Phil’s Reviews: Stuff I Bought #464

New Mutants: Dead Souls #1 (of 6) — Writer: Matthew Rosenberg;  Art: Adam Gorham;  Colors: Michael Garland

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #30 — Writer: Ryan North;  Art: Erica Henderson;  Colors: Rico Renzi

Avengers #684 — Writers: Jim Zub, Mark Waid and Al Ewing;  Pencils: Paco Medina and Joe Bennett;  Inks: Juan Vlasco and Ruy Jose;  Colors: Jesus Aburtov and Murry Hollowell

Doctor Strange #387 — Writer: Donny Cates;  Art/Colors: Niko Henrichon

Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #15 — Writer: Peter David;  Art: Wil Sliney;  Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg

Marvel Two-In-One #4 — Writer: Chip Zdarsky;  Art: Valerio Schiti;  Colors: Frank Martin

New Mutants #1 continues the pattern of most Marvel Legacy books — getting the title back to its ’80s/’90s incarnation, and scraping off most of the accumulated plot barnacles that have occurred since then. It’s not a reboot: everyone’s older, and everything actually “happened,” but the team of Magik, Wolfsbane, Strong Guy, Rictor and Boom-Boom (which, come to think of it, is a mashup of both New Mutants and X-Factor alumni) have shaken off their various deaths, changes and reincarnations, and are now working for another old friend — Karma — who has a mutant/paranormal investigation company. That’s a decent plot generating device, and it’s got solid art and story, too — if you were a fan of the team back in the day, you’ll probably like this new version, also. Squirrel Girl comes next because it’s a good sampler issue — the conclusion of a three-parter about cosmic con artist bros who dress up like the Silver Surfer and scam panicked planets; it’s got humor, action, and two strongly-expressed points about how negotiation works better than hitting, and having power over bullies doesn’t necessarily mean you get to use it, even if they deserve it. It’s all by the regular creative team of Ryan North and Erica Henderson, and if you buy it you’re likely either to love it (as the bright future of comics, attracting new readers and blazing new trails) or hate it (as a silly, obvious, badly-drawn takedown of superhero conventions). I’m on the love-it side, but your mileage may vary — and you’ll never know, unless you give it a try.  Avengers is a classic superhero comic, with dozens of characters and moving parts, an intricate but clear plot involving the Grandmaster and the Challenger using Earth as a gameboard for a cosmic duel by proxy, and, as the cover makes obvious, the return of the Bruce-Banner-generated, monstrous Hulk. There’s some stuff explaining how he’s back, and a lot of set-up for his new series starting in a few weeks, so it’s worth reading for that, plus there are major revelations about the new character, Voyager, and the usual fight-the-bad-guys action. For Part Ten of a sixteen-part weekly epic, it’s surprisingly approachable, and if you’re a fan of those traditional Marvel-universe mashups, it’s a decent one.  Doctor Strange is in the middle of its own mini-epic, as it crosses over with the five-part Damnation mini-series, involving Doc resurrecting the mostly-destroyed Las Vegas, only to inadvertently allow Mephisto to manifest, too. Naturally, Sin City is just his kind of place, and he’s using the power there to convert many of the heroes into his flaming-skull-headed lackeys. Donny Cates, as he’s been doing since he took over Doc’s regular book, offers a character-rich, twisty plot with a couple of surprises, and artist Nico Henrichon has a shadowy, gritty style that’s a good match for what’s basically a horror comic right now. Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider is worth noting because it ties into the series, too (it’s set in Las Vegas, so there’s a logical connection), and old pro Peter David knows exactly how to advance his own story and character bits while integrating them into the Mephisto/takeover, too; if you haven’t tried this title, but you’re a Doctor Strange fan, here’s a good chance to see if you’ll like it. That leaves Marvel Two-In-One, which has quickly become a search-for-the-Fantastic-Four quest, with remaining members Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm taking off through the multiverse looking for Reed, Sue and the kids;  here, they end up in an alternate-history Marvel Earth where Galactus’s first visit to the planet went very differently than in their universe. Chip Zdarsky’s relatively-lighthearted combination of fun and adventure has quickly made him one of the company’s go-to writers, and Valerio Schiti’s got a Mike Deodato-like style that’s detailed and attractive; I’ll bet a lot that, by summer, this will have turned into a prologue for the new Fantastic Four comic, so if you’re a fan of Marvel’s original super-team, get in on it now.

Eternity Girl #1 — Writer: Magdalene Visaggio;  Art: Sonny Liew;  Colors: Chris Chuckry

Mister Miracle #7 (of 12) — Writer: Tom King;  Art/Colors: Mitch Gerads

Eternity Girl, the newest debut from DC’s Young Animal imprint, looks like it started out as an Element Girl story — you know, the female sidekick to Metamorpho whose most memorable (and practically only) story, and death, was the focus of an early Neil Gaiman Sandman issue. It also looks like it wants to be a ’90s Vertigo book, with themes of alienation, disassociation and depression wrapped around a sort-of superhero plot;  its main character is a government op who, on a mission against a terrorist super-villain, ended up absorbing one of those ancient magical artifacts that are always lying around the DC universe, and ended up as an “elemental superwoman,” a “sentient intrinsic field” who has to work very hard at appearing human, and who can affect almost all matter and reality within a thirty-foot radius. Stylish art by Sonny Liew and gallows humor (she would like to kill herself, but she’s now immortal) make the first issue work well enough to bring me back for a second.  Mister Miracle, halfway through its run, has an entire issue centered around the hospital where wife Big Barda is giving birth. Not that much happens (well, the Furies from Apokolips show up, but only to hang around the waiting room), but King’s really good at the small moments of an event like that, and the Scott/Barda conversations are good enough to work as the whole point; at the very end, there’s also a payoff in the form of what might (or might not) be a major clue to what’s actually going on. If you like challenging, smart, good-looking comics series, you really ought to be getting this one.

Dry County #1 — Creator: Rich Tommaso

Vamperonica #1 — Story: Greg and Meg Smallwood;  Art/Colors: Greg Smallwood

Slots #6 (of 6) — Creator: Dan Panosian

Deadly Class #32 — Writer: Rick Remender;  Art: Wes Craig;  Colors: Jordan Boyd

Mage: The Hero Denied #7 (of 15) — Writer/Artist: Matt Wagner;  Colors: Brennan Wagner

Dry County, Rich Tomasso’s latest, is nothing like his previous book (Spy Seal, an uncannily-exact homage to Herge and other European ligne claire cartoonists); instead, it’s a throwback to his earlier crime noir style, involving a young comic-strip artist for the Miami Herald who meets a girl with a troubled past.  Its first-person narrator is engaging, and the girl’s presented so that we root for the relationship to work, but as these things go there’s sure to be a murder or some other kind of betrayal or bad outcome soon; Tomasso’s open, minimalist, well-constructed pages and bright coloring make it easy to read, and to like. Vamperonica is just what the name implies: part of Archie’s horror line, with Veronica as… not Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but more like Blade: a now-partial vampire herself, working to eliminate all her evil now-peers while battling her own blood-lust. Greg Smallwood’s art is suitably shadowy, a lot like Francesco Francavilla’s, and the story, even with the bloodsucking, seems lighter and truer to the characters than the often-nasty plot twists that happen over in Roberto Aguirre-Cacasa’s Afterlife with Archie or on Riverdale, so, like Dry County, this is worth a look. Slots ends its run as a Las Vegas/boxing/noir story, with Stan, its amiable-scoundrel main character, trying to save the day and failing miserably… maybe; Dan Panosian’s classic-illustrator art (he’s got heavy influences in Frank Frazetta and most of the old EC artists) is still the major draw, and it turns out he’s got a good hand at creating intriguing, complicated characters, too, so this should end up as a really good-looking trade collection.  Deadly Class returns after a hiatus with a huge amount of action; Remender and Craig’s assassin-school kids and their acquaintances spend the whole issue battling each other and an army of Yakuza (the story’s set in 1988, and Marcus, who’s narrating, says it’s like a Frank Miller comic), and, considering this is only part one of five, it looks to be getting even crazier over the next few months. This has always been Remender’s most personal work, and the one that he seems to put the most sweat into and get the most fun out of creating; that enjoyment is infectious, and a reason it’s lasted as long as it has. Speaking of long runs, the third volume of Mage is almost halfway through its 15 issues, and creator Matt Wagner is amping up the problems faced by his hero: family threatened, enemies circling, supernatural forces looming, etc. This is a tale that’s been percolating for over 30 years, and it’s being told clearly and cleanly and well, with each line of art and emotional beat exactly where it should be: like all the titles on this list, it will draw you in, and be worth your time, if you let it.

About Phil

With 40 years of experience in comic reading, collecting and reviewing, English Professor Phil Mateer has an encyclopedic mind for comics. Feel free to ask Phil about storylines, characters, artists or for that matter, any comic book trivia. He will post your questions and answers on the AABC blog. His knowledge is unparalleled! He is also our warehouse manager, so if you are looking for that hard to find comic book, ask Phil!
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