Mini Reviews for 5/26

This article was originally published at ComicBook.com on May 26, 2021.

DC

DETECTIVE COMICS #1036

Coming into a mystery mid-way can be confusing, but Detective Comics #1037 possesses those excellent Law & Order rhythms where background isn’t terribly important—and even if it is, they’ll catch you up in dialogue. It’s an enjoyable mystery that’s direct with just enough twists to fuel an issue. However, it’s elevated by Dan Mora’s art, which leans on leftward splash panels to provide lots of catchy poses of very well constructed figures. This is a stylish take on Batman and it makes it a fun trip regardless of how invested you are at the jump. Much the same can be said for Huntress’ backup story, except it’s Clayton Henry visualizing a series of silhouette heavy panels that detail a satisfying enough revenge story. Whether you’re a Batman fiend or just looking to check in on the world’s most recognizable detective, Detective Comics #1036 will likely scratch that itch. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

THE OTHER HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE #4

Renee Montoya may provide the perfect subject for The Other History of the DC Universe project in its best issue by far. Unlike other characters shaped by decades of continuity which possessed an unnuanced understanding of gender, race, sexuality, and identity politics, at best, Montoya was developed much closer to our modern era. Source material like Gotham Central and 52, already lauded for developing this complex new hero, allow The Other History of the DC Universe #4 to tell a narrative that reads as being a complete story—one possessing themes, characters, and throughlines that carry from the first few pages of the issue to its final destination. This is a comic that carefully examines identity and the treacherous act of discovering and asserting one’s identity in a society seething with hatred for it. Montoya’s history as a police officer only makes this scenario more complex, but John Ridley provides her with a voice that is authentic, yet unwilling to apologize for or defend what police are in the United States. Camuncoli’s layouts enhance a number of critical moments and pay excellent homage to a collection of genuine “modern classics” in superhero comics. For the first time, The Other History of the DC Universe provides readers with a narrative that focuses on telling a single character’s story without needing to staple together or redraft clumsy choices from DC continuity and, in spite of its overly verbose nature, provides a powerful reflection on one of the publisher’s most complex character in Gotham City. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

ROBIN #2

Robin #2 slows its pace in order to introduce Robin (and readers) to the island and fighting tournament at the series’ center. This includes a number of familiar tropes, including introducing the cast of fighters, establishing a rivalry, and providing several mysteries beyond the tournament itself. For all its familiarity these are also elements that have allowed many shonen manga to soar before and it’s a delight to see them applied to DC Comics’ colorful landscape. Flatline stands out as an excellent counterpoint for Damian—someone capable of challenging his prowess without any of his constant seriousness. Ravager also steps forward in a mentor role, as well, creating a well-rounded trinity of characters to guide the story. Although the explanations take up many pages, Melnikov still creates plenty of opportunities to showcase his excellent action sequences, including another killer spread. Robin #2 is taking this tournament arrangement seriously and it’s not difficult to imagine this story lasting for most of 2021; that doesn’t sound like a bad idea after reading the first two issues of Robin, though. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

STRANGE ADVENTURES #10

Strange Adventures #10 delivers the series’ big twist and spends the entire issue explaining that twist. It’s a poorly paced entry as it repeats a narrative already stretched thin across 9 issues and adds very little in building to the final reveal. Beyond Shaner’s final panel, one that makes a connection far better than the preceding 20+ pages, this is a comic set to deliver one specific piece of information. That twist emphasizes the actions of the individual as being the driving force in not one, but two planet-spanning conflicts. It’s a conceited reflection on the subject manner, especially when spread across a montage of Alanna Strange engaging with the American government, media, and troops to boost a sprawling war effort. The focus of Strange Adventures wants to acknowledge that all of these multifaceted forces have a significant impact on how societies address violence on this scale, but then dismisses that notion with the final focus that all of this suffering and terror is really about one individual and their choices. That focus makes sense within the confines of the superhero genre, but that is a genre this series abandoned around the space it began displaying increasingly horrifying war crimes. Now it is simply an incoherent message about war unwilling to grapple with its subject matter and relying instead upon superhero tropes to discover an ending. Also, was it necessary to show Alanna checking her phone on the can? What exactly did that add to this “stirring meditation on war”? — Chase Magnett

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Marvel

ALIEN #3

Xenomorphs are all over Alien #3 as the few survivors of a recovery team struggle to make their way deeper into an infested space station; the problem is that they appear to be a comedic element, rather than a horrifying one. They resemble cheap two-dimensional skeletons—the ones you hang at Halloween with small joints to pose their forms. When they are bounding towards the readers, these figures fall flat on the page and the style in which they are drawn is so out of place from the rest of the comic that it appears like fumetti. Unbelievable human expressions combined with cartoonish xenomorphs ensures that it is impossible to experience the intended tone. The artwork is failing to serve a similarly jumbled story as new elements are quickly introduced to the Aliens mythos serving little purpose and sequences featuring individuals are driven by the needs of plot before logic or character. Despite all of the horrors occurring on Epsilon Station, the biggest disaster in Alien #3 is simply what readers are left to stare at. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 1 out of 5

BETA RAY BILL #3

Some series spend years establishing a status quo that causes readers to tremble at the thought of its loss; Beta Ray Bill established that level of concern in two issues. Beta Ray Bill #3 is an essential middle chapter: Appreciating its cast, deepening every element that works, and developing tension for what lies ahead. It blends rollicking action, terrifying new challenges, and a healthy dash of romance into a work that reads like a complete collection. Watching Bill’s crew—Skuttlebutt, Pip, and Skurge—interact it’s clear who each of them is and how they enhance the team’s dynamics and series’ themes. Johnson is a skillful writer, that much has been apparent since Extremity, but what he displays here reveals a cartoonist capable of going toe-to-toe with anyone at Marvel who just lays down scripts. When you consider the genuinely awe-inspiring action sequences and hilarious beats of humor (typically centered on Skurge), it’s nearly impossible to find fault in these pages. Johnson, working with Spicer’s vibrant colors, is a consummate cartoonist capable of transforming the most ludicrous of concepts into something relevant, riveting, and, most importantly real. Beta Ray Bill #3 is a definitive middle chapter and it provides a perfect proof point as to why that is not an inherently bad thing. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 5 out of 5

BLACK PANTHER #25

The conclusion of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ more than 50 issue run on Black Panther arrives this week and fans of the recent series will not be disappointed. It picks up in the midst of an interstellar battle with an extended page count to fully depict the sprawling battle and many characters involved. Daniel Acuna delivers some outstanding storytelling capable of capturing the momentum and changes in a chaotic sequence. The story’s climax focuses on only a handful of characters who collectively represent Wakanda’s leadership: past, present, and future. It offers an interesting, if uncertain, assessment of how nations act and the unintended consequences that stem from even the most seemingly benign choices. It is a statement bound to reward readers who revisit this complete series and its contemplations of how one person can possess so much power without being destroyed by it. The final images of T’Challa here reflect something not too far from the ideal philosopher-king proposed by Plato and even if this resolution seems unrealistic, it does offer a fine dream for those hoping to read about a better world. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

HEROES REBORN: MAGNETO & THE MUTANT FORCE #1

Magneto & The Mutant Force #1 is ostensibly a one-shot; there are no solicits for a second issue and the issue itself does not imply any continuation in the Heroes Reborn miniseries. This is notable because the issue ends mid-story without anything even resembling a satisfying or intriguing conclusion. The last page cliffhanger reads like a climactic midway point, but there’s nothing left to be read, which makes it nearly impossible to recommend this issue on its own merits. However, those merits are generally workaday in nature. This alternate history for mutants plays on some familiar canonical concepts and reads like a retread of “how things get worse” complete with Magneto carrying on Xavier’s dream. The oppressive forces imposed by the Squadron Supreme are too broadly written to provide much understanding of the broader story or how they might reflect the “mutant metaphor.” Illustrations of this ragtag group of survivors gravitate to a norm of unobjectionable, although the depiction of a glorious Island M undermines much of what is narrated about this new status quo. Magneto & The Mutant Force #1 is an often contradictory introduction to an alternate timeline that adds nothing to what has come before and it will apparently even the minor aspirations found here will remain unfinished. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Other Publishers

HELM GREYCASTLE #2

The reference materials included in each issue of Helm Greycastle continue delivering consistent quality for any DMs seeking some ready-made adventures. However, their connection to the text of Helm Greycastle #2 may leave those same DMs seeking out an original story of their own as this one barely holds together. The combination of early 16th century South American history and generic D&D style adventurers remains an ambiguous choice that enhances neither source material in any satisfying manner. Many of the characters involved in this increasingly ill-advised juxtaposition lack clear motives beyond “being adventurers” and the politics surrounding Tenochtitlan contain the same nuance as most freshman DM’ing efforts. Helm Greycastle is a strange story with some occasional moments of inspiration, but primarily serving confusion and drudgery. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

MANIFEST DESTINY #43

After a 14-month hiatus, Manifest Destiny returns for its finale and the opening salvo makes it clear that this will likely be the darkest chapter in an already very dark saga. This issue plays like prologue for the action to follow and in the wake of so many lost souls (a re-read of Manifest Destiny #42 is recommended to appreciate the opening pages). It re-establishes the series’ tone as a saga of horror—elevating the mundane terrors and atrocities that would begin in this fateful expedition. Encroaching threats, dwindling numbers, and increasingly harsh conditions recall the likes of The Terror and a mountain pass encounter captures that form of survival-horror in a simultaneously majestic and chilling sequence. The end is near and it appears that the only hope left to the few survivors of Lewis and Clark’s expedition is simply to complete the mission, even if it leaves only one man standing. That course has never seemed more corrupted or purposeless than in these pages which re-establishes the core themes of Manifest Destiny and lays the groundwork for whatever terrible conclusion awaits. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

THE MODERN FRANKENSTEIN #2

Two things become clear in The Modern Frankenstein #2: This is a pulp series ready to revel in the tawdry and fun and it is focused on its namesake more than the monster he creates. That’s a solid recipe for weird sci-fi adventures in comics and promises readers will have something to say regardless of their take. Things take a turn for the sultry in this issue and it resists indulging the romance too much, delivering a couple of pages before returning to the work. It’s a good choice for artwork that can titillate with indulging the worst impulses of a Zenescope publication, and it leads to a humorous refocusing on mad science as the real thing that turns both of its protagonists’ knobs. I’m unsure if I’ll ever return to The Modern Frankenstein, but I certainly am having some fun reading this pulpy rehash when it’s in front of me. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

THE OLD GUARD: TALES THROUGH TIME #2

Tales Through Time continues to deliver an all-star anthology and one that works well even when divorced from its source material. Both of the stories in issue #2 rely heavily on genre and that’s to their credit as it creates a shorthand to efficiently tell these tales. The samurai yarn is a deft piece of storytelling, specifically utilizing Valentine De Landro and Rebecca McConnell’s artwork and colors to build tension and tell a parallel story in the midst of an old man’s reverie. It’s a beautiful story with a perfect final panel. The Western may appeal more to fans who are already fond of the genre. While it doesn’t add much to familiar tropes beyond an undying warrior, it walks through those tropes in a satisfying fashion with plenty of ugly characters and gunplay. Whether readers are seeking to learn more about those undying warriors or simply seeking out some excellent comics short stories, Tales Through Time is bound to satisfy. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

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