With this batch of capsule reviews, I visit with a wide array of colorful characters: from social-media czars to visitors from space, from survivors of an apocalypse to pioneers of the craft and commerce of comics. See what I have to say about Lex Luthor/Porky Pig, Venom: First Host, The Walking Dead and War Bears.
by Mark Russell, Brad Walker & Andrew Hennessy/Jim Fanning, John Loter & Paul J. Lopez
The main story — about Luthor’s launch of a new social-media platform to welcome those rejected from the trailblazers in that digital realm — is incredibly well timed, given the recent decisions by Facebook and other web giants to oust conspiracy theorist and huckster Alex Jones from its services. Writer Mark Russell also plays on fears that have arisen about privacy issues online and outrage over pricing in the pharmaceutical industry. Oddly enough, it’s the least human of the characters in the book, Porky Pig, who brings it all down to earth; Russell demonstrates how good people can get caught up in bad intentions and xenophobic policies. The main story is a biting piece of social satire that should be required reading not only for comics fans, but everyone, so as to effectively spotlight the perils and pitfalls of corporate and political manipulations occurring in our lives every day.
The backup story takes a more traditional, cartoony approach that’s in keeping with the origins of the title character who gets second billing. It’s a simpler story about how Porky’s bumbling thwarts an old-school super-villain plot. It’s cute and I like the Looney Tunes house style that’s employed for the art, but it’s the main story that’s the real selling point of this one-shot. 8/10
by Mike Costa, Mark Bagley, Ron Lim, Andrew Hennessy & Scott Hanna
With the impending arrival of a Venom movie next month, it stands to reason Marvel would be pumping out added material to capitalize on the flick, so I assume that’s the motivation behind the release of this limited series. I have to give writer Mike Costa credit, as he offers a fairly accessible story here even though it touches upon the title character’s extensive and convoluted history quite a bit. The premise — that Venom’s original alien host would track the symbiote down in the hope of a literal reunion — certainly makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for a lot of suspense. The plot here is predictable, and I never felt terribly engaged by what’s going on. That Eddie Brock is blindsided by what unfolds later in the issue is rather difficult to accept, because the audience can see it coming a mile away.
I was pleased but puzzled to find pencillers Mark Bagley and Ron Lim contributing to this forgettable mini-series. Sure, both have connections with the title character from his heyday in the 1990s, but this seems to be a waste of their talent. They were once A-listers at Marvel, and this project feels… beneath them. The visuals are clear and effective, but not terribly remarkable either. I’m also at a loss to figure out why two art teams were needed to complete this issue; the shift from Bagley’s style to Lim’s and back again was jarring. 5/10
by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard & Stefano Gaudiano
This stands out as one of the more compelling and accessible issues of the series in recent memory, even though we’re in the middle of a story arc introducing a new, more “civilized” community in the Walking Dead world. Kirkman’s exploration of corruption in authority at the Commonwealth is resonant and far more relevant to the real world than past plot elements in the series. He also examines the notion of class warfare here. It’s clear that the Alexandria survivors have happened upon the Commonwealth just in time to save it and redirect it, or perhaps at an inopportune time, as the coincidence of the unrest in the new community could possibly be (erroneously) blamed on the newcomers. Either way, I’m fascinated, and I love how Michonne’s role is so much different in this conflict that evokes memories of the world before the walkers.
Adlard’s art really conveys the sense of place and normalcy of the Commonwealth. Adlard and inker Stefano Gaudiano always impress with how much realism they achieve with a relatively simple style. My only qualm with the art is the occasional depiction of Lance as the weaselly personality we can already perceive him to be. I found the artists occasionally made him seem like a caricature rather than a character. 8/10
by Margaret Atwood & Ken Steacy
Literary icon Margaret Atwood’s latest foray into the comics medium, with co-writer Ken Steacy, is a campy and charming one that explores the burgeoning days of comics during the Second World War, and the Canadian creators set out to imbue this fictional flashback with a lot of Canadian character. As a fellow Canuck, I appreciated the effort, but I have to admit the characters, such as Alain’s French Canadian mother and the Maritimer staff artist in the comics studio, seem much more like stereotypes of Canadians rather than real people. Still, I like the feistiness of key players here, Alain and Gloria, his new boss at a small comics publishing outfit. Atwood and Steacy have also captured a convincingly retro, Golden Age feel to the characters, both those depicted as creating the comics, and in the way the “Oursonette” strip is written and presented. I did find the surprisingly quick resolution to Alain’s conflict with his boss and co-worker to be difficult to accept.
My favorite aspect of this first chapter in the three-part series is the artwork. It’s a real treat to see Ken Steacy’s work again. He was a mainstay of the comics industry in the 1980s; I recall his work for Comico and DC back in the day fondly. He demonstrates his skill at visual storytelling hasn’t diminished at all. Despite the wide-eyed, stylistic look of his characters, he nevertheless manages to convey a real sense of place and texture to this 1940s backdrop. The Oursonette is simple but striking, and I love how the black-and-white “comics” material is conveyed in these pages. 6/10