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411’s Comic Reviews: New Mutants #5, X-Force #5, More  

January 9, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
New Mutants

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]!  

New Mutants #5

Review by Jeremy Thomas
New Mutants has been an odd sort of bird (and I don’t mean Beak) as a comic.  It’s been sort of an anthology series but not quite, telling two separate stories of unconnected teams of younger X-Men who are both fairly in over their heads. It’s been a tactic that has worked more or less, thanks to the fact that Ed Brisson and Jonathan Hickman are both telling engaging stories.  But it does leave us waiting in the wings to see what happens next exact time it shifts gears.

Speaking of which — now, after two issues exploring the hijinks of Armor and her friends through Ed Brisson, the series now back to our original New Mutants in space with issue #5, “Endangered Birds.”  While Brisson’s story has been enjoyable, it’s nice to get back to the team that kicked this series off especially when Hickman seems to be firing on all cylinders.

“Endangered Birds” takes us right back into the action as Dani, Ilyana, Bobby, Sam, Rahne, Doug, Mondo, and Chamber – with Sam’s wife Izzy – attempt to transport none other than Shi’ar Empress and exile Deathbird back to Shi’ar space in order to serve as an advisor to Empress-to-be Xandra.  It’s not that easy though, as an element of the Shi’ar government is opposed to Deathbird’s return and sets out to make sure that doesn’t happen.

That part of the story is a heady mix of space politics, espionage and life-or-death stakes, which is why it’s such a delight that Hickman understands his characters so well.  Hickman has sometimes been accused (including by me) of not giving his characters enough personality to make them seem authentic, and while that has been the case sometimes it’s clear he gets these characters.  This is a very good issue for Ilyana fans for several reasons, as we see her competently take control of the situation yet still have time to show her mischievous side (and confirm a character point that has been decades in the making).  But we also get some great moments with Sunspot that captures his youthful enthusiasm and occasional lunkheadedness, not to mention a much-needed scene to give Mondo and Chamber some personality in this series.

All of this works wonderfully well as a juxtaposition of operatic-level space drama and fun, often funny character moments.  A big fight sequence is absolutely delightful, given life with kinetic energy by Rod Reis’ wonderful artwork.  Reis also captures a ton of personality in the faces of his characters, which does helps Hickman’s dialogue do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to giving us reasons to feel connected to these versions of the characters.

New Mutants has been an interesting experiment so far in how you can tell multiple stories around a theme of characters in a single book, and “Endangered Birds” is a good example of how good it can be when it works.  Despite the two-month break since the last time we saw this particular story and the potential complexity of Shi’ar political warfare, nothing feels confusing or jarring.  If this is how Hickman and Brisson’s run will continue to perform in juggling these two tales, the outlook is very, very good.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Fallen Angels #5

Review by Jeremy Thomas
Since the launch of Dawn of X, there’s been one book that has substantially lagged behind the rest and that’s Fallen Angels. While the series showed potential at the very beginning, it’s been bogged down with poor art choices, poor characterization and a lack of forward momentum that has made it, unfortunately, a bit of slog to get through.

Fallen Angels has always been intended to be a shorter series, with writer Bryan Edward Hill set to wrap the run up next issue due to his television writing commitments.  As we near the end, the final steps are becoming clearer and issue #5, “Sensei,” benefits from that.  When it’s time to wrap up a story, the ducks start lining up and that allows Hill to find the focus that he’s largely been lacking in the series to date.

The title of this issue actually refers to two – or possibly three – people.  Psylocke has essentially served as a mentor of sorts to X-23 and Kid Cable in the title so far, albeit not a particularly great one. We learn a little more of why that is, as details of her own sensei are shown off by Hill.  This puts her actions in this series in a bit more context and while it doesn’t make the previous issues any less frustrating, it does help them make sense.  Laura herself finally gets a little more character growth as well, as she puts together a team to help herself, Kid Cable and Kwannon deal with Apoth.

There are still massive issues of characterization here that don’t make a lot of sense, of course.  That’s something that isn’t going away this late in the game, short of a major plot twist that hasn’t come yet. Hill imagines Mr. Sinister as a technowizard when he’s actually just a geneticist, for example, and Laura is still nowhere near the character we saw her before this book. That said, Kwannon herself starts to make a lot more sense and Hill starts to de-obfuscate his theme.  She has a challenge to breaking out of the cycles that have made up her past, let go of her darkness and move on.  That’s not the most original theme, but it’s one that seems authentic to Psylocke and it benefits the book.

Also benefiting the book is the change to daylight for several scenes. Szymon Kudranski’s art has been a big contributor to the exhausting feel of reading this book.  Freed of the darkness he gets a chance to show a lot more detail.  His expressions are still not great by any measure, lacking in conveyance of emotion most of the time, but the improvement is a big benefit to the book.

There are a lot of problems with this issue, if I haven’t made that clear enough.  In addition to all the above, there’s not much to Apoth at this point, a villain who had potential but has not been developed, and the dialogue feels as stilted as the previous issues.  But somewhere, amidst the tiring trappings of this story, there’s something real that teases as if it might poke its head out in time for the finale next issue.  We can only hope.

Rating: 6.0 out of 10

Excalibur #5

Review by Jeremy Thomas
Tini Howard and Marcus To’s run on Excalibur has managed to go five issues without the entire team being complete.  Sure, all the members have there since Rictor showed up in issue #3.  However, one key ingredient has been out of action in Rogue, who was put into a flowery coma in the first issue. It’s made her a bit of a MacGuffin-in-waiting, sort of serving as a person-y kind of furniture to be moved around and worried over until the time is right.

“Panic on the Streets of London” is that time.  Howard and To use issue #5 as their moment to make a lot of things clear, as the particulars of Apocalypse’s mysterious plan become known not only to the reader, but also in some capacity to his teammates.  And Rogue finally gets a chance to break out and take a major role in this issue which doesn’t involve being carried around.

If that sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not.  Howard has a lot of characters to juggle like any team book, and sidelining Rogue gave her ample opportunity to focus on Betsy, Rictor, and the plot. Still, it’s nice to see the Southern Belle get a chance to step forward, which is a singular move that illuminates plenty about not just herself and Apocalypse, but also Gambit.

The story beats of this story feel like what Excalibur has been waiting for since it relaunched.  As enjoyable as this story has been – how can you not love Shogo the Dragon going wild – there’s still been a lot of story that hasn’t been obvious until now.  This brings everything into focus and gives us an idea of where we’re going from here. In the meantime, we also have a little interaction between Betsy and Pete Wisdom, which looks like a romantic direction that I’m sure will be heavily discussed for good and ill.

For as much as it provides good plot momentum, much of this issue of Excalibur is more of a “par for the course” situation.  That’s not bad, because what we’ve had is a lot of fun.  Howard’s voice for the characters ring true, and I’m very interested to see where the story goes from here.  “Panic on the Streets for London” adds to Excalibur’s strong case for being the most consistent of the Dawn of X books.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10

X-Force #5

Review by Jeremy Thomas
One of the things I most appreciate about the Dawn of X line is how there’s really something for just about everyone.  You want hijinks and adventure on the high sea with complicated character dynamics?  Here’s Marauders.  What about self-contained issues that explore various facets of what Krakoa means to mutants?  Welcome to X-Men. New Mutants gives you teen characters, nostalgia and space politics; Excalibur is the current take on magic and strange happenings. Even Fallen Angels offers something in its own way with pop culture Eastern philosophy and gritty art, for those who like that.

But when it comes to some good, old-fashioned 1990s style violence and mayhem?  Well, look no further than X-Force.  Benjamin Percy and Joshua Cassara have been working wonderfully together to bring a visceral, take-no-prisoners approach to the mutant black ops team, and “Necessary Force” takes that to a new level.  With last issue ending on a decapitated Quentin Quire and bisected Wolverine, Percy and Cassara already set the stage and uses these 20-plus pages to go headlong into the fun.

Percy lays out the story for this issue in an effective manner, positioning what’s left of the strike team alongside the intel team back home observing and guiding.  But this issue is really Cassara’s to shine.  He cuts loose with some truly stunning artwork that shows off the mutants at their most dangerous. Domino really gets to shine in this issue, as does Forge.  The two of them – and Gateway, as a welcome surprise – go in fully loaded and Cassara has fun with it.  He’s such a good texture artist that some of the more vicious images are shockingly effective, with a huge assist from Dean White and Rachelle Rosenberg’s coloring work.

 From the writing side, Percy takes the opportunity to really delve into who Domino is at this moment. This book has not been kind to her within the story; she was captured, tormented, vivisected and used by Krakoa’s mysterious masked enemy.  We get a good look at what that’s done to her emotionally, which is an interesting direction for her and hearkens back a bit to her days in the Zero Tolerance era of the early ‘00s.

If there’s a flaw to this book, it’s that outside of all the action there isn’t much that goes on.  Percy and Cassara don’t do much to move the plot forward, instead just giving the Intelligence side of X-Force a bit more of a clue as to what they’re facing.  But it’s hard to be too critical when what they’re giving us is as entertaining as it is.  The masked man will wait; for now, I’m just happy to enjoy the ride.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10

Slaughterhouse-Five GN

Preview by Steve Gustafson

BOOM! Studios announced a brand new graphic novel, SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE. An American classic and one of the world’s seminal anti-war novels, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is faithfully presented in graphic novel form for the first time by Eisner Award-winning writer Ryan North (How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler) and Eisner Award-nominated artist Albert Monteys (Universe!) with color assistance by Ricard Zaplana, available in stores September 2020.  
Listen: Billy Pilgrim has…

…read Kilgore Trout
…opened a successful optometry business
…built a loving family
…witnessed the firebombing of Dresden
…traveled to the planet Tralfamadore
…met Kurt Vonnegut

…come unstuck in time.
Billy Pilgrim’s journey is at once a farcical look at the horror and tragedy of war where children are placed on the frontlines and die (so it goes), and a moving examination of what it means to be fallibly human.

Kurt Vonnegut’s black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America’s attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959, and established him as “a true artist” (The New York Times) with Cat’s Cradle in 1963. He was, as Graham Greene declared, “one of the best living American writers.” Kurt Vonnegut died in 2007.

Ryan North is the writer responsible for Dinosaur Comics, the Eisner and Harvey Award-winning Adventure Time comic book series for BOOM! Studios, the bestselling anthology series Machine of Death and the New York Times bestselling and Eisner-Award winning Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series for Marvel Comics. North has also written a New York Times bestselling series of choose-your-own-adventure books based on Shakespeare’s classic plays Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. His latest book, How to Invent Everything, is nothing less than a complete cheat sheet for civilization. North currently resides in Toronto, Canada.

“Like most people, Kurt Vonnegut has been one of my favourite writers since I first read his books decades ago, and it’s been such an honour—and challenge—to adapt his most famous work for a new medium. Slaughterhouse-Five is a deeply funny and deeply moving book, and my goal with this project was to keep all of that, while still making something that feels at home in this medium,” said writer Ryan North. “I picture it as a window into an alternate universe where Kurt (and Kilgore Trout) worked in comics instead of prose. Every medium can do things that others can’t, I’m beyond excited to share this new version of Slaughterhouse-Five with you very soon.”

Albert Monteys is a Spanish graphic novelist and illustrator, best known for his work in El Jueves, a weekly satirical magazine that he directed from 2006 until 2011. Monteys also created the series Carlitos Fax for the children’s magazine Mister K. In 2014, he founded a satirical monthly publication Orgullo y Satisfaccion (Pride and Satisfaction) with several other cartoonists, and began to publish a science fiction comic, ¡Universo! (Universe!) in Panel Syndicate, winning a 2017 Eisner Award nomination for Best Digital Comic.

“What a challenge, what an opportunity! When I was presented with the chance to collaborate in the graphic novel adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five my first reaction was ‘this is one of my favorite books and it can’t be adapted.’ That was until I read Ryan North’s script, nodding enthusiastically at every great idea, every moving moment, every scene that made me want to grab my pencil right away.” said artist Albert Monteys. “A good adaptation shines new light on the original, I hope we managed to do just that. I think we did, somewhat, in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore—which is what comics are, after all.”

Alienated #1

Preview by Steve Gustafson 

BOOM! Studios revealed a first look at  ALIENATED #1, the premiere issue of a new original series from acclaimed writer Simon Spurrier (John Constantine: Hellblazer, Coda), artist Chris Wildgoose (Batgirl, Batman: Nightwalker), colorist André May, and letterer Jim Campbell, a subversive coming-of-age story about having all the power to change the world but the unready hands to truly wield it, available in February 2020.

Three teenagers, each an outcast in their own way, stumble upon an unearthly entity as it’s born. As they bond over this shared secret and the creature’s incredible abilities, it becomes clear to the teenagers that their cute little pet is a predator in the making—and it’s in need of prey. Guided by the best intentions at first, the teens’ decisions soon become corrupted by adolescent desires, small town jealousies, and internal rivalries, sending them into a catastrophic spiral of their own making.

ALIENATED is the newest release from BOOM! Studios’ eponymous imprint, home to critically acclaimed original series, including Once & Future by Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora; Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera; Faithless by Brian Azzarello and Maria Llovet; Abbott by Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivelä; Bury The Lede by Gaby Dunn and Claire Roe; Klaus by Grant Morrison and Dan Mora; Folklords by Matt Kindt and Matt Smith; and The Red Mother by Jeremy Haun and Danny Luckert. The imprint also publishes popular licensed properties including Joss Whedon’s Firefly from Greg Pak and Dan McDaid; Buffy The Vampire Slayer from Jordie Bellaire and David López; Angel from Bryan Edward Hill and Gleb Melnikov; and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers from Ryan Parrott and Daniele Di Nicuolo.

Star #1

Review by John Pumpernickel 


Ambitious reporter Ripley Ryan rocked New York City when she became the hero STAR, adored by everyone. But in truth she was Dr. Minerva’s attempt at a Kree-human Super-Soldier. Desperate for the strength to control her own destiny, she tried to kill Captain Marvel – and failed. Ripley was left, defeated and powerless, in the Raft…or so she thought. The Reality Stone has found her, and now no prison can hold her. You thought you knew what the Infinity Stones were capable of. Think again.  

Star #1 is one of those books I picked up that I didn’t know much about but was looking for something new. For a first issue it was good but not knowing much about the character dampened the experience for me. 

Spinning out for the pages of Captain Marvel, we get to see Star in solo action in this four-part miniseries from current Captain Marvel writer and Star’s co-creator, Kelly Thompson, with art by Javier Pina and Filipe Andrade.

There’s a lot going on in this issue so it took me a couple of reads to get the scope and feel and while I was lost a couple of times, I liked the direction this book wants to take and saw enough to get me to come back. Ripley is interesting enough to get her own book and Thompson keeps things moving at a brisk pace. The art is a good mix and fits the needs for the issue, which checks almost all the boxes of what readers are looking for.

A good start and good enough for me to seek out more information about Star. Thumbs up.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10

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