Mini Reviews for 7/7

This article was originally published at ComicBook.com on July 7, 2021.

DC

CRIME SYNDICATE #5

Crime Syndicate #5 raises the stakes with both a death and an introduction, but it’s impossible for either to land because this miniseries’ stakes are essentially non-existent. The canonical allure of superhero comics are not present in a story set upon an alternate earth and unlikely to connect with any future tales; the story itself has failed to provide any characters, themes, or plot points of particular interest either. As events swirl further out of control, I found myself spending many pages simply wondering what any individual’s motive might be. Even Johnny Quick, the character most centered in this issue, remains largely a mystery surrounded by corpses of various origins with no clear perspective on what Quick’s actual worldview might be—just some familiar tropes arranged in a simulacrum of an origin. Artist Kieran McKeown capably portrays the events of this story, but their inviting superhero style is clearly a mismatch for what’s on the page and the tonal discrepancy is an active distraction when reading the most violent or gruesome sequences. While it’s possible to pick at nearly any choice or page in Crime Syndicate #5, it’s not worth the time invested because there’s clearly nothing more to be asked about this misstep than: Who was this even for? — Chase Magnett

Rating: 1 out of 5

THE NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE #2

The Nice House on the Lake #2 takes the promising premise introduced in #1 and clarifies just how deep this rabbit hole is designed to go; from the look of things here the series has a long road ahead of it and that’s cause to celebrate. My only hesitation in reading it is that the narrative is clearly more rewarding when readers have the ability to trace various charts and details from prior installments—serialization makes tracking characters with two names (given and codename) difficult. However, the events on the page and complexities of the scenario, setting, and relationships make this an incredibly rewarding read even when details are lost between installments. What is most impressive in #2 is the sense of pacing. Tynion quickly summarizes a tremendous amount of information about what happens on the first night using neatly designed textpages (with invaluable visual aides) to prevent thrills from curdling in a single moment. Instead, the narrative quickly progresses to various sequences of exploration and discussion, each of which adds a new layer to the proceedings. It’s clear that the discovery and understanding of this place and its purpose has only begun, but each new detail also makes it clear this is a mystery worth exploring with a rich cast of characters whose names I’m eager to learn month-by-month, although I suspect the collected re-read will be even more rewarding. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

THE SWAMP THING #5

The Swamp Thing #5 provides an interlude from the series’ central narrative and it’s one that clarifies the concepts at the center of said narrative with an outstanding guest artist. This is ostensibly the “Constantine issue” as Levi is drawn to London in his plantlike form to confront another powerful and horrifying idea warping the world around it. This confrontation with the Battle of Britain and fascism’s shadow in modern Europe connects neatly to the conflicts studied in the series so far, but also provides some space from the critiques of the United States and capitalism. John McCrea proves to be a perfect companion for this particular diversion as he brings the streets of London to life in both the modern day and 1940 in grimy, gritty detail. His conception of both Constantine and Swamp Thing capture the character’s charm perfectly and serves to parallel this series with The Saga of the Swamp Thing which first suggested such potent forms for these two icons. Ram V’s address of ideas and how they morph, grow, and hide across time has never been more clear and a brief epilogue reveals how the second half of The Swamp Thing intends to confront modern forms of fascism and other man made horrors. Based upon The Swamp Thing #5, it should be an outstanding second act. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Marvel

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #2

Marvel Comics’ 2021 annuals have provided a range of quality, but are all ultimately strung along by the same premise that prevents them from delivering more than mildly entertaining entries in a liminal space barely connected to the titles they originate from. This instance tells the story of Star receiving the Reality Stone’s immense powers and Spider-Man failing to stop her from wreaking havoc. There are some great opportunities for writer Karla Pacheco to express humor, including some excellent dog-oriented puns, and the positioning of a reformed gym teacher shows a real knack for memorable conflicts and quick character development, but Pacheco’s panache can’t resolve a story that by its very nature is designed to not be resolved. Its extended page count is always aiming for the promise of more annuals to be collected and more future stories to be followed following this brief interaction between Peter Parker and a barely recognizable Marvel anti-hero, and that’s a bit of a bummer. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

CHILDREN OF THE ATOM #5

Events come to a head in Children of the Atom #5 as the reappearance of the X-Men forces the team to confront their own identities while clearing up a number of lingering questions for readers. It also finishes introducing the team with an internal monologue from Jay Jay this time around. Both advances are welcome for the series, but outside of an introductory showdown with the newest iteration of U-Men is primarily told to readers. Jay Jay’s dynamics with his older brother are barely shown to readers across 5 issues before being resolved and making the resolution a barely noticeable moment as a result. Similarly, the team’s questioning their own actions, claiming themselves as mutants, and being exposed is hand waved away in an installment that seems entirely focused on decreasing stakes and conflict from its start. It’s a perfectly fine step forward and one that offers some entertaining spreads and useful information, but all of that is delivered in a fashion that still leaves me to wonder why exactly I need to pick up another issue next month. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

HELLIONS #13

Hellions slows down the enormous laughs from its prior issue to pick up lingering threads from even earlier issues in #13. It’s a tense set of reminders played out naturally across this series’ idiosyncratic cast of characters as they continue to drive the action. It seems every member of the team receives at least one moment. Both of Hellions’ core pairings—Nanny & Orphan-Maker and Greycrow & Kwannon—continue to evolve in distinct and very interesting directions, just as Mister Sinister adds a new pairing to the mix with similar qualities. The final few pages lead readers to believe that some of these characters arcs are building to pivotal twists in the near future with a cliffhanger that is earned across pages of tension rather than with a single, sudden surprise. Needless to say this is another multi-faceted issue with a reasonable blend of laughs, action, and even romance all told through its characters rather than with or alongside them. Hellions #13 is another strong issue in the most consistently quality X-series today. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

THE IMMORTAL HULK #48

Betty returns to the spotlight in The Immortal Hulk #48 for, almost certainly, her last centerpiece in the series. In her Red Harpy form, Betty has transformed remarkably although that transformation would be better described as a synthesis. Here, she and Bruce finally confront one another as the opening page outlines the remarkable degree Betty’s life has been transformed by her relationship with (and confidence in) Bruce. Their conversation, following a splash on the second page, is incredibly restrained. Bennett’s use of a carefully drawn grid, even in moments of remembered action, shows how controlled both halves of this back-and-forth are and draws careful attention to their faces; this is where Bennett thrives. Both expressions are always purposeful in a continuous dialogue, which a mere two cutaways also serve to inform. The power in this issue is not simply found in the careful purpose placed in Al Ewing’s carefully constructed dialogue; it’s that Bennett’s figures construct a dialogue unto themselves filled with a greater emotional resonance and then Bennett merges those faces filled with that emotion into Ewing’s words. That this long overdue—to the point of being older than The Immortal Hulk itself—conversation concludes it is on one of these perfectly constructed faces filling only 1/9th of the page. There’s a spread to follow, but Betty says it all in that panel. It’s a beautifully understated moment followed by a series of beautiful moments, only some of them similarly understated. The Immortal Hulk has invested a great deal of focus on Betty as a character with a long and varied history and here it gives this character her due by providing some sense of autonomy to her for perhaps the first time in Marvel Comics history; that alone is a remarkable accomplishment for The Immortal Hulk. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 5 out of 5

X-FORCE #21

The addition of Diet Man-Thing and a convenient prologue to evoke the concept of “multiple discovery” appears to be gilding the lily on X-Force’s ongoing involvement with the Republic of Terra Verde. That sub-plot has proven to be a particularly rewarding vein for the series in the past, but this new, unseen antagonist for X-Force reads as forced in an installment that is not particularly engrossing following another horrifying dispatchment of animal life in its opening pages. Almost every sequence reads as a slight modification on something X-Force readers have seen in the past couple of years, though, and each notable addition in X-Force #21 is something of a downgrade. The inclusion of Man-Thing variants serves largely as a wink-and-nod to remind readers this is a Marvel superhero comic. Throughout three instances of gun violence, it’s an NYPD officer rather than a trusted politician with a dear friend who shows superhuman trigger control in a choice that makes the series’ worldview seem significantly less coherent. Even the final data page lacks the quality of verisimilitude that usually makes X-Force’s pages some of the X-line’s best—that sentiment can be shared about this entire issue, besides Cassara and Gill’s draftsmanship. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Other Publishers

BEASTS OF BURDEN: OCCUPIED TERRITORY #4

As Occupied Territory draws to a close, I’m left anticipating more Mullins story. The expansion of Beasts of Burden lore (in both time and space) combined with an incredibly endearing new lead reminds readers how much narrative potential this collection of dogs contains. Mullins’ introduction to the supernatural also serves as an excellent introduction to the series and Occupied Territory #4 is a case study as to why that is. The conflicts, escalating with increasingly terrifying figures from Japanese folklore, are ultimately grounded in the real world and their resolutions are unexpected and entirely earned. There’s still plenty of excitement, but Dworkin draws attention to the complexities of the modern world, refusing to give readers a simple punch up ending. Mullins still has ample opportunities to prove his bravery and serves as a thesis for the unique bravery of dogs. Confronted by death or insurmountable odds, Mullins’ loyalty and courage are unwavering. Scared, overpowered, and alone, he still knows exactly what sort of being he is and pushes on anyway. It’s enough to make you cry, especially with Dewey’s outstanding depiction of dogs in their natural form combined with recognizable expressions. Beasts of Burden serves as a love letter to supernatural stories, comic books, and canine companions, and it is an endearing testament to the power of all three. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 5 out of 5

CHAINED TO THE GRAVE #5

The final installment of Chained to the Grave largely feels like a missed opportunity as many excellent, individual panels and thematically interesting ideas are lost in translation. The final showdown outside a small chapel is pure chaos in its depiction. New characters appear and many previously introduced individuals are difficult to recognize. Readers are left to trace a handful of easily identified leads through the confusion, which makes each subsequent twist or turn less satisfying. While single panels of flying gators create an impressive impact, they also fail to connect with juxtaposed panels in a clear fashion. After conflict is resolved, there are a handful of strong moments meditating on death and change, but only a handful of these denouements are coherent as many others recall information that was poorly introduced, if it was introduced at all. There is a compelling version of Chained to the Grave to be imagined, but it’s simply not what appeared on the page. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

FIGHT GIRLS #1

Reading the solicit for Fight Girls #1 is like reading the plot synopsis for a porn parody, informative, but barely relevant. Fight Girls is a comic book where Frank Cho draws barely clad women in athletic poses before they are murdered. Cho has proven there is an audience for this sort of thing, but any reader who’s not arriving for cheesecake artwork and death will be sorely disappointed. The plot, as it exists, functions purely as an excuse to place ten women in bath suits so they can murder one another or be eaten by dinosaurs when not posing. Cho utilizes a live broadcast to impose announcers and dialogue over an entire issue of action, but those text balloons prove gratuitous as they primarily explain what is already occurring on the page. Don’t expect any genuine intrigue or description of these circumstances. Ultimately, a sketchbook might have been a more efficient method for delivering everything Fight Girls has to offer. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

POST AMERICANA #6

Steve Skroce will always deliver heavily detailed bizarre pieces of artwork and I’ll never resist looking at his comics for that reason. And, to that end, Post American #6 provides some genuinely funny standout panels—moments that rise above the slog that is this ongoing story filled with barely sketched characters and satirical concepts that outlive their welcome within 20 pages. Post Americana #6 changes its status quo radically, but it’s difficult to care about those changes as so little has been invested in what is changed. Instead, the focus remains on the unlivable and unredeemable American landscape in a post-apocalypse. There’s nothing in the way of hope or even nihilism to provide meaning to these proceedings; it’s simply one moment of cruelty or humor after another never building to anything greater. As an anthology this approach could have been made more accessible, but 6 issues of this is exhausting, even from a draftsman as skilled as Skroce. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *