Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Comics Capsule Reviews

Mother Panic #1: There’s a new vigilante in Gotham City, and it’s a strange one. Violet Page, rich Gotham socialite, is returning to the city after making her reputation around the world. And what a reputation! In that time, she’s become the female Bruce Wayne; a selfish, spoiled, hard-drinking debutante used to the spotlight. And like Wayne, she has an alter ego; the oddly named, and odder dressed, Mother Panic.

Violet sticks around Gotham long enough in this issue to stop an assassination attempt as Mother Panic, then take care of her dementia-afflicted mother. The story holds a lot of mystery—Violet is after someone, but who? And why? Her alpha-male father is in prison. Why? What is her agenda and whose side is she on? She seems to have no love for Batman (featured in a cameo here); indeed, her one comment on him is “f--- the Bat.” Yes, Mother Panic is a mature readers book and does feature the f-word liberally. That doesn’t seem to fit a superhero book with Batman guest starring, but what good decision has DC made lately?

Mother Panic is a well-written, if possibly too adult, superhero comic with a good sense of pacing and several intriguing mysteries. I'll keep reading for now. 

Rating: ***½ stars out of 5

Betty & Veronica #2: Writer/artist Adam Hughes continues his winning streak with Archie’s girlfriends. One of comics’ finest fine artists, Hughes provides a fun and interesting take on the material. When the Riverdale gang discovers Pop Tait’s Choklit Shoppe is closing, Betty starts a grass roots campaign to save the teen watering hole. Veronica, whose father’s company is purchasing the Shoppe to replace it with a hipster coffee joint, takes the opposite point of view. While Veronica supports her father’s business (and hipster coffee), Betty prefers to keep Pop’s open and the hipsters out. Thus starts a major war between the two regular frenemies.

Hughes’ writing is sharp, with witty dialog and a gift for puns. He captures the teenage voice well, at least to my middle-aged ears. But the art sells the book. Photo-realistic with just the right touch of cartooning, Hughes is a perfect draftsman, designer and storyteller. He has even researched teen fashion and styles and provides a perfect setting to unleash them. Count me in as a fan, of Hughes and Betty & Veronica.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #20: These team-ups tend to be not only unexpected, but entertaining. There have been the traditional collaborations between the Scoobies and Hawkman, Superman and Batman. But give me the deep cuts, with folks like Buzz & Frankenstein Jr., Jonny Quest and in this issue, Space Ghost. Space Ghost has his full crew of Jan, her brother Jace and Blip, their pet monkey. They come to Earth chasing the devilish duo of Zorak and Moltar. Teaming with the Scoobies for their detective skills, the group tracks the villains to ... the moon? Where else? The Scoobie Gang then space suit up and deploy to the moon for battle. Writer Sholly Fisch manages to distill the essence of whatever guest star is appearing that month and capture the character perfectly. Artist Dario Brizuela is flawlessly on model and everyone looks exactly like they are supposed to. Disengage your brain and enjoy these tales of space hero mayhem. Excellent.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Love and Rockets #1: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez launch their latest volume of L&R. This is the fourth iteration of the book. The first was a 50-issue magazine, then a 20-issue comic series, then an eight volume annual graphic novel series. I always thought the Hernandez’s were most comfortable in magazine format, and that is what they return to here. The characters are the same, from Jamie’s best friends Maggie and Hopey, to Gilbert’s Latina half-sisters Luba and Fritz. There’s just one problem ... I’ve never really liked Love and Rockets. I have tried all four iterations now, and it just isn’t my thing.

I find the characters grating and uninteresting, and most of the plots meandering soap opera with a huge extended cast I don’t care about. Oh, I admit the work is done with love and craft, and I generally like both artists, especially Jaime. But nothing about this book clicks for me. It never has. I thought I would try one last time to see if anything had changed and if I could get into it now. Nope. I still found the characters to be annoying and a wave of apathy wash over me on each page of both stories. Sorry, world. I just don’t care for Love and Rockets. That doesn’t mean it’s inherently not good, it’s just not for me.

Rating: ** out of 5 stars

Red Team: Double Tap, Center Mass #5: This one of the best crime books on the market, and reads like some of the top crime shows television has to offer. Each issue would make a brilliant TV episode. RT: DTCM would be comfortable on HBO alongside The Wire and The Night Of. Eddie and Trudy are disgraced cops who are now assigned to the lowest jobs available. When they pull over a spoiled rich boy joyriding through town, the bodies in his trunk lead to a major case and maybe a way for them to erase their past. Unfortunately, they have to deal with jealous spouses, erratic witnesses and a department that isn’t quite ready to forgive them.

In this issue, the results are revealed from when Trudy was ambushed last issue. Will she live? Either way, Eddie and Trudy take their relationship in a direction it probably shouldn’t go. Meanwhile, Eddie interrogates their main witness with his high-priced lawyer in the room. Will he be able to get any useful information? The shock ending changes everything and moves the narrative forward like it’s riding a comet. Fantastic stuff.

Rating: ****½ out of 5 stars

Black Dahlia: Yes, that Black Dahlia. This standalone graphic novel is the latest volume of Rick Geary’s Treasury of 20th Century Murder. These stories are incredibly well researched, written and illustrated. Most crime buffs know the story of Elizabeth Short. Nicknamed the Black Dahlia, Liz was a wanna-be model and actress in the mid-1940s stalked by bad breaks and lousy luck. Bouncing around the country from her native Massachusetts, Liz was a chaste brunette who loved the nightlife. She had a lot of gentlemen callers but few close relationships. She liked soldiers though. She was actually engaged to a flyboy, who was shot down at the end of WWII. Liz bounced from hotel to flop house to friend’s back room in Hollywood, all while trying to become a model or meet a nice guy for her M.R.S. degree. One day a boyfriend dropped her off at a fancy hotel, she said she was meeting her sister. A week later her body, tortured horribly and cut into two separate pieces, was found in an empty lot in a residential district in Hollywood.

Geary divides the book into five sections filled with clear art and straightforward facts. Part One is “The Vacant Lot,” about finding the body, the press and police involved, and what was done to Liz. It wasn’t pretty. Part Two is “The Life of Elizabeth Short,” about Liz’s childhood, her estranged father and hardscrabble mother trying to provide a living. Part Three is her “Last Days,” a day-by-day account of Liz’s last week or so. Part Four is “The Investigation,” about the suspects and the police sparing no expense to find the killer. Part Five is “The Wrap-Up,” where Geary looks at the information and suspects that have been discovered since the investigation ended.

To the consternation of many a crime buff, the case was never solved and is still officially open. Geary does disclose the probable killer who came to light in 1981. The police were closing in on him and ... well, I’ll leave something for the book to disclose. I will say the ending of the story is as frustrating as the crime itself. Geary is such a talented raconteur I couldn’t put this down.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars                 

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