Monday, December 28, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 12/24

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage: Second Lives #1
Story: Jen Van Meter
Art: Roberto De La Torre & David Baron

Valiant's The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage returns with a second volume that starts out with an issue mixing, action, emotion, a touch of humor, and some solid supernatural shivers. After the end of the first series, medium Dr. Shan Fong-Mirage has retrieved the spirit of her husband, Hwen, from the afterlife, and you'd think they'd get a happily ever after. But when one of you is a ghost who can't physically effect the world around him, that happily ever after doesn't come easily. If you'd never read the first series, the first page does a great job of establishing where Shan was with her husband without being a recap page, and the first scene, at a haunted wedding, not only establishes their current status quo, but Shan's power set. It's the lightest part of the issue, as Shan is called in to break up a haunted wedding. We learn the rules of ghosts in this universe, we see how Shan makes money as an exorcist/TV ghosthunter, and we get the first inklings of how strained things are since Shan and Hwen can't interact physically. We're also introduced to their friend/agent/producer Leo, whose suggestion upon arriving back at Shan's place, that they find a willing host for Hwen so he can interact with the camera, meets with such a vociferous negative you know that's going to be important later on in the series. The plot of the issue follows Shan and Hwen as they try to recover a scroll that potentially possess a spell to grant Hwen a more physical form, but when their copy turns out to be destroyed, they visit their old friend Seline and her family, both the living and the ancestral spirits, who might have one of the few remaining copies of the scroll. But something goes horribly wrong when the scroll is opened, and something is freed. The thing that makes this book so engaging are the characters. Shan and Hwen's relationship and dynamic is delightful to read, and Seline and her family are charming. Jen Van Meter always has had an ear for dialogue and character (I'm super excited that my copy of her new Hopeless Savages OGN arrived last week and I can't wait to dig into it), and she provides a great mix of character and supernatural suspense. Robert De La Torre's art both proves to be perfect for when Shan and Hwen are just talking and interacting as a couple, and when they're dealing with ghosts; I enjoyed his work on the first series, and this one is even stronger. This is a great jumping on point for readers who haven't tried this series or any Valiant book before, a thrilling ride, and good for fans of both super heroes and supernatural stories.

The Rocketeer at War #1
Story: Marc Guggenheim and Lisa Morton
Art: Dave Bullock

IDW's Rocketeer mini-series have all felt very different, from the wild high adventure of Cargo of Doom to the mystery of Hollywood Horror. Rocketeer at War sees Cliff Secord, the Rocketeer, as a grunt in North Africa, fighting the Nazis as a solider is World War II. The issue is a classic war story with a pulp twist, as Cliff saves a pilot from a shot down plane, and chases a Nazi spy trying to steal a component from a plane. The pulpiness happens when Cliff grabs the spy who turns out be wearing a glider suit, and so we have gliding Nazis versus the Rocketeer, even if Cliff doesn't have his rocket pack. It's an exciting issue, with a lot of set-up for what's coming, as we also see the Nazis developing a superweapon, Betty join the WACs, and we meet the pilot Cliff saved, a feisty redhead named Molly O'Hara, who greets Cliff with a kiss. Its such a standard Rocketeer trope to see Cliff as almost pathologically jealous when it comes to Betty, I'm curious to see how it works with a flip, as Cliff has another love interest this time. I don't think it's surprising that Cliff is back in his Rocketeer costume by issue's end, ready to serve his country. A Rocketeer story wouldn't be a Rocketeer story without a cameo from a historical or pulp figure, and this issue has Howard Hughes pop up, which is a great nod to the Rocketeer film, where it was Hughes, not Doc Savage, who designed the rocket pack. Dave Bullock's art is perfect for this series; he's an artist with a style that hearkens back to the classic age, and his work with Darwyn Cooke on New Frontier established his chops of stories set in the 40s and 50s. The comic also has the first chapter of a prose story, "The Rivet Gang," from writer Lisa Morton. This first chapter has Cliff and Betty going to a fancy party and Cliff tearing off after robbers to find himself in a... sticky situation. Read the story and you'll see that's a pretty bad pun, but those are the best kind.

Saga #32
Art: Fiona Staples
Story: Brian K. Vaughan

Saga is about sixteen comics in one. There are issues that are love stories between leads Alana and Marko, while others are domestic dramas with those two and their daughter Hazel. There are political intrigue stories featuring Prince Robot IV. The previous arc wrapped up with a quest story featuring The Brand, Sophie, Lying Cat, and Gwendolyn. The stories with D. Oswald Heist spent a lot of time discussing morality and war. And this are just a few off the top of my head. This month's issue hits one of my favorite genres: it's a caper, as Alana and Marko break into an administrative building to get a lead on Hazel's location. As Hazel points out in her narration, Alana and Marko are closer now then they ever have been, working as a well oiled machine to find their stolen little girl, and it's important to remember they've been doing this for YEARS,and they're still at it. The issue sees them knock out a guard, use technology and magic, and jump out of a window into their passing tree-rocket in the tradition of the best caper movies.Between this and the previous issue, we've reset where our principals are, and know exactly what the stakes are at this point. And while I love Saga's story, it's one of the best marriages of art and writing in comics, as Fiona Staples is a master of design, and this issue's new creatures/characters, the constables on the world of Variegate, are nightmares out of a fever dream dreamed after reading Fahrenheit 451, but as you read the issue, their looks as unstoppable monster are pretty misleading. We get reacquainted with a couple more Saga favorites by issue's end, including Sir Robot IV, his son Squire, and adorable little seal-man Ghus and his walrus pet, Friendo (I had to write all them out because it's just amazing to have that assortment of characters with such amusing names), and the stage is set for what might be a big jailbreak story, another new story type for Saga Thirty-two issues in, and Staples and Vaughan are still world building like no other comic, and that's what keeps me coming back to Saga month in and month out.

This week, Dan Grote looks at the debut issue of an All-New, All-Different Marvel title...

Patsy Walker aka Hellcat #1
Story by Kate Leth
Art by Brittney L. Williams and Megan Wilson

What is it about 68 Jay Street that produces such wonderful books? She-Hulk was arguably Charles Soule’s best Marvel work, Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones have set Howard the Duck in the same Brooklyn building, and now Kate Leth and Brittney Williams have given Shulkie sidekick Hellcat her own book that may be even more fun than the other two.

Historically, Patsy Walker is something of a continuity mess. She started out the star of the company’s early teen-romance comics, then was rebranded in the 1970s as a superhero whose early, Archie-esque stories were written by her exploitative mother. She married Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, and she was written into Marvel Divas, the company’s less-than-beloved attempt to craft its own Sex and the City-style book, alongside the Black Cat, Firestar and Monica Rambeau.

Soule’s Patsy – a feisty, hard-partying, charge-ahead PI bestie to Jennifer Walters’ She-Hulk – began the character’s rehab, which makes fitting the new series’ inciting event: She-Hulk lets her go because she can’t afford a PI anymore, and Shulkie’s landlord figures out Patsy’s been living in a storage closet in the building and kicks her out (politely; they’re friends).

If you’re coming to this book from Netflix’s Jessica Jones, these are not the droids you’re looking for. Comics Patsy is, first of all, not “Trish.” She’s not a talk-radio host with a fortified apartment and funky trust issues. In fact, if this book contains any DNA from a Netflix original series, it’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, with the title character’s infectious optimism amid a sea of troubles and unwanted past publicity.

(Inserts break to let everyone quietly sing a few bars of the Kimmy Schmidt theme. Dammit!)

Patsy needs money. One would think that being the star of a long-running series of comics would open her up to royalties, but after her mother died, the rights went to her longtime frenemy, Hedy. After a run-in with a wannabe baddie Inhuman with the unfortunate nom de crime Telekinian (He can move objects with his mind, and his name is Ian), she realizes there are many down-on-their-luck Inhumans, mutants, and otherwise powered folk who need jobs, and not necessarily hero or villain work. So she pitches The Patsy Walker Agency for Heroes and Other Cool Friends What Are in Need of Work, a job-placement agency, which she’ll have to fund by working retail.

Oh, and she moves in with Ian. It’s OK, though, he reformed after she beat him up. Also, just like Kimmy and Titus!

Seriously, though, this first issue was a lot of fun. I was already a Kate Leth fan from her Adventure Time work and following her on Twitter, and artist Brittney Williams draws Patsy as an adorable go-getter ready to show Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl they didn’t invent young, female superheroes with moxie. Definitely pick it up.

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