Mini Reviews for 8/25

This article was originally published at ComicBook.com on August 25, 2021.

DC 

MISTER MIRACLE: THE SOURCE OF FREEDOM #4

The flashbacks on film found in The Source of Freedom #4 provides a far more compelling story than that which preceded them in this story and proceeds in chronology. The true story of Thaddeus Brown speaks to history and quickly develops a complex character on the page – one enhanced by the changes in coloring and paneling that presents their arc from start to finish. It’s only after this story is concluded that readers are reminded that background does not make a character. Shilo Norman continues to announce his feelings and perspective to those around him (as well as readers), but his own story and lived (or, at least, remembered) experiences are left off the page. As a result he remains unengaging as a hero for this story, suggesting that those who preceded him would have made for a better focal point. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

ROBIN #5

Robin #5 hits you over the head with sentiment and it absolutely works. On the eve of the League of Lazarus Tournament, Damian is chased by his predecessors as Robin across rooftops and confronts each of them in a series that understands these sibling dynamics wonderfully. As much fun as it is to see him confront the likes of Red Hood and Tim Drake, it’s the return of Dick and Damian—pulling from the brilliant Batman and Robin-era—which may bring a tear to some eyes. Their partnership represented the best of Morrison’s work on the franchise and its continuation in Damian and his relationships here resonates clearly. This last chapter of prologue sets the stage for a fighting tournament with plenty of earned anticipation. Even in an issue without a single fight, Melnikov fills these pages with excitement and the promise of what’s to come seems all but assured to be fulfilled. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

SUPERMAN VS. LOBO #1

What does it look like when two of DC Comics’ most overcharged and recognizable characters engage in a series of increasingly disconnected sequences of observational humor on current political trends without providing a clear perspective? It looks a lot like Superman vs. Lobo #1, and the sort of comic that’s easy to skip. There are no redemptive facets to this comic, which isn’t to say that distinct elements like the lettering, colors, or endless panels of Superman and Lobo talking aren’t functional; they are. The problem is they function to provide absolutely nothing of value – no insight, no amusement, no shock. When Lobo is made out to be a Joe Rogan stand-in, there’s nothing more witty to be found than Lobo spouting nonsense as a broadcaster. Concepts like this receive minimal space as the story seems uncertain which ideas might stick and therefore assumes quantity will balance any lack of quality, but it’s all consistently bad. Even the occasional splash of Superman in the indulgent Black Label format underwhelms. If this were another one-shot vehicle for Lobo to deliver jokes, no matter how poorly crafted, it might be more forgivable, but the words “TO BE CONTINUED” left me wishing I’d never begun reading. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 1 out of 5

Marvel

ALIEN #6

Some stories begin with an ending in mind and that may very well be the case for the opening arc of Alien. No matter how much I disliked the build to these final pages, there’s something very compelling about the final panels showcasing Gabriel’s journey and the consequences of these final decisions. It certainly doesn’t hurt that a spacebound sequence plays to Larrocca’s strengths as cold exteriors cover any hint of human emotion. There’s still plenty of expository dialogue and plot-heavy foreshadowing to be found in the build to this final sequence. Overwriting runs rampant like the first few sessions of an RPG and the impulse to explain undermines any metaphors intended to be shown. Yet when the script finally opts to simply show these characters under unimaginable pressure, a diamond of a good idea can be seen. It’s enough to keep me reading because, despite how badly this franchise’s core strengths are regularly mangled in endless sequels, the results are rarely dull. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

EXTREME CARNAGE: RIOT #1

Even as someone who read every chapter of “Extreme Carnage” thus far, the one-shot format and its unfocused approach is making it difficult to trace this story. Talk of the Life Foundation and various characters who require explainer articles even for Marvel Comics fans certainly doesn’t help matters. There’s an assumption of interest with little effort to learn it. Characters fall into easily recognized archetypes – so much so that it’s probably not worth learning names. Depictions of carnage (and Carnage) do little to inspire terror or even offer unique spectacle. Instead, the same dull puns about bloodshed that could be bundled from comics in the 90s reappear without any exaggerated style offering a redemptive quality. Instead, a story without clear purpose and a mystery without a clear hook march towards a resolution that will almost certainly be forgotten before the next relaunch of Venom. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

SPIDER-MAN: LIFE STORY ANNUAL #1

J. Jonah Jameson is not a central figure in Spider-Man: Life Story and this annual provides both Zdarsky and Bagley a chance to expand upon their reimagining of the character, one Zdarsky has displayed a deft understanding of before. What’s most interesting here is how long they spend with Jameson in prison – watching him confront his own flaws over the course of decades. It ends with predictable superhero antics in a battle that lacks more than a superficial confrontation between its participants on the page. However, Jameson’s reflections and struggles, specifically his self-admitted failures, paint with a broader brush. This is a version of Jameson allowed to grow old and allowed to reconcile with himself. In this perspective he is permitted to become the rich character that Zdarsky has detailed before in the pages of The Spectacular Spider-Man and Spider’s Shadow, as well. It’s a character study that resonates almost entirely within cinder block walls and with small affected gestures and expressions as one of Marvel’s most human characters also proves to be one of its most resonant. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Other Publishers

BARBARIC #3

Barbaric #3 ends the new series’ first arc on a high note, drawing all of its threads into a spectacularly bloody finale filled with satisfying connections—whether it’s the literal meeting of Axe and enemies or a new bond between comrades. What I found most surprising is how compelling Owen’s understanding of “goodness” is made to be as he confronts overwhelming darkness. There’s almost no romance or poetry to his understanding, but the honesty slices through so much bullshit as to make it resonate much more loudly than any overly long string of captions. This is reinforced in pages and panels that embrace the chaos of monsters, magic, and mad bastards swinging axes. Each character brings a unique flavor to the artwork and lettering alike, which makes their resulting clashes an absolute joy to behold. Between the first and final page, this is a comic which recognizes exactly what it is, providing readers with a lily and never daring to gild what’s already barbarously beautiful. Even as Barbaric #3 brings the series’ first arc to a satisfying close, it’s bound to leave readers hungrily waiting for more to arrive in 2022. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 5 out of 5

ICE CREAM MAN #25

The central premise of Ice Cream Man #25 is deeply compelling, especially within the horrifying, gonzo tone consistently evoked by the series—a man rushes about a plane falling from the sky as passengers and pilots alike peacefully accept their horrible fate. As a metaphor for ongoing catastrophes like climate change or the fall of American democracy, it’s stunning. Yet the issue’s extended length encourages a number of tangents that consistently distract the story from itself to minimal effect. A tangent focused on the pilots, as well as various vignettes of observers on the ground, provide too little context of their own or connection to the central premise. This is only redoubled in the epilogue which suggests a specific mythos for a series that has defied definition at every turn. Ice Cream Man #25 reads as an example of what may happen when creators refuse to kill their darlings as each tangent runs away from the most compelling elements to be found on the page. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

THE MODERN FRANKENSTEIN #5

A lot of what occurs in The Modern Frankenstein #5 is barely arranged from the issues building to it. The clear analog for the monster feels shoehorned without enough personality or note to consider them a character. Every twist in an ongoing chase sequence is predicated on mad science explained only as it is applied. It’s not difficult to imagine each of these dramatic beats being arranged for its climax, but the work simply is not there. Even the emotional climax between two similarly murderous doctors is wrought with clunky dialogue that never earns the aboutface of its protagonist. When the story enters its epilogue, it’s clear that quick sentiment is preferred to anything earned and there’s not even the tone of pulp to cover up shoddy scripting and serviceable pages in this installment. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

NINJAK #2

Ninjak #2 exceeds expectations as it continues to dish up high-octane spy action in some of the most invigorating layouts in all of superhero comics. Ninjak’s showdown with the G-3 relies on dextrous actions and thinking alike with Pulido’s pages assessing and addressing problems with the same precision as Ninjak’s blades. After delivering all of the expository groundwork needed for a new series in the debut, the sophomore outing slows things down. It offers another glimpse of Kingmaker, but this is primarily to expand upon the nature of his threat in a sequence that delivers all of its starpower to his bodyguard Dragon, instead. If all of the issues to follow in Ninjak were 90% stylized action and 10% plot that wouldn’t be a bad ratio, though, because every panel of this comic exudes confidence and more than earns it in stark silhouettes and jaw-dropping spreads. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

THE OLD GUARD: TALES THROUGH TIME #5

The issue opens with what is bound to be the least installment of Tales Through Time—a poorly told dirty joke that even a former Catholic school boy rolled his eyes at that wastes Rafael Albuquerque with endless drawings of nuns outside of a single searing spread. However the total misstep titled “An Old Soul,” is balanced with what I feel is bound to be the best entry in this short story collection. “Never Gets Old” brings the attitude and approach of My Dinner With Andre and distills it into a rare set of near perfect pages from Kano depicting a dinner between two intimate acquaintances. Their dinner carefully defines them as individuals and a pair drawing readers into their dynamics as much as the mystery and violence that always lurks around The Old Guard. Yet even when this brief story offers both of those elements up—so rarely that they strike a perfect chord—they add further to the dynamic at the heart of this story. It ends on a bittersweet note possessing a literary ring, but “Never Gets Old” is pure comics. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

VINYL #3

The tonal hairpin road of Vinyl reads more like mismanagement than zany delight. When Vinyl #3 takes a hard turn into outright horror in its climax—displaying gruesome dismemberment in a sequence designed well to inspire terror—it immediately loses the thread in a 180-degree turn into bizarre superhero serial killer plot antics. The result is disorienting, which is not to say confusing. It’s always plain what’s happening on these pages with a pre-delivered sense of where it’s all heading, but the purpose is rarely clear. There are moments when tone and execution align as the twins land a couple of genuinely funny jokes, but much of the time it’s unclear what this colorful array of unsympathetically sketched characters are about. Like a fever dream it’s impossible to interrogate any meaning from odd shapes undulating between terror, hilarity, and a coma. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

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