Ponies, Blackbirds, Rat Queens, and Vampires Take Over Comic Book Corner

Reading Time: 16 minutes
Comic Book Corner Featured Image 03 17 2019

There’s a lot to say in this week’s Comic Book Corner. We’re going to talk about some great comics: X-23DaredevilCalamity KateCrackdownRat QueensVampirella Dejah ThorisThe Wicked + The DivineBlackbirdMy Little Pony: Nightmare Knights, and Lazarus Risen. We loved a lot of books this week, had a few hard passes, but regardless, we had a lot to say — so let’s get to it.

X-23 Issue #10

Gabby and Laura together launch themselves at bad guys, claws extended
Cover of X-23 #10

Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Penciler: Diego Olortegui
Inker: Walden Wong
Colorist: Chris O’Halloran
Cover Artist: Ashley Witter
Publisher: Marvel

Kay: It takes a lot for me to not like an X-23 book, and this isn’t going to be a book I didn’t like. I love this arc, the way Gabby and Laura react differently when they discover more clone “sisters,” and I also really thought the book deserved one more issue to explore that difference. Tamaki is at her absolutely best when she’s diving deep into the inner psychology of a character, and I wanted to see that here. Still, the arc is wrapped up beautifully, and there is fertile groundwork laid for the continuing relationship between Gabby and Laura. Having the last few panels being these sisters ordering dinner together brought the story back to what matters – family. I love it.

The art in this issue was much more solid than what I found in issue #9. Both issue #9 and issue #10 have the same penciler, Diego Olortegui, but while issue #9 had three inkers, issue #10 had settled on one. This gave the book a more consistent style and feel that I very much enjoyed. Chris O’Halloran on colors continues to create exceptional feel and atmosphere to each scene. Ashley Witter’s covers continue to be absolutely haunting.

And I just need to call out something I’m seeing in more Marvel books in general – I’m seeing a gorgeous return to the days of editor notes (such as “Laura slashed Chandler’s hamstring in All-New Wolverine #6!”) and character introductions (how I love the quick intro notes in every issue of West Coast Avengers, and how much do I detest that the book is getting canceled because Marvel does everything wrong ever). So if Marvel could keep the notes from the editor and stop canceling my favorite books before they get a chance to come out in trade, I’d just really appreciate that.

Beyond that, I’m always here for Wolverine and Honey Badger, especially when they have Jonathan tagging along.

Daredevil Issue #2

Cover of Daredevil Issue #2

Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Marco Checchetto
Colorist: Sunny Gho
Cover Artist: Julian Totino Tedesco

Eric: Issue #2 continues the “Know Fear” story line, Chip Zdarsky’s first run on ‘Daredevil’ that finds the titular hero attempting to pick up the pieces of his life and recover after a near-death injury that ended Charles Soule’s run last fall. Zdarsky portrays a Daredevil who is clearly “off his game,” making mistakes in situations that he would have previously handled with surgical precision.

Issue #2 continues where issue #1 left off, with Daredevil now a wanted man after one of the routine thugs he tussled with last issue died from injuries seemingly caused by him. Daredevil pays a visit to Foggy Nelson and tries to convince him that he did not kill the man, but he is doubtful that Foggy actually believes him. He then investigates further, interrogating the doctor who treated the dead thug at the hospital to try and determine if he has something to hide, but to no avail. This only serves to put doubt into Daredevil’s own mind as to whether he can convince anyone of his innocence.

Meanwhile, on his trail is Detective Cole, a no-nonsense cop who just transferred to the Hell’s Kitchen precinct in issue #1. Cole is doing some investigating of his own, talking to past “associates” of Daredevil to gain a lead on the vigilante’s whereabouts – and one of those associates is Kingpin! Daredevil’s and Detective Cole’s paths inevitably cross as both their investigations lead them back to the alleged crime scene, where the conflict between the two sets up a cliffhanger to end the issue.

Zdarsky is weaving a tidy little mystery in ‘Daredevil,’ dropping hints that our hero is likely being set up, but not giving the reader many clues as to who is actually behind it. I really like the tone of Zdarsky’s ‘Daredevil’, which, as I mentioned in my previous review of issue #1, strongly resembles the Netflix series by featuring a down-and-out Matt Murdock struggling to manage his relationships with his allies while trying to accomplish his self-imposed mission to keep his city safe. This Daredevil is fallible, making mistakes in fights or during his investigations that could cause him injury. The inner monologue that Zdarsky writes for Daredevil hints at a bit of doubt creeping into the Man With No Fear’s head as to whether he could have actually killed someone, to the point that I wonder if maybe the “Know Fear” tagline could be indicating Daredevil’s fear of his own capabilities.

The supporting cast is intriguing – including the gumption of Foggy Nelson (who I’d like to see more of), the looming presence of Kingpin, and the determination of Detective Cole, the new character in the ‘Daredevil’ canon who surely has deeper motivations than the surface “in pursuit of justice” persona that Zdarsky has revealed thus far. The confrontation between Detective Cole and Kingpin, with the two sizing each other up and neither allowing themselves to be rattled by the other, is particularly well-written. I’m also really enjoying the art team on this book. Marco Chechetto’s Daredevil is athletic and nimble, and his Kingpin is imposing. Sunny Gho’s colors, especially the dark tones and shadows during Daredevil’s sequences in the city, work particularly well.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the direction of this new Daredevil story so far, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Blackbird Issue #6

A girl with turquoise hair and pinkish skin in a purple dress
Cover of Blackbird #6

Writer: Sam Humphries
Artist: Jen Bartel
Colorist: Triona Farrell
Main Cover: Jen Bartel
Variant Cover: Tula Lotay
Publisher: Image

Kay: So issue #6 of Blackbird, end of the first arc. And I’m not…entirely sure what to say about it. The book starts with Clint and Nina, kind of…middles with this huge confrontation with Nina’s mom. Nina’s (understandably) upset about never having been told that she died the night of the earthquake (back in issue #1). She’s furious that her mother disappeared, that her family was wrecked by her mother’s apparent death. Nina’s mother, meanwhile is furious that Nina is here, sure that everything she did was to protect her daughter and seems to feel sorry for herself for the choices she’s made. It’s implied that she may have killed Nina’s sister, Marisa. She casts Nina out of Iridium Cabal and something happens that makes Nina into a Paragon, and now there’s a whole bunch more cabal stuff happening.

And I have no significant emotional reaction to any of this.

It’s weird, I feel a little bit ashamed because I just have not been able to dig into this book the way I want to. I love Jen Bartel’s artwork so damn much, and I remember being so happy that she was getting to do interiors, but her sequential art just hasn’t been as moving for me as her splashes and full size work is. That may get better, but right now, the art seems to lack movement in a way that frustrates me.

But the bigger issue is really the story. This is the kind of over-complicated fantasy story that never quite captures my attention. It’s a good book, I think, but I am not its audience. I may try and catch up with it in a trade or so and see what I think of it then. But for right now, I think it’s coming off my pull list, and I’ll admire it from afar.

The Wicked + the Divine Issue #42

Cover of The Wicked + The Divine Issue #42

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Colorist: Matt Wilson
Cover Artist: Jamie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson
Publisher: Image

MAJK: In previous issues of The Wicked + The Divine, Laura prevented Baal from sacrificing 20,000 people at his concert. Thanks to Morrigan’s sacrifice, Nergal (previously Baphomet) is alive and using his powers provided by four of the godly heads with new bodies courtesy of Morrigan’s corpses.

In an attempt to get Baal on their side, Cass and Laura find out what is generating the Great Darkness. Baal discovers the truth about his father’s death. He also learns Minerva and Ananke are one and the same – but unfortunately, he learns this just after leaving his family with Minerva.

With a single text, Mimir sets things in motion that result in Wooden turning on Ananke and Laura being branded a murderer. Laura has a plan to end all of this, but as the moment of truth looms Nergal must decide what really matters to him.

The Wicked + The Divine issue #42 is the last issue we will see until April; even then, we have only three more issues in this five-year long run. It’s been an incredible series for anyone following it as it’s released; to anyone just picking it up, I strongly recommend purchasing the trades. I collect the hardcovers of the series, and they are beyond beautiful.

When I began reading The Wicked + The Divine, it was Jamie McKelvie’s art and Matt Wilson’s colors that drew me to it. Even if the story had been mediocre, it would have been worth collecting. Spoiler alert: the story is not even close to mediocre.

The premise for The Wicked + The Divine — “Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead…but remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.” is simply one of the most original concepts I’ve ever seen in a comic. I’ve been reading a long time, and this one rates up there with Saga in my all-time favorites.

With so many publishers increasing diversity in their comics, not many of them come off as authentic. Too often the feel is that the changes are there so the publisher can scream “Look, we’re committed to diversity!” That is not the case with The Wicked + The Divine.

Throughout the comic, there are characters of different races, genders, and sexualities, but they feel natural. The diversity feels organic the way diversity in real life does. The world I live in (barring the god powers) looks a lot like the broad range of representation I see in the cast of The Wicked + The Divine. That is a beautiful thing.
Kieron Gillen writes characters with respect. That’s a rare thing to see in a comic about teenagers. Too often we will see stereotypes and lazy writing that takes the route of patronizing, mocking, or villainizing teens. Gillen gives us authenticity and relatability.

Laura, arguably the main character, could be any young woman you’d meet on the street. Her initial adoration of the gods and her ultimate willingness to challenge them based on her sense of right is a better metaphor for recent generations of teens than most of us would like to admit. It’s also a solid metaphor for growing up— intentional or not.

My Little Pony: Nightmare Knights Issue #5 (of 5)

Cover of MLP Nightmare Knights 5 of 5.

Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Artist: Tony Fleecs
Colorist: Heather Breckel
Publisher: IDW

Kay: And so ends My Little Pony: Nightmare Knights. A quick, overall assessment? A fun book, lots of good moments and great art. It’s always fun to see villains work together. It’s always interesting to see what makes a bad guy afraid in his sleep. But this book was a lot of backstory and not as much front work as I would have liked. In particular, I would have preferred to see the relationship between Daybreaker (that world’s Princess Celestia) and our (for lack of better phrasing) world’s Princess Luna explored in greater detail. Issue #5 touched on it, but moved over it way too fast for my liking. In issue #5, Daybreaker threatened Luna, betrayed her master, got Luna on her side, helped Luna win, then betrayed Luna again. It was a lot in just a handful of pages. This could work better if I was 8, I’m not sure. When the trade comes out, I’ll probably hand it off to my 8 year old and find out!

What I did love was the letter to Celestia at the end. Even though Luna says she will never send this letter, she reflects on the nature of families, and how we can’t force those we love to make the right choices. We can, however, make our own families with those we meet along our paths, who are headed in the same direction we are.

The concept of “chosen family” is pretty amazingly big in my world, and seeing it here, gently presented to little kids, basically made the entire comic for me.

Vampirella Dejah Thoris Issue #4 (of 5)

Cover of Vampirella Dejah Thoris issue 4 of 5

Writer: Erik Burnham
Artist: Ediano Silva
Cover Artist: Carlo Pagulayan
Publisher: Dynamite

MAJK: Issue four of this five-part tale leaves me wondering how they are going to wrap the whole story in a matter of one issue.

We see the first few Drakulon ships have crashed on Barsoom. Discovered by an unfortunate group of Tharks, the hunger crazed Drakulons devour the Tharks before the green men know what is happening. It’s a tad grisly, but it underscores the urgency of the task to which Vampirella and Dejah Thoris have committed.

Gus Tur, A.K.A the Xenophobic jerk face who can’t accept that Dejah Thoris is not only smarter than him but is also quite a capable leader, has his warriors lying in wait for the Drakulons. The starving Drakulons haven’t come to their senses, and I will give Gus credit for at least waiting to see if they would awaken before slaughtering them. I still neither like nor trust his character.

Meanwhile, Vampirella and Dejah Thoris are still meeting with Issus; as you might recall, Issus made Vampirella a very tempting offer. The interaction between these three women is intriguing. This issue clearly passes the Bechdel-Wallace test as we have three named women talking to each other about something other than a man. In fact, they are debating ways to save an entire race. Vampirella shows both her loyalty to her people and her shrewd character judgement in this issue while Dejah displays her trust in her new friend. In the end, Issus is shown for what she is – an old women terrified of death.

When Issus had no power or will to assist the ladies, science and technology step in and offer possibilities that none of the other women expected. I’m thoroughly enjoying this series because throughout it we’ve seen these women characterized as brilliant scientists, interested in the greater good and clever strategist. Sure, they are gorgeous and scantily clad, but let’s face it: Mars is hot.

Returning from Issus with an entourage of scientists in tow, Dejah Thoris and Vampirella face the daunting task of convincing Dejah’s Father that there are other options available than destroying the Drakulons out of hand. It seems he can comprehend what the Drakulon’s are going through and their needs, he is having a hard time seeing them as anything more than a threat. As he and the ladies vigorously debate the options, he can’t see any real options beyond destroying them. It will be up to Dejah Thoris to convince him of that.

Remember when Dejah Thoris stood by trusting Vampirella as they faced Issus’ offer? Now as Dejah Thoris activates her father’s trap for the Drakulons and brings their ships down, Vampirella faces the same frightening test of faith in her companion.

The final issue faces a huge number of threads to tie up. Every bit of this series has offered fun twists and intriguing political machinations that left me wishing this could be a longer series.

Calamity Kate Issue #1

A redheaded girl in a black leather jacket resting against the remains of a scaly green monster
Cover of Calamity Kate Issue #1

Writer: Magdalene Visaggio
Artist: Corin Howell
Colorist: Valentina Pinto
Cover Artists: Corin Howell & Valentina Pinto; Variant Cover Art: Tana Ford.
Publisher: Dark Horse

Kay: I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to get when I picked up the first issue of Calamity Kate. I’m a sucker for a lady monster hunter, so I was definitely intrigued from the original solicit…but would the comic live up to the hype. My answer? Maybe.

In early March, Kieron Gillen wrote a quick thread on first issues, which Kurt Busiek QT’d and continued. First issues are hard work, hard to write, and hard to draw. First issues have to establish a world, create characters, create a story, and end with you wanting to read more. It’s a lot for 24 pages, give or take. The writing has to be tight, the art has to be on-point, and there has to be clear characterization everywhere – but just enough. You can’t get bogged down, or it will all go to pieces.

I feel like Calamity Kate‘s first issue kind of went to pieces. The basic idea seems to be that monster hunter Kate has rolled into town after six years to catch up with her old friend Vera. Vera seems to have been a monster hunter with Kate at some point, but Vera now has a six year old daughter, Jade. Vera is angry that Kate didn’t show up when Vera’s husband died three years ago. Kate asks for a place to stay, and Vera says she can for a few weeks. Kate stays for several months. She’s killing monsters and dragging them into the kitchen, gutting them and asking Vera to clean up the messes. And she has a plan; she’s going to kill the seven monsters who spawn all the other monsters.

Confused? So am I.

I’m not sure what the story is going to be here. Kate and Vera’s friendship? Vera’s daughter Jade getting into trouble with Kate’s artifacts? Kate hunting down these monsters? The last one is most likely, but I don’t know.

I don’t love the art in this book in general, but it’s definitely competent. Valentina Pinto has done colors on other comics I like, and her talent continues to shine through here. There are a few panels overall that are absolutely gorgeous, but most of them are just kind of present. The book feels very static, overall, which isn’t going to work well in an action comic over the long term.

I’ll definitely read the second issue of Calamity Kate, but this book doesn’t have a lot of credit built up for me so far.

Rat Queens Issue #14

Cover of Rat Queens Issue #14

Writer: Kurtis Wiebe
Artist: Owen Geini
Cover Artist: Owen Geini
Publisher: Image

MAJK: Rat Queens Issue #14 is one of the most powerful issues of Volume Two. The Queens are still dealing with Fleshers, and this issue opens with the horrific mangling of a pitiful captive gnome by one of the Flesher cultists. Most of the Queens, including Orc Dave, hang trapped in cages forced to witness this transformation while Dee and Betty work together to save their friends.

For me, Rat Queens has always been a story of fun, friendship, and adventure. Wiebe does a great job keeping that in this issue with Betty and Dee sharing some great heartfelt moments discussing gods, mortals, and best friend powers. That’s before they decimate two fleshers that Dee aptly names Oyster Boy and Disease Hand.

While our Queens are no stranger to tough spots, this issue puts them in the nastiest of situations, there is no way they will walk away from this one without some serious scars – both physical and emotional. Rat Queens readers won’t escape either as Wiebe weaves intense themes, harrowing moments, and fierce emotions through a story that will have its audience clutching the pages, and biting fingernails.

Because we are nearing the climax of this story arc, things are moving fast. The stakes for our characters are high, and the losses could be devastating. Rat Queens issue #14 has its share of lighter moments, but it’s a darker, emotionally draining issue for fans because our Queens are facing some of their most dire situations to date.

Orc Dave and Braga are central to this story, and this issue does a good job at bringing both their backstories to readers in heart wrenching detail. Although each of these characters has had a Special focused on them, there was still so much that we didn’t know about them.

Wiebe does a great job weaving an intricate story line that connects closely to our orc characters in ways that give them as well as Vi some very high personal stakes that result from their past actions and decisions.
Weibe announced recently that he’d be stepping away from writing Rat Queens, so it’s safe to say that this will be his last arc. He’s pulled no punches making this one of his best story lines and easily the best arc of Volume Two. While Wiebe will be missed, I look forward to Ryan Ferrier’s work on the future Rat Queens issues.

I’d be remiss not to mention the incredible work artist Owen Geini does in this issue. This issue owes a great deal over its powerful impact to the work Geini does here on the art and the colors. From the bone wrenching, body warping terror of the Fleshers transformative powers to the fluid and expertly crafted action scenes, Geini’s art is fierce and fun by turns in a way that suits our colorful characters perfectly.

Lazarus Risen #1

comic book corner cover of Lazarus Risen #1, woman in dark clothing on a blue background
Cover of Lazarus Risen #1

Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark with Tyler Boss
Colors: Santi Arcas

Kay: Embarrassing admission for a Greg Rucka fangirl: I haven’t gotten around to reading Lazarus yet. I saw the trade paperbacks at my local comic book store right before they got pulled because a new hardcover edition is out, but the store doesn’t have it, and it hasn’t been high enough up my priority list to grab it. Given that, I was particularly interested in how Lazarus Risen would read.

Kindly, Lazarus Risen begins with a list of characters and a recap of what happened in the previous series. I hate it when comics turn into homework – even when it’s my fault – and I appreciate not needing to run to Wikipedia to find out what happened in a book. The cool thing was that I didn’t really need it. No, I didn’t understand the subtlety of what was happening between the families in play – but I found I didn’t need to. I understood who was against who, and how they were working against each other.

One of my favorite things about Rucka is how he is willing to be so spare with his words and really trust his artist to convey action, emotion, and transition. That was especially true in Lazarus Risen.

As I read this extra long issue – the book will be issued quarterly, allowing them to go to 44 pages each issue – I found myself comparing it to two books I’ve been reading lately. Blackbird and Man-Eaters. Both of those titles have been trying to do things that Lazarus Risen is doing effortlessly. Most likely this reflects Rucka’s years of experience in comics, but I thought it was worth pointing out, as examples of what the book is doing right.

Lazarus Risen has years of history in its world building, to the point that it has spawned an RPG (extra rules included in the back of this issue). But there is so much trust in the reader here. We get the history and the character list, but beyond that, we just get the story. There’s no elaborate backstory for Bethany or Forever or Johanna. We’re just expected to figure it out. As a reader, I love being trusted. This is what I want from Blackbird. Simple, eloquent world building without info-dumping complex inter-group politics at me.

Lazarus Risen also finishes off its issue with a couple of quick “advertisements” and an in-world short story. These add to the world and build on what’s happening without having an in-joke kind of feeling. The short story in particular told me a lot about the kind of woman Johanna Carlyle is (and made me think of Hell’s Kitchen, always a good thing) and didn’t belabor points unnecessarily.

I really enjoyed this book. I still need to pick up Lazarus, and this book makes me want to do it sooner rather than later.

Crackdown issue #1

Cover of Crackdown Issue #1

Writer: Jonathan Goff
Arist: Ricardo Jaime
Cover Artist: Ricardo Jaime
Publisher: Dynamite

MAJK: I picked up Crackdown issue #1 on a lark. The cover was sweet looking, and I’m a sucker for a potentially good sci-fi title. Crackdown, also, represents a hell of a smart marketing move. Dropping a series based on the original game in a franchise at the same time as you are releasing the new game from said franchise is genius…provided it’s a good comic.

Keep in mind that this comic is an adaptation of the highly rated explosive action adventure game franchise of the same name. Full disclosure, I’ve never played the games. I’m normally a PC gamer, but this comic does come close to tempting me to check out the games.

The world of Crackdown is exactly my kind of jam. It’s cyberpunk on steroids with a solid female lead. In this not-so-distant future world, we tag along with an elite international crime-fighting task force that’s rocking every thing from pinpoint accuracy to strength that usually comes packaged in big green, grumpy dudes. Of course, it’s the tech that gives them all this power. Any good sci-fi buff knows what that means. You guessed it, that power gets eliminated.

Now we are looking at a highly skilled team of men and women, trapped on the roof of a building in a megalopolis that’s just had it’s plug pulled. Oh, wait did I mentioned they were in the middle of a battle with rabid gangs and death cults? No? Well yeah, there’s that too.

Overall I’m definitely in for issue two of Crackdown. The creative team did a good job of easing us into the world of Crackdown and setting up the atmosphere of this megalopolis known as San Reno. Rebecca Rollins, the team’s leader, narrates most of this issue, which makes sense given that there’s a lot to take in. Rollins sounds confident and competent. She’s clearly a vet who has seen more than her share of action. She’s the cool head that keeps the team focused when mid-fight their tech, their weapons, even their comms go out.

The art is on point, and that’s kind of a big deal because as a comic adaptation of a game, your title doubles as promotion for the game. Gamers aren’t the most forgiving of fans, so it was great to see the fully rendered tech suits were individualized. The clean lines and slick style speaks to the high-tech world in which the story is set.
Hopefully, the narration will be dialed back a bit by the next issue because between narration boxes and word balloons the heavy conversation distracted from the art a bit. It didn’t ruin it for me, but it would be nice to have the panels a tad less cluttered in future issues.

The action was both impressive and plentiful. There was no doubt that Agents are the best of the best which made the near break down and nervousness that followed the blackout that much more humanizing.

On the whole, I’d called this a good action comic. I can’t comment on whether it fits in the game lore or anything of that nature but it is absolutely a solid action comic, and I’ll be grabbing issue #2.

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