This batch of Quick Critiques includes my thoughts on Black Panther Annual #1, Luke Cage #170, the Postal: Mark one-shot and Sideways #1.
Black Panther Annual #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Priest & Mike Perkins/Don McGregor & Daniel Acuña/Reggie Hudlin & Ken Lashley
Whenever there’s a TV or movie adaptation of a comic-book property that resonates with a larger audience, inevitably, comics enthusiasts are faced with the question of what to recommend in the medium for people who have discovered a character on the big or small screens. Well, while it hasn’t promoted this comic book as such sufficiently, Marvel Entertainment has offered a perfect response to such a question with this Black Panther Annual. Fans of the hit movie will find characters they recognize, but will also be exposed to the writing of three men who contributed considerably to the lore from which the movie drew.
As a big fan of the Priest run on Black Panther in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the first story was definitely my favorite. Priest doesn’t miss a beat, and while the short story still boasts his achronological approach, it’s nevertheless accessible, both to the uninitiated reader and fans who’ve been removed from his work for a number of years. Artist Mike Perkins offer some noir, intense artwork that embraces the murder-mystery qualities of the plot.
Writer Don McGregor offers a melancholy story that delves into a supporting character from his own Panther comics from yesteryear. What most impressed me about the story was how McGregor leads the reader to believe the story is heading in one direction but ultimately takes it somewhere else, somewhere more touching and human and grounded. Daniel Acuña’s style is initially hard to discern in the initial pages of the story, but his more familiar approach reveals itself later on. Nevertheless, he nails it with his efforts early on to convey the incredible scope and majesty of the frigid mountainous terrain into which the titular hero ventures. Finally, Reggie Hudlin delivers a story set in the future, but what it really does is explore how connected Black Panther is to the rest of the Marvel Universe. His links to the Fantastic Four, X-Men and Avengers are all represented by the trophies of war seen in the story. Ken Lashley offers up some finely detailed visuals that also convey the splendor and wonder of Wakanda. For those who enjoyed the African cultural elements in the movie, the backgrounds and clothing designs here will no doubt be satisfying. 8/10
Luke Cage #170 (Marvel Entertainment)
by David F. Walker & Guillermo Sanna
This issue resonated with me because it focuses on family and parenthood. The plot consists of Luke trying to tell his daughter a story, with Danielle interjecting and providing her own imaginative and juvenile details. Speaking as a parent, it rang incredibly true. I was reminded of the fantasy stories that Kitty Pryde would invent starring her X-Men teammates back in a couple of stories from the Chris Claremont run on Uncanny X-Men in the 1980s, and writer David F. Walker acknowledges that inspiration in a text piece at the back of this book. The influence is clear. The best moment in the script comes when Jessica Jones, eavesdropping on her husband and her daughter, is overcome with concern when she hears sadness in her daughter’s voice.
Artist Guillermo Sanna’s simpler but more exaggerated style works well with the weird, wondrous and wacky elements of Luke and Danielle’s story. I especially enjoyed his portrayal of Princess Danielle’s “snake arms” and her tiger dragon; the twisted detail and bright colors are really quite something to see. That contrasts interestingly with the simpler and more childish globs of “monster bird poop,” which reinforces the goofier tone of a child’s imagination. The only aspect of the art that didn’t work for me was Sanna’s portrayal of Jessica. The crop-top and bare midriff really aren’t in keeping with the character at all; it brings an unnecessary bit of objectification to an otherwise cute and innocent story.
This is the final issue of the series, which surprised me. It’s only the 10th issue of the run, but more interestingly, it’s fifth in the Marvel Legacy renumbering scheme. It hardly seems worth celebrating the legacy of this title character with the classic numbering for only five months; it seems to me that when Marvel chose to include Luke Cage in its Legacy lineup, it would have already been considering this title for cancellation. It just struck me as a bit odd. 7/10
Postal: Mark #1 one-shot (Image Comics/ Top Cow Productions)
by Matt Hawkins & Raffaele Ienco
I have to confess: I had no prior knowledge of the Top Cow series that ran a couple of years ago that gave rise to this followup one-shot. I was provided with the review copy and was looking for something else to read and something else to critique for these capsules. To my surprise, I found a thoroughly accessible read featuring fully realized characters and a dark intensity that had my attention in a stranglehold. Writer Matt Hawkins adeptly recaps the 25-issue series that preceded the story and then offered a character-driven, focused script that stands up pretty well on its own. The titular character — Mark, son of the mayor of a town of criminals in hiding — is far from a hero, but he’s not exactly a villain either. He’s a man who’s aware of his limitations and the shortcomings of those around him, and he’s determined to be the best version of himself he can be, even if that version isn’t so nice. His self-awareness, as noted in the narration, makes for an interesting and even oddly admirable figure, but he’s not a pleasant person, not a laudable personality. In reality, he’s something of an impossibility, but Hawkins’s powerful script sells the unlikely notion of this hardened figure.
Also contributing to the credibility of this brutal and intense story is the incredibly realistic linework of artist Raffaele Ienco. His style is highly reminiscent of that of John (Planetary) Cassaday, and I can see a Frank Quitely influence in his visuals as well. He balances intense purpose and youthfulness in the title character quite well, and he brings out the seeming madness and his captive father too. I was thoroughly impressed with everything I found in this one-shot, and as a result, I’m quite looking forward to the next in the series: Postal: Laura. 9/10
Sideways #1 (DC Comics)
by Dan DiDio, Justin Jordan & Kenneth Rocafort
Despite the |New Age of DC Heroes” branding, Sideways actually reads very much like a traditional, Silver age super-hero comic book. The titular character is a teenager named Derek, and the writers have clearly drawn some inspiration from such archetypal characters as Peter Parker. Oh, and the same can be said for his best friend Ernie, a teenage girl who embraces cosplay and the unusual. The hero’s exploration of his teleportation powers rings true. The writers have linked his origin to the recent events of DC’s Dark Nights: Metal event, but the connection is tenuous at best. Derek obtained his powers by exposure to the energies of the Dark Multiverse while on a visit to Gotham City, but it could have just as easily been the result of a lab accident or a bite from a radioactive whatchamacallit. Sideways is ultimately unremarkable. It’s an ordinary, by-the-numbers super-hero book that will appeal to traditionalists but really doesn’t appear to offer anything particularly new.
Kenneth Rocafort’s hyper-detailed artwork is a treat to drink in. His style is very much in keeping with that of Leinil Francis Yu, but with an even more meticulous level of detail. There’s so much linework involved, I have to wonder how Rocafort can maintain a monthly schedule. The design for the Sideways character is somewhat generic, but it also looks like something a teenager would come up with so he could look cool. The artist succeeds and making the teenage characters look like teenagers, not slightly smaller adults. The design for the antagonist that appears on the final page is striking; the European influence in the look is quite apparent. However, it doesn’t boast the same traditional feel as the other elements in this teen super-hero comic. 6/10