Dave's Capsules for October 2020

Blogger changed its editing suite, so things may look weird.  Image captions cancelled until I can figure out how to make them not blend into the text.

Items of Note (Strongly Recommended or otherwise worthy): Fangs

In this installment: Batman Death in the Family (Interactive BluRay), Overwatch: the Cavalry #2 (of 5), Transformers the Manga vol 03, The Dragon Prince: Through the Moon, Animorphs: the Invasion, Fangs, Maestro #3 (of 5), The Rise of Ultraman #2, Shang-Chi #1-2, Big Girls #3, Miranda in the Maelstrom #1, Bill and Ted are Doomed #2 (of 4), The Orville #2, Norse Mythology #1, Sacred Six #3, Vampirella #14,  Heroes of the Golden Age Reference Guide #4, My Little Pony/Transformers #3 (of 4), Transformers '84 Secrets and Lies #4 (of 4), Transformers Galaxies #11

Current Wait List (books either Diamond didn't ship or my store failed to order)Nothing, as far as I can tell.  

"Other Media" Capsules:

Things that are comics-related but not necessarily comics (i.e. comics-based movies like Iron Man or Hulk), or that aren't going to be available via comic shops (like comic pack-ins with DVDs) will go in this section when I have any to mention.  They may not be as timely as comic reviews, especially if I decide to review novels that take me a week or two (or ten) to get around to.

Batman Death in the Family Interactive Movie
: DC/WB - This is a collection of DC Showcase shorts, the main one being an Interactive Movie (only on the BluRay version), where you get to decide if Robin lives, dies, or "cheats death" (i.e. how it ended up working in the comics).  The other four shorts are Sgt. Rock, Adam Strange, Phantom Stranger, and Death.   All of the bonus shorts appeared elsewhere first, as did a lot of the footage in the main feature...it's taken from 2010's "Batman: Under the Red Hood."  If you do get this, be sure to get the BluRay, as the "choose your own adventure" sort of progress is the main attraction.  While there is new footage and voice work, there's also a LOT of narration, especially when the footage is reused for something other than the original Red Hood storyline.  There's nine branching paths (almost all from the initial "Jason Lives" choice), but only seven endings, as there's one choice that doesn't affect the endings you get (a bit of a cop-out there).  Some of the paths work well, but they're all heavy on the summaries (one choice basically gives a summary of Under the Red Hood).  I'd been wondering how they'd deal with some of the weird topical elements of the original Death in the Family arc...they ditched everything but the ending, basically.  Didn't really address how Joker got nuclear materials, left out Iran entirely, threw in Ra's al Ghul as an all-purpose prime mover, and started the story minutes before the exploding warehouse.  The bulk of it is various paths for Jason after the explosion (several branches have someone in the Lazarus Pit, not always Jason).  If you don't already have them, the Phantom Stranger and Death shorts are pretty good.  But really, this is mostly a gimmick that didn't have the resources or runtime to play out the premise properly.  Warning, it earns its R rating via a lot of blood, decapitations, and a few graphic explosion aftermaths.  Mildly recommended, because there were a handful of good bits and lines in there, but mostly it was disappointing.  Price varies by store, usually under $20.

Digital Content:

Unless I find a really compelling reason to do so (such as a lack of regular comics), I won't be turning this into a webcomic review column.  Rather, stuff in this section will generally be full books available for reading online or for download, usually for pay.

Overwatch: Tracer - London Calling #2 (of 5): Dark Horse Comics - This feels like it's leading up to a sort of origin story for how the former Overwatch heroes all got back together to start doing missions together again in the game.  Tracer continues trying to help out the Omnic underground and overcoming prejudice on both sides, but of course it's time for things to go horribly wrong, so they do.  Pretty much all I know about Overwatch is from these free e-comics, but it's nice to see more than a dozen pages devoted to a single story for once.  Recommended.  Free.


Trade paperbacks, collections, graphic novels, pocket manga, whatever. If it's bigger than a "floppy" it goes here.

Transformers the Manga vol 3: Viz - Victory (which gets really weird again and sometimes creepy with its focus on kids), Zone (more or less a retelling of the one OAV but with more of a focus on the kids), Battle Stars (the only fiction available for this line), and Operation Combination (ditto).  Thus ends the G1 Japanese era.  Japan would see several years of Yuusha (The Brave) series from Takara before Beast Wars kicked in, and here's hoping Viz does a similar collection for BW, BWII, and BWNeo, especially since I rather regret tossing out my TV Magazines and Comics Bon Bons from that era when I moved out of Kansas.  Anyway, this one has a lot more color pages, some of which carry the storyline.  The Victory stuff is really creepy in places, hopefully unintentionally, but it really paints Deszaras as a pervy child-fancier, and replacing Illumina early on with Jan's not-in-the-anime older sister amps up the creepy factor.  Brr.  Basically, the whole volume feels like it crosses the line between "aimed at kids" and "aimed at pedophiles."  Mildly recommended, mostly for the historical angle, even without the squick factor the story's not very good.  $24.99/$33.99Cn/#19.99UK

The Dragon Prince: Through the Moon: Scholastic - In the tradition of the Avatar GNs, this is set between seasons 3 and 4 of the series, and is roughly one episode's worth of content.  It helps fill in some blanks, and the characters find out a few things that the viewers already knew, but nothing that can't be established with a few lines of dialogue in S4 Ep1.  As things are cleaned up after the big season finale battle, Rayla is obsessed with finding out whether Viren is alive and whether any of her probably-dead loved ones are still alive, and there's a Moon-magic plot device she wants to try.  Callum thinks it's a bad idea, but his judgement is quite poor where Rayla is concerned, so of course they end up in peril thanks to the plot device.  A decent done-in-one that shows that while the main characters have grown some, they're still in need of further growing up.  Recommended.  $12.99/$16.99Cn/#7.99UK

Animorphs the Graphic Novel: the Invasion: Scholastic - Okay, back in the day I only read one or two Animorphs books, mostly because I'd been getting the Transformers and figured I should see what the stories were like.  And in one of those, "I feel old" things, "back in the day" was the 1990s and it's been a generation since the books came out.  So, just in time to introduce a new generation, eh?  This is an adaptation of the first book, and I couldn't tell you how faithful it was, but it definitely sets up all the stuff I recall being part of the setting as of the later books I did read (other than Ax, who arrived later).  It kinda finds a middle ground between the "body horror and war atrocities" of the books and a more sanitized view...showing the characters morphing is mildly disturbing and the sound effects are unpleasant, but at the same time the reader is assured that it's not painful.  Anyway, the story adapted by Chris Grine manages to avoid tying itself too strongly to the time it was first written, no plot complications that would be resolved if people had smartphones, etc.  About the only solid signs is that Tobias has wired headphones and that malls still have arcades (although the latter bit could be a result of weird local economic conditions).  A good start, and I've added the series to my pull.  Recommended.  $12.99/$16.99Cn

Fangs: Andrews McMeel - This is a nicely done hardcover collection (cloth surfaced cover, black-edged pages) of Sarah Andersen's recently concluded (I presume...no updates in months) Tapas.io webcomic about the romance between a vampire and a werewolf.  You may have seen some of the strips already, they're popular copypaste material on social media.  While technically all the strips are available for free already (https://tapas.io/series/fangscomic) the book is in itself a nice object of art to have, on top of being a way to support the creator beyond just a tip jar...being able to point at book sales is usually helpful when looking for the next gig.  The art style is similar to what she used in the recent Cheshire Crossing TPB release, although less manga and more gothy.  And nothing at all like the "Sarah's Scribbles" pieces that are far more heavily spread on social media.  Anyway, go ahead and read the entire series online, then decide if it's worth owning in hardcopy.  As for my opinion of that...Strongly Recommended.  $14.99/$19.99Cn  (I tried to find something worth putting in the pull quote at the end, but the best stuff is a combination of words and art, so doesn't really translate well.)


No, I don't have any particular disdain for the monthlies, but they are floppy, yes? (And not all of them come out monthly, or on a regular schedule in general, so I can't just call this section "Monthlies" or even "Periodicals" as that implies a regular period.)

Maestro #3 (of 5): Marvel - Hulk has interactions with both Rick Jones and Hercules/Maestro, and decides on his own way forwards.  Obviously, this is not going to be a "good guy" solution, since this is the origin story of how Hulk becomes the new Maestro, but Peter David set up just enough complications to make the path to that outcome uncertain.  There's also a short backup story showing some of what happened to Rick Jones before he got old and bent.  Recommended.  $3.99
The Rise of Ultraman #2 (of 5): Marvel - Regular sized issue, no Ultra Q backup or humor pages, just main story.  Most of it takes place in mindspace, as the two sides of the new Ultraman slowly come to terms with each other, with a few short scenes of the other two main humans of last issue tracking down something rotten in the state of the United Science Patrol (and probably related to the Ultra Q backup from #1).  Mostly a slow issue full of flashbacks to Shin Hayata's childhood and early adulthood as the Ultra alien evaluates him as a bonding candidate.  (I suspect the name Shin Hayata is some sort of pun on the idea that he's the new Ultraman host.)  Mildly recommended, feels like it might've worked better released as a trade from the start.  $3.99

Shang-Chi #1
: Marvel - Shang-Chi is a fraught character to try to write, on many levels.  The son of Fu Manchu, the archetypical Fiend From The East, he's loaded down with a lot of racist baggage in addition to the hazy trademark status of Fu Manchu.  Plus, emerging in the Chop Socky exploitation 70s, he's long been a different kind of orientalist stereotype, the "speaks in fortune cookies" martial artist.  None of that kept him from popping up every so often, usually as a supporting character in some other book, more often than not an "Asian Heroes" team (like Atlas, recently), or a Martial Arts Team-Up deal.  So...it takes a lot of guts to take on the writing of a solo Shang-Chi book.  And while Gene Yang doesn't do any outright retcons of the "contradicts the past stories" type, there's a LOT of recontextualization and added depth.  As with Yellow Claw over in Agents of Atlas, the role of Zheng Zu (Fu Manchu) has been cast as more of a guardian type who over time decided that he needed to protect the world from its own governments, and his organization drifted into criminality.  Anyway, Zu is gone (or so everyone thinks), and his organization has fallen to infighting, which is where Shang-Chi gets his Call to Action.  He starts the story taking time off trying to develop something like a normal life, when pieces of his father's old plans come looking for him, setting up the main plot conflict.  Along the way, he catches a lot of flak for continuing to act like the old Fortune Cookie Martial Artist stereotype, and the reader gets some internal reflection on why he does that, and maybe it's time to stop.  It is reminiscent to the moment in Power Man/Iron Fist (first series in the 80s, shortly before cancellation) where Luke admits that the Angry Black Man Act was just something he put on when he thought it'd be useful.  Anyway, while the main plot is pretty by the numbers so far, I'm interested in how Yang is rehabilitating a character I once took a stab at writing a thinly veiled version of.  Recommended.  $3.99

Shang-Chi #2: Marvel - IDW isn't the only company that can get two issues out in one month because of schedules being hard to manage these days.  The "filling in the blank spots" retcons continue as Shang-Chi's childhood gets some more fleshing out and his new antagonist Sister Hammer gets a little backstory.  Checking Shang-Chi's Marvel Wiki page, it looks like Sister Hammer is indeed new to this series (so new she doesn't have her own page there yet)...and it also looked like Shang-Chi picked up a power recently that I suspect Yang will quietly ignore, or rewrite into something else soon.  Two significant takeaways from this issue: Shang-Chi was a real arrogant snot as a kid, and Yang's definitely bringing in more mysticism.  Recommended.  $3.99

Big Girls #3
: Image - More of the protagonist's and antagonist's backgrounds (including some shared background) are explored, although Jason Howard relies a little too much on implying things through his rather loose art style.  He really should have characters named on-screen a little more often, to make it clearer that younger and older versions are the same person.  Anyway, that clarity issue aside, it's made very clear this issue that the monstrous "Jacks" are not the mindless beasts that "everyone" assumes they are, and that maybe not everyone assumed that in the first place.  Definitely shaping up to be one of those morally murky stories, where the "good guys" are really evil but generally doing good in the process, and the "bad guys" have more ethical motivations but have turned to doing evil along the way.  Mildly recommended.  $3.99

Miranda in the Maelstrom #1: Action Lab - Another "buy on a whim" comic, but I won't be adding this to my pull.  The premise is promising: there's an interdimensional maelstrom that sometimes destroys realities and sometimes just passes through, and the lone survivor of one of the destroyed worlds (an "Endling") uses the maelstrom to travel about in hopes of...something.  It's not really that clear, apparently just adventuring and staying a few steps ahead of the consequences of her mistakes.  The main non-flashback conflict pits Miranda against a Collector type, who recognizes her as an Endling and would like to add her to his collection.  So far, so good.  But...the archly smirking humor falls flat, Miranda feels like someone playing a role in a game, being Genre Savvy and cracking bad quips.  It all just felt like the writer had an inspiration, but then did a real hack job of fleshing it out, and no one was willing to tell them why it didn't hold together.  Neutral.  $3.99

Bill & Ted Are Doomed #2 (of 4): Dark Horse Comics - The ill-fated European Tour starts, and is mostly the usual tropes of "playing too-small venues where no one knows who they are" but building towards a Conflict...because while the Wyld Stallyns are a metal band by the standards of their heyday, even by 2000 they no longer really fit that bill.  Or that ted.  Rimshot.  The upcoming antagonists are a Death Metal act that probably would think Dethklok was too "pop".  Meanwhile the robot Bill & Ted get a bit of a subplot with Station, and I suspect they're all getting written out of B&T's lives by the end of the mini.  Mildly recommended.  $3.99

The Orville #2: Dark Horse Comics - With only two issues, there's not room for a lot of subtlety, although Orville has generally applied its Moral Lessons about as subtly as the original 1960s Star Trek did.  This one is "Isolation is not going to solve your problems," combined with a large dollop of Just Desserts.  It continues to do a good job of feeling like at least a segment of one of the TV episodes, Goodman manages to translate his ear for the characters from TV script to comics script pretty well.  And Cabeza's art captures the licensed likenesses without falling into the common trap of looking like the faces were traced at a higher level of detail than anything else on the character.  (Note, the trade dress is misleading, next month's issue is #3, part 1 of the next two part arc, so this isn't issue 2 of 2, it's just part 2 of the first arc.)  Recommended.  $3.99

Norse Mythology #1: Dark Horse - P. Craig Russell adapts Neil Gaiman's retelling of Norse myth with the help of various artists, including Mignola, Ordway, and Dave Stewart.  I never read Gaiman's book, but the stories seem fairly similar to the D'Aulaire interpretation I cut my teeth on as a little kid.  There's no indication anywhere in the book that it's a miniseries, nor does the Previews page for #1 give such an indication, so this may be a case of "We'll be done when we're done."  This issue starts with a brief run through the Nine Worlds and some of the major players, drawn by Russell, then Mignola draws a the short origin of how Odin lost his eye and gained wisdom.  The main story, "The Treasures of the Gods," starts this issue and is drawn by Ordway.  For those unfamiliar with Norse myth, it's the story of how Loki playing a prank by cutting off Sif's hair led to the creation of a whole bunch of signature weapons and devices, like Mjolnir and Sif's golden replacement hair.  It is much as I remember if from the D'Aulaire version.  Now, other than a few later Christian-era collections, Norse Myth was no more a monolithic storyline than any other oral tradition, and a big part of adapting and translating is in choosing which tales to include, and what versions of those tales.  And then, Russell is further adapting by choosing which of Gaiman's adaptations to adapt to comics form.  And I do find it interesting that the outcome so far is so familiar to me from my childhood reading.  Recommended.  $3.99

Sacred Six #3: Dynamite - The covers keep showing teamups, but so far I'm not sure we've even seen all the members of the team on-screen (although given the murky art of the main story, we might have seen them but they look nothing like their cover art interpretations).  The main plot, that of someone trying to turn the uneasy cold peace between Sacred and Ashthorne into a hot war, does start to move forwards as it becomes clear to at least some of the players that they're being played.  But there's also a lot of flashbacks and asides to get regulars from the Vampirella book (like Draculina and Nyx) introduced to anyone reading this and not reading Vampirella.  A noble old-school attempt by Priest, but I'm afraid that so far this book is pretty hard to follow even when reading Vampirella side by side, I imagine anyone who picked this up without reading Vampi first might not have made it to #3.  Very mildly recommended.  $3.99

Vampirella #14: Dynamite - Meanwhile, the main book has gotten past the #0 issue events at last, and really has nothing to do with the Sacred Six plotline this time around.  Lilith's backstory revelations finally Get To The Point, revealing why the blond kid from #0 has been maneuvered around and into Vampirella's life.  But Vampi's own narration makes it clear that whatever Lilith THINKS the kid means to her, there's a high chance that she's bought into one of her own grifts and told a lie to others for so long that she believes it.  So, the "who/where is Draculina?" plot is now solidly set up to start running in earnest, with self-fulfilling prophecies and multiple claimants.  (I have my suspicions about how this will play out, but they're based on some things Priest as said in emails...he never told me how this will actually go, but dropped a few hints either intentionally or not.)  Recommended.  $3.99

Heroes of the Golden Age Reference Guide #4: Temporal Comics - Picked this up via Ka-Blam after seeing the new Kickstarter for #5...and there's a note on the inside front cover of this issue that it's going to be the last and future projects will be omnibus editions.  I guess not?  Anyway, this issue leads off with Airboy, one of the more prominent of the Public Domain Heroes, having had a few comics from various publishers, plus some hints of being tied into the current Rocketeer cartoon on Disney.  But there's others you might have heard of without being a serious aficionado of Golden Age heroes, like Bulletman, Cat-Man (his sidekick Kitten was in an earlier issue), or the infamous Fantomah (one of many "creepy and nigh-omnipotent dispensers of ironic justice" characters in same vein as the Spectre).  The continued format insistence that everyone get one full page, no more and no less, means some pretty uneven entries.  Some of the characters can barely fill a page, while others had rather more extensive adventures and their summaries are way too compressed.  Mildly recommended.  About ten dollars with shipping on its own, if you have #1-3 already it's probably best to wait for a few more to finish up so you can split the shipping cost up, or find other stuff on Ka-Blam you want.

Giga #1: Vault - Another impulse buy, but this one turned out better.  Here's the setting premise in a nutshell: at some point in the future, mankind built giant robots (Giga) who waged war, civilization being nearly destroyed in the process.  Once the war was over, the surviving Giga invited the surviving humans to live inside them and went dormant.  Now it's many generations later, and humanity persists but has largely settled into one of those "technology as religion" post-apocalyptic situations, having lost most of the knowledge needed to create Giga (and assuming that the Giga were made by the gods), barely able to keep up with basic maintenance.  The protagonist is a legless techie who was an initiate to the religious order, but was cast out for plot-relevant and spoilery reasons.  The story jumps ahead from the day of his exile, he's scraping out a living as a scavenger, trying to avoid politics and the inevitable human tendency to splinter into factions, while hiding some rather heretical secrets from his old order.  So, of course, he ends up right in the middle of some of the worst "politics" of quite some time by the end of this issue.  Solid story from Alex Paknadel, and John Le's art manages to handle both clean lines when called for and ruins and muck when that is what's needed, without either situation looking too badly out of place.  Recommended.  $3.99

My Little Pony/Transformers #3 (of 4): IDW - The first story, by Asmus, does seem to tie into his "not really a framing sequence" story from #1, with Soundwave crash-landing outside Fluttershy's house and attempting to secure the location.  Discord's along, and as one might expect he causes as many problems as he fixes (the strong implication is that if he weren't around, Soundwave would mostly have ignored Fluttershy while scouting around, but once he attacks Discord, Discord makes sure that no one gets hurt).  Predictably, Fluttershy bonds with the beast-form cassettes, and the story ends in friendship.  Meanwhile, the second story by Maggs continues to not connect to anything in particular, and plays Decepticons up as buffoons, although Misfire and his Seeker buddies aren't treated as badly as Shockwave was last issue.  Rainbow Dash and Windblade decide to have a race, and a few other ponies and Transformers (Battle Unicorn and Mach Kick) join the race.  Decepticons interfere, get jobbed, race is a tie, etc.  Meh.  I mean, nice to see the two horse-mode Transformers in a more official product than that one page fan piece, but only for a couple panels because it's a flying race and they don't fly.  Derp.  Mildly recommended, mainly for the first story.  $3.99
Transformers '84 Secrets & Lies #4 (of 4): IDW - Furman wraps up his latest batch of G1 fanfic.  Yeah, he's a professional, being paid to write stories that are linked to other stories he's been paid to write, but this whole miniseries is totally fanfic of the "suffer not a plot hole to live" variety.  It's not really about telling a story, it's about explaining away seeming contradictions in stories from thirty years ago.  And as a result, the story is...pretty weak.  Despite having millions of years to play around with, Furman chose to wedge this series into a few hours or days here and there in between scenes of other stories.  It's a text piece from an Annual padded out into 80+ pages with nostalgic art (Guido Guidi emulating early G1 comics art, deliberately flat colors, etc).  It's aimed entirely at people my age who read the original comics, and I'd rather have seen new stories with characters we didn't see in the comics (like the #0 story did, if more darkly than I care for) than this extended No Prize submission.  Very mildly recommended.  $3.99

Transformers Galaxies #11: IDW - Cover A kinda gives away a new character appearance, and that character barely does anything this issue anyway.  It's made clearer that this arc is taking place contemporaneously with the main title, rather than being set a few years or even months earlier during the ramp-up to the Decepticon takeover.  Mostly this is Ultra Magnus being Captain America, the wise old soldier with strong principles, but who can still bring the pain when needed and is capable of subtle plans despite projecting an image of directness.  Most of his time this issue is spent working his way through a chain of criminal organizations while seeking Alpha Trion on a world uncomfortably close to a black hole.  A few cute space opera worldbuilding bits pop up, but don't think about the science behind them too much.  Interesting character study in a version of Ultra Magnus that isn't a stuffy lawman or angsty leader, yet still works.  Recommended.  $3.99

Dvandom, aka Dave Van Domelen, is an Assistant Professor of Physical Science at Amarillo College, maintainer of one of the two longest-running Transformers fansites in existence (neither he nor Ben Yee is entirely sure who was first), back on mostly virtual teaching, is an occasional science advisor in fiction, and part of the development team for the upcoming City of Titans MMO.
"Welcome, young Jan!  I hate adult humans!  However, I like young and energetic boys like yourself!" - Deszaras being creepier than just about anyone in the IDW continuity, Transformers the Manga vol 03
Dave's Capsules for October 2020 Dave's Capsules for October 2020 Reviewed by Dvandom on Friday, October 30, 2020 Rating: 5
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