This week’s Back Issue Review is hyper-focused on four really amazing recent runs that would get me caught up on comics coming up on this week’s pull-list.
Seriously, these were some of the best comics out in 2017 and I didn’t even know it! They really put into perspective how energizing a well-made big and adventurous comic can be.
Join me in falling in love with these four excellent comics ahead of their new issues out this week:
- Hawkeye (2017) #12-14
- Justice League (2016) #34-37
- Mech Cadet Yu (2017) #1-5
- Runaways (2017) #1-5
Hawkeye (2017) #12-14, Marvel Comics
I would call this one-off adventure with X-23 and her sidekick Gabby “impossibly delightful.” It’s a transitional issue from the big Madame Masque arc that just wrapped to the next one with its Clint Barton team-up.
The issue finds X-23 (currently Wolverine, but you might not know that) chasing down a lead that could potentially be producing more clones from Wolverine’s genetic material.
)This packs an extra punch if you’ve been keeping up with the current “Orphans of X” arc in All-New Wolverine, which shows how those clones could be weaponized other than just through violence.)
The artwork and action choreography is always amazing on this book. It feels a hell of a lot like Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye right down to the panelling. While some of that is down to author Kelly Thompson scripting for fill-in artist Michael Walsh, a big part of that illusion is thanks to Jordie Bellaire sticking close to Matt Hollingsworth’s original colors.
It’s really a nearly-perfect single story, save for some overly-glib moments from Laura. She’s much better when played as a deadpan straight-woman to Kate and Gabby, as she is when she stoicly offers to cut off her own limbs to free them from captivity.
It’s an amazing feat: Kelly Thompson made her (brilliant!) Generations issue actually count in this hilarious reunion between Kate and Clint.
We’ve been waiting a full year to see these characters back together again, and author Kelly Thompson could probably get away with a full issue of pithy banter without too much effort. Instead, that’s all compressed into the pair of Hawkeyes arguing over whose case ought to come first – and, of course, Clint conveniently omits a few key pieces of information.
There’s something really special about Thompson writing as both an experienced author and a mega fan. Everything she does is so darn rewarding.
The rest of the issue is all action, expertly choreographed by regular penciler Leonardo Romero. Jordie Bellaire gets to stretch out here, with a stunning rainbow effect on the opening pages and the blue spark of lightning in a darkened warehouse at the end. Those strongly differentiated scene looks makes this issue feel extra long, as do a serious of big moments on the final few pages of the book – each are strong enough to make a cliffhanger!
This is top-notch superhero comic book making. Kelly Thompson deftly escalates from writing a great Kate Bishop book to writing an amazing Hawkeye team-up book that’s as great as Fraction’s Eisner-winning Hawkeye.
This issue begins with the decidedly unsubtle Clint trying to follow up on Kate’s leads only to encounter her gaggle of L.A. friends back at her office. I loved how this scene contrasted the two Hawkeyes’ similar “shoot the arrow first, ask questions later” personalities with the differences in their personal lives.
Clint only has Kate, who he has trouble characterizing as anything other than a sidekick while Kate has amassed a handful of friends in just a few months (who Client has trouble characterizing as anything other than too many sidekicks). It really emphasized that, for all their similarities, Clint leads a blithely super-heroic life where he’s lost touch with what it’s like to just be a regular person (something he briefly had in Fraction’s run).
The artwork is every bit as good as the writing. Full page spreads of Clint hunting down Madame Masque are wildly over-the-top. Her ornate changing room full of mirrors is incredible. We end up with our two heroes back together, but in a much worse position than they began.
Justice League (2016) #34-37, DC Comics
Christopher Priest takes over Justice League and brings the same massive scale and helplessness as Hitch, but with a disaster that’s more intricate and personal than anything we’ve seen on this title so far.
This arc begins with Batman trying to step back into the team to quarterback. The team welcomes his return, but Bruce Wayne is just a man – and one that’s been stretched too thin between Metal and leading Justice League of America on the side.
An utterly exhausted Batman tries to coordinated the team fighting across multiple fronts, but the plan falls apart as the other JLers act without questioning his directions.
There are some silly moments here that slightly distract from the serious plot (Aquaman masquerading as a bus driver), but it’s an entertaining issue with strong, plain artwork from Pete Woods.
Another fast-paced issue from Priest. He’s a magician, and a lot of times the things that are really happening are not what he’s showing you in the main plot.
What is he showing us? That the League have created a major domestic incident in botching last issue’s counter-terrorist action and that they need all of their powers combined to defeat an alien super-bug.
What’s really happening? Personally, I see it as less about the League interfering where they shouldn’t have been and more about Diana’s (and, by extension, the entire League’s) fallibility. Even though some of the members of the League aren’t human, they all make mistakes. Batman is the regular human, yet his errors can have an universe-wide impact. Wonder Woman is a demi-god, and her mistake amounts to the loss of a single life.
The smallness Diana’s mistake wears on her. She not only regrets the loss of life, but begins to question the meaning of her mission in the man’s world at the point she’s spending her time in police interrogations. In the process, Priest writes a better Wonder Woman than we’ve seen on her own title in Rebirth.
Meanwhile, the bug hunt also is about more than extermination – it also finds all of the team’s members of color (and Flash) collaborating with more brains than brawn to safe San Francisco. En route, we get interesting exchange with Cyborg about blackness and leadership
Another terrific issue that plays with the extra-legal ramifications of super-heroism, especially when it interferes with the relations of nation states. Woods art seems to be getting sharper as this run goes on, and Priest is leaning heavily on how Wonder Woman and Aquaman have very different motives than the rest of the League.
A knotty mystery with a stunning outcome: that this arc is re-legislating the same material covered by Identity Crisis. Priest really ought to be left in charge of this series. He’s one of the few authors capable of Morrison-level genius puzzle-boxing.
Mech Cadet Yu (2017) #1-5, Boom! Studios
An astoundingly good comic that kicks off a hero’s journey and tells us everything we need to know about its universe in a few simple pages.
We’re dropped into a special school where the top cadets will bond with extraterrestrial giant robots to defend the Earth, except for this time around one of the robots bonds with someone unexpected.
It’s so simple that it almost hurts trying to figure out how and where it packs in just so much goodness in just five or six scenes. One of those rare comics where I felt helplessly giddy the entire time while I read it, even if it plainly telegraphs most of its big moments (or, maybe because of that).
Another breathtakingly fun issue that does all the things you expect and does them extraordinarily well. This is like Pacific Rim meets Harry Potter and I am totally in love with it.
A great example: these robots have control rooms for a person to sit inside, “reigns” as one character puts it that allows you to guide your mech. Why would a semi-sentient robot from space have such controls? Did they evolve that way or were they built? Who usually controls them and where did they go? The line about the reigns is a tossaway, but it opens up all of these questions.
This issue threatens to get annoying as it circles Harry Potter territory with the kids looking down on our little cadet Yu, but it never gets all the way there. For Potter fans, the four kids will obviously break out into the four houses of Hogwarts, and Pak shows what a difference it makes when you have friends from Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw to back you up instead of a constant stream of hopelessly altruistic Gryffindors.
Yet, this is much more than Harry Potter because it also has themes of family and culture to weave into its story. Yu has the love and tension with his mother meaning he’s not another magical orphan. The scene of his mom serving his friends some of her soup is so heartwarming, I nearly died.
That makes Yu’s faceoff against Cadet Park (yes, both protagonists are Asian!) and her man-made mech all the more compelling – Yu is still the underdog, and he might still wash out, but he’s not unloved and alone. As this issue escalated towards its conclusion I realized I had just… stopped breathing entirely. I was holding my breath for at least four of the final pages. I’m totally addicted to this book.
An awesome conclusion to what was going to be a limited series but has been extended to an ongoing. The alien Sharg have such different biology and its a little difficult to make heads or tails of them in battle. However, this has tons of heart-stopping moments (that maybe stretch credulity a leeeeetle bit) as Yu helps his friends in the midst of battle.
Mech Cadet Yu is back for a second arc, and Greg Pak has found a terrific way to pump the brakes and keep these kids in the little leagues even though they were fighting a horde of space kaiju Shargs at the end of the first arc. Our team of four kids are grounded, working with the engineering and janitor corps, learning a little humility about not always being the stars of the show. That opens up new questions about what it means to be a wash out as well as being honorably discharged from service. It’s still witty and full of characters to love, and the sudden and scary cliffhanger will lead to action in the next issue.
Runaways (2017) #1-5, Marvel Comics
A quick read, but it gives you all of the information you need about Nico and Chase as the plot develops, dropping you into a situation where you’re instantly sympathetic to everyone (even an unlikely podiatrist) and need no former Runaways knowledge at all.
Matt Wilson is massively elevating Kris Anka’s art here. MASSIVELY. Between that and Anka’s clear affection for these characters, it’s maybe the best work he’s EVER done on interiors. This comic is a smash. A major victory.
This issue is extremely concerned with rehashing recent Runaways continuity, and while it’s a little much it does do a decent job of explaining things to laypeople while also getting out characters on the same page as each other. (Gosh, Rainbow Rowell is so good at this stuff).
Kris Anka continues to deliver a next level amount of effort to make it all look good and Matthew Wilson is knocking the color palette out of the park. It’s an all-around great book with a “getting the band back together” theme that seems ready to deliver at least one major shock in every issue.
I don’t know how this book is doing it, but it continues to carefully toe the line on a perfect Runaways reunion. It’s hitting fan service buttons of showing us the characters we want to see and referencing the relationships we love, but it’s not giving us easy answers – Karolina won’t come back; Chase is too old to be in his relationship; Victor won’t just turn back on.
This is the best kind of Marvel Legacy book – once that cares about a classic franchise but isn’t turning the clock back.
A scene of the team sitting around Molly’s grandmother’s kitchen table is one of the best comic moments I’ve read in months. I don’t know how a comic with no conflict can be quite so amazing. Wait, I do… it’s because a novelist who knows how to plan in more than 20-page beats can give us satisfying chapters with character growth in each one. I love this book, the questions about Molly’s parents, the secretly alive Victor head, the spy cats, the opaque grandma, and the dinosaur eating cat food. It’s all brilliant.
This issue slightly undoes my good will to date by rushing a few developments – a particular reawakening, a certain breaking bad, and a specific return. It was a bit too much coincidence for me, unless it turns out to not be a coincidence at all.
Matthew Wilson’s colors on the conversation between Molly and Gert in Molly’s darkened bedroom are just mindblowing. He is so good. However, I’ve noticed in the past few issues how the lettering fights to tightly kern in a long word into a bubble. There is plenty of room for the bubbles to get bigger, so why not expand them a pinch rather than have a weirdly tight word in each one? I don’t expect these obvious, unforced errors from a veteran like Joe Caramanga.