Comic Capsule Reviews

Comic book series come through faster than I can write full reviews of them. I’m going to experiment with capsule reviews to cover some of the recent series that I read. My plan is to cover “indie” miniseries today (in comic terms, that means “anything without superheroes”), and then look at some recent superhero ones tomorrow.

Note that these are just the comics that I read. They aren’t always the most significant ones. For example, the big summer events are underway at both DC and Marvel, and I haven’t been interested in picking up either of those. I’ll be the first to admit that my choices are sometimes arbitrary, but I don’t have the time (or money) to try everything. Looking at the list below, I’m fairly happy with my choices. Even the failures are interesting ones, and if I hadn’t been willing to take a chance on the occasional disappointing comic, I wouldn’t have found the good ones, either.


Atomic Robo : The Deadly Art of Science

Atomic Robo : The Deadly Art of Science

Atomic Robo: The Deadly Art Of Science

Atomic Robo follows the adventures of an intelligent robot built by Nikolai Tesla, and is aimed at people who never tire of “SCIENCE!” as a punchline. It’s generated a devoted following, despite being published by a tiny company that few people will ever notice. This is only the second Atomic Robo miniseries that I’ve tried out (plus two Free Comic Book Day specials), and my opinions have been mixed. The art has an excellent sense of comic timing that works well with the “big tough robot wades into action with… SCIENCE!” approach, but the overall visual appearance (especially the coloring and many backgrounds) are so simple as to feel distractingly half-done. The writing is spot-on sometimes but feels phoned in at other times. I never knew from issue to issue whether to expect to enjoy it.

Fortunately, the latest miniseries is more consistent overall. The plot (a young Robo joins a vigilante hero team and is so eager he doesn’t notice how much he gets in the way) doesn’t feel very original in a medium that’s already centered on superheroes, but it makes up for that by fleshing out an important time in Robo’s past. His relationship to Tesla takes center stage, and the plot stays fun and light throughout. Despite the superhero overtones, this series is light on the action, as it’s the intelligent sense of humor that draws the fans. If you are the kind of person who has an opinion on the rivalry between Tesla and Thomas Edison, you’ll enjoy it too.

Grade: B-


Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth

This is the first attempt to translate the wildly popular webcomic (“written by a 6-year-old and illustrated by his 30-year-old brother!”) to a print-only series. The results are mixed at times, since some padding and abrupt plot changes are needed to flesh a childish flight of imagination out to over sixty pages. On the whole, though, this is still very fun. By the third and final issue, it really seems to hit a stride. The key to filling the space turns out to be large splash pages of everything that is especially exciting. While splash pages usually feel like useless padding in comics, they are the perfect way to portray a child’s excitement at his own awesome imagination. In a story whose chief villain turns out to be “an evil magician woman riding a gorilla riding a lion”, that’s very appropriate.

Grade: B


Days Missing: Kestus

Days Missing: Kestus

Days Missing: Kestus

I never read the first Days Missing miniseries, but I decided to try the second after being introduced to Phil Hester through The Anchor. This was less impressive.

Days Missing is the story of The Steward, a man who lives outside of time and visits key points in history to help shepherd humanity along a noble path. This second miniseries chronicles his interaction with another immortal named Kestus. But as she experiences the flow of time normally, she doesn’t have the distant, optimistic viewpoint of The Steward. After countless years among primitive humanity, she is cynical and has little respect for them.

It’s a clever set-up for a conflict, but nothing very interesting is done with it. The slow build-up to learning about the two characters is time-wasting rather than intriguing, and once the foils have gotten to know each other, much of the conflict happens in poorly-executed conversation. The characters’ evolution after that point simply feels arbitrary.

The final issue is based around hard-to-follow pseudoscience that lets the two characters face a high-stakes threat. However, the resolution only works to the extent that they tell the reader exactly what it’s happening, so there is little reason to care. That lack of reader investment in the story carries through to the final page, which reveals a new major character to lead into the next miniseries.

Grade: D+


Fallen Angel: Return of the Son

Fallen Angel: Return of the Son

Fallen Angel: Return of the Son

Now at well over 60 issues, Fallen Angel is an impressive success story for an indie comic. However, too much of the output in recent years has been inessential cross-overs with other indie characters. It’s good to see Return of the Son, which is also a return to form for the series: Characters from Judeo-Christian apocrypha vying for power in the mystical “city that shapes the world”. At long last, the main plot is moving forward again, and even J. K. Woodward’s painted art has stopped feeling static and distracting to me.

However, this is still not an especially strong entry in the Fallen Angel canon. If I were to describe the plot from a high level, it would sound like a fun, interesting story. When actually reading it, though, the details seem to be missing. Some characters want to kill each other all of a sudden. Significant backstory is explained, but as a simple infodump. And the major status quo changes at the end are based on a decision that seems out of character. If this were part of the DC or Marvel universes, I would complain that this feels rushed in order to make editorially-madated changes. Since it’s creator-owned, though, I’m not sure what Peter David’s reasoning is. Perhaps he decided that if he is only going to advance the plot every few years, he can’t afford to waste any time when he gets the chance.

Return of the Son is an enjoyable addition to the Fallen Angel library, but if you’re not already a reader, there’s nothing to bring you in.

Grade: C+


The New York Five

The New York Five

The New York Five

The New York Four was the standout of DC’s failed “Minx” line a few years ago. In a sad nod to market realities, DC has decided that it won’t hurt sales to simply publish the sequel to that aimed-at-preteen-girls story in their “mature readers” Vertigo line. Never mind that this story of freshmen college girls is a little glib, and works better as an energetic looking-forward-to-growing-up story than nuanced look back at youth.

If that’s what it took to get this story published, though, it’s worth it. The main draw, as always, is Ryan Kelly’s spectacular art. His expressive, distinct characters truly come alive on the page, and it’s a crime that he isn’t regarded as one of the best artists in the industry. Kelly’s characters feel so real that they can easily help the reader accept otherwise iffy writing. That’s the case here: I’ve never understood Brian Wood’s strong fanbase. He’s a solid, well-intentioned author, who truly tries to  focus on people in an industry that’s more interested in events, but his characters and plots sometimes fall short of the depth that he attempts. In this case, we never see the threads that hold this group of friends together throughout their exaggerated college adventures, and the fifth member who is added never gets the time to make her story have any emotional weight. However, Wood still acquits himself surprisingly well at the end, with a closing that almost seems tailor-made to address those criticisms of mine, and does slip in some of that “nuanced look back at youth” that the series otherwise lacked. It’s a worthy conclusion to the series.

Grade: B

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  1. July 23rd, 2011
  2. July 7th, 2012

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