Bullseye Girls

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Harley Quinn and Power Girl #2

While Power Girl takes the thankless job of tanking a bunch of alien ships, Harley has to figure out how to stop a killbot when she has no weapons. Later, they all run into an alien supergroup called the XGF — the Ex-Girlfriend Force — all former lovers of Vartox. There’s an extended period of bickering — there’s only one man in the XGF, and he wants the team to pick a new name, and some of them are fairly jealous of Power Girl, whose alternate-reality counterpart was Vartox’s fave gal — and Harley shows up and hits everyone with hammers. So where the heck is Vartox anyway?

Verdict: Ehh, not a complete thumbs down, but I wasn’t wildly impressed. The character work is fine, the art is fine, the jokes went on a bit long and got a smidge repetitive.

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Sensation Comics #12

In our first story, Wonder Woman discovers that Poison Ivy is attacking Themyscira — only to learn that Ivy is here only because she felt a warning from Gaia telling her to come here. The Amazons realize that a warning from Gaia means the monster Typhon is awakening from his ancient slumber and preparing to attack. Do Diana and Ivy have a chance against a monster vastly more powerful than they are? And in Story #2, after a particularly heinous crime by Dr. Destiny leaves Diana unsettled, Batman prescribes a vacation to a small mountain town with a Solomon Grundy problem…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Both stories are excellently written and illustrated. Poison Ivy’s massive tree-trunk armor is something that should be seen in comics more often.

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Social Election

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Prez #2

The presidential election has ended in a tie, and the House of Representatives are playing games to get the candidates to offer them bigger and better bribes. Beth Ross is mostly a background player — she’s only in the running as a joke, with just Ohio in her electoral total. Her father dies of cat flu, and most of her time is devoted to taking care of her life, without worrying about the increasingly ridiculous election bribery.

More Congressmen start giving their votes to Beth in each ballot in order to spur the two main candidates to offer them better goodies — but at last, one state too many gives their gag vote to Beth, and all of a sudden, she’s the President of the United States. Can a figure from the past show her the ropes and keep her from being assassinated?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A political humor comic with a giant dose of heart and characterization at its core. The best moments really don’t have anything to do with politics — there’s a couple pages early on in the hospital, where a ridiculous robot bear calling himself Carl the End-of-Life Bear barges into the room with Beth and her father, offers everyone some marijuana, and then appears to be about to smother Beth’s dad with a pillow. (He’s actually propping up her dad’s head to make him more comfortable.)

Immediately after this page of surreal goofball humor, there’s a couple pages of Beth’s dad waxing poetic on the miracles of the human brain and declaring banana pudding to be evidence of the worth of human evolution. And then he dies. It’s beautiful and tragic, and it’s amazing storytelling. And I think we can plan on this comic being something worth reading.

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All-New Hawkeye #4

Most of our story here is set in the past at the circus where the Barton brothers spent their childhoods. While the Swordsman teaches Clint archery, he teaches Barney pickpocketing. Clint doesn’t approve, but that doesn’t stop Barney, who knows he has to turn in enough money to let both boys stay at the circus. But Ms. Carson, the bearded lady who runs the criminal sideshow, wants Clint to start stealing, too. Meanwhile, in the brief glimpses we get of the modern day, the forces of Hydra invade the apartment to try to take the cyber-brain mutant kids into custody, and Clint and Kate fight back.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wasn’t prepared to like this much, because Ramon Perez’s pastel-colored past gets a little hard to look at after you read it for page after page after page. But the storytelling is solid, the characterization and plotting are great, and the artwork is gorgeous.

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Behold Excalibur!

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Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders #1

Another corner of Battleworld gets introduced — this one an entirely peaceful realm governed by Ho Yinsen, the man who, in Iron Man’s origin story, died helping Tony Stark survive his first foray in his new powered armor. In this world, Tony sacrificed himself to let Yinsen survive, and he know rules this area of Battleworld as the armored hero Rescue. Jennifer Walters is on hand as both She-Hulk and one of the super-cop Thors. The other heroes of this world, called the Defenders, include Yinsen’s daughter Antonia as Kid Rescue, Hobie Brown, the former Prowler, as Spider Hero, and Aya Ayala, the White Tiger.

When the Defenders discover someone walking just outside the realm’s border — no one’s supposed to be out there, because Doom has decreed that no one can pass between realms without facing dire penalties. And then things get worse when the person effortlessly busts through the border walls with her sword and introduces herself as Dr. Faiza Hussain, Captain Britain! Since it’s illegal for anyone to cross the borders, She-Hulk should be arresting her — even more so when she denies the divinity of Doom. But all the Defenders have been having their doubts about Doom’s plans, so they eagerly join her in revolt. But that doesn’t often work well when your opponent is a god…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fantastic art by Alan Davis — and I’m really excited by this all-too-rare appearance by Faiza Hussain, one of my favorite characters from the “Captain Britain and MI13″ series from a few years back. This is looking like it could be one of the more interesting miniseries in the “Secret Wars” crossover.

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Lumberjanes #16

While the rest of the Lumberjanes finally reunite with Jen, most of this story’s emphasis is on Rosie and the Bear Woman’s attempt to stop Abigail from trying to destroy the monstrous Grootslang. Things do not go as planned.

Verdict: Ehhh, not a thumbs up this time. Rosie and the Bear Woman work best as supporting characters, not stars. I really think the focus should be on our heroes, the Lumberjane scouts. The comic is a lot less fun when they’re stuffed into the background.

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Hawkeye Sunset

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Hawkeye #22

Finally, after months and months and months, we finally get the final issue of this great, innovative series. Yes, it’s the last issue, even though “All-New Hawkeye” has been running for the past few months. So it’s the final battle between Clint Barton, Kate Bishop, and all the tenants in his building vs. the Bros and the Clown. Do the heroes stand a chance? Who will survive, and what will be left of them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Even for an issue that’s mostly people shooting each other with arrows and guns and blowing each other up and generally knocking the stuffings out of each other, it still does some great artistic and interesting things. I am disappointed that this title ended up so low on everyone’s priorities that it got repeatedly bobbled and delayed for so long, but it’s still an amazing achievement. Haven’t read it yet? Look for the trades, and collect them all.

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Revival #31

The religious survivalists called the Hunters of the Beast turn out to be a bit of a paper tiger — the police and military don’t have a lot of trouble capturing them, and Em Cypress takes out quite a few all by herself, even with a few gunshot wounds and a mysterious undead pregnancy. And when she finally catches up with the rotten Blaine Abel, there may be nothing that can stop her from getting revenge on him. Plus the military is trying to figure out the connection between the Revivers and the ghosts haunting the woods.

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, great art, great story, and plenty of weird creepiness going on, sometimes unnoticed by the main characters — is there anything in the county that’s able to die anymore? — sometimes right out there where everyone can see.

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Birds of a Feather

AstroCity25

Astro City #25

This issue focuses on Amanda Hammacher, daughter of the superhero Hummingbird, and a legacy hero herself after she grows her own wings and starts gaining other amazing powers. She enjoys being a member of Honor Guard, meeting other superheroes, and fighting evil, but her continued physical changes soon lead to a shocking revelation — she’s actually transforming into a bird over time! Can this be prevented?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Another great issue spotlighting a character we’ve never had much exposure to. We get tons of great characterization along with a fantastic story, too.

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Silver Surfer #13

The Surfer and Dawn are prepared to start a new stage of their relationship, and they’re traveling around the galaxy visiting many of the friends they’ve made since their journeys together began. But almost without warning, the universe begins to fall apart! The Surfer races away as fast as he can, realizing that this is the end of everything, but when Dawn realizes that Earth has been destroyed, she almost leaps off the board — until a future version of herself tells her everything will be okay and directs her to a convenient tear in reality. When she and the Surfer enter the tear, they find themselves in limbo, a plane of complete non-existence, with two new companions, Glorian and Zee — along with Eternity, the embodiment of all creation, now wearing the face of Doctor Doom! Is there any way to repair the universe with the material in limbo?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A fantastic opening, shifting from a nostalgic trip to see old friends, immediately followed by a frantic and panicked flight that feels amazingly urgent. I wasn’t so hot on what happened after they got into limbo — mainly because we went from superspeed fleeing from the end of everything to a place where nothing at all was happening — but the first half of the comic makes it a solid read.

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Murder Times Four

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Bodies

We’ve got a keen little bit of high concept here, a single murder mystery spread out across four different time periods. The writer of the whole thing is Si Spencer, while the illustrators are — one per era — Dean Ormston, Phil Winslade, Meghan Hetrick, and Tula Lotay. I considered reading this issue by issue, but decided I’d enjoy it more in a single collected volume.

So we start out in London in 1890, where Jack the Ripper is scaring up headlines, and Inspector Edmond Hillinghead is a dedicated policeman hiding his homosexuality from his fellow officers. And things change drastically when the gruesomely mutilated body of a murdered man is discovered in an alley.

Then we skip forward to London in 1940, while the Germans are bombing the city during the Blitz. Inspector Charles Whiteman escaped from a Nazi concentration camp years ago and is now the crookedest cop in the city. And things change drastically when the exact same gruesomely mutilated body of a murdered man is discovered.

We move on the London in 2014, where Detective Sergeant Shahara Hasan is one of the top cops in the city, Muslim during riots instigated by racist hatemongers — but also fiercely patriotic and proud of her own Englishness. And then the exact same body turns up again.

Finally, we end up in London, 2050, after a high-tech “pulsewave” has destroyed the ability of most people to even think clearly. In the ruins of the city, a woman called Maplewood discovers the gruesomely mutilated body of a murdered man, and like the other detectives from across the decades, feels compelled to investigate.

So what’s the solution? Who’s the victim? Who’s the killer? How was the death replicated across time? Is there any way for these four sleuths to discover the truth? Will they be able to team up? Or will a time-spanning conspiracy destroy all of them — and all of us as well?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of stuff to love in this story. I’m not a fan of all of the art, but it’s a fantastic idea to have a different artist illustrate each era — it makes everything much easier to follow for a story that could’ve been incredibly confusing.

The mystery is, obviously, a huge draw — the sheer ridiculous impossibility of the crime is stunning and terribly difficult to resist. The desire to learn more about what’s going on is entirely overwhelming. And things really do get even better when more conspiracy and horror elements are stirred into the stew. Arcane symbols, ancient paintings, secret societies plotting against everyone, arc words repeated more and more frequently, the impossible made possible, and terror made flesh. And, of course, the end of the world. Is the fourfold murder a crime? A symbol? A warning? A culprit? Or is it a solution all on its own?

The book’s primary weakness — like too many long mystery stories — is the ending, which dives headlong into mind-trippy symbolism and British boosterism while failing to really explain much of anything. But the ride up to that point is solidly E-ticket all the way. Actually, I’ve gotten to where I mostly ignore the ending the book chose and invent my own that keeps me happier.

But however you feel about the ending, I think this comic was a grand amount of fun. Go pick it up.

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Storm Chaser

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Starfire #2

Hurricane Betty is hitting Key West hard. Sheriff Stella Gomez is working to coordinate rescue and relief efforts, her brother in the Coast Guard is going to suicidal lengths to save people, and Starfire trying to carry as many people as she can to the safety of the shelter in the school. Will she be able to save everyone before running out of power? And why is a giant monster stalking the island?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice straightforward story by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, along with clear, charismatic art from Emanuela Lupacchino.

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All Star Section Eight #2

While Six Pack obsesses about getting Green Lantern to join Section Eight — and staging a battle between a bunch of Green Lanterns (most of his team) and Star Sapphire (Guts in a bikini) to attract the attention of the Guardians — we also get the origin of the new Dogwelder, as well as Bueno Excellente’s unrequited love for (ugh!) Guts.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of great stuff going on here — great writing and art plus fantastic crude and surreal humor. There are still some zingers on the superhero game, but it turns out Hal Jordan is a lot more on-the-ball than Batman was last issue.

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Harrow County #3

Emmy and Bernice have stumbled into an ancient graveyard and soon find themselves surrounded by silent, flaming spirits. They escape the menacing specters, but soon find themselves facing a more tangible danger — the human townsfolk, looking to find and kill Emmy. Her pet haint leads most of them away, but her father still manages to find them. Insisting she must be the witch they’d executed 18 years before, he tries to kill her, but the haint’s physical form defends her, and Emmy resists the temptation to use her growing supernatural powers for evil. But there are much more dire creatures waiting in the woods for her.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Amazing art and writing, and a deliriously creepy atmosphere. I think this one’s going to be really, really outstanding.

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Real Life Doesn’t Work that Way

InRealLifeTPB

In Real Life

Anda is a perfectly normal teenager who’s just started playing an MMORPG called Coarsegold Online. She’s gotten a probationary membership in a all-girl players’ guild and is busy learning the ropes and leveling up in the game. She’s met a brash new friend online who calls herself Sarge, and the two of them enjoy going on raids together and collecting tons of XP. Sarge has a new scheme — paid raids, where the participants get paid in real money, to go out and attack players who are gold farmers from China, wipe them out, and collect their loot.

After she befriends a gold farmer named Raymond, she learns more about gold farming and conditions in China. Raymond is only 16, but he plays Coarsegold about 12 hours a day for money. Conditions are not particularly good there, but the money is good, and Raymond would rather earn money doing something he enjoys. But he’s sick, and there’s no such thing as sick leave for gold farmers. So Anda goes behind Sarge’s back to stay friends with Raymond and to try to improve things for him.

But at the same time, Anda’s parents don’t like her spending so much time gaming — especially when she’s getting Paypal money from boys from the paid raids. And getting paid for raids is also against the guild rules, so she may get her game account blocked. Plus Anda’s ideas about unionizing the gold farmers have gotten Raymond in trouble, and he may lose his job. Can Anda figure out a way to make things right for everyone?

Verdict: I think I’m going with a partial thumbs down. I mean, the book is competently written, the plot moves along well, the dialogue is fine, the characterization is really rather excellent — but I’ve got a problem with some of the places the story ends up going to.

See, the writer of this comic, Cory Doctorow, is a techno-utopian. He thinks technology will lead us to a new golden age for humanity. In some ways, he’s correct — the Arab Spring could never have happened without Twitter, and the Internet is something I consider a solid net-positive for the world. But the ‘Net also brings us clickbait and revenge porn and Stormfront and Breitbart and scams and lies galore, and while Twitter may be able to bring about good, it’s still just a tool, and it is often used to harrass and abuse women, awkward teens, and anyone who online bullies care to abuse.

In this story, online game chat in a fantasy MMORPG brings about unionization of gold farmers in China. That’s so unrealistic, it’s not even funny. It’s not just techno-utopian, it’s techno-pollyanna. In the real world, every one of the Chinese gold farmers would’ve been fired — if they were lucky. They could’ve ended up in prison. They could’ve ended up dead. China isn’t America, where a decent PR campaign and some online petitions will make megacorps adjust their behavior. Raymond’s friends accuse Anda of interfering where she doesn’t understand the culture — they’re right, and Doctorow is wrong.

Doctorow has written multiple books that feature characters who are gold farmers in MMORPGs — and who are able to use their online skills to effect real-world change. But those are set in science fiction novels at some point in the near-but-nebulous future. This is supposed to be a more realistic story, with real people playing a semi-realistic game in the modern world. Doctorow’s gold-farming optimism may have a place in a fantasy world, but here, it looks naive.

I’m also bugged by the fact that the story essentially works out to being about an Enlightened White Hero saving the Foreign Brown Hordes. The ending even has Raymond replacing his cookie-cutter gnomish game avatar with a tall, handsome, sophisticated avatar so he’ll look more like Anda’s character. It’s insulting — and embarrassing, too.

I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about illustrator Jen Wang‘s artwork, which is expressive and charismatic and humanizing and fun in every way. I think it’d be worth your time to look for more of her books.

If you’re interested in this one, you can go pick it up here.

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I Would Die 4 U

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The Wicked + the Divine #12

The world is in turmoil because Baphomet has apparently killed Inanna — and then committed another murder of a family in London. (We know the second one isn’t true — but any more details would spoil last issue, and it was so good, I’m not willing to do that yet.) (And in fact, I’ve got my doubts about the first. Everyone assumes that Inanna is dead — but his look is based on Prince, and there ain’t no way His Purple Badness dies offscreen.)

Anyway, in this issue, we follow a filmmaker named Beth and her team of assistants — all similar to Cassandra, and in fact, Beth used to work for Cassandra before she got fired. Anyway, Beth is trying to make a film about the gods, but she’s got no documentary footage she’s happy with. While getting B-roll footage of mourning crowds at Inanna’s house, Beth encounters Baal and persuades him to give her an exclusive interview about Inanna in exchange for helping him find the Morrigan, who could lead him to Baphomet. There’s a huge fight that only ends when Woden makes the scene to drag the combatants away.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Although the main thing I dislike about the issue is a major turnoff — guest artist Kate Brown is an excellent artist, but she just doesn’t seem to fit this series. As if to play that up, there’s a brief one-page interlude inside the back cover that’s drawn by regular artist Jamie McKelvie — it’s a lot more resonant with the series than Brown’s more cartoony style.

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American Vampire: Second Cycle #8

Skinner Sweet has been corrupted by the Gray Trader into one of his super-vampires — but his stubbornness and sheer cussedness lets him throw off his monsterizing influence and revert to normal. Now the only way to keep him from turning into a monster again is to keep him week by giving him an IV of gold — the only substance harmful to the American breed of vampires. And now he has to go up in the spacecraft to help sabotage Sputnik, because there’s no one left but him. Meanwhile, Pearl Jones and Felicia Book are traveling underground — literally — in an attempt to infiltrate the base before the Trader’s forces can get there.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Things ain’t quite as horror-tastic as they were back in the day, but it’s cool that Snyder and Albuquerque can still pop out a panel out of nowhere that’ll give you a nice little shiver of fear.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Hey, first things first — I won’t be posting again ’til this Friday. I’ve got a minor medical procedure to get taken care of this week, and I’m gonna give myself a few days to get over that before I try blogging on a schedule.
  • Comic cover artist Arthur Suydam appears to be a bit of a jackhole.
  • Legitimately sad article on delusional people who think they have pregnancies that no one else is able to detect.
  • Meet Killer Mike: rapper, community advocate, entrepreneur, and a man who scares the holy howling heck out of Fox News.

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Squirrel Fight Tonight!

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #7

Well, everyone in New York has gone a little fight-crazy. Squirrel Girl, along with her roommate Nancy and her fellow animal-themed crimefighters Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi have been dealing with people fighting in the streets, in classrooms, and everywhere else. The soon realize that Girl Squirrel is actually Ratatoskr, a Norse squirrel god who specializes in provoking people with slanderous gossip. Doreen figures they should ask Thor for help and takes everyone to Avengers Mansion — where everyone is arguing! And so, to keep everyone from arguing and saying mean things to each other, Squirrel Girl spends less than 30 seconds beating up Spider-Man, Captain America, Steve Rogers, Hawkeye, and Black Widow. As one does!

Luckily, Cap’s phone has Thor on speed-dial — the Odinson and Thor are in a cafe trying to break up fights with people who are arguing pancakes vs. waffles, but they know all about Ratatoskr. While they and Nancy go to Asgard to prepare a cage to hold the rodent god, Squirrel Girl, Chipmunk Hunk, and Koi Boi battle Ratatoskr — but can even Squirrel Girl’s legendary abilities handle the lying squirrel’s monstrous might?

Verdict: Thumbs up. There is so much going on in this comic. It’s amazing they can fit all of this into one issue. It’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s a little bit scary — and we even get to see a hint of Doreen’s fabled badassery.

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Giant-Size Little Marvel: A vs. X #2

It’s more cartoon fighting between the pint-sized Avengers and X-Men! First, they fight over dodge ball, then they fight over who’s going to be friends with the new kids, Zachary and Zoe.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Skottie Young’s cartooning is just outstanding. Should I feel bad that I don’t recognize Zachary and Zoe? I assume I should know who they are…

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