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411’s Comic Reviews: X-Force #4, Fallen Angels #4, More  

December 19, 2019 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
X-Force 4

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]!  

Marauders #4

Review by Jeremy Thomas

Week in and week out, Marauders is proving to be the best thing going in the Dawn of X line.  Gerry Duggan and his artists (mostly Matteo Lolli and Frederico Blee) have been consistently crafting the most intriguing books in Marvel right now, suffusing this title with rollicking adventure, intrigue, mutant politics and world-building.  That’s a potent combination, all of which come to play in “The Red Bishop.”

Duggan has been taking his time in putting together the status quo for this book.  The power structure of the Hellfire Trading Company has been measured in how quickly it comes together. That’s something that continues in this book as, amidst a mission to look into the mystery of the disappearing human that Bishop uncovered in the first issue, Kate tries to recruit him to be her Red Bishop.  Duggan continues to show how well he knows these characters’ voices, particularly Kate.  The former Shadowcat’s ascension to Red Queen hasn’t stripped her of her personality, something Duggan loves putting on display.  We see that here to the book’s ample benefit.

In the meantime, Duggan and guest artist Lucas Wernick keep the others busy with an adventure.  The crew of the gunboat go to rescue some potential Krakoans from Brazil, which allows Duggan to cut loose with his characters.  He’s quickly getting a better handle on where Storm fits in this team, and Pyro continues to be an absolute delight of a character.  Wernick captures the majesty of Storm and Pyro’s powers and gives his characters a more cartoony feel that works well with the larger-than-life elements of the book.

The most impressive part of Marauders, and “The Red Bishop” specifically, is how well Duggan is able to juggle the various elements of this book.  There’s a lot of setting up done; we get the arrival of a new threat to the Hellfire Trading Company in the form of some surprising yet entirely logical villains, while teases of a larger threat to Krakoa get reinforced as well. Marauders is a book that wants to accomplish a lot, and creators with that level of ambition can often whiff at the plate.  Thus far, Duggan’s consistently batting a thousand.

Rating: 9.0 out of 10 

X-Force #4

Review by Jeremy Thomas

Last week’s X-Force took the final step in getting the split teams that will make up Krakoa’s wetworks and investigation team formed.  It also provided us a new look at the first major antagonists the team will face in the shadowy council of masked people looking to take the fight to Krakoa.  It was a very good bit of writing and art that felt like the final piece for a cohesive story arc from Benjamin Percy and Joshua Cassara.

The short time span between issues #3 and #4 allows the two creators and their team to keep that momentum moving with “Blood Economics.”  This week’s issue puts both the intelligence branch and the wetworks branch in action, as they investigate a strike on one of their facilities and seek to get some measure of retribution for the assassination of Xavier in the first issue.

Percy and Cassara have been work incredibly well together thus far, and this issue is no exception as Cassara’s textured, almost knotty-style depictions pare well with the rocky moral paths that the Krakoan Quiet Council is stepping down.  There’s no shortage of scenes among the Krokoan leadership here and Percy effectively captures the banter between them, with each figure given a whole lot of personality in the way they’re shown.  It’s nice to see Percy being willing to grapple with the moral concerns of a black ops/intelligence team, and the varied opinions on it offer a look into the nuance of such an endeavor while keeping true to the characters.

While those scenes are fine, the real joy comes in the mission scenes. Sage, Beast and Jean make an incredibly effective CSI-style team, with Jean’s powers giving Cassara plenty to play with.  And the field team of Logan, Domino and Quentin Quire gets to have fun too, mostly by getting outfitted in a fun  scene involving Forge – who, it would seem, is now Krakoa’s own Q. Forge fits the role well and their use of Krakoa’s unique nature in terms of weapon development is impressively inventive.

While most of this book soars, including the visceral, hold-nothing-back nature of the action scenes, it isn’t quite a perfect book.  Percy handles the design, character, and philosophy well, but there’s bit of blunting in terms of emotional impact, a side effect of how Krakoa treats casualties.  That’s mitigated in a later scene, but an early attack doesn’t hit as hard as it should.  Otherwise though, it’s all smooth sailing.  There are just the right touches of humor – a list of Xavier-owned companies on a chart are delightful, for example.  And while the final page may not inspire too in the shock factor, the sheer quality of this book is enough to leave me looking forward to the next one.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10

Excalibur #4

Review by Jeremy Thomas

Tini Howard and Marcus To are undoubtedly enjoying their apparent quest to make the most off-kilter of all the Dawn of X books in Excalibur.  I say that because you can see in every page just how much fun they’re having here.  I’ve said this before, but Excalbur has always been a book throughout its various volumes that you’ve had to have an appreciation for the weird and wonderful to truly enjoy.  We’ve seen plenty of that in this volume so far, from Shogo Dragon to Flower Bed Rogue, the various machinations of •┤Ȧ├• and so on.

It is important to appreciate though that the team hasn’t forgotten the importance of keeping the book at least faintly tethered to the ground. Sure, Otherworld expeditions and crystal magic are all fun, but it still needs to fit thematically into what Jordan D. White, Jonathan Hickman and the rest of the Dawn of X team are doing.  This week’s issue “Fall Back and Think of England!” makes sure to keep its eyes on the target, which creates a whole new set of wrinkles for the team.

First and foremost among those wrinkles is the need to deal with the fact that Captain Britain is…well, Captain Britain.  Betsy has certain responsibilities to the Crown as the magically empowered protector of the country, and Howard and To set that as a complication to be dealt with.  That gives the team the opportunity to get some good interaction in, as they are forced to cool their jets a little bit.  Rictor and Jubilee have a good conversation that peels back some layers on both Rictor and •┤Ȧ├•, before the latter sends the former down with Gambit to retrieve some of the crystals he needs for his work.

That in turn lets those two bounce off each other, and leads to a clear picture of how Rictor fits into this magic-infused comic. Meanwhile, Betsy has to take a meeting with the Coven Akkaba and learns that their venture into Otherworld last issue had some unfortunate ramifications.

Those ramifications set the new stakes for this book, and they’re effective ones.  It’s difficult to take any threats to the mutants too seriously right now because of the Resurrection Protocols, but there are still plenty of ways that dangers can emerge.  Howard and To have plenty of fun capturing the chaos that unfolds, both here and with the Rictor/Gambit mission.

Everything here is pretty good; nothing is glaringly bad, but by and large this is table-setting with a little bit of adventure thrown in to punch things up.  Howard’s capturing of Betsy’s mindset works fine, though there is still the sense that this is all just moving pieces into place, such as a scene involving Meggan and Jubilee, until we can really get started.  There’s nothing wrong with that; it just means that this isn’t one of the more memorable issues yet.  It is still a lot of fun and keeps things moving along in this series nicely.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Fallen Angels #4

Review by Jeremy Thomas

The biggest problem with X-Force at this point is that the opportunity to get readers to buy in has been lost. Bryan Edward Hill and Szymon Kudranski have largely squandered their opportunity to draw readers in over the last three issues, burying the potentially interesting story of Apoth as an adversary beneath the heavy-handed philosophy babble and a constant string of mischaracterization. 

The fourth issue, “Shikatsu,” is unfortunately more of the same; it’s simply buried under slightly different trappings.  Shikatsu loosely translates to “life and death,” and Hill provides us with plenty of both.  Psylocke and Laura find themselves stuck trying to learn more about Apoth from his child soldiers, a scene that spreads throughout the book and mostly serves to clarify the plot.  We learn what happened with Psylocke’s daughter and a bit about why Apoth calls Psylocke “mother,” but none of it is particularly satisfying.

It seems as if Hill knows exactly where his story is going, and that’s good.  A lot of tedium can be tolerated if it’s necessary to get to a satisfactory conclusion.  But the ride there is so start-and-stop and the plot so convoluted and poorly delineated that it’s difficult to see how we’ll be invested in the stakes enough for the payoff to be worth it.

The whole thing continues to be amplified by the art problems.  At this point, readers are just going to have to decide if they like the tack Kudranski is taking or they don’t.  I seriously wonder how anyone could be big on this.  The random extreme close-ups don’t hold any particular meaning and the constant blank black backgrounds are more distracting than thematically relevant. Kudranski continues his trend from last week of having at least one Psylocke face that looks terrifyingly not like a human, when that clearly isn’t supposed to be the point.

I still hold out some hope that Fallen Angels will wrap up on a conclusion that elevates the rest of the series from its admittedly low bar.  The characters here still have a lot of value and while there hasn’t been a ton done with them, these feel like experiences that another writer can carry into more interesting stories.  But this issue doesn’t do much for what’s already been a very lackluster series as a whole.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

New Mutants #4

Review by Jeremy Thomas

I’m not entirely sure how many people are hooked into this secondary storyline for New Mutants that kicked off last week; as I said then, the shift onto an entirely new team has likely turned a couple people off it.  It’s not like Beak and Angel Salvadore are the most popular characters of the New X-Men era, after all.  But as someone who enjoyed those characters (even if they weren’t my absolute favorites), I’ve enjoyed Ed Brisson’s chance to cut loose with a change of pace from Jonathan Hickman’s mutants-in-space storyline that ran through the first couple episodes and will return.

Whatever your buy-in level, you have to give it up for Brisson’s character work here.  Following on the back of the hostage situation from last week’s episode, Armor finds herself having to try and figure out to secure the freedom of Beak and Angel’s family, as well as herself.  Meanwhile, Boom Boom starts to realize that Angel and her “team” have been gone too long, and starts to investigate.  That’s a solid set-up for the episode and the story plays out in entirely predictable, but very fun, ways.

The story for “Fast  & Furious” is pretty straight-forward, but that allows Brisson and artist Marco Failla to explore the tropes with some nuance.  That means taking a pretty generic villain and giving him a more detailed backstory.  Said backstory doesn’t make him any less villainous, but it does give an opportunity for the story to explore one of the consequences of Krakoa’s actions as a nation.  This is the kind of worldbuilding that helps the Dawn of X line as a whole; we could see what we learn here potentially ripple into Marauders, for example, not to mention the most recent issue of X-Men.

The only real problem with this issue is that it seems like a lot of issues not to get very far.  While I appreciate the character shading to the other characters, there isn’t enough of that for this to go as slow as it does.  Fortunately the humor – much of it provided by Boom-Boom, who is always a delight – picks up the slack for a story that keeps the momentum going, even if it doesn’t quite push it along as much as we would want.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Heartbeat #3

Preview by Steve Gustafson

BOOM! Studios is proud to reveal a first look at HEARTBEAT #3, the latest issue of the new original five-issue series by comics creator Maria Llovet (Faithless, Loud) and letterer AndWorld Design (Martian Manhunter)—a dark, violent, decadent, disturbing story, in which life, death, blood, and love are inextricably intertwined, available in January 2020.

After a thrilling encounter with Donatien, Eva finds herself becoming more interested in his macabre tastes. As the murderer draws her deeper into his world, what parts of herself is Eva willing to give up to get closer… and will she miss them when she’s done?

Happiness Will Follow

Preview by Steve Gustafson 

BOOM! Studios is proud to reveal a first look at brand new graphic novel HAPPINESS WILL FOLLOW from Eisner and Harvey Award-nominated cartoonist Mike Hawthorne (Deadpool, Superior Spider-Man) as he tells the true and tragic story of enduring abuse and discovering a love of art that helped him to build the home he never had in this graphic memoir about family, survival, and what it means to be Puerto Rican in America.

Mike Hawthorne’s mother Blanca Otero, was a proud though atypical Puerto Rican woman from Santurce, San Juan who moved to the mainland, where she became a single mother and struggled to raise her son alone in New York City, a place that tormented them both with its unforgiving nature. But when Mike falls victim to a death curse—a haunting sign of the old country that his mother could never truly escape—she begins a series of events that drive him away from her both physically and emotionally, leaving him to grapple with his complicated relationships with his mother, identity, and heritage.

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor Year 2 #1

Preview by Steve Gustafson 

Eisner-nominated writer Jody Houser and Witchblade artist Roberta Ingranata return for a brand new story in the Thirteenth Doctor comic series.

An epic adventure spinning off the new season starting in the new year, starring Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. With her pals, Ryan, Yaz and Graham, the Doctor encounters a familiar foe, and it’ll take a familiar face to stop them!

The Muppet Christmas Carol: The Illustrated Holiday Classic
Review by Steve Gustafson

One of my favorite holiday traditions is watching The Muppets Christmas Carol with the family. There’s a sweet, wonderous spirit about the film that captures the attention of the young and the young at heart. You can imagine my joy when I saw that The Muppet Christmas Carol: The Illustrated Classic made it way to bookshelves across the country, allowing anyone to enjoy this wonderful story over and over. 

Yes, The Muppet Christmas Carol: The Illustrated Holiday Classic retells the beloved holiday story that we all know and love. Narrated by the Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens, the book “stars” Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, and Miss Piggy as Mrs. Cratchit. Each page pulls your imagination in and hits all the high notes of the golden television standard that many of us grew up watching.

The biggest test for this book stood when I pulled it out to read to my kids, who have grown up watching the Muppets Christmas Carol. In case you don’t know, and really, how is that possible, in the Muppets’ version of Dickens’s timeless tale, Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter and mean old man, sees the error of his ways after meeting three strange ghosts—and a whole lot of Muppets—one snowy Christmas Eve. Featuring the entire Muppet cast, this hilarious and heartwarming story conveys the importance of spreading love and kindness throughout the whole year. In colorful storybook form, this festive family favorite is the perfect way for fans of all ages to get into the holiday spirit—whether revisiting themselves or sharing it with their kids.

This book passed with flying colors and has joined the rotation of holiday classics for me to read to them. A book that’s worthy to be passed down from generation to generation. Visit your local book store and pick this one up. 

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Doomsday Clock #12

Review by John Pumpernickel 

We’ve come to the end of the road with Doomsday Clock #12 and in a grand joke of timing, it comes the same week as HBO’s Watchmen wraps up its stellar run. Sadly, my feelings for each lay at both ends of the spectrum. 

While I was blown away by Watchmen’s near perfect use of the the world Alan Moore created, I was left befuddled by how Doomsday Clock ended. It had been moving along solidly, bordering on amazing, the series missed the landing and tumbled hard. 
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the show and the book but thanks to delays, we can’t avoid it. The show simply took the themes introduced in the original series and masterfully built a world that felt familiar, yet distant. It gave a realistic portrayal of what could have happened after Moore ended his iconic opus. 

When it comes down to it, HBO’s Watchmen gave us a Doctor Manhattan that felt real while the comic gave us a Doctor Manhattan that felt tweaked to fit into the DC Universe. For the most part, the Watchmen universe and DC universe was presented in a balanced manner. Each teetering to overshadow the other but in the end, DC won out and we got a heavy-handed Superman influence that felt…false. This took me out of the book and cast the previous issues in a poor light. 

At the end, I’m left disappointed in how things wrapped up and, sticking with my no spoilers rule, we’re left with wondering how different things could have been. I’ll freely admit that I’ve been influenced by the superior show but its only crime was giving me a glimpse of the potential these characters hold and this series squandered.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

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