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411’s Comic Reviews: Excalibur #2, Absolute Carnage #5, More  

November 21, 2019 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Excalibur 2

Hello and welcome to 411mania’s weekly Comic Book Review! Each week we’ll be serving up a warm dish of reviews (and previews) from Marvel, DC, and anything else that captures our interest. What did you pick up this week? Let us know in the comments.Want to write a review? If you can write at least one review a week, consistently, email me at [email protected]!  

Excalibur #2

Review by Jeremy Thomas

If there is an underappreciated book in the Dawn of X line, it’s probably Excalibur. But then, that’s something that fans of the UK mutant branch have been used to for some time. The original run of Excalibur prided itself on being the out-there, off-kilter cousin to the more popular main teams, with Chris Claremont and Alan Davis delivering a heady mix of mutants and magic that could be off-putting for some but garnered a very loyal following.

Two issues into the Dawn of X iteration of the book, it’s clear that Tini Howard and Marcus To have taken the Claremont/Davis tone of the book as a mission statement. As Betsy Braddock – the new Captain Britain – leads Gambit, Jubilee, and a comatose and Krakoa flower-covered Rogue to England in order to rescue her brother from Morgan le Fay, the creative team takes the opportunity to delve deep into Marvel’s magical world in a way that seems clearer than the first issue.

Much like this week’s other Dawn of X issue in Marauders, Excalibur #2 essentially focuses its story on two members of the “team.” In this book’s case it’s Captain Britain and •┤Ȧ├• (Apocalypse, for those who missed out on his renaming last week). Betsy has a lot to deal with right now, having taken on a mantle she wasn’t looking to reclaim, and the former Apocalypse looms tall over every aspect of the story in ways that should make us question where he stands. It’s nice to see both of these characters get some development, as they are among the mutants most at a crossroads in Marvel’s post-Krakoa status quo. Howard is deft at exploring that, with To’s smooth artwork (and nice shading by Erick Arciniega’s colors) holding its own on the visual side.

While the other characters don’t get quite as much focus, there’s still plenty for them. Howard explores a side of Gambit we haven’t seen before – that of the concerned spouse – and it feels like a natural extension of the work Kelly Thompson did on Mr. & Mrs. X. Jubilee’s maternal aspects toward her child Shogo remain strong and one of her best traits. These character depths allow the story to unfold, with Howard pulling back the curtain on the mystery just a bit and letting us see a little wider as to what’s really going on here.

For some, it must be said, this is going to be a jarring sort of issue. The magical mayhem and plots are very much not typical of what you see in an X-Men book, and Howard doesn’t stop to take a breath and remind us of certain elements. The original Excalibur lighthouse was a Nexus point for the multiverse, for example. I would bet that people unfamiliar with Captain Britain who read that sentence want to know more, but that’s about all we get about that setting element here. This being magic, there’s also a whole lot of symbolism coming into play. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may be a little confusing for people who want to get into this book without catching up on Marvel Unlimited.

By the end of this issue, audiences will very much know whether Excalibur is a book for them. Howard has a hell of a final page to close this out, which will throw some fans off but make people who loved Claremont and Davis’ Excalibur work smile in anticipation. There’s plenty to like here in the coming battle against the forces of Otherworld, and as a big Excalibur fan I’m finding this a thematically familiar and exciting ride to date.

Rating: 8.5

Marauders #2

Review by Jeremy Thomas

Each of the Dawn of X books has gone a long way toward establishing its own identity within the X-Men line. X-Force is the grittier, darker book for example, while New Mutants captures a lot of the classic X-Men vibes of space missions and the original New Mutants team. For Marauders, the feel is a somewhat lighter mood, full of piracy and adventure with interpersonal machinations mixed in. Gerry Duggan is the right choice for this sort of feel and if there was any doubt of that, Marauders #2 wipes them away.

The first issue of this book set up the basics of the book, with Kate assembling her team and taking them out on a first successful mission. For the second go-around, we get a little deeper into the mystery of what’s going on behind the scenes. Duggan and artist Matteo Lolli make sure to spend some time with Kate and her crew, but split scenes between that and a very barbed business conversation between Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw, the leaders of the Hellfire Trading Company.

The back-and-forth between these groups gives Duggan ample opportunity to pace things out well, helped along with the layouts and Lolli’s art. Lolli’s art style impressively captures Kate’s seemingly devil-may-care attitude that she’s wearing at this point, which contrasts nicely to a few moments when we have reason to suspect there’s something much deeper under the surface. Likewise, the scenes with Emma and Sebastian take on a slightly cleaner tone to the linework, but without losing most of the texture (Sebastian Shaw’s facial hair is glorious).

The only concern artistically comes in the coloring work. Frederic Blee is doing a lot of work with lighting on some of these issues, which appears to be the reason that several characters (all black characters, it must be said) look significantly lightened in their skin tones. It’s an uncomfortable choice that hopefully will be addressed and fixed in later issues.

Duggan clearly has a direction that he’s taking this book and based on this second issue, there’s a lot to be excited for. The end of the issue reveal isn’t unexpected if you’ve been paying any attention, but still carries off beautifully thanks to the way Duggan and Lolli lay out the scenes. We’re getting deeper into Emma and Kate’s current mindsets and laying the groundwork for some pretty thrilling conflicts coming up.

This does lead into one issue, and that’s in the supporting characters. Everyone feels true to themselves for the time they’re given, but that time is very limited. Thus far it is the Kate and Emma book with Storm, Iceman, Pyro and Bishop feeling underdeveloped. They all have little moments to shine, and we see hints of where they’re going as characters, but hopefully the book will be able to spend a little more time with these characters as we progress.

There is obviously still a lot of story to play out in the pages of this book. With the exception of the big news out of X-Force #1, the Marauders have been the most crossover-friendly aspects of Dawn of X thus far, which lends them a feel of dynamism and importance that suits the series well. Hopefully the coloring issues and a little more character development can be worked out, because even with a high bar to clear, Marauders is the best Dawn of X book so far.

Rating: 8.0

The Magicians #2

Preview by Steve Gustafson

BOOM! Studios is proud to reveal a first look at THE MAGICIANS #2, the latest issue of the brand new original five-issue series which reunites New York Times bestselling series creator Lev Grossman with award-winning writer Lilah Sturges and rising star artist Pius Bak for an all-new story in the world of The Magicians, which features the first appearance of the next generation of magic practitioners, available on December 11, 2019.

The new class is here! As the newly welcomed hedge magicians and the traditional students come together for the first time in Brakebills history, things go wrong. A horrible accident leaves a student dead—and the only way to keep it secret is for the two groups to work together.

Life is Strange Vol 2: Waves
Preview by Steve Gustafson

Three years after the events of Life Is Strange: Dust, Max Caulfield has been left stranded on the shores of an unfamiliar reality. Her new world seems too good to be true: Rachel, a girl who suffered a terrible fate in Max’s timeline, is alive and well, and with Chloe. But as echoes of other timelines ripple through past and future, a mysterious boy named Tristan reveals the harsh reality behind Max’s blissful new world…

Titan Comics’ series has been a critical and fan hit – this is the only place where fans can follow the ongoing story of Max, Chloe and Rachel. We also have a limited number of interviews available with creators Emma Vieceli and Claudia Leonardi – please get in touch if you would like to discuss this further.

Robotech: Event Horizon #1

Preview by Steve Gustafson

Titan Comics’ Robotech series began where Robotech’s classic Macross Saga also began – and then slowly, things changed… A major character died, another became blind while another became the new captain… But how and why? Your explanation is here in this explosive Event as realities collide and a major new alien threat emerges. And who is the mysterious new player in the story? And are they a savior… or a world killer?

Batman: Curse of the White Knight: Von Freeze #1
Review by Steve Gustafson

The world of Batman: White Knight expands with this standalone tale! On the night of Bruce Wayne’s traumatic birth, Victor Fries must intervene to save the lives of Martha Wayne and the future Batman. As the evening unfolds, Victor distracts Thomas with the incredible tale of his own father figures-one a Nazi, the other a Jew-and their complex connection to Wayne Laboratories. As the Third Reich roars into power, the deep friendship and working relationship between the Baron von Fries and his research partner, Jacob Smithstein, is in crisis. Ordered by Himmler to speed development of their cryotechnology in service of world domination, Smithstein is forced to go into hiding and compromise his moral code in order to save his wife and infant daughter, Nora, from persecution and certain death. When the S.S. ramps up surveillance over the project, young Victor begins to question his father’s true allegiance. Both families are driven toward an impossible choice and a sinister standoff, and Victor makes a pact with Smithstein that will ripple through generations.

This is the kind of book that shouldn’t work, that should be a mess, and should have been left on the planning board but writer Sean Murphy and artist Klaus Janson pull off an impressively solid game plan and deliver a book that you shouldn’t overlook. 
As DC starts to develop their Black Label imprint we are getting an idea of the types of stories they are pushing for and if this book is an indication of what we’re going to get, I’m OK with that. It skips over-the-top action for a more grounded, character driven story that leaves you fulfilled and wanting more.

Familiar with a twist of surprise, this is a great pick up for any Batman fan looking for something that gives a new perspective on old tropes. 

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 

Absolute Carnage #5

Review by John Pumpernickel 

I know I should be writing a glowing review for Absolute Carnage #5 but while it ends things in a mostly satisfying manner, it falls into the trap of setting up something more…and it didn’t need to. 

Make no mistake, Absolute Carnage brings to a (semi) close of the masterful story that Donny Cates has put together. His run on Venom will be considered a high point for the character and this event delivered in all the places it was meant to. 

This story gave us a renewed Cletus Kasady and an all-powerful Knull, the dark god of symbiotes, so future writers and artists will have fun with that. This issue is less of an ending and more of another chapter int he Venom saga but I could have used a little more breathing room and conclusion. 

A very good issue that will make many happy but for those looking for a clean break, this isn’t the time.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10

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