Archive for June, 2010

So Who Gets the Girl?

Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey

It’s not a comic book! It’s a novel about superheroes! We’re seeing more and more of these lately, so here’s one I got to read a few months back.

This was written by a guy named James Maxey and published back in 2003. The main character is a guy named Richard Rogers who has a pretty normal life in a mostly normal world (except for the giant dome cities that’ve started to spring up and the terrorist attacks by a giant robot baby with a gun for a head). He is living with a wife he’s not sure he loves and spending his nights off doing stand-up in comedy clubs. And then one morning, he wakes up and finds out that new people are living in his house, no one can see or hear him, and his family doesn’t remember him anymore.

But wait — one person can see him — Dr. Knowbokov, a benevolent mad scientist who, while on a trip into the past to battle his archenemy Rex Monday, accidentally erased Richard from existence. To make up for that error, Knowbokov brings Richard to his HQ on a tropical island paradise, introduces him to his beautiful, superpowered daughters, dubs him “Nobody,” and sends him out to fight supervillains.

Well, you know Richard couldn’t have it that good, right? Sure, Rex Monday is a psychotic loon who employs other psychotic loons to casually murder thousands of innocent people. But Knowbokov is no angel either — he kidnaps death-row prisoners to use them as brain-drained biocomputers, and he’s completely indifferent to anything that doesn’t involve him killing Rex Monday, including ordering Richard to allow a school bus full of children to be killed rather than deviate from a mission.

And his daughters have plenty of problems, too. The Thrill is a world-famous celebrity who can fly and get anyone to do what she wants just by asking, but she’s an unapologetic thief — she can ask for anything, and the owner will just hand it over. And Rail Blade, a metal manipulator who can pull knives out of thin air and roller-skate anywhere she wants in a matter of minutes, has some serious mental stability issues.

And Richard is, frankly, over his head. Sure, he’s invisible, but because he’s been displaced in time, he basically doesn’t exist unless someone believes he’s there. That makes it hard for him to do very much to help out. What’s a see-through man to do in a shades-of-gray world?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very well done characters — even when you don’t agree with what they’re doing, you understand why they’re doing it. I also dug the moral quandries Richard has to deal with — Knowbokov and Rex Monday are both ruthless authoritarian bastiches, so who does Richard choose to work with? Can he find a third way out of the situation?

And the superhero action is pretty darn good, too. The fights are frantic but well planned-out, and the violence is as terrifying as you’d expect from people who can do such outlandish things.

Really, my only complaint is that there aren’t enough superheroes and villains — just one group of each — and the ones we saw were enough fun that I wanted to see what other characters Maxey could create.

Not the best superhero prose novel out there, but it’s certainly worth reading. Go pick it up.

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Light my Fire

Heralds #3

This weekly series continues with Johnny Storm apparently living in a suburban home in the desert with the spirit of Frankie Raye, former fire-slinging herald of Galactus. It’s an illusion, obviously, giving them both the opportunity to throw hot irons around, kick over burning barbecue grills, and set swimming pools on fire. Meanwhile, the rest of the Fantastic Four have found Johnny locked up inside a forcescreen chamber while he lets off a lot of fire and heat. And Hellcat, Monica Rambeau, She-Hulk, Valkyrie, and Emma Frost have brought mysterious injured waitress Frances to the Baxter Building to take advantage of Reed Richards’ high-tech healing equipment. After the heroines argue about whether or not Frances is dangerous, Reed figures out how to release Frankie Raye from Johnny’s body, and she makes a beeline for Frances. And that’s when Agent Brand shows up with a black hole gun…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nice writing, good dialogue, weird science, interesting mysteries. My biggest complaint is that Tonci Zonjic‘s excellent artwork is only on the first eight pages, then the rest is all by James Harren, who does not come off well in the comparison.

Crossed: Family Values #2

There we go, people — that’s the worst cover you’re going to see all year. That is not the way you do a wraparound cover — all the other “Crossed” covers have been wraparounds, but they didn’t leave the front cover with such an awkward and unbalanced look to it. I don’t care how nice the cover looks when you lay it out flat — if it looks stupid when it’s closed and on display in your comic shop, you run the risk of potential purchasers passing it by.

As for the story, the Pratt family — a very large, very religious survivalist family — have escaped from the Crossed and established a new, more isolated, more defensible compound. Addy is helping scout the Crossed, to discover their numbers and their movements, while her father expands the compound with new recruits and survivors. They’ve even captured one of the Crossed, reduced to no more than a torso and a head, to try to learn more about their opponents. Addy has allowed herself to forget, however, that her father is an abusive pedophile with a fondness for his own daughters — and by the time she realizes that he’s up to his old tricks, her family is set up to take another severe hit.

Verdict: Man, I don’t know. It’s written well. It’s written shockingly — and that’s one of the important things for this story. But I think they’ve got too much shock and not enough horror. ‘Cause I was decently shocked by what was happening, but at no point was I scared.

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Booster Pack

Booster Gold #33

This whole issue won’t make a lot of sense to you if you’re not up on the current “Justice League: Generation Lost” miniseries, where Maxwell Lord has boosted his psychic powers to the point where he’s been able to erase his existence from the memory of almost everyone on Earth, except for a small number of former Justice Leaguers. (I’m not reading it ’cause it’s written by Judd Winick, who seems to work by vomiting onto his script pages, then sending that in to DC.)

Anyway, after Booster knocks the stuffing out of a Scottish supervillain named Brigadoom, Cyborg shows up and gives him a lot of hassle about the old JLI, which triggers a very satisfying verbal smackdown on Booster’s part. The incident inspires him to try to figure out a way to prove that Max Lord really did and does exist, and he hits on the idea of traveling to the past and digging up some info about him before he publically went bad. Can Booster successfully infiltrate his own past, and can he find the information he needs?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The cover makes it look a lot more dangerous than it really is — most of the perils Booster faces in the past are generally on the level of Extremely Embarrassing and less Extremely Deadly. And we get some very nice stuff with Martian Manhunter uncovering Booster’s secret identity and Black Canary looking for revenge for a drunken interview Booster gave to a lad rag.

Chew #11

Tony Chu, cannibal FDA agent, gets a lead on a murder case that points to a group of extremely wealthy powerbrokers who like to get together occasionally to eat endangered species. So he uses it as an opportunity to take his semi-girlfriend Amelia Mintz on a date. Dude, police business isn’t usually the most romantic settings in the world, Tony — especially when the guns and knives come out…

Verdict: Thumbs up. A good funny story, with the romantic subplot finally moving into the forefront.

Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes #3

Black Widow and the Vision learn of a blackmail scheme orchestrated by a couple of supervillains called Diamondhead and the Owl and, frustrated with their recent treatment by other members of the Avengers, decide to take on the case on their own.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The plot sounds a bit light, but it’s buoyed up by a lot of smaller-scale interpersonal stuff that’s really enjoyable — Vision extracting someone’s keys from a locked car, the banter between Reed and Sue, most of the interaction between Thor and Nova, and Nova’s reaction to someone else fighting “his” villain. The Vision’s anger that no one accepts his chosen name is well-done, too.

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Hex Signs

Jonah Hex #56

Hey, that cover is by Darwyn Cooke! Yay! We all love Darwyn Cooke! And it’s basically Clint Eastwood with a really ugly scar! Yay!

Anyway, we get multiple stories in this issue. In the first, Jonah is hired by an elderly Indian woman to help her with some shady characters who want to buy her home from her. She’s willing to let them use the land to graze cattle, build roads through it, build other houses on the property, but she won’t move, because she’s old, and because her late husband built the house for her. And all she wants Hex to do is sit quietly in another room and make sure her visitors don’t get rowdy. If they don’t cause any trouble, Hex can collect his fee and be on his way. Of course, her visitors have ulterior motives for wanting the old woman’s house, and of course, they’ve got plans for her when she won’t sell… but is Jonah going to do anything about it?

The second story is mostly a retelling of Hex’s youth. He was sold by his father to a tribe of Apaches in exchange for allowing him and the rest of the family to pass peacefully, and his early years were filled with hardship and regular beatings from bullies in the tribe. Eventually, he found favor with the tribal leaders and one daughter of the tribe, but his chief rival’s hatred for him grew every day.

And finally, there’s an interview with comic writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and Jimmy Hayward, the director of the new “Jonah Hex” movie.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The first story really is pretty smack-kapow awesome — great dialogue, excellent plot, and beautifully detailed artwork by Phil Winslade. The second story is fine, too. The interview — ehh, if you’re into that kind of stuff, maybe you’ll like it. I scanned it, didn’t see anything particularly useful. I don’t know about you, but I ain’t holding out a lot of hope for the movie. The horse-mounted Gatling guns are plenty cool, and Josh Brolin seems to be a really good actor… but to be honest, I think the presence of Megan Fox in any movie makes it unwatchable. But we’ll see what the buzz says about the movie…

Daytripper #7

Brás de Oliva Domingos is now 38 years old, enjoying real success with his debut novel. But he can’t stop thinking about his old friend Jorge, who retreated from the world he missed a flight on a jetliner that later crashed and killed all the passengers. Desperate to reconnect with his best friend, he travels to the opposite end of the country after receiving a single postcard from Jorge. Will Brás be able to find Jorge again? And what will they have to say to each other after so many years apart?

Verdict: Another thumbs up for this wonderful, wonderful series. The artwork is gorgeous, the writing is magnificent, the emotional content is genuine. I love this series.

Prince of Power #2

While Amadeus Cho is out trying to acquire the recipe to literal godhood, Vali Halfling, an Asgardian scoundrel who wants the god recipe for much more selfish reasons, pulls off a sneaky attack and takes over the Olympus Groups corporate headquarters — in fact, he wants to be able to destroy all the gods. Meanwhile, Vali already beat Amadeus to Asgard’s immortality-granting Apples of Idunn, but Thor thinks that Amadeus was responsible for the theft. After a colossal fight (Amadeus is able to hold his own because he has Hercules’ magical mace and a forcefield designed by Bruce Banner), Amadeus is eventually able to convince the thunder god that he’s innocent — and that Thor and Amadeus can help bring Hercules back. But Vali Halfling isn’t the only obstacle in their way…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great action, fun dialogue, wonderful character work. Not much more I can say other than — this series rocks, and youse mugs should go get it.

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Dumbest Day

Okay, just ’cause I’ve quit reading DC’s “Brightest Day” miniseries doesn’t mean I’m gonna quit making fun of it. Especially when they release previews of the next issue that have this much wrong with it.

First, there’s the cover. The Black Lantern version of Firestorm is on it, and the alternate cover features the Black Lantern versions of Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Even DC’s preview blurb points this out: “If this is the BRIGHTEST DAY then what is Black Lantern Firestorm doing on our cover?!”

Yeah, DC, other people are asking that, too. But we’re not really seeing it as a reason to buy the comic. We’re seeing it as a reason to ask what the heck is wrong with DC.

“Blackest Night” is over. It was a successful series. I’d even say it was a good series — one of the best comic crossovers we’ve seen in years. But it’s finished and done with. And when you keep going back to that well over and over and over, people have a right to ask if you’ve got any other ideas you can offer, or if your creativity is completely tapped out.

As for the preview itself, it focuses on Hawkman and Hawkgirl, who have discovered that Hath-Set — an ancient enemy whose spirit possesses his descendants as he eternally seeks to ambush and kill the Hawks whenever they reincarnate — has been collecting the bones of their predecessors in order to build some kind of magical gateway. Hawkgirl wants to destroy the gateway so they can get back to their lives; Hawkman wants to go through the gateway, find Hath-Set, and kill him before he can kill them again.

Well, here’s the thing — Hawkgirl’s idea makes a lot more sense. Because Hawkman’s idea is just entirely stupid. How do you kill a spirit? I’m pretty sure you can’t do it by hitting it with a mace. And even if he manages to kill Hath-Set’s current host body (great job killing the innocent possessed victim, Hawkdork), he’s still left with the problem of Hath-Set’s spirit possessing yet another person and trying to kill the Hawks. So yeah, there’s no reason not to wreck the gateway like Hawkgirl said — that’s the kind of chore that a mace is perfect for anyway — then dispose of the bones so Hath-Set can’t use ’em again.

But here’s the bit that really bugs me about this preview. In a situation where Hawkgirl has all the smart ideas and Hawkman’s argument is basically “ME AM MAN, ME WANNA KILL MAGIC SPIRIT,” Hawkgirl finally responds with these words:

“If that’s your final decision then I’ll stand by it just as I’ve always stood by you.”

Shorter Hawkgirl: “Whatever you say, dear.”

Alternate slightly longer Shorter Hawkgirl: “You’re the man, and I’m just a dumb girl, so we’ll do whatever you want. Tee hee!”

So in addition to DC sidelining or killing off most of their non-white characters, I can now add “lazy and alarmingly dumb Barbie-doll anti-feminism” to the list of reasons why DC makes me want to kick the crap out of comics publishers.

Here ya go, DC Comics, Geoff Johns, and Dan DiDio — this song is for — and about — you.

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Stray Cat Strut

Secret Six #22

There’s a lot of stuff happening in this one — Black Alice and Scandal Savage fight each other, then bond with each other; Catman remembers his awful childhood, his terrible father, and how he took his first steps into adulthood; and Catman takes care of the last people who kidnapped his son, making one more colossal sacrifice to keep his child safe.

Verdict: Thumbs up. There’s not a single bad moment in this issue. The whole thing is just spectacular and awesome and brilliant. I hope Gail Simone never leaves this title.

Spider-Man: Fever #3

Spider-Man is still stuck in the spirit world, being influenced by a spider spirit that claims it gave him his powers. The Sorror-Fly, a fly spirit that used to be a human, is trying to help Peter and give him some context for the strange stuff he sees, but it’s not doing a lot of good. A magical dart fired by the dog spirits a couple issues back finally hits its mark, destroying the malign spider demon trying to influence Peter, but Spider-Man is still poisoned and dying. At last, Dr. Strange finally arrives on the scene and both drains the poison and turns the Sorror-Fly back into a human being. But can the heroes figure out a way to stop the rest of the spider demons before they decide to invade Earth?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Seriously head-trippy stuff. I don’t know that Steve Ditko could have come up with something this wild and weird, but I do think he’da managed something really close to it.

The Unwritten #14

The new Tommy Taylor novel is a forgery, written to be as bad a chunk of writing as possible in order to lure Wilson Taylor, the original author, out of hiding so he can be killed. Tom Taylor, Wilson’s son, and his friends have their own troubles to worry about. Lizzie Hexam’s method of secretly communicating with Wilson through books has been detected by the literary conspiracy controlling the world, and Savoy has been bitten by the supposedly fictional vampire Count Ambrosio, giving the vengeful bloodsucker an unwitting spy into Tom Taylor’s life. And the assassin Pullman is on the scene, too. Once the conspiracy picks up Lizzie, can Tom and Savoy save her and get back underground?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The net is tightening around our heroes — heck, multiple nets are closing in fast. No idea how or if they’re all going to get away from all this. But the ongoing mystery is still enthralling and still very fun to read.

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Meanwhile, Back in the Jungle

Marvel Super Hero Squad #6

We start out with Reptil and Speedball in their biology class, where their professor accidentally picks up a reality-bending fractal crystal and is turned into the dinosauroid supervillain Stegron. Able to control all reptiles, he quickly hypnotizes Reptil and has him fly him to the Savage Land, a tropical lost world in the middle of Antarctica. Speedball manages to hitch a ride and has the Thing notify the Super Hero Squad to meet him in the Savage Land. Once they’re all there, Ka-Zar, Shanna, and Zabu also show up, and we learn what Stegron’s plot is — he wants to hypnotize the dinosaurs of the Savage Land and lead them in a war against humanity. Can all the heroes manage to defeat all those dinosaurs plus Stegron?

Our second story focuses on Klaw, master of sound and harmonics. He makes big promises to Dr. Doom that he can take out the Super Hero Squad and find lots of fractals, and that he’s so awesome he can even project the legendary Perdue Frequency, which can make anyone who hears it act like a chicken. (Unfortunately, he can’t direct it, so everyone around, including Klaw, ends up acting like a chicken. Obviously, this is hilarious.) Anyway, Klaw hits Super Hero City at the same time as the Squaddies are having epic arguments about what music to listen to during workout sessions. Klaw whups the Squad members easily, leading the heroes to combine their musical tastes to fight sonics with sonics.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Most of it is very pleasantly goofy. If I’ve got anything I really disliked, it’s the Squad members’ band at the end. Let us never again speak of those awful, awful lyrics, okay?

Batgirl #11

Barbara Gordon is hallucinating a life of domestic bliss with Dick Grayson, though she quickly realizes that this is all the fault of the Calculator and starts working out a strategy to strike back at him. Meanwhile, Batgirl is on the run from a few thousand Gotham citizens, including Catwoman, Huntress, and Man-Bat, who have all been taken over by the Calculator’s zombifying techno-virus. She gets some help from Wendy Harris, the Calculator’s daughter, but she still has to figure out how to get to Calculator’s hideout so she can rescue Babs and find a cure for the virus.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s mostly one long chase scene, but it’s pretty well-done, with enough of the trademark Batgirl humor to keep things rolling.

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Herald Angels

Heralds #1

I originally missed this one, until I heard several different recommendations and figured I’d better check it out. It’s a five-issue miniseries, with a new issue coming out every week. There are a couple of different focuses — one is Frances, a young woman working the night shift at a small roadside diner. The other focus starts out on Scott Summers and Emma Frost — it’s Emma’s birthday, and Scott has actually managed to get her a surprise birthday party in Las Vegas. The big winning image of the comic is the party guests — She-Hulk, Valkyrie, Hellcat, and Monica Rambeau — all wearing fake cowboy mustaches. S.W.O.R.D. agent Abigail Brand is there, too, but she skips the mustache. And when there’s suddenly some sort of energy surge from outer space, there’s a mass escape of cloned dinosaurs and scientists at a S.W.O.R.D. facility, and both Emma and Frances have some sort of psychic freak-out. Emma just wrecks a hotel suite, but Frances injures a coworker at the diner and stabs a customer in the stomach. While the heroes bust up the clones, Frances meets someone she thinks is her father — and then explodes.

Verdict: Thumbs up. If you loved Tonci Zonjic’s art in “Marvel Divas” — well, you’re also going to love his work here. Wonderful character work with Frances and the other folks in the diner. Lots of funny stuff from our superheroes, too — not just the mustaches, which are plenty fun. But also Hellcat’s love for beating up cloned Einsteins and Oppenheimers, and the great dialogue between Emma and Cyclops. Not real sure I like She-Hulk with short hair, though…

Heralds #2

After the heroes get the clones subdued, S.W.O.R.D. concocts a cover story that it was all a publicity stunt by… Cirque du Soleil? Okay, whatever gets the heat off. Monica remembers zapping a clone of Phineas T. Horton, the creator of the Golden Age Human Torch — and the news reports that someone matching Horton’s description was found dead in the desert. Oh, yeah, and that guy was also the one who Frances thought was her father at the end of the last issue. Where’s Frances? Crashing into the desert from a few hundred feet up — and surviving just fine. The heroines break into the morgue to get some more information about the dead Phineas T. Horton, then take a trip into the desert so Emma can psionically track the explosion — and Frances, who is a dead ringer for Frankie Raye, one of Galactus’s old heralds. And meanwhile, in New York City, someone who looks a lot like Frankie Ray pays a visit to Johnny Storm.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I will say that the art suffers in this issue — while Zonjic does a lot of the art, James Harren does about half the issue, and his work isn’t nearly as good as Zonjic’s. The writing by Kathryn Immonen remains wonderful, however — lots of mysteries, lots of funny stuff, lots of great personality work.

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Friday Night Fights: Rarebit Punch!

This may not be the kind of fight that get the mad kudos over at Spacebooger’s place, but I think I’m absolutely going to get the prize for the Oldest Friday Night Fights ever.

This is from an old strip called “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” by Winsor McCay. He’s best known today for his head-trippy and beautiful “Little Nemo in Slumberland” comic strip, and he also created some early animated movies — all created solo, with every single frame of film hand-drawn. “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” had a simple premise — every strip featured someone having some kind of mad nightmare and waking up to curse themselves for eating something called rarebit, or Welsh rabbit — basically, it was fried cheese on toast. Everyone seemed to believe that eating it before bed would give you incredibly vivid dreams.

Anyway, this strip is from all the way back in October 26, 1904. Yeah, that’s right — this is a Friday Night Fights that was over 105 years in the making!

Okay, not the goriest or manliest brawl ever depicted for Friday Night Fights, but I hope I can kick that much butt when I’m over a century old…

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Avenged Doublefold

The Avengers #1

I’ve never been that big on the Avengers, but seeing as how DC’s “Brightest Day” is collapsing in its own filth, I thought I’d check and see if Marvel’s “Heroic Age” is going to work out any better. And since Marvel is focusing most of its “Heroic Age” on a multitude of new “Avengers” titles, that means reading some “Avengers” titles.

This one is going to be their centerpiece — Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, recruits Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America (the Bucky Barnes version), Hawkeye, and Spider-Woman into the core Avengers team, with Maria Hill in charge of the day-to-day operations of the team. The only person who turns him down? Wonder Man, who has decided that the Avengers were ultimately at fault in all the world’s recent troubles. So the team gets together, exchanges some small talk, Iron Man worries that he’s gonna kill Captain America again… and then Kang the Conqueror shows up.

Kang is on his way to getting spanked hard by everyone until he pulls out his doomsday weapon — in fact, it’s a literal doomsday weapon that Tony Stark thought of several years back and decided never to build. Now that he’s got everyone’s attention, Kang tells them why he’s really there — in the future, Ultron finally took over the world and wrecked everything. But the Avengers’ children managed to defeat Ultron when no one else could, and they’re now running the world with as much ruthlessness as any supervillain. And if the Avengers don’t figure out some way to get into the future and defeat their own children, he’s going to come back and activate Tony’s doomsday device.

Verdict: In general, thumbs up. The story’s fine, the get-together backchat is fine, the art by John Romita Jr. is freakin’ awesome. But this is a Brian Michael Bendis comic, and the guy’s got some serious weaknesses (Snell does more than his fair share of documenting the atrocities). Will they come into play here? Well, we’ve got one person acting badly out-of-character (as in Wonder Man, who’s apparently about to decide to start attacking the Avengers), and we’ve got a few pages of iffy dialogue (a lot of the stuff that works fine in a comic like “Powers” doesn’t work very well in superhero comics where everyone does killer banter). Because it’s Bendis, I’m sure we’ll eventually get a lot more random character retcons and I’m-too-lazy-to-try-harder screwups. But for now, it seems to be working out fine.

Avengers Academy #1

Christos Gage and Mike McKone start up a new Avengers book (there are probably going to be at least a half-dozen by the time they’re all done) focusing on new teenaged heroes. Hank Pym, Tigra, Justice, Quicksilver, and Speedball are the primary instructors of the new Avengers Academy, designed to help train the next generation of superheroes.

We meet Veil, who can turn into poison gas and who is slowly dying as her body loses cohesion; Hazmat, a girl whose powers and personality are poisonous; Mettle, a skull-faced kid with a metal body; Finesse, a girl with zero social skills who can learn new fighting techniques, skills, languages, and everything else in the blink of an eye; Reptil, a kid who can shapeshift into different dinosaurs; and Striker, a guy who can generate electricity and who’s desperate for fame and fortune. And it turns out that all of the kids have an unusual secret in common…

Verdict: Thumbs up. A slow-moving issue, mostly because nearly the entire thing is devoted to introducing us to all these new characters, as well as getting us on board with the new status quo of the Academy’s teachers, especially Speedball, who is a lot less happy-go-lucky than he used to be. Still, despite the slow pace, I enjoyed it. I’m a sucker for decent character work, and we’re getting some good personalities drafted together, as well as some interesting conflicts set up for the future. Let’s hope they can keep the good stuff coming.

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