Hanging with the HiX-Men, an Introduction

Writing about comics as a hobby is strange. Because it’s just a hobby and I have lots and lots of other hobbies, it’s something that can very easily slip if I don’t enjoy it. Such was the case with Road Trip with the Transformers, a feature that didn’t last past five parts because I just didn’t enjoy it. I kept thinking that I would catch up, but I just wasn’t enjoying reading the comics, let alone writing about them. They weren’t even bad enough to be enjoyably bad, they were just mediocre. What eventually made me realise this was the hype, anticipation and finally release of Jonathan Hickman’s first X-Men comic, House of X #1.

See, Jonathan Hickman is a writer I truly love. I didn’t always love him, as it took me a while and a few attempts to really get into his Fantastic Four and Avengers runs, but once I was hooked I was hooked. I went back and read his other works, like Secret Warriors, The Ultimates and Red Wing, among others. And while I can’t say I always love his work, I admire the man as a creator who can tell such intricate stories in such different styles (as long as he gets to do some graphic design). The announcement of the Dawn of X relaunch lent credence to the idea that Hickman truly had a plan for Marvel’s long-suffering franchise, helping build that excitement within me that this was something worth committing to. After reading House of X #1… I realised that I’ve never felt this before. Being hyped for a comic and anticipating it — enough to actually get my comics on a Wednesday like some sort of animal — and it actually delivering!

Because of this, I decided I had to retire Road Trip with the Transformers. It was fun while it lasted — well, it was fun to conceive and fun to write for about two entries — but I couldn’t let it drag me down. Having to write about something that I didn’t enjoy, that showed no signs of improving, I realised made this less of a hobby and more of a chore. Instead, I’ve decided to look at Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men run — which I call HiX-Men — because this is something I can’t see myself losing interest in any time soon. Of course, I might down the line (it’s Hickman so I probably won’t) and other hobbies and life might get in the way, but for now I’m committed to this.

It won’t be quite the same format this time around; instead I want to just review the comics at first, maybe pointing out some cool moments here and there that truly stand out. Afterwards, when I think a particular story arc is done, I will do a closer analysis and recap. I think this will allow me to keep more up to date with things while still allowing me to spotlight certain moments and look at a story with some depth.

With that in mind… Welcome to the HiX-Men, hope you survive the experience (and graphics)!

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Road Trip with the Transformers, Final Entry — The Break-Up

This has been a longtime coming. I think it’s apparent that I haven’t been enjoying Transformers as a series. Brian Ruckley just writes in a way that doesn’t appeal to me. There’s too much emphasis on world-building over characterisation, world-building that doesn’t feel organically implemented. Plot progression is so slow as to be comparable to molasses. Dialogue is bland and characters feel generic. The art struggles with anything but dialogue scenes. There is very little that is consistently good about the series. I don’t enjoy it and I don’t even enjoy writing about it — it’s too bland for that.

So I’m ending things here. Some things aren’t meant to work out, no matter how much you want them to. Sometimes, you just need to know when something isn’t going to go anywhere and let go. That’s what this is. Sorry, Transformers. It’s not me, it’s you. Look me up in a couple of years when you’ve gotten your life together, we’ll do brunch.

Also, that cover looks like the Transformers world of Kingdom Hearts.

Road Trip with the Transformers, Entry 5 — Transformers #5

Road Trip with the Transformers is what happens when you take a guy who grew up with Transformers (well, Robots in Disguise and the Unicron Trilogy, anyway), who was mildly interested in IDW’s Transformers comics — but too scared to dip too far in — and give him a rebooted Transformers comics line. With this, I’ll be quickly reviewing and then commenting on IDW’s new Transformers comic universe that began in March of 2019! The review will be spoiler-free, while commentary will not. With this, I’ll be chronicling my experience as someone who is a lapsed fan of the franchise from childhood, who has only read a few of the previous IDW Transformers comics. Expect me to forget characters’ names, find it hard to tell them apart and have little to no understanding of references to previous continuities! Does that sound like fun? No? Well, you’re coming along anyway! It’s a road trip! Roll out!

Last issue, we found out more about the world and very little about the plot, which is par for the course with this series. Last time, on Transformers: Lore Overload, Brainstorm was killed and a Voin was seen in the area. Rubble thinks he could identify the Voin but Prowl and Bumblebee tell him he can’t because they all look the same. Chromia and Windblade looked into Cyclonus and found nothing. The political situation is going downhill. Basically lots and ltos fo setup with lore peppered in, very little proper character work or narrative progression. Anyway, on with the review!

Continue reading “Road Trip with the Transformers, Entry 5 — Transformers #5”

Justice League of America: Rebirth #1 Review and Recap

Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Oclair Albert
Colours by Marcelo Maiolo
Published by DC Comics
Cover price $2.99 USD

Review and Recap is where I give a quick review of a comic, usually less in-depth than my regular reviews, before recapping it and adding some commentary here and there. Obviously spoilers abound in the commentary section. Anyway, here’s my Review and Recap of Justice League of America: Rebirth #1.

The Review:

The name ‘Justice League of America’ hasn’t had much luck in the last few years. Geoff Johns’ series seemed to exist solely to tie-in to his Trinity War and Forever Evil events, and Bryan Hitch’s version was so unremarkable that I’ve heard nobody speak of it outside of maybe one scene and bemoaning its numerous delays. But third time’s the charm, right? Surely Steve Orlando can take a team of B-list, Arrowverse-friendly characters (and Lobo) and finally give the name something worth a damn, right? Apparently, yes. Thanks to a clear mission statement for the team and motives for its cast of interesting characters, Justice League of America is off to a promising start.

The story is fairly straightforward — Batman recruits his Justice League. But Orlando does a good job clearly giving reasons for the characters (well, most of them) to join, while also setting up the various team dynamics. It’s nothing remarkable, but there’s a lot of potential for future stories set up, and the various relationships are interesting and set up well. The team’s mission statement, according to Batman, is to be a team that people can know and be inspired by, as opposed to the gods of the Justice League. It’s a good idea, and would mostly work if it weren’t for the presence of Batman himself, who has a secret identity, a mythic quality to him and is a Leaguer. That aside, the set-up is very well done while maintaining a good pace.

Something that helps the issue is that its characters, none of whom could be considered A-list aside from Batman, are fair game for whatever Orlando wants to do with them. Unlike the cast of Justice League, most of the cast of Justice League of America don’t have any other ongoing comic that their development is reserved for. Steve Orlando is free to develop his characters how he sees fit, so it’s much easier to get emotionally invested in the characters, rather than just the plot. It might be my cynicism, but as it is, it’s far more likely that I’ll be invested in whatever happens to Lobo in this series than Barry Allen and Jessica Cruz dating in Justice League, since I know there’s no Lobo ongoing that’s more important and already has a love interest for him.

Ivan Reis’ art is mostly good, with his usual flair for lighting and expressive faces for the most part. However, it feels a bit rushed, whether that be some more ill-defined faces or just rushed inking from Joe Prado and/or Oclair Albert. While it’s by no means weak — Reis, Prado and Maiolo are still a treat — the art is just not quite up to the standards I have for this art team.

Justice League of America: Rebirth #1 is a superhero comic with an interesting cast with interesting relationships and a great art team. While its B-list cast could’ve been a hindrance, Steve Orlando knows how to get readers invested. If this issue and the previous one-shots are any indicator, Justice League of America is shaping up to be the Justice League comic worth reading.

4/5 – Very Good

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Killer Frost: Rebirth #1 Review and Recap

Written by Steve Orlando and Jody Houser
Art by Mirka Andolfo
Colours by Arif Prianto
Published by DC Comics
Cover price: $2.99 USD 

Review and Recap is where I give a quick review of a comic, usually less in-depth than my regular reviews, before recapping it and adding some commentary here and there. Obviously spoilers abound in the commentary section. Anyway, here’s my Review and Recap of Killer Frost: Rebirth.

The Review:

It’s taken a while, but DC has finally decided to push Killer Frost in their comics. She obviously has a bigger profile now, since Caitlin Snow (the most recent version of the character) has been appearing on The Flash since its first episode. Sure, they gave her a Villains Month one-shot, but that was oddly timed, since that was about a year before her live-action debut. Regardless, Dc has finally seen fit to utilise the character more, and while I found her appearances in Justice League vs. Suicide Squad — to which Killer Frost: Rebirth acts as a pseudo-epilogue — to be a mixed bag, Killer Frost: Rebirth does a much better job of making me care about the character.

Killer Frost finds herself tested by Amanda Waller before she can leave the Suicide Squad to join the Justice League of America, and it’s not played as a moral dilemma. It’s not about Frost questioning using her powers, as using them to drain heat, which she needs to do, would kill someone — if she does it, Waller has an excuse not to release her into Batman’s custody. Orlando and Houser do a very good job of getting you to care about Killer Frost, without going out of their way to paint her as some overly heroic victim, which was one of my problems with Joshua Williamson’s writing of the character. Orlando and Houser actually play with Frost’s morality a bit; Frost is played as mostly good for much of the issue, before a twist is thrown in that messes with that. It makes her an infinitely more interesting character. She has some heroic traits, but the ending leaves her morality up in the air, though it does clash a bit with one or two boxes of her narration.

Mirka Andolfo’s art is expressive enough to get you invested in Killer Frost’s story. While it sometimes leans a bit too much towards cute for this type of story and setting, it still works, as Andolfo is versatile enough that he can swing between a cute Frost to a stoic Frost. Surprisingly, Frost’s powers are underplayed, which is very surprising given the rest of these one-shots. It works for the story, though, given her situation. I just wish Andolfo got to cut loose a bit more. Prianto’s colours get the job done, and does a good job playing with lighting to keep things visually interesting in mostly same-y settings.

Killer Frost: Rebirth tells a good done-in-one story that, of the JLA one-shots, links the most to the actual ongoing and why its protagonist will be joining the team. It has enough ambiguity to make Killer Frost interesting, and makes you want to read more of her, just not as a narrator. If nothing else, it got me on board for the character to be in Justice League of America.

4/5 – Very Good

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The Ray: Rebirth #1 Review and Recap

Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Stephen Byrne
Colours by Stephen Byrne
Published by DC Comics
Cover price: $2.99 USD 

Review and Recap is where I give a quick review of a comic, usually less in-depth than my regular reviews, before recapping it and adding some commentary here and there. Obviously spoilers abound in the commentary section. Anyway, here’s my Review and Recap of The Ray: Rebirth.

The Review:

The Ray is, like the Atom and Vixen before him, a character I’ve had little to no exposure to. I know he’s in the Freedom Fighters, a pretty cheesy group of patriotic superheroes, and that he’s gay (and it turns out I was even wrong there; he’s gay as of this issue, so I don’t know why I thought he was gay beforehand). He’s got a cool aesthetic, but other than that, I’ve never really cared for him. This issue inches me closer to caring, but doesn’t quite get there because it’s just a bit too frustrating.

The Ray: Rebirth is more or less about Ray Terrill (yes, ‘Ray’ is his real name, really), a man who grew up under the impression that exposure to too much light would kill him. The issue does a good job focusing on Ray and his problems with people, and you get a sense of who he is and why he avoids people the way he does. But what gets him to do so is just a bit contrived, as is the happy ending to a degree, as Ray suddenly gets a big dose of development off-screen. Plus, Ray himself comes off as a bit — and I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic — whiny. He just doesn’t seem to understand the seriousness of his condition, and it bugs me.

But the story does a nice job incorporating homosexuality into its story without ever preaching to you. The entire story is basically Ray coming out to the world as the Ray, but this is subtly woven with metaphors for realising one’s sexuality, and just problems that some LGBTQI people may come across, such as fear of condemnation for being different (and this is definitely subtler than any X-Men comic has been in recent years).

The art works for the issue and is versatile. When Ray’s a child, the art is cartoony enough that the expressions come across well and you get the feeling that Ray views the world this way. However, it never veers into being too cartoony. It has a nice clean look to it. When he’s a teen, the lines a less pronounced and everything has a softer look, while not feeling like there’s a huge shift in art style. Oh, and [ARTIST NAME] excels at making Ray’s powers look cool, and he obviously really enjoys letting loose with Ray’s powers just as much as Ray himself does. The comic also has a nice thing where light is played on, with the more depressing stages of Ray’s life taking place in the dark, with subdued colours. It’s a nice little thing that makes sense, given his powers.

3.5/5 – Good

Join me after the break for the commentary!
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Vixen: Rebirth #1 Review and Recap

Written by Steve Orlando and Jodi Houser
Art by Jamal Campbell
Colours by Jamal Campbell

The Review:

Vixen (Mari McCabe) is, like the Atom, another character I’ve never really cared for. I enjoyed her enough on Justice League Unlimited, but only in small doses and as a way to counteract the boring dry wall that was John Stewart (that version of him, at least). But as a comic book character, I’ve just never gotten her appeal. She’s a fashion designer and model, but career has never interested me outside of one scene with the Wasp in Uncanny Avengers, where she talks about fashion as a way bringing other cultures to people… and Snotgirl, I guess. And her power-set always struck me as “discount Animal Man”. But there’s a Vixen on Legends of Tomorrow and she’s got an animated series set in the Arrowverse, so of course she’s got to be in Steve Orlando’s upcoming Justice League of America. And this introduction to her is.. underwhelming

Vixen: Rebirth is an okay intro to the eponymous heroine, but it just lacks something and has story problems. It just doesn’t have the same emotional weight to it as The Atom: Rebirth, and I think that’s because almost all of the emotional weight to the story (well, Mari’s) is told in flashback, so there’s just a disconnect. In The Atom: Rebirth, Ryan Choi started out as a shy, awkward nerd and he managed to start his hero’s journey largely due to finding a kindred spirit who believed in him in his teacher, Ray Palmer. Here, Mari just… does things. There’s a catalyst, but it’s not very powerful and in fact comes across as forced more than anything. There’s some development for her as a character, but none of it feels satisfying.

At the very least, the art is nice, if not to my tastes. His Vixen is what a supermodel would actually look like: strong facial features with more understated sexual characteristics, especially compared to what is in mainstream superhero comics. It looks suitably exotic, with Campbell’s colouring really selling it. The comic has a nice fantasy aesthetic when outside of the fashion and business world, and Campbell obviously has fun when depicting Vixen’s powers. It suits the character very well, and Campbell’s ability to alternate between said fantasy aesthetic and the glamorous style he employs in the fashion and corporate scenes really helps sell this comic. Even though I’m not a big fan of art like this, I can say with confidence that many others would enjoy it.

2/5 – Below average
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