which in the end cuts to the very heart of who Zordon is.

Daniel Bayliss hits a home run with the pencils, inks, and colors. His renderings of a full-bodied Zordon interacting with the time warp around him, and later his other self, are compelling, gorgeous, and hit the mark emotionally. He also gets to play around with some of the the war sequences we’ve seen in previous issues. We get some familiar images of Rita’s forces in Washington, Drakkon holding the Red Ranger helmet, and a few glorious shots of the Thunderzords. Bayliss can’t come back to the Rangers soon enough.

We closed the previous volume with the reveal of Trini, Bulk, and Aisha (who we know as the future Yellow Ranger) as members of the resistance. Having Aisha show up is a nice bit of fan service. But that’s all it amounts to. I won’t complain about that, considering how much griping I’ve already done about Tommy and Billy seeing things from their future.

For whatever reason, this series is bound and determined to cast the fun-loving Zack as a brooder. We get more of that here. But it’s an alternate version of Zack, who has lost nearly everything and become the leader of the resistance. Given how dark the world around him has grown, I’m alright with this version of Zack being more dour. It even makes for a cool little moment with the canonical Zack toward the end.

This volume also sees Finster create Goldar clones of all builds and sizes to fight against the Rangers. I love this idea. It makes sense. Goldar has failed Rita time and again, so she has Finster “improve” on him. This might have worked as an idea for the show, time and costumes permitting. We even get to see Goldar without his armor on the very first page. I didn’t even know he could take the armor off.

Kyle Higgins deserves a lot of the credit for the more sinister Finster we’ve gotten from the BOOM! books. The crowning example is what we got from Trey Moore and Frazer Irving in the 2017 annual. But the Finster we get in this book has a nice underlying creepiness to him. By comparison, the Finster we got on the show was almost a kind old man at times.

One of the subplots we get in this book involves the Trini of Drakkon’s world coming to grips with seeing Billy, as the Billy of her world died saving her life. If Higgins and Hendry Prasetya are playing at an eventual Billy/Trini romance, they’re doing it in a very subtle manner. The potential romance between Billy and Trini thing is something some of us have been talking about since we were kids. They almost have to address it at some point. Even if it’s just an issue about how they don’t have those kind of feelings for each other. Matters aren’t helped when you consider Prasetya’s strengths are the super-powered action scenes, and not the quiet interpersonal stuff. So one can argue that material isn’t fully maximized.

On the flip side, Prasetya’s fight sequences with a morphed Lord Drakkon are epic in the inevitable good Tommy vs. evil Tommy fight. This is obviously the first time we’ve gotten to see that costume in action. It’s very evocative of classic Power Rangers. The costume is obviously visually similar to the White Ranger suit. Darken is even holding Saba for much of the battle. You can easily hear Jason David Frank’s cheesy “evil” voice when reading some of Drakkon’s dialogue. (“Hello again, Tommy.”)  There’s also a teamwork theme in effect here, which is something that’s remained present for the entire series.

The Yellow Ranger also gets a Battlizer of sorts in issue #16. It comes out of nowhere, but looks cool enough. I also appreciate that it’s Trini who gets it. She was always the most underdeveloped character on the show, and remains that way in the comics. So this is a cool moment for her.

At this point we’ve built this Lord Drakkon story up for four books. Everything has built to this confrontation between the two Tommys, and the Power Rangers finally striking back against Rita’s forces. The ending makes sense. But when I read issue #16 during it’s initial release, I was disappointed. We’d built to those big showdowns for so long, only for them to pass fairly quickly. This felt like it should have been a big, epic finale. The Megazord makes a big comeback against the Goldar clones, and Tommy and Drakkon make some kind of startling discovery about each other that leads into the next phase of the story. Instead the resolution, particularly the bit with the teens back at school, feels very rushed and slapped together. All the right ingredients are there. But we aren’t given enough time with them.

However, I will say that what happens to Drakkon at the very end has the potential to be very interesting…

Our Bulk and Skull back-up stories are no more, now replaced by “The Ongoing Misadventures of Squatt & Baboo.” Like their predecessors, these stories were fairly benign additions to each single issue that are now collected long form. Ryan Ferrier and Bachan set a similar goofy tone. But while the Bulk and Skull stories got old after just a few issues, I somehow find Squatt and Baboo’s adventures a little more palatable. Perhaps it’s because they got a fraction of the screen time Bulk and Skull did, so there’s a refreshing quality to them getting the spotlight here. The collective story is about them visiting an alternate dimension and running into Goldar. It’s mildly amusing, and Bachan has a cool take on our “heroes.”

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4 has a few more problems than the previous volumes do. But all the elements that make the series great are still there. Namely, Higgins’ willingness to write an objectively silly concept in a more serious and dramatic voice, Hendry Prasetya’s awesome work on the words and costumes, and the added depth injected into the characters. For Power Rangers fans young and old, this series remains a must-read.

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A Review of The Walking Dead, Vol. 28 – Time’s Up

TITLE: The Walking Dead, Vol. 28: A Certain Doom
AUTHOR: Robert Kirkman
PENCILLER: Charlie Adlard
COLLECTS: The Walking Dead #173#178
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: 
September 27, 2017

***WARNING: MAJOR spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

When you get right down to it, we’re really just waiting for all of these characters to die.

Consider the horrible things that happen to people in The Walking Dead. It’s not at all uncommon to see human beings ripped apart, disemboweled, and eaten alive. And that’s just by the zombies. Now look at everything the characters do to each other. They go to war with one another, cut each other up, bash each other’s brains in, and all manner of grotesque things. That’s the world they live in. Nobody in The Walking Dead dies of old age. Everyone in these stories is on a ticking clock.

In this volume, a major character’s time runs out. And it’s handled unconventionally, at least by Walking Dead standards.

When we open the book, the people of Alexandria are about to face the biggest zombie hoard of their lives. As the survivors rush into action, Rick and Negan struggle to survive amidst the undead. All the while, a group within the extended network of communities is preparing to rebel against Rick’s leadership. A group with a familiar name…

Let’s jump right in: This is the book where Andrea dies. Issue #165 ends with the discovery that she was bitten while helping fend off the giant hoard. Rick discovers what happened at the end of issue #166, and issue #167 is devoted entirely to her death.

We almost crack the fourth wall in #165. On the very first page, Negan is fighting off zombies, and says: “It’s funny how they keep trying to bite you, isn’t it? I mean, who’s getting bit these days–after knowing the rules this long?” And on the very last page? Andrea with a bite mark on her neck. I can’t decide whether Negan or Kirkman is the bigger jerk…

Kirkman seemed unexpectedly emotional about Andrea’s death, even including a personal message in lieu of a letters section in issue #167. He literally apologizes for killing Andrea, apparently anticipating how hard it would be for his more loyal readers. The message struck me as strange, and almost self celebratory to do that immediately after the story in question. The issue spoke for itself. The idea is that even after once again losing a woman he loves, Rick must continue on and draw strength from those around him.

Then again, Kirkman wasn’t wrong about the reaction. This story and this world can bring out a lot of emotion in its audience, and evidently its creator as well. Plus, it’s not like the message hampers the content itself. I just wouldn’t make a habit out of it.

Andrea is one of the few characters in The Walking Dead to die peacefully. Other longstanding characters like Glenn and Lori had their lives violently ripped away. But with Andrea, both the readers and the characters know it’s coming, and they’re left to agonize over it. My favorite page in the entire volume is a 16-panel montage of Andrea being visited by various characters, each saying goodbye in their own fashion. It’s a very honest way to look at a death. It’s simple, but extremely effective.

As one might expect, Rick can’t bring himself to put Andrea down so that she doesn’t become a zombie. Ergo, we get a scuffle between Rick and a zombified Andrea. An awkward physical transition and some repetitive dialogue notwithstanding, it’s a pretty good scene, centered around Rick’s inner turmoil over whether he can bear the battle any longer. Very empathetic, given everything we’ve seen.

This book also takes us a few more steps toward Negan’s redemption, as he and Rick are forced to fight side by side against the hoard. Negan even saves his life at one point, and subsequently opens up about what happened to his wife, Lucille.

The Negan redemption arc has been the most interesting thing about the series for awhile now. What makes it work so well is that Negan is an admitted psychopath. So while it seems like he’s come along way since we first met him, it’s not far fetched that this could all end up being a giant ruse. And with Andrea now gone, Rick is about to be extremely vulnerable. Seems like a hell of a good time to spring a trap. I’m not betting on a swerve turn, however. Negan trying to be a good guy is a lot more interesting than Negan reverting to his old ways.

Artistically, the book is strongest in issue #167, as that’s where the strongest subject matter is. Penciller Charlie Adlard, inker Stefano Gaudiano, and grayscale artist Cliff Rathburn turn in some absolutely beautiful imagery. There’s almost too much to mention. Virtually everything during Rick and Andrea’s final scene is awesome. The character acting is emotional and on point, particularly from Rick. There’s an absolutely gorgeous two-page spread of Rick at Andrea’s bedside during her dying moments. The tragic tenderness of that moment, coupled with how visually shaken Rick is, make Andrea’s transformation into a zombie that much more horrific. The scuffle itself isn’t perfect, but the turn itself is.

The talk between Negan and Rick in issue #164 is also artistically notable, as it’s the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen Negan be in front of another person. It’s one of the few moments in the entire series where we can tell he’s being honest. We don’t just get that from his dialogue. It’s also in his eyes, how he’s positioned in certain panels, the lighting/shading in the scene. It’s human connection, and it’s a pivotal scene in the relationship between these two characters. Now it’s just a question of how real it was on Negan’s end…

While they don’t have Negan with them any longer, the Saviors reassert themselves in this volume. It’s not remotely on the same scale as before. But it’s mildly compelling, and an alright source of tension. It takes something of a bizarre turn in issue #166, when Rick accidentally kills their new leader Sherry. During a physical confrontation, she gets pushed into a table at an awkward angle and her neck snaps. The Walking Dead isn’t exactly known for its unconvincing death sequences. But I didn’t buy this one. The physicality of it was strange. Oddly enough, it’s similar to the awkward transition we see in issue #167. Both involve an attacker being on top of Rick, and then being pushed backward. Perhaps we’ve finally found something in this series Charlie Adlard doesn’t draw perfectly.

Obviously, The Walking Dead is in no danger of…well, death. The series seems as healthy as it’s ever been. But from a creative standpoint, I often wonder about story patterns we see in the book, and whether a paradigm shift is in order.

I refer specifically to the use of big bad villains leading big bad groups to terrorize Rick and our heroes. We’ve had the Governor, we’ve had Negan, and to a lesser extent we’ve had the Whisperers. But Negan, the Saviors, and the All Out War storyline have been such a tough act to follow. It’s virtually exhausted the villain formula. Even when the Whisperers put a bunch of heads on pikes, it seemed to pale in comparison to the violent bullying we saw from the Saviors. And if we’re not fighting bad guys, we’re fighting zombies, which are essentially an environmental hazard at this point.

The book’s saving grace is that we still care about the characters, specifically the ones that have been with us a long time. Rick, Carl, Michonne, Negan, and Eugene all come to mind. But have we reached the point where we can’t break any new ground with them? In the long run, how healthy is a series where readers are just waiting for the clock to run out on the characters they love? What can be done to give The Walking Dead a creative jolt?

I don’t have the answer. I just hope Robert Kirkman does

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A Batman, Vol. 3: I Am Bane Review – Jokerize Your Fries?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 3: I Am Bane
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: David Finch, Mitch Gerads, Clay Mann
COLLECTS: Batman #1620#2324
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
Aug 30, 2017

***Need to catch up? Check out the first two volumes: I Am Gotham and I Am Suicide.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Bane has never been the most sophisticated of characters. Created in the early ’90s, he was essentially the Bat-books’ answer to what Doomsday was in the Superman books. A big brute who could physically overpower the hero. A ‘roided up dude in a luchador mask, he certainly looks the part. But unlike Doomsday, who was basically a mindless killing machine, Bane was intended to have more depth. He had a tragic backstory and a cunning mind to match his physical dominance.

Oddly enough, I Am Bane explores the character’s more layered side, while at the same time making him look like a big dumb ape at certain points. It’s actually a fascinating balancing act.

After pulling the Psycho-Pirate from Bane’s clutches in Santa Prisca, Batman is now preparing for a full on assault from his old enemy. No one close to Bruce Wayne is safe. Adamant about taking Bane on alone, Batman places Alfred, Claire Clover (a.k.a. Gotham Girl), and the Psycho-Pirate in perhaps the unlikeliest of places to protect them: Arkham Asylum. Now Bane must make his way through a living hell to confront the Dark Knight. Once again, these two arch rivals will square off. In the end, one will be left broken.

I’ll credit author Tom King with giving Bane’s invasion of Gotham the weight it deserves. The first two issues have a grim tension in the air. In issue #16, Bruce insists that most of his surrogate family members flee the city, fearing for their lives. He hides Psycho-Pirate and the others inside Arkham, in a chamber designed by Mister Miracle. But Batman’s obsessive preparation isn’t enough, as Bane still manages to strike at those close to him, including Catwoman. The tone is terrific, the threat feels real, and we seem to have the makings of a hallmark Bane story…until the big man opens his mouth in issue #18.

King, David Finch, and their team are clearly going for classic early ’90s Bane. We get a big, bloody, brutal fight intercut with flashbacks as Bane taunts our hero. Think Batman #497, when the character broke Batman’s back. But King goes way too far over the top with Bane’s dialogue. In issue #18, as he rambles off comparisons between himself and Batman’s other enemies, he almost seems to be reciting a poem…

“I am not a joke! I am not a riddle! I am not a bird or a cat or a penguin! I’m not a scarecrow or a plant or a puppet! I am not your broken friend! I am not your regretful teacher! I am not a child’s fairy tale! I am not a circus act here to amuse and frighten you!”

Alright, dude. We get it…

Things get worse in issue #19, when he storms Arkham and starts running into various villains. He spouts off little one-liners. Thing that would be fine on their own, but clumped together in one issue almost make Bane a parody of himself.

Two-Face: “…what’re you offering?”
Bane: “Pain. I offer pain.”

Scarecrow: “What nightmares are you having?”
Bane: “I don’t have nightmares, I GIVE nightmares!”

Mr. Freeze: “Impossible…”
Bane: “Not impossible. Bane.”

The fight winds up ending on yet another stupid, overblown catchphrase. Not from Bane, but from Batman. The sad thing is that the action itself is pretty good, for the most part. If King had trimmed a lot of this excess verbiage and allowed the art to speak more for itself, this would have been much more effective. I understand wanting to show the animalistic side of Bane. But they overdid it.

I will say, however, that the contrasting flashbacks between Bruce’s childhood and Bane’s are very well done. There’s a school of thought that many of Batman’s villains double as examples of how Bruce could have turned out after his parents were killed, had circumstances been different. This is about as on-the-nose as you can get in that respect. But it works.

What doesn’t work as well for me is the Batman-themed fast food restaurant we see in issue #16. Dick, Jason, Damian, and Duke drag Bruce there for a family meeting of sorts. It’s decked out various paraphernalia from the various Batman heroes and villains. The scene opens with Bruce talking to a kid behind the counter, who’s wearing a cheap Batman mask. He asks Bruce if he wants to “Jokerize your fries?” I get what they were going for. There’s a fun meta aspect to having these characters see their own licensing and merchandising. “Jokerize your fries” is actually a pretty good line. But from an in-story perspective, using the most feared man in Gotham City’s likeness to sell fast food stretches the gag too far for me. I understand that’s part of the joke. But to me that would be the equivalent of selling Bin Laden burgers in the real world.

David Finch handles most of the art in I Am Bane. I’ve been pretty critical of his work. But I’ve also said that if you have to have him, you want him on dark or gritty stories like this. I Am Bane is one of his better recent outings. In issue #16, he has the extremely unenviable task of drawing Bruce, Dick, and Jason, all unmasked in the fast food scene. They’re all handsome, dark haired, clean shaven dudes. Finch has to make them all distinct and recognizable. The job he does isn’t amazing. But it’s serviceable. Thankfully, they’re not all wearing the same clothes, as they were in that creepy splash page in The Court of Owls.

Like many artists, Finch draws most of his superhero characters like competition bodybuilders. Thankfully, that’s right in Bane’s wheelhouse. The character looks every bit as gigantic and chiseled as he should without going overboard, which we saw from Finch’s work on the New 52 Dark Knight series. This version of Bane also has a great ferocity you don’t always see. That obviously works well during the big fight. One complaint: I’ve never liked it when artists put giant green tubes on Bane, as we see Finch do here. It brings back bad memories of Batman & Robin.

Inker Danny Miki (later joined by Trevor Scott) and colorist Jordie Bellaire compliment Finch very well. He’s got a team here that accentuates his strengths. Bellaire in particular is an absolute rock star.

After the main story, Mitch Gerads takes the pencil for issue #23, a standalone story featuring Swamp Thing. Despite being brutally titled “The Brave and the Mold,” it manages to be a fun issue. Gerads’ contributions to this series have been tremendous, going back to issues #15 and #16. He and King give us some fun visuals contrasting the vast difference in stature between Batman and Swamp Thing. A two-page spread with Bruce and the monster in Wayne Manor, shots of them in the Batcave and Batmobile, etc. The issue is broken into chapters that are separated via panels with text designed like silent movie intertitles, which is a cool tone device.

I’ve already talked at length about Batman #24, which contains a pretty big moment between Batman and Catwoman. A few months after its release, what has stuck with me is the exchange between Batman and Gotham Girl about happiness. We learn that Batman is Bruce Wayne’s attempt at finding happiness. As a longtime Batman fan, that notion fascinates me. We’re so used to Batman being dour, moody, and broody. So the idea that he’s doing all this to be happy is a little off-putting. But it makes a certain sense when you boil it down. In the end, that’s what we’re all trying to do, right? Find happiness. In that sense, Bruce is no different than anyone else.

By and large, the Bane portion of this book is a step down from I Am Suicide. But King, Finch, and the team really stick the landing with issue #23, and especially #24. There’s a lot of strictly okay stuff you’ve got to swim through. But when this book hits a homer, it really hits a homer. As far as issue #24 is concerned, that ball is still sailing.

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A Go Go Power Rangers #2 Review – Jason and Trini?!?

TITLE: Go Go Power Rangers #2
AUTHOR: Ryan Parrott
PENCILLER: Dan Mora
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 30, 2017

***Check out the first issue of Go Go Power Rangers!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Monsters and morphers notwithstanding, thus far the teenagers in Go Go Power Rangers have been written fairly realistic. So it stands to reason that five hormonal high schoolers suddenly placed in a such a high pressure situation would feel…closer. While there was never a romantic link between any of our original five Rangers on the TV show, this series was bound to give us a crush, an unrequited love storyline, a fling, or something along those lines. Trini and Billy would have been my first guess, as they’re kindred spirits. Jason and Kimberly would be a little obvious, but not impossible. You’ve also got Trini and Zack, who were together in the Pink miniseries BOOM! put out last year.

But Jason and Trini? They might have been my last guess. Actually, in this case it’s Trini crushing on Jason. I won’t say I don’t get it. Even with his cutesy millennial haircut, the Red Ranger is still a stud.

Go Go Power Rangers #2 shows us the conclusion of the Rangers’ assault on Rita Repulsa’s palace, and clues us in on the long-term ramifications the fight has for them. We also get into some of the more personal ramifications that “Arrival Day” (i.e. the day Rita’s forces first attacked) has had on them. This includes Kimberly’s strained relationship with her boyfriend Matt.

Trini never had much in the way of romance on the show. Early in the second season, they created a character for her to fawn over. But that never went anywhere. Tommy and Kimberly filled most of the show’s romance quotient. So to see Trini trying to be romantic with anyone, let alone Jason, takes some getting used to. But thus far, it works. Jason is apparently oblivious at the moment. Considering Trini has been written very shy and soft-spoken, I’m curious if Ryan Parrott is going to make her someone attempting to come out of her shell and be noticed.

The issue highlights the fact that, after the fight at the palace, Rita has learned the Rangers’ first names. The Red Ranger is Jason, the Pink Ranger is Kimberly, etc. Zordon promises to do what he can to protect them. But what confuses me is, how does Rita knowing their names put them in any more danger than they were already in? I’d be more concerned that she saw their faces when they fought the putties on Arrival Day (cool name, by the way). On the show, she was always able to ambush the teens with putties, monsters, and what not. So she can clearly find them in Angel Grove. (Apparently that’s exactly what we’re going to see in issues to come.) How goes knowing their names make it worse? It’s not great, mind you. But it’s hardly the worst case scenario.

Considering the palace fight, this fear about Rita knowing their names and attacking them as civilians, and a few lines about the teens wanting to let their families in on their secret, Parrott seems to be going out of his way to explore new territory, and address certain things the show never did. Even more than Kyle Higgins has done in MMPR, he’s having fun bucking the show’s original structure.

Dan Mora’s pencils have been, by and large, excellent. I’ve praised his renderings of Goldar in the past, but I really noticed his work on Rita here. That giant headdress and Madonna-style pointed bra don’t exactly give her the most foreboding look. But despite his fairly animated style, Mora shows restraint when drawing Rita’s face. Particularly toward the middle of the issue. This makes her seem more cold and calculated, as opposed to angry and loud. Near the end, Mora draws her entering Finster’s lab clouded in shadow, so we merely see a silhouette. To say that costume casts a distinct shadow is an understatement. Then in the very next panel, the silhouette gives us a sinister grin. Throw in the use of additional black space to highlight the gears and gadgets in Finster’s lab, and it becomes the issue’s best page.

Mora is also very strong with Kimberly and Matt (shown above). Kim’s new boyfriend wears a letterman jacket, which given Mora’s style, almost gives those scenes a modern day Archie feel. (Think the Mark Waid/Fiona Staples run.) This poor kid. He has no idea who he’s dating…

The tone of Go Go Power Rangers compared to the MMPR book is becoming more apparent as we dive further into the lives of our heroes. There’s potential for some really, really good stuff here. Power Rangers fans should be very excited. I certainly am.

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An X-Men Gold, Vol. 1 Review – Noobs Enter Here

TITLE: X-Men Gold, Vol. 1: Back to Basics
AUTHOR: Marc Guggenheim
PENCILLERS: Ardian Syaf, R.B. Silva
COLLECTS: X-Men Gold #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $15.99
RELEASED: August 23, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m a continuity buff. It’s a fool’s errand, considering how often timelines change in American superhero comics. But for me, half the fun of getting into superhero books was going back and reading all the major stories, seeing how things progressed, etc. That being said, I’ve long since given up on deciphering X-Men continuity. Between all the different characters that have come on and off the team, died and come back, travelled through time, the ones with dopplegangers from other time periods, and all such insanity, it’s just too much. Considering how amazing and iconic some of these characters are, getting tangled up in all the plot threads becomes horribly frustrating.

That’s why I’ve been waiting awhile for a series like X-Men Gold, a book that not only serves as a jumping on point for new readers, but as the title says, brings the concept “back to basics.” This title gives us heroes we recognize fighting for mutants and humans alike. In making Kitty Pryde the team leader, we’ve advanced to the next chapter in the story while remembering what so many loved about it in the first place. It acknowledges the X-Men mythology, but tells its own story. If you’re a new reader or someone looking to jump back into things (as I was), that’s what you want.

In addition to Kitty, our team consists of Old Man Logan, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Rachel Grey (now called Prestige), with Gambit being added in issue #4. The most glaring “Huh?” moment will likely involve Logan. The operative question being, “Why is Wolverine an old man?” The book lets us know this is a character from another world, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. The dynamic between old flames Kitty and Peter (Colossus), which goes back decades, is also a focal point of the book. That’s obviously enhanced if you know their history. But what the book gives you is enough.

By making her the team leader, X-Men Gold shines a really nice spotlight on Kitty’s evolution as a character. In contrast to the younger version that more casual readers are familiar with. The Kity we see here is battle tested. She’s comfortable calling plays in the field. Her teammates, most of whom are older and more experienced, follow her lead without question. As the mutant community works to rebuild its image after the events of Inhumans vs. X-Men, we see her step up and serve as an ambassador. She’s as much a main character here as she’s ever been.

Guggenheim was wise to spend quality time on Rachel Grey here. She’s the one on this team that most casual fans won’t know about. We get a subplot in issues #4-6 about her being afraid to use her powers to their fullest extent, for fear of losing control like her mother Jean Grey. Or worse, going bad like her father Cyclops. She even gets little scenes with psychic projections of both. It’s a nice character snapshot that sets the table for stories to come.

The bad guys in this book are classic X-Men villains with a new coat of paint. We see the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, a group we’ve most notably seen led by Magneto. In the background, we have a political pundit trying to rally the public against mutants. She’s clearly an analogue for a Fox News type figure. Later on, Gambit is caught in the middle of an accident that sees a “smart swarm” of nanites mix with Sentinel tech. This creates an entirely new breed of mechanical menace for our heroes. None of this is terribly original or new. But it falls in line with the book’s “back to basics” approach. So it works.

Our penciller for the first three issues is Ardian Syaf. His art has a weight to it that fits the dramatic moments in this story very well. Whether it’s the two-page spread in issue #1 (shown above), or the understated “ra ra” moment at the end of issue #3 (partially shown below). Our opening action sequence with the team facing Terrax is also suitably epic.

I assume the plan was for Syaf to stick around after issue #3. One way or another, that didn’t happen. Subtle anti-Christian and anti-Semetic messages were found in the pencils for issue #1, and Syaf was fired. How ironic, in a series that’s ultimately meant to be about tolerance. I don’t want to dive into the politics of what Syaf did. But obviously this is the wrong forum, with the wrong audience.

R.B. Silva tags in for the remainder of the book. He and inker Adriano Di Benedetto give the book a softer aesthetic that objectively is fine. But being the second artist in a collection like this is always challenging. The tone has been set, and now you’re deviating from it. But Silva draws awesome Sentinels, and his Gambit isn’t too shabby either. Sadly, he doesn’t stick around for subsequent issues.

Occasionally someone will ask me, “Where should I start reading [insert character name]?” That’s always been a fairly hard question with the X-Men books. Historically, I’ve pointed people to Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men run. But X-Men Gold might just become my new answer. Or at least one of my answers. I won’t compare it to the Whedon/Cassaday stuff in terms of quality. But it’s about as accessible as any X-Men story I’ve read. It’s a great doorway into the saga’s modern era, while still advancing the characters for longtime readers.

Bottom line? Start here noobs.

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A Teen Titans: Damian Knows Best Review – A Return to Glory?

TITLE: Teen Titans, Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best
AUTHOR: Benjamin Percy
PENCILLERS: Jonboy Meyers, Diogenes Nieves, Khoi Pham
COLLECTS: Teen Titans #15Teen Titans Rebirth #1
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
June 14, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Teen Titans have had a pretty awesome run on television over the last decade and a half. The comics, on the other hand? They’ve been a mixed bag. But this new Teen Titans series under the DC Rebirth banner offered yet another fresh start for one of the most iconic and prolific superhero teams in all of comics. A chance to make the Teen Titans great again!

I wouldn’t call Damian Knows Best a great book. But these still manage to be the best Teen Titans comics we’ve gotten in several years. Since 2011 at the very least.

In the wake of his 13th birthday, Damian Wayne, a.k.a. Robin, summons his own team of young heroes to combat a threat from his past. Damian’s grandfather, Ra’s al Ghul, has sent his own team of young assassins after the Boy Wonder. Their mission? Either bring Damian back into the League of Assassins or kill him. But as his new teammates are about to find out, Damian isn’t one to make things easy.

Damian should have been on the Teen Titans a long time ago. That last really good Teen Titans story I alluded to above? It sees Damian barge in and briefly anoint himself team leader. Why it took so long to get him back on the team is beyond me. Sticking a character as abrasive as Damian in a team environment is a natural source for tension and conflict. Making it a team of adolescents ups the ante even more. It’s an update this book has desperately needed since…well, 2011.

Perennial team members Starfire, Beast Boy, and Raven are back. I’ve lamented previously about how the series can’t move away from them, presumably because DC wants to match the cartoon show. Plus, they’re synonymous with the iconic Wolfman/Perez era. Swapping one or two of them out for newer characters might open the door for even more new possibilities. That’s what a relaunch is supposed to be about, after all. We at least get a little of that with the inclusion of Kid Flash.

However, Ben Percy does a commendable job turning up the teen angst with most of our heroes. The common theme among them is the feeling they don’t belong anywhere. Like so many young people, they feel isolated.. That commonality that makes them feel like they belong together, instead of being lumped together for no real reason (other than editorial mandate). The opening sequence with Beast Boy is one of the character’s best in quite some time. As he behaves in his typical animated and boisterous fashion, the narration captions highlight his inner turmoil, most notably over the “death” of Tim Drake. Throw in how wonderfully drawn and colored the whole thing is, and you’ve got a knock-out intro.

That’s one of the things DC has failed to do with Teen Titans for so many years: Really amp up the teen element effectively, making this book considerably different from Justice League and the other team books out there. Need an example? Look what Mark Waid is doing in Champions. All those characters feel like teenagers trying to find their way in the world and blaze a new trail that’s different from the previous generation’s. Teen Titans doesn’t have that rebellious streak to it. But having these characters feel young and a little less sure of themselves is damn sure a step in the right direction.

Most of the Demon’s Fist characters are forgettable. They’re led by Damian’s cousin Mara. Despite being fairly forgettable herself, she has a strong origin story. She trained alongside Damian growing up, competing with him but never quite besting him. Damian was intended to lead the Demon’s Fist, but Mara took over in his absence. If you subscribe to the idea that all of Batman’s villains represent a distorted mirror image of him, then Mara would be the equivalent for Robin.

Jonboy Meyers was supposed to be the regular artist for Teen Titans. He made it through issue #1 before leaving due to “creative differences.” That’s a damn shame. Meyers breathed so much new life into this series, giving us an Anime-inspired expressiveness, and thus a sense of fun the book has sorely lacked for a long time. Make no mistake about it, the guy knows his way around a superhero action sequence. I’ll specifically cite the Kid Flash pages from the Rebirth issue as evidence.

Diogenes Nieves has the unenviable job of tagging in for Meyers in issue #2. To his credit, the transition goes about as smooth as you could ask. He gives us a couple of gorgeous pages of a rainy rooftop scene between Damian and Talia al Ghul. Still, the little quirks in Meyers’ art are still sorely missed. The same, sadly, can be said for when Khoi Pham takes over on issues #3-5. Objectively, he’s a fine artist. When it’s time for our team to rise up in issue #5, Pham nails it. It’s just that Meyers has that certain flair. Starting with it and then taking it away doesn’t do the book any favors.

Thankfully, one constant in the book is colorist Jim Charalampidis, who brings a valuable consistency to the series despite the changing artists. These pages look a touch darker than I might have expected. But it’s still the beautiful blaze of color you’d hope to see from a superhero team book like this.

It’s been quite awhile since I picked up Teen Titans on a consistent basis. This new series changed that. Did Damian Knows Best make Teen Titans great again? No. But it made the series good again. That’s more than you can say for any other book to bear it’s name in the last several years. Now, here’s hoping things stay good for quite some time. These characters, and this series deserve at least that much.

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