The Superhero’s Guide to the Galaxies

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The Multiversity Guidebook #1

It’s Grant Morrison’s long-awaited field guide to DC’s latest version of the multiverse, but luckily, we get some story to go along with it. Part of the tale follows Earth-51, home of the Great Disaster, Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, OMAC, and the New Gods (in other words, it’s Earth-Kirby), where we follow Kamandi, Ben Boxer, and Tuftan as they look for a lost friend and learn the secret history of the multiverse. But most of it focuses on Earth-42, home of the child superheroes who made their first appearance in an old issue of Superman/Batman before the reboot. They’ve been invaded by the League of Sivanas, and many of them have been killed — but Batman meets up with the Atomic Batman, one of the Atomic Knights from Earth-17, and he learns that he and the rest of Earth-17 hide some sort of terrible secret. What is it? And what is the threat of the Empty Hand?

Verdict: Thumbs up. If you want a guidebook with all-too-brief descriptions of a whole bunch of alternate universes, it’s in here. If you want a nicely Kirbyesque story of Kamandi, it’s here, too. If you want a weird team-up between armored-future Batman and adorable-kid Batman, it’s in here, too. About the worst thing about this is the eight dollar price tag.

BitchPlanet2

Bitch Planet #2

Kamau Kogo is trapped on Bitch Planet, the prison world for inconvenient and unwanted women, accused of killing a fellow prisoner, an abandoned housewife named Marian Collins. She didn’t do it, of course, but the authorities don’t care. However, they’re willing to give her a second chance — if she’ll form a megaton team — the sport of the future, generally played only by men. She initially wants nothing to do with it, figuring it’s just going to be a way for the Powers That Be to humiliate them and provide a twisted object lesson in forced female compliance. But her fellow inmates convince her it could be worth doing. What’s the scheme here?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The first issue just seemed like a weirdly generic space fantasy women-in-prison pastiche — but this one is developing the concept into something a lot more entertaining. I also dig the glimpses we get of life back on Earth, with the dictatorial Fathers lording their power over their cronies.

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The Giant Killers

GiantsBeware

Giants Beware!

I picked this one up a couple weekends ago, considered holding onto it to use for next December’s gift recommendations, then figured, heck with it, I wanted to go ahead and review it now.

I’ve been trying to keep my eye open for more fun all-ages comics, and I’d heard several friends recommending this one. It’s written by Jorge Aguirre and illustrated by Rafael Rosado, and it was released back in 2012. Our story is set in Mont Petit Pierre, a small quasi-medieval city surrounded by a fortress to keep monsters and other threats away. Our lead characters are Claudette, a young tomboy who craves battle against the legendary Baby-Feet-Eating Giant; Gaston, Claudette’s brother, a coward and remarkable pastry chef; and Marie, who aspires to become a princess; and Valiant, Claudette’s brave bulldog.

Our plotline: Everyone’s heard the stories about the giant driven away from the city years ago. Claudette is full of bravado and wants to go out and kill the giant herself. The Marquis, Marie’s father, mostly ignores her. Claudette’s father, the village blacksmith, who lost his legs and an arm in a battle against a dragon, and his assistant Zubair try to discourage her from foolish talk. Gaston only cares about staying away from danger and making delicious pastries. And Marie only cares about stuff that princesses care about.

But eventually, Claudette convinces Marie and Gaston to accompany her on her giant-killing quest. They must face danger at every turn, from a witch who wants to cook them into a potion to restore her beauty to the mad king of the river, who wants to force Marie into a marriage with his son — who is a fish. The townspeople are pursuing them, too, hoping to return them to the city where they’ll be safe. And of course, there’s a terrible giant waiting for them at the top of Giant’s Peak. Can the three children prevail against a giant?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a fantastic story, with grand adventure and derring-do, outstanding characterization, and great humor. It’s perfect for kids of all ages, and for both boys and girls.

Heck, let’s talk about the characters some more. Claudette is a rough-and-tumble little girl who specializes in goading everyone around her into action — she makes a great show of her bravery, but it doesn’t always hold up like she’d want it to. Her brother is such a richly strange kid — an avowed coward whose greatest passions are making delicious pastries and making swords. His father won’t let him learn the blacksmithing business yet, but it’s clear to everyone that Gaston doesn’t fit any stereotypes at all. Marie is every little girl who wants to be a princess — but where her friends are content to act spoiled and willowy, she is quite comfortable taking action, even if she’d prefer just ruling everyone from a throne.

Even the adults are interesting — the Marquis is a fool when it comes to leading a posse through the wilderness, but he seems a decent administrator of the village’s business — and he’s hiding something possibly dangerous, too. Claudette’s father throws a bit of a shock into us the first time we see him — we’re used to blacksmiths being big, strong men — which Augustine is — but to see him in a wheelchair is not the way we’re accustomed to imagining our blacksmiths. Not that he’s slowed down a bit — he’s the most capable adult we meet in the entire story. And Zubair, Augustine’s assistant, shows depths of wisdom and insight that few other characters possess.

What about our villains? The witch is definitely a bad guy — she captures the children and intends to sacrifice them for her potion so she can appease her own vanity. But she’s dealt with compassionately, and no one seems to perceive her as a truly vile person, particularly Augustine, who has encountered her before. The Mad Lake King is less evil, but he’s still a kidnapper and child-endangerer — and he’s still perceived as more of a misguided person than a true villain. And the giant — well, that would spoil things too much, wouldn’t it?

This is the type of story that’s going to be greatly enjoyed by kids who are around lower elementary age. The characters are well-drawn and interesting, but just a bit silly, and it’ll be incredibly easy for kids to identify with one or more of our heroes. There’s worlds of wonderful but bloodless action, but just as much time devoted to the kids thinking their way out of trouble and finding ways to empathize with others. With two of our heroes being young girls, it’s going to be a great book for girls who want to read comics full of adventure, action, and humor. And I think boys will enjoy it, too — because again, adventure, action, and humor!

It’s a great book for kids or for grownups — and especially for grownups who enjoy reading to their kids. Go pick it up.

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In the Mouth of Madness

Loki10

Loki: Agent of Asgard #10

The God of Lies is in a thoroughly uncomfortable predicament — he’s no longer able to tell any sort of lies. So of course, Thor — or the Odinson, as he prefers to be called, now that he’s no longer worthy to carry Mjolnir — picks this moment to request a visit. And Loki spills the truth he’s been keeping hidden — he’s not really the proper Loki — he’s a spirit-copy of Loki who managed to destroy and devour the old Kid Loki, taking his place and accidentally acquiring his desire for redemption. But Thor is deeply unhappy to hear that his real brother is basically dead, and he delivers a beatdown, then drags Loki back to Asgard to face punishment. Can the trickster talk his way out of this one?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This has been coming for quite a while, and it’s a credit to the storytelling that it’s as massively painful and traumatic to Loki as it should be.

RedSonja14

Red Sonja #14

Sonja has been cursed to never forgive any slight, no matter how insignificant. She’s being stalked by the brother of the wizard she destroyed, and is herself stalking a man named Fellan, who is the last remaining brigand who slaughtered her village in her youth. When she finally finds him, he begs her to forgive him, which, again, isn’t in the cards. She easily destroys his henchmen, but Fellan makes his escape. Realizing that the curse she’s under makes her a danger to everyone she meets, Sonja needs to figure out how to keep herself from becoming a remorseless, soulless slaughterer.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a grimmer story than probably any of the previous storyarcs, but it’s beautifully told and beautifully illustrated — definitely worth checking out.

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Random Access Memories

WickedandtheDivine7

The Wicked + the Divine #7

Laura and Inanna believe that the people who tried to assassinate Lucifer (waaaay back in Issue #1) weren’t actually opposed to the gods — they were really fans. So Laura has traveled to Fantheon, a huge London convention for god fans. She’s a minor celebrity here, as one of the few confidants of Lucifer, so she has to sign a lot of autographs and attend a few panel discussions. She finally gets to meet up with Woden — he wears a Daft Punk/Tron costume, his only power lets him empower his specially designated Valkyries, and he’s considered a creepy racist, at best. When he humiliates a former Valkyrie at the convention, she tries to take the fabled Prometheus gambit — murder a god, and you gain his powers. It doesn’t work out for her at all. After that, she meets up with Baphomet and the Morrigan, who invite her to party, and reveal there’s a new god being introduced: Dionysus.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art and story, but I say that every time. Gotta give extra credit to the great pun-filled map of the London Fantheon. And do we talk enough about the outstanding work Matthew Wilson is doing on the coloring? ‘Cause a lot of the reason this book looks so gorgeous is because of all the amazing work he does with the colors.

CaptainAmerica-MightyAvengers4

Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #4

Cap has recently been de-inverted and is back to his old self, but he’s still dealing with all the bad publicity he created for himself by going hardcore fascist. Luke is also back to normal, but he’s pretending to be evil so he can find out what’s up with Jason Quantrell, the thoroughly evil CEO of Cortex, Inc. But he’s not quite as undercover as he thought he was. And Power Man and White Tiger are investigating the death of racist supervillain Gideon Mace. What monster is waiting for them? What’s the connection to Cortex? And will Sam Wilson get his spirit back?

Verdict: Ehh, not at all bad. But it’s nothing earthshatteringly fantastic either.

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Lumberjanes #10

While April, Ripley, and Jo decide they’re going to finally get some merit badges — starting with the badge for cake decorating — Molly and Mal go off in the woods for their picnic, but before anything romantic can go on, they end up chasing the mysterious Bear Woman, who then accidentally leads them through an otherworldly outhouse into a world full of dinosaurs! Will they be able to make it back home?

Verdict: Thumbs up. What we expected to be a low-key day of loafing around ends up with dinosaur chases. Holy cheese. And that’s not even counting the oh-so-awkward-and-sweet picnic or Ripley dancing with a raccoon.

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Funeral Cake

Ghosted16

Ghosted #16

Wealthy old supernatural bastard Markus Schrecken has taken over-her-head medium Edzia Rusnak to a wedding in Italy — two families that have been feuding for generations are finally going to be united by the marriage of two of their children. Unfortunately, Schrecken has arranged for his own choice as minister to take care of the ceremony — the mad cult leader in Mexico who ran the Brotherhood of the Closed Book. And they’ve decided to create their own ghost town — a village where every single resident is ghost they can manipulate.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not a lot for the heroes to do, and lots of opportunity for Schrecken to show off what a scumbag he is, plus a decent twist on the Romeo and Juliet theme, too.

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A Voice in the Dark: Get Your Gun #2

Zoey continues building her friendship with Rio, a fellow serial killer, while also effortlessly making it through a police interview as they try to find out who killed noxious sorority girl Mandy Jenkins and her thuggish boyfriend Brock. And Mandy’s father, obsessed with finding the killer himself, might be even worse than anyone else in the cast.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautiful art by Larime Taylor, and great writing as well. There are lots of scenes of people sitting around and talking, which is just fine with me, because Taylor does dialogue and characterization very well.

Daredevil12

Daredevil #12

The new Stunt-Master has faked the death of the old Stunt-Master, George Smith — and Smith has been forced to dress as the new guy, so he and Daredevil can have a motorcycle race up the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. When Daredevil rescues George, the new guy tries to run — and Matt pursues him driving a car in city traffic while shifting gears with his feet, punching the gas with his cane, and steering with the hook of his baton! But who’s the secret villain pulling the new Stunt-Master’s strings?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Absolutely fantastic action — maybe one of the best car chases I’ve seen in comics — to go along with Mark Waid’s wonderful writing and Chris Samnee’s outstanding art.

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Lovers’ Quarrel

AstroCity19

Astro City #19

This issue has nearly all of its focus on more of Quarrel’s backstory, as she establishes herself in Astro City, saves Honor Guard and is then inducted into the membership, meets and starts working with Crackerjack, and suffers what could be a career-ending injury. How did she survive it and remain a superhero?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m really enjoying learning more about Quarrel. She’s always been a background character, so it’s great to see her step into the spotlight.

CaptainMarvel11

Captain Marvel #11

Carol has come back to Earth at Christmas to visit friends. She spends the night at the hospital with her ailing friend Tracy Burke, but she ends up getting captured by Captain Marvel-hating mad scientists Grace Valentine and June Covington, who dampen her powers, kidnap a homeless mall Santa, and prepare to torture and kill both of them. But it turns out the homeless guy has a very big trick hidden up his sleeve…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Probably would’ve been better if they’d released this one before Christmas, and if they’d explained the huge coincidence of kidnapping that specific mall Santa. But I still had a lot of fun reading it. The writing and art were top-notch, just as we’ve usually come to expect with this comic.

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Batgirl #38

Barbara decides she wants to make sure no one else is able to coopt her identity as Batgirl, so she starts making sure she gets in social media a lot — mainly, letting fans take pictures of her to put on Instagram — and sometimes, taking selfies of herself fighting crime. Not everyone is happy about this — Black Canary thinks she’s grandstanding and not being a serious crimefighter, while her cop boyfriend thinks Batgirl is just as bad as any villains she fights because she wrecks police investigations. All of this makes Babs want to win over even more people, and she decides to do this by taking down the local bad boy, Jordan Barberi, who likes to wreck things up in his fancy sports car while his lawyers make sure he gets in no trouble. But things don’t work out the way she planned.

Verdict: Ehh, I don’t know. The action is excellent, and the characters are fairly fun. The main problem I’m having with this series right now is that every issue has an extremely strong focus on social media and nightclubbing. More realistic, maybe, for someone about Barbara’s age. But I think a lot of people had an expectation that this title would become more all-ages friendly, and while we’ve got a cooler costume, and Batgirl isn’t a relentless downerfest like it used to be, it’d be tough to find a reason to put this comic in a little kid’s hands when there’s so much in here about drinking and hookup apps. That probably just makes me an old fogey…

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Everyone Needs a Friend

Shutter8

Shutter #8

Kate Kristopher and her recently-discovered half-brother Chris have been captured by one of her other previously-unknown siblings, the vengeful Kalliyan, who takes them both to her home in Cambodia. Chris is making new friends, and he’s being treated a great deal better than Kate, who Kalliyan appears to blame for a lot of her misfortunes over the years. Meanwhile, Alarm Cat recently lost his head. He’s still functional, but he’s settling into a bout of serious depression. Can Chris help him recover?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It was all fine, but I found myself a lot more interested in the backstory of Alarm Cat (told through a bunch of excellently created comic strip knockoffs) and his struggles with the loss of his head.

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Rat Queens Special: Braga #1

We get a story fully focused on the one-eyed orc princess Braga and her history — she started out as Broog, the son of an orc chieftan, and the mightiest orc warrior around. But he was less interested in battle and more in pushing orc society higher — and that meant education, less slavery, and a lot less war. But his father wasn’t happy with that, and his younger brother saw a way to advance his own cause. What finally pushed Broog out of his tribe and deprived him of the people he loved?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A very cool story and great art, along with an unexpected story about a character we never knew was transgender ’til now. There’s action and intrigue and humor and smart dialogue and characterization and even a little sex. Worth picking up if you love the Rat Queens characters.

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Lazarus #14

Forever Carlyle has been sent to kidnap her traitorous brother Jonah from the diabolical Jakob Hock — and then to kill him, while making it look like Hock did the deed himself. But Forever isn’t so keen on blindly following every order her father gives her anymore. So she helps Jonah escape — in a desperately risky way that makes it look like he’s dead. But they’ve gotten away with it — everyone thinks Hock had Jonah killed. But Hock has his allies among the families, and he’s going to order one of their Lazarii to fight Forever to the death.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fantastic story and artwork, with lots of action, claustrophobic intrigue, devilish double-dealing. Jakob Hock is a desperately awful villain, and I hope he gets what’s coming to him.

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Silver Surfer #8

Norrin gives Dawn Greenwood a chance to drive his board, and her entirely unpredictable surfing style accidentally leads them to a world the Surfer has never seen before — Newhaven, where the entire population is composed of the sole survivors of lost alien races — in fact, they’re all from worlds devoured by Galactus! And when they learn that Norrin is really the Silver Surfer, Herald of Galactus, they reveal to Dawn his history helping to slaughter entire worlds. Is this the end of their budding relationship? And is it the beginning of a new rampage by the Devourer of Worlds?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent story and art — though I do wonder how Dawn never managed to hear about who Galactus was…

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’50s Shades of Red

LadyKiller1

Lady Killer #1

It’s a fairly straightforward concept — a stereotypical 1950s housewife who lives a double life as an assassin for a secretive organization. She takes out a fellow housewife with her own secret past, cooks dinner for her family, tries to avoid her suspicious mother-in-law, and gets pressured into taking on another difficult hit by her superior in the organization.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The art by Joelle Jones is fantastic — rooted in the ’50s but wonderfully kinetic and fun. The seemingly docile but secretly murderous housewife is a trope that’s been used before, but this one looks like it’ll be pretty enjoyable.

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Trees #8

It’s a major shakeup for this series, as various crises suddenly come to a head, and a lot of people we thought were main characters turn out to be a lot more expendable than anticipated. Yeah, not saying more — I don’t mind spoiling surprises sometimes, but these are so perfectly, breathtakingly unexpected that I don’t want to do much to reduce the shocks.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a gloriously shocking issue, and though I was genuinely sad to see some of these characters leave the stage, I’m eagerly anticipating what’s to come. Ellis raised the bar in very interesting ways in this issue.

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Nonsense Monday

It’s another gruesome Monday, and I’ve got no interest in blogging anything.

So here’s a chicken and a little boy smoking a cigarette.

SmokeChicken

Now back to the salt mines with all of us…

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Squirreled Records

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1

Squirrel Girl finally gets her own solo series, written by Ryan North, creator of “Dinosaur Comics,” and illustrated by Erica Henderson, creator of “Subatomic Party Girls.” The mutant girl with squirrel powers who’s somehow beaten the snot out of almost every major Marvel supervillain decides to attend Empire State University. To do that, she has to work out how to maintain a secret identity — she hides her tail by tucking it into her pants, but she mostly fails to remember not to talk to her squirrel pal Tippy-Toe and mostly forgets that she’s not supposed to show off her squirrel strength. Still she meets a few new friends, including her intensely weird roommate Nancy and a potential love interest Tomas. And she has to battle Kraven the Hunter! But can a mere squirrel-powered college student hope to defeat the perfect hunter? Ha ha ha! We are, of course, talking about Squirrel Girl!

Verdict: Thumbs up. There’s a lot of stuff to love in this first issue. The art is nicely fun, the writing is a winner, and there are a vast number of wonderful jokes, from the “Squirrel Girl” theme song to Deadpool’s trading cards to Doreen’s tail stuffing technique giving her “a conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt” — which is immediately checked out by a passing guy in the very next panel. And Doreen defeats Kraven in a fairly cool way, too. I’m hoping this series runs for a nice long time.

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X-Men #23

I dropped this series when former writer Brian Wood got outed as a colossal douchegoblin, but with G. Willow Wilson working on the comic, I figured I should give it a try again. This new storyarc seems to be a mostly Storm-centric one — when a sinkhole and superstorm start up at the same time in the Utah desert, Gambit just happens to be on hand and phones up the X-Men for help. While the X-team works on solving that issue, Jubilee discovers that Krakoa (the Living Island now turned Living Landscape of the Jean Grey School) has gotten oddly ill. Hmmm, could there be some sort of disease affecting the Earth itself? Anyway, Storm tries to shut the unusual hurricane down, but it somehow turns against her and leaves her buried deep underground with only a hallucination of Wolverine to keep her company.

Verdict: Ehh, I dunno. It’s not that bad. But the art is severely wonky, especially compared to the great Terry Dodson cover. I’m also less-than-keen on the way Gambit completely vanishes from the story after he phones the X-Mansion, and the way Storm just randomly dreams up Dead Wolverine to comfort her. Too much Wolverine worship going around in comics right now, to be honest.

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