Comics Shotglass Reviews for 8/12/15

Comics Shotglass Reviews for 8/12/15

Any week with Secret Wars is a good week.

This week, we're diving into Secret Wars #5, Action Comics #43, Batman #43, Earth 2 Society #2, Master of Kung-Fu #4, A-Force #3, and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #8. Like always, this series highlights just a few of the comic books on sale each week, without delving into heavy spoilers. If you're interested in any book, click on the title and it'll take you to that book's Comixology page. We're going to kick things off this week with Secret Wars, Marvel's mega-crossover book.

Secret Wars #5

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic, Ive Svorcina

This issue is concerned with the fallout of the events in the last amazing issue of Secret Wars. Dr. Strange, who was one of the few people in Doom's cabinet that remembered the previous multiverse, defied orders. Battleworld has been sullied by the presence of survivors from before Doom rejiggered everything: the Life Raft (good guys) and the Cabal (bad guys). Instead of letting Doom murder them all, Strange sent them to the far corners of Battleworld. For his actions, Doom killed him.

Best day ever!"

The first half of this issue is the funeral for Strange, Doom sending Valeria to find the other survivors, and a conversation with Molecule Man, the battery that keeps Doom's Battleworld running. The latter part functions as an explanation of how we got to this point and an acknowledgement that everything Doom has built is going to fall apart.

The instrument of that destruction will be the survivors, wildcards thrown into worlds that are already straining against their boundaries. We've already seen some of those characters popping up in Secret Wars books: Star-Lord in Star-Lord & Kitty Pryde, Spider-Man (Miles Morales) in Ultimate End. The later part of this issue also shows the landing spots of Namor, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Thor, Black Swan, and Thanos. Of these, Thanos is the one positioned to best upend the natural order, ending up at the Shield, the wall that separates most of Battleworld from the worst of the Marvel Universe. (Seriously, look how happy Thanos is.)

This is a middle issue for the crossover, so it's a bit slower, but what strikes me is that Secret Wars as a whole is a Fantastic Four story. This is the endgame of Hickman's Fantastic Four run, with most of his Avengers time being setup for Secret Wars. The story here is firmly rooted in Marvel's First Family and their relationship with Victor Von Doom. While there still seems to be no FF title in All-New, All-Different Marvel, this grand tale looks like it'll serve as a coda to one of the best FF stories in recent memory.

Action Comics #43

Written by Greg Pak, Aaron Kuder
Art by Aaron Kuder, Tomeu Morey

Some time after writing my review of Superman #42, I felt that perhaps I was being a bit hard on that title. After reading Action Comics #43, I stick by my original statements. Of the two Superman titles, Action Comics is carving out a place as one of the best titles DC Comics is producing. To understand why, we need to step back to the beginning of the New 52 reboot.

Of all the characters that were changed in the New 52, Superman made the most sense. The classic post-Crisis Superman was a powerful figure who would always do the right thing and never failed. While this is great for standalone tales - All-Star Superman is still one of the best - it doesn't make for the most compelling ongoing story. The New 52 version of Superman isn't perfect though. He certainly wants to be and his heart is in the right place, but he hasn't been around long enough to know the ultimate results of his actions. He's a bit headstrong at times. He's a good guy trying to be a great one. This results in a more relatable character than the older Man of Steel.

The current arc in Action Comics is forcing this Superman to come to terms with how he used to handle problems in the past, using his considerable strength to simply defuse a situation. Now he can't fly, he's not invincible, and his strength is diminishing. The easy solutions are gone and he has to learn to rely on Metropolis as much as Metropolis has relied on him.

It's an amazing story so far. The villains, some sort of shadow beings that have infiltrated the city's government, are a bit ham-fisted, but Pak and Kuder make sure to shore up what could've been a criticism - the police were the bad guys last time - in this issue. The overall story works well when it comes to Superman as a person, as a hero, and as a citizen of Metropolis.

I almost wish this status quo would never end.

A-Force #3

Written by Marguerite Bennett, G. Willow Wilson
Art by Jorge Molina, Craig Yeung, Laura Martin

There's a traitor in Arcadia. Someone has set She-Hulk and her team of heroes up. Portals have brought horrors to Arcadia and when She-Hulk attempts to investigate, she breaks the one rule in Battleworld: don't leave your region. This and the following insurrection brings the combined might of Doom's Thors down on Arcadia, forcing the team to defy their god.

I'm enjoying this book more than I thought I would. Part of it is the characters involved, part of it is the great art by Jorge Molina, and the the rest is the solid writing. Issue #2 clearly established the stakes and sent us in a solid direction for the overall book and there's a very strong character moment in this issue.

My biggest question is: how will this book continue on after Secret Wars? I guess we'll see.

Batman #43

Written by Scott Synder
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, Fco Plascencia

Having established how James Gordon will operate the new Batman, this issue deals with what Batman means as a symbol and a person. The quick answer is that Batman and Bruce Wayne are one and the same. Bruce Wayne's trauma led him to become Batman and that's his true self, with the public face of Bruce Wayne being a mask. That leaves Batman as an extension of Bruce Wayne; it's his mantle, his crusade.

The culmination of that idea is presented here, in the form of a machine designed to make adult clones of Bruce Wayne should he ever fall in battle. An entire line of highly-trained Batmen stretching on into infinity, driven by the deaths of parents long gone. It's a monstrous idea, but it is the endpoint of "Batman can defeat anything".

Jim Gordon (and Dick Grayson during his time as Batman) stand as a counterpoint to that idea. Batman is not always at his best when driven by trauma. There isn't a single way to be Batman. Batman can be a symbol of justice, be that friendly (Grayson), working within the law (Gordon), or even a more brutal figure (Azrael). Defining Batman by the name "Bruce Wayne" is limiting.

Like Action Comics #43 above, Batman #43 presents a hero who can fail. Gordon stumbles into a trap with no plan, firmly underequipped. His solutions aren't perfect, they're messy. He's a Batman that can grow. And with him in the mantle, Bruce Wayne has a chance to grow too. It's great chance to see who Batman and Bruce Wayne are when they're diverged from one another.

Master of Kung-Fu #4

Written by Haden Blackman
Art by Dalibor Talajic, Goran Sudzuka, Miroslav Mrva

In the mystic Battleworld region known as K'un L'un, martial arts are power. Literally, each style of martial art unlocks a specific set of superhuman abilities. The styles are separated across the Thirteen Chambers, but the immortal Emperor Zu has mastered all of them and in turn, passed that mastery on to his son, Shang Chi.

This is a basic good son versus evil father story, but damn if I don't love a good martial arts comic. (I wanted to pick up Dark Horse's King Tiger, but I couldn't find it on Comixology this week.)

This is the end of Shang-Chi's journey, where all the secrets are revealed, the Emperor is defeated, and everyone lives happily ever after. The series is wrapped up with a bow and honestly, I felt unsatisfied. There's enough here that I think you could probably get a good twelve issues out of the premise. There's just not enough breathing room to give every moment its proper due. Characters appear and then they're gone again. Rivalries flare and then cool down in a few pages. That's not Blackman's fault, as he does the best with the space he had, but I wanted more from this.

Hey, Marvel. Shang-Chi deserves an ongoing comic.

Earth 2: Society #3

Written by Daniel Wilson
Art by Jorge Jimenez, Alejandro Sanchez

In the midst of another world-shattering apocalypse, Earth-2 takes time out to explore the new status quo of Lois Lane Kent, former reporter and current Red Tornado. In a world of survivors attempting to rebuild, Lois is a bit of an anomaly. She's completely robotic, while her fellow heroes at least have some humanity to show. As such, Lois has spent the year attempting to find out who she is. She's not human, her husband is dead, she's mistrusted, and she's not a reporter anymore. What's left for her?

Being a hero apparently. While the others spent their year squabbling amongst each other and rebuilding Gotham (why would you rebuild Gotham?), Lois lived at the fringes of it all and actually helped people. Not by punching, but by using her considerable powers to reunite a family. It's entirely possible that Lois will take up the position her husband has left vacant as the best that superhumanity has to offer. I hope so, because the rest are doing a horrible job of it.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #8

Written by Ryan North
Art by Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi

Squirrel Girl is a joke character who took on a life of her own and this book makes that entire journey entirely worth it. If you're willing to leave a serious reality behind, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is one of the best books Marvel produces.

Cat Thor, y'all. This is the real shit.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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