Bug! The Adventures of Forager #5 (DC Comics/Young Animal imprint)
by Michael Allred & Lee Allred/by James Harvey
The only truly disappointing thing about this comic was the blurb at the end of the main story indicating the next issue will be the final one. This issue of Bug!, like those before it, was another loving tribute to the work of the late Jack Kirby, this time examining an even weirder incarnation of OMAC and Brother Eye. The plot is rather difficult to discern, as has been the case throughout this case. The Allred brothers have been offering up a seemingly stream-of-consciousness approach to fringe super-hero storytelling, and that continues here with almost random story concepts. But they’re wild, campy and entertaining concepts. I particular enjoyed how the writers linked the Mother Box of the Fourth World characters to Brother Eye. Mike Allred’s linework is perfect for the bizarre Kirby concepts on display here, but it would be for nought if Laura Allred’s brilliant, primary color palette didn’t enhance that energy.
James Harvey’s “Midnight” backup feature, like the “Super Powers” strip by Tom Scioli in Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, also from Young Animal, is challenging, surreal and always entertaining. It’s just an unexpected re-imagining of Jack Cole’s Spirit analogue. Hardly anything about this take on Midnight is familiar, but somehow, it works because of the link to the established property. I love how the dialogue and characters, despite their removal from their usual urban-crime setting, still reflects their origins. The way Madam Brawl speaks, the way the characters are clad… so much of it has a 1940s, Dick Tracy-esque vibe to it. The casual inclusion to other DC Universe references add to the oddball tapestry wonderfully. 7/10
Falcon #2 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Rodney Barnes & Joshua Cassara
I didn’t read the Hydra-infected Captain America storyline, nor did I read the Sam Wilson-as-Cap series that preceded it, but I think Falcon is a character with tremendous potential that’s largely been untapped by Marvel. Putting an African American writer on this book makes a lot of sense, and it made me curious about it. Throwing him into the middle of a gang war in Chicago takes the character back to the urban backdrop from which he originated. I was intrigued, but connecting the plot to Blackheart, to the demonic antagonist’s cosmic aspirations, seems like a terrible fit. I get the powerful and relevant symbolism of making the white mayor a literal demon, but Blackheart’s role as a tour guide through the infinite for a minion from the streets seemed almost ludicrous. There are two very interesting stories unfolding here: a hero’s noble effort to bring peace to the streets, and a spurned offspring looking to outdo his abusive father. I can see Barnes tries to bridge those two polar concepts with Doctor Voodoo’s role here, but it doesn’t quite click. Mashed together, neither of those stories seem to unfold all that well.
I also found Barnes’s script didn’t go far enough to introduce the uninitiated to Patriot. His all-American identity and costume motif seems like an odd choice as well. Clearly, Patriot is meant to mirror Falcon’s origins as an emerging hero learning from Captain America, but I like that he had his own distinct heroic identity, completely unconnected to his mentor’s legacy. The same can’t really be said of Patriot. Joshua Cassara’s artwork reminds me a great deal of the work of Denys (The Question, Hardware) Cowan, and the grizzled, dark approach certainly suits the disparate elements of this unusual story. However, with Rachelle Rosenberg’s deeply dark color palette, it’s difficult to discern some of the scenes, especially the more crowded ones. 5/10
Mighty Thor #701 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Jason Aaron & James Harren
After the multi-faceted and deliciously dense 700th issue last month, writer Jason Aaron shifts gears and offers what is mainly a huge fight scene between the War Thor and Mangog, the killer and punisher of gods. The script is surprisingly scant on details of the larger plots, referring to them only in passing in cut scenes. Aaron’s goal here, in addition to amping up tension with some savage action sequences, is to establish Mangog as a key force, almost primal, in the crescendo to the climax of this long-running storyline, which first got underway when Jane Foster first assumed the mantle of Thor. Mangog is a rather obscure Thor villain, and Aaron does an excellent job of reintroducing him here without getting bogged down in his history in past Marvel titles. And I must admit I love the War Thor concept; it’s a shame to see Volstagg’s state by the end of the issue, but seeing him transformed into a powerhouse with which to be reckoned was a lot of fun (especially given the character’s footnote of a fate in the recent Thor: Ragnarok movie).
The script’s mythic buildup of Mangog was great, but what really sold me on the revived character was James Harren’s artwork. I’m not familiar with his name, but I hope we see more of his work soon. His approach here struck me as a wondrous and bombastic mishmash of the styles of such notable Thor artists as Walt Simonson, Olivier Coipel and Jack Kirby himself. His linework brings out the loud and brutal natures of the hero and villain that do battle throughout this issue, and it was perfectly suited to this landscape-levelling melee. 8/10
Savage Dragon #228 (Image Comics)
by Erik Larsen
I haven’t read a copy of this title in years, not since I think Rapture (was that her name?) was pregnant with the title character’s child (who’s not the lead hero of the book). It’ been maybe almost two decades since I delved into the Dragon’s world, and you have to admit, that’s an impressive run for a creator-owned book, written and drawn by one guy. As I hit the first page of the story, I was immediately blown away with the notion that Malcolm Dragon and his young family had relocated from Chicago to Canada; as a Canadian, I was immediately intrigued. I don’t have the full context, but I can only assume this is a symbolic manifestation of so much anti-Trump sentiment in the U.S. from the last presidential election. In the years since I last read this title, Larsen’s approach to plotting appears to have become even more unconventional. The action-oriented plot lurches ahead in fits and spurts; it doesn’t make for a very accessible read, but it makes for fast-paced reading. Speaking of spurts, that’s where Larsen lost me. The over-the-top sex life of the Son of Dragon and his young bride is ridiculously graphic. It’s clearly a callback to a previous scene in which another character criticizes the influence of porn and unrealistic relationships on the millennial generation, but instead of a comedic contradiction, I was put off by the excesses and hypocrisy. I also found the young couple’s discussion of their horniness in front of their kids to be off-putting and unrealistic.
Larsen’s linework is a study in contradictions. With some characters, he can be as detailed as he wants; I really found Malcolm Dragon’s depiction to be interesting, and I especially liked the gradiations of green in the skin color of the title character and his green-skinned kids. But other character portrayals seem rushed or one-dimensional. I don’t get by Dragon’s wife seems like such a sex doll, and she seems uncomfortably young in appearance, especially in comparison to the male lead. Sure, some women look quite young, but that’s a choice the artist is making. I thought the Kirby-like action later in the issue was exciting, and I found the casual demeanor the hero adopts in that chaos to be rather interesting and unique. Ultimately, I’m not sure what the point of the story here is. In fact, I don’t actually detect a cohesive story in this lone issue. Perhaps one shapes in a long-term approach, but episodic fiction calls for some smaller story to be told in a chapter. Maybe the story is about how much fluid the young lovers produce in a sexual encounter, but that seems like a rather immature fodder to spew over the audience. 4/10