Comic Book Corner Brings Back Cats, Criminals, and Warrior Women

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Welcome back, CBCers, to the TRUE Comic Book Corner! In case you’ve forgotten, since, as all mad tyrants do, Luke attempted to steal the vast and storied history of Comic Book Corner for himself – I’m Kay, when Luke saw me he said “Oh”, and now he’s KOed. He tried to pull a runner, but we got him! By placing an original Optimus Prime toy under a cardboard box, we successfully trapped the usurper king, whacked him upside the head with some copies of the Overstreet Price Guide, and threw him into a spare office and locked the door.

Don’t worry, true believers! He’ll be contributing with the scraps of paper he slips out from under the door. As long as he keeps hitting his deadlines, we’ll let him out…eventually!

(In all seriousness, thanks to Luke for keeping tradition going while MAJK and I were swamped over the holidays. We really will let you out real soon. And I put your reviews in this week and everything.)

This week was a rough one in Comic Book Corner land. While we had some real winners this week, we also ran into a lot of books that didn’t live up to our expectations. Some of us (hi) were playing catch-up from the stuff we were reading over the holidays, and some of the reviews just ain’t pretty. Keep reading to find out what we loved…and what we didn’t.

Red Sonja Holiday Special

Red Sonja Holiday Special Cover from Dynamite

Writer: Story #1 – Amy Chu & Erik Burnham; Story #2 – Roy Thomas & Clair Noto
Pencils: Story #1 – Ricardo Jamie; Story #2 – Frank Thorne
Colors: Story #1 – Omi Remalante, Jr.; Story #2 – Mike Helleher
Cover Artist: Leonardo Romero
Publisher: Dynamite Publishing

Luke: I haven’t read any Red Sonja comics in years, back since Dynamite first got the license and Mike Carey was writing them. They seemed to be really hit or miss, and I decided to give it a pass. However, I was in the mood for some sword and sorcery with a heavy dash of violence, so I thought I would give Red Sonja Holiday Special a try. It contains two stories, and really shows why you shouldn’t pair a story with a story by Roy Thomas because Roy Thomas is going to make it look inferior, even if the other story was good. Which, in this case, it wasn’t.

In the lead story, Red Sonja is travelling through a snowstorm in a metal bikini that seems to have gotten even smaller over the last few years, when she encounters someone struggling to get to shelter. She saves her, and decides to share a story of when she was in New York City (did this happen in a recent title? No context provided here) and had the meaning of Christmas explained to her before she had to run from gangsters through a Santa parade.

In the back-up story, Red Sonja travels to a strange city after a warning from a three-legged goat, and finds herself trapped by a dark force. She must use her brains and her brawn to survive. This story is reprinted from The Savage Sword of Conan #27, which was released in 1977.

The first story was pretty dull, and did not have anything sword & sorcery to it. It was a heavy-handed attempt to force a holiday season message down the reader’s throat, and it didn’t even fully succeed at that. It was a truly disappointing experience, and reminded me why I tend to avoid comics release by Dynamite.

The back-up story was a lot of fun. Thomas always had a knack for seeming to channel Robert E. Howard in his stories, and his Red Sonja is a strong, competent character that I can get behind.

If you are considering this title, instead grab a collection of reprints of Thomas’ work on Red Sonja. You won’t regret it.

Xena: Penance

Cover of Xena: Penance, trade paperback from Dynamite

Writer: Meredith Finch
Artist: Vincente Cifuentes
Cover Artist: Vincente Cifuentes
Publisher: Dynamite

MAJK: As a huge fan of the original TV series, I’m pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this comic. It was like a trip down memory lane, and while not exactly the same as the TV series it really did let me reconnect with the best Princess of my youth and her spunky side kick. That’s right, the lovely and every so chatty Gabrielle is also in this volume.

The short stories were entertaining and stayed true to the spirit of TV series, which earns major bonus points from me. I wouldn’t have done a lot of hate-spewing but I would definitely be annoyed had Meredith Finch taken too much creative license with such beloved characters.

The plot of the short stories are tied in the overarching plot of Xena traveling to Athens to do penance for her warrior past and in search of redemption from the Goddess Eleos. But we open the comic with Gabrielle on the run from some rather nasty brigands. Now I have to say, I rather loved that Gabrielle is smart, snarky, and fairly competent on her own. Had this been a one on one fight. I’d lay even money that she’d win. Unfortunately, it was three on one, thus she was at a severe disadvantage. Xena shows up and as it turns out was once the leader of these guys. Butt-kicking ensues and the ladies rout the scum beautifully. Xena is intent on travelling alone but Gabrielle argues her way into Xena’s company and possible on to her good-side if the wry smile from Xena is anything to go on.

The art as a whole is excellent. Xena and Gabrielle are masterfully drawn to look so much like we’ve come to know and love. Finch did an excellent job with each character’s personality and dialogue. As I was reading, I swear I could hear Lucy Lawless and Reneé O’Connor in my head.

On the whole this is a must have for Xena Fans. You can pick it up at Amazon in paperback or on Comixology if digital is your thing.

West Coast Avengers #6

Cover of West Coast Avengers #6

Writer: Kelly Thompson
Artist: Daniele Di Nicuolo
Color Artist: Triona Farrell
Cover: Stefano Caselli & Nolan Woodward
Publisher: Marvel

KayFirst, I need to say that the tribute to Stan Lee that Marvel is doing on all their covers, and with these interior black pages is absolutely destroying me every time I pick up a book. When I was in my hometown for the holidays, a relative asked if I knew about “that comics guy who died.” I tried to explain that this was a little like when Buddy Holly died. I’ve been singing “American Pie” in my head since I heard. (Something touched me deep inside the day the [comics] died. And I was singin’…)

There, with that out of the way, I can talk about this issue of West Coast Avengers. We continue with our new artist, Di Nicuolo, who I like fine…but I miss Caselli a lot. There was something softer about his style that I really enjoyed.

In terms of story, we see Kate with her maybe-mom, trying to figure out what’s going on there. The rest of the team is suspended over a pool of land sharks (hey, remember Issue #1?) and trying to survive. The plot moves along briskly in a way that doesn’t require a lot of commentary; it’s a good book, and I want to continue to read it, you know? It’s still one of the better team books I’ve read in a very long time. On the last page, we get a surprise visit from Noh-Varr, aka Marvel Boy, aka Kate’s ex-boyfriend from way back in Young Avengers (and holy wow do I love these deep cuts).

Nothing good ever happens when a character says “But I can explain everything.” So I’m super psyched for the next issue.

Sukeban Turbo #1

Cover of Sukeban Turbo #1 from IDW

Writer: Sylvain Runberg
Artist: Victor Santos
Cover Artist: Victor Santos
Publisher: IDW

Luke: A comic about a girl gang running the streets? Sign me up! Or so I thought…
Sukeban Turbo #1 begins with a young girl and boy stealing DVDs from a video rental store, before flash forwarding to a few years in the future. Now, the girl runs a gang and the boy is in a world famous boy band. Will their worlds collide? Probably, and I bet there will be a lot of blood on the way.

I just recently ran across Runberg’s work reading Konungar: War of Crowns, which I reviewed here. I really enjoyed Konungar, so I had high hopes for Sukeban Turbo. Unfortunately, this title really didn’t seem to live up to my hopes.

Sukeban Turbo felt like one of those stories that tries too hard to be hip and edgy, but really just comes across tepid. The girl gang is really just spoiled bratty kids who also happen to use weapons to take out their angst, but rather than hard and gritty they feel immature and foolish. Meanwhile, the boy band seems to be full of naïve doofuses.

This ended up being a pretty big disappointment. Maybe it will get better with time and will find its stride, but I won’t be hanging around to find out.

Impossible Inc #3

Cover of Impossible Inc #3 from IDW

Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Mike Cavallaro
Cover Artist: Mike Cavallaro
Publisher: IDW

MAJK: In the last issue of Impossible Inc., Number and Buddy found their father Goliath. Happiness gave way to sadness as they lost him again, despite the having skill and technology on their side. Heartrendingly, they learned that some laws are immutable as they are forced to let go once more.

Worse yet, when they arrived home the self-same universe-devouring threats that caused Goliath to shatter into thousands of pieces now threatened not only their world but the very order of Time itself. Determined to stop the Infinite Spiral from collapsing and time periods colliding, Number’s desperation bring her eye to eye with the most dangerous foes ever vanquished by her father. In a moment of weakness, Number nearly allies herself with an entity whose sole purpose in life is destruction.

Although she avoids making an unholy pact with this creature, it seems she will pay for her weakness. In a rush to return and save the multiverse, Number fails to remember a crucial element keeping the Exterminators in their place. While Number works to implement an alternate solution to stop the Time termites, the Exterminators are working to free themselves so they can once more roam the galaxy razing worlds.

I’ve already noted that the Silver-Age-like art in Impossible Inc fits the story beautifully. Both the story and the art offer well designed characters that blend fresh-faced idealism with the complicated job of protecting the Multiverse from threats that are larger than life. The expansive imagination and rich world building is still on display as we encounter a race convinced that all worlds should be re-made in its image. There is not as much philosophical, cosmic perspective on reality here, but a lot of that is due to the absence of Goliath. There is, however, the display of real human emotions when our characters deal with the sudden unexpected return of those nearest and dearest only to immediately have them once more snatched away.

Rainbow Brite #3

Variant Cover Rainbow Brite Issue #3 from Dynamite

Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Artist: Brittney Williams
Colorist: Valentina Pinto
Cover Artist: A, Paulina Ganucheau, B, Classic Art
Publisher: Dynamite

KayIssue #3 of Rainbow Brite really dives into the Magical Girl theme that Whitley is going for in this book. I can’t say enough about how much I love Magical Girls; from Sailor Moon (currently rewatching with my kids because my 7yo asked for tickets to Sailor Moon Live! for her 8th birthday and how much does THAT rock?) to Revolutionary Girl Utena, there’s something about a regular girl imbued with magical powers that takes over my heart in a way that princesses and sorceresses just don’t.

I’ve been loving Rainbow Brite since the beginning. I called this book the light I needed in a dark world, and that’s even more true now. In Issue #3, we see more of how Wisp’s powers work; she has to be holding the Star Scepter. When she shouts “RAINBOW POWER…or something!” I howled with laughter. We see that Wisp can bring color back to the world with the scepter, but its power isn’t unlimited, and seems to need to be recharged.

But we also see Wisp having doubts about this whole “magical destiny” thing. She says “I don’t know what kind of hero this Rainbow Brite is supposed to be…I’m not a hero, Twink. I barely even survived [the encounter with Murky and Lurky].” What I love here is that Twink doesn’t try and convince Wisp that she is the Chosen One. He says that she is the best hope Rainbowland has, so will she continue to help him until they find the hero they do need? This Wisp can agree to. She and Twink set off to find the Red Guardian.

I live in a house with four kids, and as soon as I come home with this book, the 6 and 7 year olds (a boy and a girl) almost come to blows over it. The 6 year old has described it as “a pretty good comic you got there,” and the 7 year old bounces with joy when she sees it in my pile. If there’s a better recommendation for a comic in this age group, I don’t know it. Get this book for your kids.

Smooth Criminals #1

“A” Cover of Smooth Criminals #1 From BoomBox!

Writers: Kurt Lustgarten & Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith
Artist: Leisha Riddel
Colors: Brittany Peer
Cover Artist: Audrey Mok
Publisher: BOOM!Box (BOOM! Comics)

Luke: A quirky buddy time travel story set 20 years ago that ends up being a heist drama? There certainly seems to be a lot going on here.

Smooth Criminals #1 follows a brow-beaten lab assistant who, in her free time, plots schemes of great power as a hacker. Set in 1999, the technology is a little different than what we are used to now, but certainly was reminiscent of what I saw back in the day. Of course, when a secret government time travel project becomes involved, a woman from the ‘70s on the cusp of a huge heist falls smack into the middle of everyone’s plans, and chaos ensues.

Smooth Criminals #1 didn’t really do it for me, and I’m struggling to figure out why. The plot line is kooky without being too oddball, and the characters are a little one-dimensional, but not terribly so. I think the style of the storytelling is what trips me up. The humor falls flat for me, and I don’t find the charming parts charming. This might be one of those unfortunate times when a comic and a reader just don’t match.

Smooth Criminals will likely find a happy target audience, and I look forward to seeing if it gets good press elsewhere, but it just isn’t a fit for me.

Wizard Beach #1 (of 5)

Cover of Wizard Beach #1 from Boom!

Writer: Shaun Simon
Artist: Conor Nolan
Colorist: Meg Casey
Cover Artist: Jorge Corona
Publisher: Boom! Studios

MAJK: In a land far away, magic is the order of the day and war rages. In that cold, unforgiving world where the Waterfalls of the Eternal are frozen, a life-threatening freeze is reducing magic as well as life expectancy. Hexley Daggert Ragbottom, a young impetus soul, refuses to accept his father’s attitude of resignation. He is certain that his estranged Uncle Salazar knows the magic needed to save them. His father disagrees and forbids Hexley from heading out to find his uncle. Hexley is a stubborn boy and leaves anyway.

What Hexley finds, though, is beyond his wildest imagination. His uncle has joined a secret, reclusive community of witches and wizards hiding in plain sight. In this magical beach town with a boardwalk of magic shops, Hexley finds his uncle half naked and burning his body in the sun… not the sort of thing you’d expect from the most powerful wizard of the modern age.

Uncle Salazar, or “”Sally”” as he prefers to be called, has little interest in teaching magic or the goings on of a world far from his comfy beach locale. Dubbing his nephew Hex, Sally proceeds to introduce the younger wizard to the Wizard council. Hex is thrilled, until he meets them.

The council is far more interested in fashion, modern food, and negotiating with a spice demon than saving the world. It’s everything you’d never expect complete with a dead wizard who is regularly reanimated by his loyal but lecherous wand. If Hex thought his uncle was a bit of a shock, then the poor boy is really in trouble. Infuriated, Hex storms off, or rather… he would if he could.

Apparently, Uncle Sally has more to him than Hex realizes. This is quite a ridiculous comic, in all of the best ways. It’s the kind of irreverent fun that fantasy buffs, especially tabletop RPG gamers can truly appreciate. Sally reminds so much of Disney’s Merlin from Sword in the Stone that I couldn’t help but like him right off. I can’t wait to read the next issue…which is out now by the way. Hint, hint.

 

Breakneck #1

Cover A of Breakneck from Titan Comics

Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Simone Guglielmini & Raffaele Semeraro
Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski & Chris Chuckry
Cover Arist: Fay Dalton
Publisher: Hard Case Crime (Titan Comics)

Luke: Coming off of the high of reading Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ The Fade Out (check out the review here), I was looking for more noir to fill the void. Which is when I came across Breakneck. Hard Case Crime has put out some great prose fiction, but I hadn’t had the chance to explore their comic line yet. Would it hold up?

When a man begins to uncover evidence that his wife is cheating on him, he decides there is only one way to handle it: tracking down the man making him a cuckold and hitting him with a brick before pummeling him with a baseball bat. Which is exactly where Breakneck #1 starts, and also exactly where things begin to go wrong. Because when your revenge involves you drugging a secret agent and releasing a woman who may in fact be a terrorist planning to blow up a large portion of Philadelphia, then maybe the brick-and-bat approach just might not have been the best way to go about things.

Breakneck #1 is a solid comic. The art does a nice job of progressing the story, although it does at times seem to try too hard to be gritty at the cost of clarity when it comes to facial expressions. That said, it does a fantastic job of setting the tone of the story. And the plot itself is gripping. It was a joy to watch things spiral out of control, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Especially pleasant, Breakneck #1 contains the first two parts of the story. This means you get two full comics worth of story in one sitting. I really like this approach, as it grounds me in the story quickly and has me ready for more.

Crime fans, check this out!

Man-eaters #4

Cover A of Man-Eaters #4 from Image

Writer: Chelsea Cain
Cover/Creative Producer: Lia Miternique
Additional Interior Art: Lia Miternique and Stella Greenvoss
Additional Writing: Eliza Fantastic Mohan
Publisher: Image

Kay: I have absolutely loved every single issue of Man-eaters…until now. To be fair, this isn’t really an issue of a comic, at least not in the way I understand it. This issue is a satirical version of a magazine that could exist in the Man-eaters universe. Set up like Seventeen or Teen Vogue, the magazine includes “articles” like “How I Survived,” “Stay Safe At Home,” and “Ask The Doctor.” These all talk about how boys survive cat attacks, signs that your sister or girlfriend are about to turn into giant homicidal panthers, and so on. The magazine includes ads for various products that don’t contain estrogen, and therefore make men act like men.

Sigh.

There’s several reasons this got on my nerves. First of all, Cain has already been criticized by trans readers because of the way the comic focuses solely on cis girls and doesn’t allow for trans kids at all. This is aggravating because the no-periods thing could actually be really beneficial for trans kids; trans boys wouldn’t need to struggle with potential dysphoria due to having a monthly cycle, and trans girls would have fewer risks of being outed due to NOT having a monthly cycle. So this felt a little like rubbing salt into a wound.

Then, there’s specifically an article called “Teen Scene” that focuses on “all gender bathrooms” which gives a pull quote stating “I don’t necessarily feel safe going to the bathroom with girls.”

WHAT. THE. FORK.

The bathroom debate around transgender folk has been going on long enough that there’s absolute no excuse for that being used, even as satire, even as a joke, even at all.

So, yeah. This might, without the transphobia, have been a cute addition to a trade. As a standalone issue, it sucked. With the transphobia, I’m pretty pissed, and it’s only on the strength of the previous story that I’m willing to keep reading at all.

If you haven’t bought this yet, skip it. Wait and see if the next issue is better.

***

So thanks for hanging out while we play Comic Book Corner catch-up, folks! As always, if there’s great books out there which we should be reading and aren’t, please let us know!

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