An X-Men Gold, Vol. 2 Review – Old Flames Reignited

TITLE: X-Men Gold, Vol. 2: Evil Empires
AUTHOR: Marc Guggenheim
PENCILLER: Ken Lashley, Lan Medina, Luke Ross
COLLECTS: X-Men Gold #712
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: November 15, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

X-Men Gold is a feel-good book in a lot of ways. It’s got a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feel to it while still having its feet planted in the modern era. That was the case in the first volume, and it continues here in the second.

Evil Empires sees our heroes face a mutant serial killer, Congress, and Russian gangsters backed up by Omega Red. That’s variety for you. All the while, romances old and new start to blossom. Rachel Grey discovers Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler’s feelings for her, as Kitty and Peter slowly move closer to resurrecting their relationship. Plus, what secrets lay in the journey that the alien Kologoth took to Earth? We saw him work with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But where does he go from here?

Kitty and Peter are the emotional core of Evil Empires as a reunion between the two becomes more and more tempting. It’s so obvious where they’re going that the romantic scenes between the two lose some of their edge. But there’s an obvious feel-good quality to it, considering these two have grown up together. That they joined the team so young and are now in leadership roles makes the book feel like the natural continuation of the X-Men legacy.

Kitty herself is the personification of that idea. In the span of a few issues, we see her delegate tasks for her team during a crisis, go one-on-one with a mutant serial killer in the school, and testify before Congress against an act that would deport all mutants. Not half bad. It also doesn’t hurt that Ken Lashley drew a hell of a fight scene in issue #8, with a sword-wielding Pryde facing our serial killer. Great dim lighting in that scene too, which is a credit to tremendous coloring by Frank Martin and Andrew Crossley.

Our killer is a new version of the X-Cutioner. He’s more or less a S.W.A.T. guy with a LOT of extra toys. But he’s got a fairly sympathetic backstory, and we find out he’s got a pretty good reason to dislike mutants. He’s simply taken it too far. The way Guggenheim writes his confrontation with Kitty is a great snapshot of the world the X-Men live in. The stigma that mutants live with isn’t always the result of blind prejudice. That doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t justify violence. But it’s not always as simple as people being afraid of people that are different.

Full disclosure: I know next to nothing about Rachel’s relationship with Kurt prior to X-Men Gold. But there’s a shy sweetness to it that’s, dare I say, cute. They approach the idea of being together with reasonable caution, but there’s obviously a good amount of chemistry there. Rachel and Kurt hardly have the spotlight in this book, but what we get is enough to make you want more. 

So we’ve got iconic and interesting characters who have a cozy, family-like dynamic with one another. We see them on the baseball field when we open the book, and then later playing cards. Again, it’s kind of cute. The problem is once we get past issue #9, we lose a lot of intrigue. Issues #10 and #11 are about Russian gangsters trying to resurrect Omega Red, using Peter’s sister Illyana (a.k.a. Magik) as a power source. Outside of the novelty of seeing Omega Red and Illyana, for the most part there’s not much to sink your teeth into.

I remember skipping out on issue #12 when I saw it at my local comic shop. The exploration of Kologoth’s backstory and this whole alien world felt like a sharp turn, despite a brief set-up for it early on. It’s all meant to pay off in later issues (#16 and #17 specifically). But for the time being I was struggling to care, and as such the book ends on a whimper.

All that being said, the book is very well illustrated. The art actually holds the book up in the second half as its story deteriorates. Ken Lashley is our cover artist, and does the pencils and inks for issues #7-9. Lashley excels in giving his work a sense of motion, which is why his fight sequences work so well. And not just the one with the X-Cutioner. Whiplash (see Iron Man 2) crashes Kitty’s appearance in front of Congress, which causes a brief but intense fight. He also gives us a pretty cool layout with Nightcrawler in issue #7 (shown left).

We shift to Chris Medina’s more detailed style for issues #10 and #11. While I was hardly enamored with the story about Peter’s uncle, Medina did give him a very distinct face. During his scenes you feel like you’re looking at a real person. The quieter, more intimate moments between Kitty and Peter also mean a bit more with Medina at the pencil. His style offers them a little more heart.

Luke Ross gets tagged in for issue #12. I’ll say this much: He draws a hell of a reptilian alien in Kologoth. Really nice texture on the skin and teeth, plus the ominous red eyes.  So little about the issue is memorable. But Ross’ rendering of the monster itself stands out. Frank Martin goes solo on the colors here, and gets to play with a pretty expansive palette. Especially early on, when we get a look at Kologoth’s home world.

X-Men Gold, Vol. 2 underperforms in its second volume, despite delivering some solid character work and good action early on. But as a reader, it still has my attention. There’s still a lot of value in this back to basics approach, and a great stories than can still be told.

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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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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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A Star Wars: Yoda’s Secret War Review – Size Still Matters Not

TITLE: Star Wars, Vol. 5: Yoda’s Secret War
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron, Kelly Thompson
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca, Emilio Laiso. Cover by Stuart Immonen.
COLLECTS: Star Wars #2630Star Wars Annual #2
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: July 5, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve referred to the “Journal of Old Ben Kenobi” issues of Star Wars the highlight of the series thus far. I stand by that statement in terms of the one-off tales we got in issues #7, #15, and #20. But they went a little too far here. A five-issue story from the journal? Which features Yoda instead of Obi-Wan? I can understand the temptation to try it. But no. This falls in the “too much of a good thing” category.

As Luke Skywalker ponders a current predicament involving C-3PO being captured by the Empire, he opens Ben Kenobi’s journal and begins reading. Ben weaves a tale of a Jedi being called to a remote planet not on any star maps. A world inhabited only by children, who speak of a mysterious “stonepower.” Little does Luke know that the Jedi unraveling the mystery of this planet is Yoda, the former Grand Master of the Jedi Order who will soon continue his training in the ways of the Force.

Our artist for the main story is Salvador Larroca, whose work I’ve talked about in great detail previously. Long story short: His art is largely based on stills from the Star Wars movies, and it’s incredibly distracting. You want to be into the story, but the art keeps reminding you of scenes from Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, etc. It works for characters like Darth Vader or C-3PO, whose faces never change. But for just about everyone else it’s a problem. It’s a shame, because otherwise this is pretty good stuff. Edgar Delgado’s colors really capture the magic and wonder of the Star Wars Universe, especially once Yoda is sent on a question inside a mountain. And we get a big monster toward the end that’s are a lot of fun.

To his credit, Jason Aaron gets Yoda right. He’s not afraid to play with Yoda’s ironic size/power ratio. In issue #26, we see him walk into the lair of a bunch of space pirates to save a Force-sensitive child. As one might expect, they initially laugh him off. But he dispatches them, and gets a pretty good line in: “Something more precious than wealth have I brought you. … Wisdom.”

During our story, Yoda becomes the student of a boy named Garro, who teaches him about the stonepower. Seeing our little green friend as an apprentice instead of a master is always a fun role reversal. Star Wars fans obviously know that he instructs very young Jedi at the temple on Coruscant. So the fact that he’s on a planet full of child warriors is a great little twist. We get some cool visuals of Yoda and Garro with the glowing stones, and the blue light reflecting across the Jedi Master’s alien skin.

But despite what Yoda’s Secret War has going for it, it’s simply too long. They could have trimmed at least one issue off of this and been absolutely fine. In issue #29, we see Yoda face a rock monster that’s as tall as a building. That’s a great match-up, and a perfect illustration of the grand yet unassuming power this little guy possesses. In terms of a grand finale for a Yoda story, it’s tough to ask for more than that. But as we move through issue #29 and into #30, we jump back to present day and see Luke mix it up with an adult Garro. Thus, a story that was already starting to feel it’s length officially overstays its welcome. I understand the impulse to connect the story to Luke. But the reader already knows Yoda eventually trains him. It’s needless filler.

We also have to endure the narrative convenience that, in telling this story, Ben Kenobi never identifies Yoda by name. This is a continuity hoop Aaron has to jump through so Luke doesn’t recognize Yoda’s name in The Empire Strikes Back. While I appreciate the attention to continuity, it’s just a little too convenient for my taste. Logically, why wouldn’t Obi-Wan use Yoda’s name?

We also get the obligatory scene at the end with Yoda on Dagobah, talking about how Luke will be ready soon. Again, needless filler.

Also contained in this book is Star Wars Annual #2, in which our creative team shifts to Kelly Thompson and Emilio Laiso. We meet a character named Pash Lavane on the planet of Skorii-Lei, which has been devastated by the war between the Empire and the Rebellion. While she’s an immensely talented former engineer, with the physique of an Amazon to boot, Pash opts to stay out of the conflict. But when she rescues Princess Leia from a stormtrooper attack, she’s irrevocably drawn in. She may have no choice but to pick a side.

I appreciate the story Thompson tells about how one can’t always stay neutral when it comes to what’s happening in their world at large. But what I came away thinking about was the Pash character herself. The juxtaposition of a big, muscled up character who’s also technically savvy is intriguing. Pash is almost the She-Hulk of the Star Wars universe. Laiso strikes a lovely balance, as he makes her both facially expressive and imposing in stature. Between Doctor Aphra and Sana Solo, Marvel hasn’t been shy about creating new strong female characters. Pash makes that list as well, and it’s a shame we haven’t seen her since this issue.

I’ve drifted in and out of Marvel’s main Star Wars series since its debut. As big a Star Wars geek as I’ve always been, this title has had trouble holding my attention. Sadly, Yoda’s Secret War is my latest exit cue. Hopefully I get a reason to return sooner rather than later.

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A Suicide Squad: Going Sane Review – The Harley Quinn Show

TITLE: Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Going Sane
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLER:
Jim Lee, Riley Rossmo, Sean Galloway, Stephen Byrne, Carlos D’Anda, Giuseppe Gamuncoli
COLLECTS: Suicide Squad #58Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Day Special #1
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
June 7, 2017

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Suicide Squad, Vol. 2 should really be called The Harley Quinn Show. The story doesn’t revolve around her, but she’s clearly the star. We even learn that one of the characters is a Harley fangirl. DC obviously knows what side its bread gets buttered on…

Our main story picks up from where The Black Vault left off, with General Zod and the vault being held in Belle Reeve Penitentiary. But the vault, a gateway into the Phantom Zone, is effecting everyone in the prison. It’s pushing them to the brink of insanity, enticing them to kill. But it’s having the opposite effect on Harley Quinn. Her sanity is restored. Thus she may be the only one capable of saving the world from Zod.

Oddly enough, several years ago there was a Batman story called “Going Sane” that shares a similar concept with this book. The Joker thinks Batman is dead, so his sanity recedes and he tries to live a normal life. It’s not a great story. But the whole sanity reversal thing has a little more depth to it than what we get here, which is essentially the flick of a light switch.

I actually don’t have a problem with how they handle the whole sanity/insanity turn. But whenever Suicide Squad gets too Harley heavy, I have the same reaction to when a Justice League story lays it on too thick with Batman. “Over-Baturation,” if you will. That’s how Going Sane left me feeling. A team story where a specific character has an arc is one thing. Laying it on too thick is another.

What puts it over the top is that the one-shot Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Special is collected in this volume. I imagine they put it here, as opposed to Vol. 1, because the story goes with the whole going sane theme. It sees Harley trying to use her skills as a psychotherapist to redeem other supervillains, Most notably Man-Bat. It’s mostly fine on its own. But when paired with our main story, it’s too much Harley. To some, I’m sure that notion is blasphemous. I don’t care. Too much of anything is a drawback.

Going Sane is more or less a superpowered prison riot popcorn flick. I can get behind that. In a lot of ways, that’s what Suicide Squad should be. Aiding in the proceedings is that it’s all pencilled by Jim Lee. Thus, it’s got an added sense of epicness and gravitas. Lee, inkers Richard Friend and Sandra Hope, and colorist Jeremiah Skipper obviously make everybody look good. Harley in particular (see above). Skipper gets to have some fun with the lighting at various points. Most of this takes place in Belle Reeve. But they shake the scenery up with red and yellow sunlight generators, the purple glow that surrounds the Black Vault, the power going out, etc.

I can’t recall seeing Lee draw Man-Bat prior to the April Fool’s one-shot. But he makes him every bit as detail-rich and monstrous as you’d expect. We also see Batman, Joker, and the Justice League in that issue, bringing back plenty of memories from Hush and Justice League: Origin. Lee’s frequent collaborator Alex Sinclair colors that story, which ups the nostalgia factor in that regard.

One thing I still don’t understand: Why did Zod have to be so damn huge? They explained it by saying it had to do with how he came out of the Black Vaullt. At one point they have him clamped down on this giant contraption like he’s Doomsday or Bane. Later, he nearly crushes Captain Boomerang by simply falling on him. Was this an artistic choice so he’d look more imposing? I suppose it fits with the tone of the book. But you know what’s really imposing? A guy who can bend steel with his fists and melt flesh with heat vision. Take that into account, and it doesn’t really matter how tall you are, does it?

Also, Killer Croc and June Moon (Enchantress) apparently have sex in this book (shown above). So, there’s that. Their romance is actually a nice little addition to the book. In issue #5, Croc has what I would guess is his most romantic line ever: “I…want to eat everyone. I don’t want to eat you.” But much like with Hulk and Viv Vision, I can’t help getting caught up in the physical “mechanics” of it all. How does it even work? Do I even want to know? Probably not.

As was the case in Vol. 1, we get a bunch of character-centric back-up stories. This time we focus on a new character called Hack, as well as Killer Croc, and Enchantress. We also get a look at Killer Frost in preparation for Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.

The best of the bunch is the Killer Croc story, pencilled by Carlos D’Anda (shown below). We see Waylon Jones as a vulnerable young boy with a tragic skin condition. Rob Williams plays the sympathy card with Croc, as we often see with other Batman villains. But it’s as effective as always, especially with the big expressive eyes D’Anda gives Waylon.

Hack, a young woman who can transform herself into digital data, found herself inspired by Harley Quinn as she grew up impoverished in Africa. Like Harley with the Joker, Hack’s choice of role model was to her own detriment. The backup, illustrated by Stephen Byrne, is fine. Hack is intriguing, and as this book illustrates, her powers open up some interesting doors. But if you’ve read ahead, you know Suicide Squad doesn’t necessarily use her to her fullest potential.

The series loses a little bit of its momentum here. But Harley Quinn fans and comic art buffs will find something in Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Going Sane. It’s not a creative highlight, but it’s at least worth a glance.

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A Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 3 Review – Lord Drakkon’s Wrath

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 3
AUTHORS: Kyle Higgins, Steve Orlando
PENCILLERS: Hendry Prasetya, Jonathan Lam, Corin Howell.
COLLECTS: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #912
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: June 7, 2017

***Need further detail? Check out our reviews of issues #9, #11, and #12.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

For my own finicky reasons, I’ve been enjoying BOOM! Studios’ Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series with a strong sense of caution. I’m very wary of how this story about a dystopian alternate reality is going to end. But even with that caution, as a Power Rangers geek it’s impossible to deny the quality of what we see on these pages. These are easily the best MMPR stories ever seen on the comic book page.

Picking up where Vol. 2 left off, the Rangers are as close as they’ve ever been to a doomsday scenario. With help from the mysterious Black Dragon, Rita Repulsa has destroyed the Command Center, cut the teens off from both Zordon and their powers, gained control of the zords, and imprisoned Billy in her Dark Dimension. In a last ditch effort, the teens have regained access to the Morphin Grid using Tommy’s Power Coin. In the ensuing battle, Tommy and Billy are transported to an alternate universe. A decimated reality where Tommy did not join Zordon’s team of Rangers. Needless to say, both Tommy and the world at large look very, very different.

The big moment from issue #9, and perhaps this volume overall, is the introduction of Lord Drakkon. As one might surmise given the costume is an amalgamation of the Green and White Ranger suits, it turns out to be an evil version of Tommy. Drakkon’s world is darker than almost anything we’ve ever seen in Power Rangers lore, both literally and thematically. Angel Grove is in ruins, with destroyed zords laying out in the open. Giant statues of Rita and the Green Ranger stand in the city. Then in issue #12, one of the Rangers actually dies. It’s off panel, but still a pretty big deal considering this is all based on a kids show.

And yet, it’s impactful and it works. That’s a testament to this team taking the source material more seriously. To the uninitiated, I’m sure it seems silly. But if you grew up with Power Rangers, and still have a deep affection for it, there’s real value in showing respect to these characters and this world. The proof is in the sales receipts. Now we’re getting a second ongoing series and a Justice League team up.

Obviously, this story takes place pretty early into Tommy’s run as a Power Ranger, a la season one of the show. But Higgins, Prasetya, and the team go a little wild in this volume, taking advantage of the alternate timeline and throwing in elements from later in the series. We see Saba, the Thunderzords, the Tigerzord, the Falconzord, and even catch a glimpse of characters like Ninjor and the Phantom Ranger. It all looks tremendous, as Prasetya is far more in his element when he’s drawing the superhero action stuff. There’s a splash page of the Tigerzord in issue #12 (shown below) that’s particularly morphenomenal.

But these future elements are where my caution comes into play. Tommy and Billy are seeing all these things from their future. People have told me I’m being too picky about this, and maybe they’re right. But I stand firm in the idea that from Tommy and Billy’s perspective, seeing things like this taints the impact of events that happen to them later. Take the famous sequence in “White Light, Part 2” when Tommy is revealed as the White Ranger, and he’s told he will work alongside Saba and command the Tigerzord. This story implies that he’ll recognize both of them. It’s almost like he’s a kid who snuck a peak at his Christmas presents. He knows what he’s getting, so that moment of genuine surprise and discovery is tainted. I’m hoping a mind wipe is forthcoming for Tommy and Billy.

That being said, I take my hat off to Higgins and the BOOM! Studios team for caring enough about the Power Rangers universe to incorporate things like this. It’s part of why, tainted impact or not, these are the best PR comics ever created.

Issue #10 is an interlude focusing on Billy, with Jonathan Lam takes over the pencil, and Joana Lafuente on the colors. It zooms in on Billy’s anxiety and insecurities. It’s a natural direction to take, considering what the character was like on the show. It also serves as a nice follow-up to the scene we saw between Billy and Trini in issue #2. Lam’s pencils are sketchier, and a little more “Americanized” than Prasetya’s. But the transition isn’t as jarring as it might have been with a different artist.

The volume wraps up “The Ongoing Adventures of Bulk & Skull,” as Rita dupes the duo into controlling her latest monster. I’ve been a little tough on these in past reviews. The reality of it is, they’re hardly the highlight of the series. But they’re fine for what they are. Going forward, these backup stories shift to “The Ongoing Misadventures of Squatt and Baboo.” Ironic, considering Rita once called Bulk and Skull “a human Squatt and Baboo.”

Despite the apprehensions I have about this Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series, which admittedly are a little bit silly, the book is a great testament to the impact the show had on so many of us. Higgins, Prasetya, and everyone working on it has done great justice to it. I’m thankful we have so much more to look forward to.

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