Story: James Robinson
Art: Greg Hinkle
Airboy has been a comic that I've been unsure how to classify and write about. After a well received first issue and a problematic second, the third issue was almost ignored critically, and this conclusion arrives a couple months late. It's part war hero comic, part introspective look at a writer's life, part deconstruction. It's not unique in its conceit of "creator meets the character he's working on" but is told from the point of view of the creator more than the character. After three issues of acting like a selfish ass, James Robinson, writer and one of the principal protagonists, and his artist Greg Hinkle, dragged along on this insane, possibly drug induced ride, are now in the comics of the character Airboy, and have been sent (well, forced) on a mission behind Nazi lines to blow up a bridge. It's good to see that Robinson, even in this life or death situation, still paints himself as a near-complete jerk. He and Hinkle start off commenting on how cool the SS uniforms they're wearing look (they were designed by Hugo Boss, after all), and we flashback to him doing coke with one of Airboy's colleagues before setting out. There, Robinson comments on how much he feels like his career is lost, and calls out the projects he did in Hollywood that were disasters (in all fairness, I really like Comic Book Villains, the movie he wrote and directed. I own a copy, and it introduced me to the excellent actor Donal Logue). Hinkle does a great job drawing the wreck of the city and the Nazi war-robots as well as Airboy's plane, showing off skills beyond much of what he's had to do throughout the series. The end of the surreal aspect of the comic has Robinson make a good choice, a hero's choice, but when he arrives home, he's still stuck in the same cycle of drugs, self-pity, and self-loathing that he was in on page one of issue one. It's Hinkle in the end who calls Robinson out on his b.s. in a way that gets him to listen. What's great is he doesn't come down on him about all the stuff that happened in what seems more likely a drug induced haze, but all the things that Robinson can change, and gives him a glimmer of hope that people still respect his work (I know I do). The end is a hopeful one, one where the protagonist makes the choice to break the cycle. If you know anything about addiction and self-loathing, you know that might not be a permanent change, as it's a daily battle, but the final images, of Airboy comics in color in a haze of discarded cocaine symbolizes to me Robinson coming out of the haze he was in. I've stuck with James Robinson's work through what he clearly considers a doldrums of his creative output, and I'll continue to stick with him, and I hope that the strength of Airboy is a sign of great things to come.
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, & FCO Plascenia
Things feel like they're coming to a head in Scott Snyder's current arc of Batman. We're getting Batman meeting the villain, Mr. Bloom, Duke Thomas out and learning secrets, and Bruce Wayne engaged to Julie Madison. That's a lot of big changes, and I'm going to touch on each plot separately. The opening fight scene does a lot to make it clear that Jim Gordon is growing into his role as Batman. His plan to take down Mr. Bloom, while not successful, is clever and well in line with what you'd expect from Batman. And the rapport he's building with Julia Pennyworth is not only great character development for both of them, but it's smart; the original Batman never worked alone, and Gordon is really learning to work with his team. And again, I come to more and more like Geri Powers as she stands up to Bloom; I still don't trust any Powers very far, so I'm not sure of Snyder is setting the reader up to like her before a face/heel turn or if he's just slowly building her to be a good character against expectations of everyone who knows the Batman Beyond continuity. Whichever he's doing, it's working. Following the battle, there's a scene with a hall of Batman armors like something out of Tony Stark's dreams. Even after everything that went on in the previous issue between them, Jim is able to present Geri with a plan and goes after Bloom alone; so Jim hasn't completely lost his lone wolf mentality, but he has a plan and Julia in his ear. But it's not going to be that easy.
While Jim is dealing with Bloom's frontal assault, Duke Thomas continues to search for answers about Bloom, now sneaking into the Iceberg Lounge to find information that Penguin might have. Snyder continues to do great things to build Duke up as a competent, clever crimefighter. His entry into Penguin's office, and his knowledge of Penguin's methods, show he's clearly done his homework. And his surprise about the identity of Bloom makes me think he's a character we know already, and not just some new villain, but Duke doesn't make it out easy, as Penguin and a group of Gotham's more unusual mob bosses catch him, and he has to use some quick thinking and tech to escape. But the escape doesn't look clean, and we'll see what becomes of him next issue.
And Bruce. Oh, Bruce. He's so damn happy. It's absolutely killing me. The scenes with him and Julie, and the scene with him and Liv, a little girl at the Fox Center where he works, are painfully sweet. The coloring on those pages is even warmer than the rest of the issue, keeping things in a happier place. And the happier he gets, the harder the fall is going to be,
Thematically, Snyder is calling more clearly on the idea of symbols and how much the symbol of the Bat means to Gotham, and whether the idea of what Jim, Geri, and Powers Inc have done destroys that symbol, as Bloom believes, or has reclaimed it for the people. as Geri does. And as readers, knowing Bruce will be back, we're left to wonder what it will mean when he returns.
Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dustin Nguyen
Descender returns for its second arc with a first issue that takes everything from arc one and adds all sorts of twists and turns. Android TIM-21 has just encountered his twin TIM-22 and a group of robots who have come to save him on the planet Gnish. The robots are interested in TIM, and only TIM, but the robot insists on bringing his organic companions, UGC agent Telsa and his maker DR. Quon, along so they can help him find his human "brother" Andy. I'm curious to see if these robots are remnants of the robots destroyed after the Harvester onslaught, the attack of giant robots on the inhabited worlds, or if they have a deeper connection to the Harvesters. One way or the other, they have no love for organic beings, as they kill the ruler of Gnish with no compunction and for the reason of sewing chaos; it's benign looking TIM-22 who does the deed at the order of his "father," the robot Psius. The introduction of a robot world, or at least a resistance, is an interesting deepening of the mythology established before, adding another aspect and faction to the universe. The robots agree to take Telsa and Quon to get TIM to come with them, which is interesting; if they have a TIM of their own, why so desperately search for this one, unless their reasons aren't the same as everyone else's, the connection of TIM to the harvesters, or unless their TIM is not the same as TIM-21. But taking those three does, to use D&D parlance, split the party, leaving Bandit, the robot dog, Driller, the drilling droid, and Telsa's associate Tullis behind. And all of that only takes up half the issue. The other half follows a robot bounty hunter coldly going about his business. He destroys nonthreatening robots that were helping a colony survive without any compunction, and is clearly set up as a major threat. And when he goes back to the guy who provides his bounties and finds out about TIM, he tears off after him. And when he arrives at the mining colony where TIM was and finds a survivor of the crew who tried to destroy TIM, he reveals his identity. It's a major twist, one I don't want to give away, but it sets the trajectory for TIM's journey down a much darker path. And all of this plot with Dustin Nguyen's art, which continues to be the best of his already string career, lush, gorgeously colored, and beautifully designed. Descender is a story about what it means to be alive and "human," and the new path TIM is on will test his robot spirit and see how much "humanity" he has.
Star Wars: Chewbacca #3
Story: Gerry Duggan
Art: Phil Noto
Sometimes a fun comic comes along, and you just miss out on reviewing it. That has happened, and I intend to remedy that right now. Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto's Chewbacca mini-series has been excellent all the way through, and it's been getting better with each issue. Having crashed on the planet Andelm IV, Chewie has spent the past couple issues working to liberate slaves from a gangster with the help of Zarro, a young escaped slave herself. Now trapped in the mines with Zarro and her father, Chewie has to avoid killer beetles and other hazards to get out with the slaves. Duggan does a great job of letting other characters speak with Chewie without giving him speech bubbles; everything out of Chewie is a Wookiee roar. With that being the case, Noto's work on Chewie is even more important, letting the Wookiee's body language and facial expressions do most of the communicating. The sequence where Chewie has to climb through a narrow passage, digging at it to make it wider, so he can drop a rope down to the trapped miners, is one of the most visually striking scenes I've come across in a comic lately. Outside the mine, the designs of the various aliens and character are equally engaging, from the gangster Jaum, who exists in a suit with a clear helmet to allow him to breathe to his right hand Shistavenan (the werewolf people), to Sevox, and old man whose body rejects cybernetic implants so he's designed a way to see through the eyes of his droid. Great concepts from Duggan and excellent execution from Noto. I like that the stakes of the mini-series are so comparatively little, not the fate of the Rebellion but just a small group of people, but it still feels so big because Zarro, her father, and the others are interesting characters and the reader cares, and that, as a former slave, Chewie is invested; he could have left any number of times, but he stays because it's the right thing to do. Chewbacca is one of the most noble characters in Star Wars and this mini-series spotlights all of his best qualities.
Dan Grote goes back to WW2 to spend some time with Cap, Bucky, and the Howling Commandos in Captain America:White...
Captain America: White #4
Story by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale
“You know better than anybody that underneath this uniform, I’m just a man who can make mistakes.”
World War II Captain America stories are a dime a dozen, it’s true, but there’s something about a young, fallible Cap, less the symbol of freedom and liberty all other heroes measure up to and more a hero in the mighty Marvel manner, that makes this one seem fresh.
The Steve Rogers of Captain America: White makes mistakes, is filled with doubt, a master combatant but not a seasoned veteran, still a skinny kid from Brooklyn in his own mind. Put simply, he’s not Marvel’s answer to Superman. He’s also preoccupied with Bucky, the young ward he trained and brought to war with him, and wracked with guilt every time his sidekick ends up in harm’s way.
This particular mission finds Cap, Bucky and the Howling Commandos deep in Nazi-occupied France, where top SS-ers the Red Skull and Baron Wolfgang von Strucker are currently overseeing things. Aiding the Howlers is a group of French freedom fighters, led by a woman named Marilyne who will have none of Cap’s white-hat, Americo-centric patriarchy. “It is the French who will free France!” she tells him at one point.
It is also the French who will betray France, as one among their number, a purple-clad, pointy-mustached man named Olivier Batroc – an ancestor of everyone’s favorite Leaper – sets them up to be captured by Strucker while the Skull plots mayhem elsewhere.
Cap’s sexual inexperience remains a theme, as a request to Marilyne to fix the straps on his shield is played for its innuendo, while Bucky and Reb Ralston, the youngest Howler, peep the action through a keyhole. When Cap realizes he’s being watched, he gets spooked and throws his shield through the door, giving Bucky a black eye. Cap apologizes, using the line at the top of this review, but the damage, both physical and emotional, is done. Bucky believes Cap has lost faith in him, and so he goes off to fight the Skull on his own, instead getting captured and strapped to all manner of explosives.
Now, the reader knows Bucky survives this one. This isn’t Baron Zemo’s rocket that turns Steve into a Capsicle and Bucky into a Soviet-sponsored killing machine with a cybernetic arm. But for Cap, at this point in his nascent superheroing career, this is his worst nightmare given form, the idea that the only person with whom he shares any sort of bond could die.
Yes, White is a pure nostalgia trip: a Silver Age-style story set in the Golden Age by a creative team best known for its ’90s work. But if you’re a fan of old Marvel, of Steve Rogers as Cap and pre-Winter Soldier Bucky and a Nick Fury that was essentially a John Wayne-meets-Patton homage, it’s a trip worth taking.