Dave's Capsules for August 2021


Items of Note (Strongly Recommended or otherwise worthy): Punderworld vol 1

In this installment: Adventure Finders Book 3 Chapter 2, I Am NOT Starfire!, Scales & Scoundrels Book 1 and 2, Artemisia, Punderworld vol 1, FCBD (Beast Boy Loves Raven, School for Extraterrestrial Girls, Avatar, White Ash), Trials of Ultraman #5 (of 5), Moon Knight #2, RWBY/Justice League #5 (of 7), The Heroes Union Binge Book #1, Vampirella #22-23, Sacred Six #12 (of 12), The Blue Flame #4, Norse Mythology II #3 (of 6), Save Yourself! #3 (of 4), My Little Pony Friendship is Magic #101, Transformers: King Grimlock #1 (of 5), Transformers: Shattered Glass #1 (of 5), Transformers Beast Wars #7, Transformers #33.

Current Wait List (books either Diamond didn't ship or my store failed to order)Nothing this month.

"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.

Nothing this month.  Well, What If? came out and I did watch it, but I think I'll wait for the season to finish and review the whole thing in retrospect.

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.

Adventure Finders Book 3 Chapter 2: Patreon - A simple walk across town, yes?  Well, except the town is on the verge of civil war between secular authorities and religious extremists, which accidentally turned out to be very timely.  And, of course, the existing trouble descending on the party isn't enough, they find some more trouble inside the prison tower that is their destination...when your backup needs backup, you may have overextended your resources.  Recommended.  $1/month on Patreon.com.


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

I Am NOT Starfire!
: DC - Another YA graphic novel involving the Titans, but it's not obviously in the same universe as the Raven and Beast Boy books (for one thing, it takes place long enough after the founding of the Titans that the main character was born after Starfire had been active a while).  So, the premise is that Starfire's teenaged daughter Mandy (the father is never revealed, and Mandy herself doesn't know) is very much not her mother, as pointed out in the title.  She's short, dumpy, goth-ish...and has no powers at all.  And, as it comes out, in this continuity Starfire never had any contact with Tamaran or her family after coming to Earth, Mandy was raised pretty much as a human in human society, albeit with the Titans as frequent house guests and a weirder-than-average mom.  The first half of the book is basic "Teenaged angst, not living up to expectations, alienation feelings, and having to deal with being assigned your crush as a lab partner" kind of story, with the superhero stuff being almost interchangeable with any "mom is a celeb" hook.  Then Mandy gets caught up in the superhero stuff, and suddenly her lack of powers is a lot more than just a source of feeling she's not living up to expectations.  There's a fair amount of assumed worldbuilding in the background here, like not addressing why Mandy never seems to have been kidnapped (at least, she never mentions it, even when it would have been appropriate to recall it having happened).  Either there's "unwritten rules" about kids of heroes, or perhaps the first time it was tried Mandy was too young to realize it and Starfire's reaction ensured that no one would ever try again.  Anyway, decent standalone coming of age/origin story.  There's also a preview of the upcoming Beast Boy Loves Raven book in the back.  Recommended.  $16.99/$22.99Cn

Scales & Scoundrels Book 1 and 2: TKO - Note: this series was published previously through Image, but the collected editions through Image were split into more than two volumes.  The story starts with a rogue named Luvander run out of town (again) and running into a prince's adventuring party who she saves and then joins. Fairly standard dungeon crawl premise, but with some twists. For one, Lu herself may or may not be a dragon (a question answered by the end of the book, but the "maybe?" drives a fair amount of the plot up to that point). Plenty of conflict within the party, as Lu isn't keen on the dragon-slaying plan, the prince's bodyguard is rightly suspicious of Lu, and the dwarven guide isn't great at the whole "dark caves" idea. But there's also some significant external conflict on top of the obvious Whatever's In The Dungeons, as the prince has dragged some palace intrigue behind him and Lu is followed by a powerful bounty hunter for...pick something, she probably did it.

So, strong setup for a dungeon crawl story, and that story takes up about two thirds of this volume. In terms of pacing, this is really a three volume story told across two books (as Image did it), but the middle book is made up of shorter stories and can be split up easily enough. The short stories that follow the main dungeon crawl open up a bit more of the world, and end on a view of the powers behind the scenes.

Volume 1 raised a lot of questions, and most of Volume 2 is devoted to the search for answers, although first there's a short story focused on the dwarven guide from the adventuring party (who otherwise does not show up in the main story). It's an interesting parallel, a short story in which a secondary character breaks free of her family's expectations without alienating them, and finding her own life...something Lu is desperately trying to do. Of course, Lu's family makes the degree of difficulty a bit higher.

The second story has Lu seeking answers and coming into more conflict with the bounty hunter, but the only answer she gets is a hint that sends her into the main story of the volume. (As I noted in the volume 1 review, it's really three volumes split across two books, with a big story on either end and a bunch of short stuff in the middle.) Does Lu find something like closure? After a fashion, although she doesn't get the neat and tidy ending of her former traveling companion in the opening of the volume.

Artistically, it's dynamic but a bit cartoonish, mostly in the form of everyone having weird noses (oval, upside down T, dot, etc). The artist is French, and my exposure to French comics is pretty limited, so I can't really say if it's part of an existing house style or not, but it had some touches that reminded me of a more detailed "CalArts" style. At least in the first volume, everyone's easy to tell apart, in part because the main characters and important secondary characters come from a broad swath of the world's races and cultures.  It becomes a significant issue in the second volume, where we see the homelands of several of the volume 1 characters and the cultural homogeneity leads to confusion in some cases.  

While the series has some rough patches, I'm definitely going to get the third volume once it comes out.  Recommended.  $14.99 each.

Artemisia: Beehive Books - This is a translation of a French graphic novel, done via Kickstarter.  While I didn't have trouble with the art style, the lettering gave me significant pause.  It appears to be a font based on the hand lettering of the original creators, and the lines are just a bit too thin and the space around them in most speech bubbles too large.  I did eventually get the hang of it, but it was a barrier to entry.  The story is mostly as told to Prudenzia (Artemisia's daughter) by the family maid Marta, with occasional "present day" scenes as the three women are traveling between cities.  A secondary structural problem with the book is that while the flashbacks generally start with place and year captions, they can flow seamlessly into the present day scenes, sometimes blending across a panel in the middle of a page in a way that can look like it's just later in the same day rather than decades later.  Basically, I found I needed to go back and re-read the first few dozen pages once I'd figured out both the lettering and the time-jumping cues.  (The story appears to be getting told in 1638, but that's never mentioned in the actual comic, the closest is a reference to Orazio dying the following year, which the notes following the comic point out was 1639.)  The flashbacks mostly cover Artemisia Gentilischi's later childhood, training and rape by Agostino Tassi, and then a few years of her doomed marriage.  Anyway, while I think it was a worthwhile project, it feels like it just didn't translate well in terms of the visual language of American comics.  (Also, CW rape, some sketchy nudity.)  Mildly recommended.  $25.00 cover price.

Punderworld vol 1
: Image/Top Cow - One recurring storytelling theme on social media (along with Humans Are Space Australians/Orcs) is "Hades and Persephone but as a healthy relationship without all the rape and captivity."  I've seen bits and pieces of Linda Sejic's contributions to this sub-sub-genre popping up online for a while, but now it's all put together in one place.  Well...not really.  Instead of merely compiling the short pieces, it looks like she's setting out to get things going from scratch with a full length story about how Hades and Persephone finally got past the 200 year old awkward sorta-flirting stage, thanks to a really stupid plan of Zeus's.  The basic elements of the myth are there (the chariot was Zeus's, though) but the motivations are totally different.  And the backup pieces explain about the short comics and how they evolved from "something fun to get through blockages on the REAL project" into a real project of its own.  This entire volume is also serialized on webtoons.com, but so far nothing yet from volume 2 (volume 1 just wrapped in May).  There's also a Patreon, which mixes Sejic's various projects.  Strongly recommended.  $16.99

Free Comic Book Day:

There's a few basic categories of FCBD books.  Excerpts for upcoming GNs, new done-in-one stories to promote existing and upcoming comics (either full issue or anthologies of shorts), and reprints.  Sometimes they're promoting specific projects, other times promoting the publisher in general.

Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven: DC - This is a few more pages than the excerpt at the back of I Am NOT Starfire.  The extra pages don't really grab me any more, though, but the amount of excerpt we do get summarizes last year's Beast Boy and Raven solo GNs fairly well.  It didn't sell me on getting into the older books or the new one, though.

Papercutz Free Comic Book Day vol 1 #18: School for Extraterrestrial Girls: Papercutz - This is another GN excerpt, this time for the second book in the School for Extraterrestrial Girls series.  As with the Teen Titans excerpt, the pages given summarize the previous volume and do tend to give away a few of the plot points, so if you're intrigued by the concept of this series maybe don't read the FCBD book.  Most of this excerpt takes place on a train journey to a new school location, taking a few pages on each of the main cast to explain their backgrounds and give context for the new conflicts.  While the premise is moderately interesting and writer Jeremy Whitley has done some good stuff, I'm overall not won over by this preview.

The Unfinished Corner: Wonderbound - And a third GN excerpt.  Well, multiple excerpts.  The cover story involves a concept out of Judaic mysticism involving the "unfinished corners of the world."  It kicks off with a group of students who end up on "What if Magic School Bus were driven by an actual Be Not Afraid angel?" sort of trip.  The next is a short look at Wrassle Castle, written by Paul Tobin (Prepare to Die) and Colleen Coover, with art by Galaad (Scales & Scoundrels), which spends two pages introducing what I presume is the protagonist and three on the antagonists.  The tonal shift is significant, with the protagonist living in a rather over the top "martial arts moves get captions and power stats" setting, while the antagonist is a bit more subdued.  Finally, five pages from early in Verse, but apparently not the first five pages, since it sort of picks up after the first major event.  Verse seems to be a low fantasy with a bit of portal fantasy tossed in.  Ultimately, none of the three really grabbed me, although I might give Unfinished Corner a look when it comes out, if I see it on the shelves.

Free Comic Book Day 2021: All Ages: Dark Horse Comics - The title listed is in the indicia, the cover logo is The Legends of Korra.  This is two short done-in-one stories, one in each of the main Avatar eras.  The cover story has Tenzen telling his children a story from his own youth, while the backup has spirits trying to set up Uncle Iroh on a date.  Nice standalone stories, although it seems to exist mostly to remind people that Dark Horse didn't lose ALL their licenses.  It's not really plugging any specific upcoming Avatar book, and I do tend to buy those more on the strength of the writer or the specific pitch.

White Ash Free Comic Book Day Issue 2021: Scout Comics - Or v.2 #0 to go by the cover numbering.  Set between the end of v.1 and the main start of v.2, it's a "day in the life" sort of story that sets up the current status quo and ongoing family conflicts while hinting at the main plot for the next season.  The Game promo explains the basic premise of the book and the reader-participation gimmick (an app game, basically), but I'm not sure I got any real feel for the tone of the actual book from it (something the White Ash preview did a good job of).  The last preview is for Stake Presents: Jessamy, which appears to be about a vampire-hunting vampire in Colonial America, cleaning up the messes of the rowdy overseas cousins on behalf of the Ministry of Vampires.  It's done in black and white with some spot colors for light sources and a few other things like blood.  Not really my thing, though.


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.)

The Trials of Ultraman #5 (of 5): Marvel - I wonder if this whole "series of miniseries" deal is because Marvel has to renew the license on a regular basis and aren't sure that it WILL be renewed, so they try to pretend it's being done in standalone ready-for-TPB chunks?  Because this is really just #10 of an ongoing series in terms of storytelling, and only barely feels like a plot milestone.  Yeah, Jiras is defeated, but the most significant plot point in this issue is setup for the next miniseries.  The Jiras fight frankly feels anticlimactic, and the family troubles subplot advances but is far from resolved.  There haven't even been serious trials for Ultraman in this arc.  Very mildly recommended.  $3.99

Moon Knight #2: Marvel - So, one of the two antagonists from last issue has sent someone to test Moon Knight's mettle...it's not revealed which one, although it's probably the shadowy one who isn't a follower of Khonshu.  Well, probably isn't a follower of Khonshu.  Anyway, in something of a callback to classic science-based horror villains of MK's like Morpheus, the hired gun does things on a psychic plane, which allows MacKay the chance to show what he meant last issue by Marc being more than conventionally mentally ill.  I've seen a good explanation of "Lovecraftian horror" as being not that something is so unnatural it breaks you, but that you have your perception of the world vastly expanded by your experience, and then get shoved back in Plato's cave.  You are driven mad because you simply are not equipped to understand your own memories and experiences anymore.  Marc has come to at least provisional terms with his own cosmic horror induced madness, but madness it still is.  Recommended.  $3.99
RWBY/Justice League #5 (of 7): DC/Rooster Teeth - The first half is Green Lantern laying out all the exposition, the second half is "the night before battle" stuff that might have more impact as character development if there was going to be a series past #7.  Maybe planting seeds for a possible sequel series if this does well enough?  Mildly recommended.  $3.99

The Heroes Union Binge Book #1: Sitcomics - Roger Stern, Ron Frenz, and Sal Buscema come together to create...something.  Near as I can tell, they're trying for a "Jack and Stan in modern times" comic, but it's just not very good.  It exists in an awkward space between playing it straight and outright camp, and it would have taken very little to file off the excesses and get a solid retro-superhero story, but they couldn't resist occasionally arching an eyebrow and pointing out where they're being campy.  It's similar to how I find it when Peter David sets out to be funny, and just pushes too many jokes too far into unfunny.  Neutral.  $4.99

Vampirella #22: Dynamite - Red Mass part 1.  This takes place after Secret Six, but not by a lot.  Well, other than the various flashbacks which take place years ago, but that's not unusual for this title.  Or this writer.  The main conflict involves following crazy astronaut Shane and trying to keep him from killing this world's version of his family, although the Red Mass (of which this is the first part) seems related more to the flashbacks than to Shane.  Rather a lot of recaps and explaining things to people this issue, I guess it's intended as a Jumping On Point.  Mildly recommended.  $3.99

Vampirella #23: Dynamite - Red Mass part 2.  At least now we know what the mass is about and how the flashbacks of #22 connect up to things.  More or less.  Half the issue is a flashback to twenty years ago, with a different (and frankly not-very-good 90s-Image-style imitator) artist.  One problem with multiple artists is that they need to agree on how everyone looks, and while time travel can cover a multitude of changes, the present day part has a photo of one of the characters from the past, and the one in the flashback looks very little like the one in the photo.  Yeah, I'm nagging on a small detail in the art, but small details can be important, especially when the story is bouncing around the timeline.  It's a good story, but the art has trouble supporting it.  Mildly recommended.  $3.99

Sacred Six #12 (of 12): Dynamite - So, that's over.  There's a resolution, of sorts, and a new status quo for most of the surviving characters (for loose values of "surviving" in this case).  I get the feeling that this was intended to accomplish more, but things didn't go the way Priest or editorial wanted, and they settled for tying off most of the loose ends at least temporarily.  At least one moderately confusing plot point regarding one of the characters got spelled out clearly.  Mildly recommended.  $3.99

The Blue Flame #4: Vault - One of the core hooks of this book is the question, "Are these two Blue Flames the same man, and if so, which is the reality and which is the fantasy?"  The paralyzed wreck clearly knew about the cosmic trial as of #3, suggesting that maybe the cosmic version is an elaborate fantasy he has constructed to help him cope with his life.  But.  But this issue throws just a tiny bit of doubt on that interpretation.  Maybe the cosmic Blue Flame is the future, what he does after recovering from his physical and emotional crippling.  Maybe it's the FAR future, the memories of a 21st Century man revived in a 25th (or whatever) Century body, or suspended like Buck Rogers and cured by future science.  Maybe the trial is happening in the present, but all of the cosmic stuff we've seen is happening on some sort of psychic plane, symbolically representing the Blue Flame himself and the galactic civilization without the need for physical space travel.  Oh...it's probably all in his head in a totally mundane way, but Cantwell is leaving just enough plausible doubt.  All we've seen of the world is in the four issues so far, we have no outside way to determine whether the more fantastical elements are even possible.  And that's keeping me interested...but hopefully they don't string this along too far.  Recommended.  $3.99

Norse Mythology II #3 (of 6): Dark Horse Comics - This issue starts the adaptation of the story of Utgardsloki, which was the first myth I ever read, when I was about 6 years old.  (I didn't yet get that myths were divided up by cultures, so in my search for more like it I ended up reading a lot of Greek myth before finding Norse myth again.)  This issue is merely the journey to Utgard, starting with Thalfi's house and the eating of the goats and ending at the gates of Utgard.  It also shows that Odin hasn't got a monopoly on being a jerk.  :)  Recommended.  $3.99

Save Yourself! #3 (of 4)
: Boom Box! - I just realized that the three fake magical girls each have a cards suit in their costume.  Club, diamond, spade.  Their missing sister is therefore heart, a nice subtle point that they don't actually bring up in dialogue (yet, anyway).  So, points to the artist there.  But take away some of the points because so many panels have just a color gradient as background.  Anyway, this is the "clever plan to save the kidnapped human and maybe also expose the magical girls as alien predators" issue, and it is indeed a reasonably clever plan.  It does depend on the predators being kinda stupid, but that's not a horrible assumption in this case.  Obviously things go wrong, since this isn't the final issue, but the cliffhanger-ness is a bit muted by a bit of exposition earlier in the issue.  Recommended.  $3.99

My Little Pony #101: IDW - The Knights of Harmony arrive in Canterlot, and they're generally Celtic in naming, and hybrid animals for the most part (Danu is pony in front and lion in back, Taranis a bull on top and a snake on bottom, etc).  Most of the issue is a fight scene in which the Knights overwhelm the defenders of Equestria after outlining their mission to destroy the Elements of Harmony...and anyone directly touched by them.  With only one issue to go, it's likely to get a little plot-devicey up in these parts.  Mildly recommended.  $3.99

Transformers: King Grimlock #1 (of 5): IDW - Basically inspired by the G1 season 3 episode "Madman's Paradise" but without any Witwickies.  It does keep some of the really bad designs, though.  There's no explicit credit given to the writers of that episode, which aired when the writer (Steve Orland) of this comic was about one year old.  It opens in a "more or less G1 post-movie but not quite" version of Cybertron that feels like what you might get if you tried to describe G1 season 3 Cybertron from memory after having not seen the episodes in decades, but definitely wanted Daniel out of it.  Padilla's art is very sketchy and scratchy, like it was almost all drawn directly to the ink stage using a single pen width and then the colorist added some deeper blacks here and there.  All in all, not a very promising start.  I think it would have been a lot better to ditch the Madman's Paradise stuff entirely and isekai Grimlock into a fantasy setting without all the dubious connections to the cartoon.  Neutral.  $3.99

Transformers: Shattered Glass #1 (of 5): IDW - The Shattered Glass concept has been around for a while, having started as a way for the fan club to get more use out of redecos and minor retools without having to make them fit other trademarks...it's just Evil Mirror Universe Optimus Prime or Good Mirror Universe Megatron, that sort of thing.  The theme is not quite as simple as a morality flip, as several characters also got inverted characterization that wasn't moral in nature.  Anyway, this miniseries is picking up on the idea, but having never read the (serious) SG stories I can't really say how well it fits with the old stuff, but a quick skim of the TFWiki entry suggests it's not meant to be the same universe as the fan club stories.  Cover A of this issue, featuring Blurr (whose toy shipped while I was working on the comics reviews for the month), homages Transformers Generation 2 #1's cover, but with SG Blurr instead of Optimus Prime in closeup, with bullets (including their casings) sticking out of the side of his head and a smoking gun barrel in the lower right.  (Unlike King Grimlock's uncredited homage, at least Milne has "After Yanigher" under his signature.)  Guido Guidi does the interior art, and these days it's rare for one of the old-continuity IDW artists to work on a book (I wonder if IDW just decided to ditch all the older talent and get cheaper artists).  It is definitely nice to be back with an artist whose Transformers I can recognize easily despite changed colors, though.  The story focuses on Blurr, who went from being a courier to being a bounty hunter...the packages simply got darker, as he put it.  He goes after Starscream (whose issue comes later) and is naturally quite arrogant and decides to play with his prey...which is why Starscream gets to have an issue later on.  As for the writer, I hadn't heard of Danny Lore before, but if they're the same one who popped up in a quick googling, they have a few comics under their belt, just nothing in Transformers.  A decent start, and if it's a bit wordy, that's Blurr for you.  Recommended.  $3.99

Transformers Beast Wars #7: IDW - Well, the book got a new artist.  Not great, but definitely an improvement.  With the opening storyline concluded, both sides seem content to settle in for a siege, one that Scorponok points out will inevitably be won by the Predacons because it is "not in the Maximals' nature" to ever be the first to attack.  On the Axalon, Dinobot tells his new allies what he knows of the old, which isn't a whole lot (down side to being antisocial).  Meanwhile, this is Blackarachnia's debut, apparently keeping to the "Tarantulas corrupted a stasis pod" origin without being obvious about it on-panel.  And because Idiot Plot is switched on, she easily infiltrates the Axalon.  Sigh.  I think Burnham was trying to cleverly foreshadow things, but it ends up feeling like the Maximals are just idiots who don't know how to run a security system.  Mildly recommended.  $3.99

Transformers #33: IDW - Meanwhile, for the majority of Cybertron, life goes on despite things being so bad that several entire Arks have fled the planet.  There's money to be made and deals to be wheeled, and Swindle's not going to let a little thing like who enforces the laws slow him down when he breaks or bends those laws.  And Bumblebee works for Swindle now, which is only slightly preferable to being used as reactor shielding by the Decepticons.  As the title, "Lords of Misrule: Swindle's 11" would indicate, this is a heist plot, more or less.  It helps Bumblebee deal with a few bits of personal business, while in the meanwhiles Skywarp is making his way around Cybertron and making problems on purpose.  Ruckley's tendency towards meandering storytelling is still a problem, but I think the new setting has finally hit a sort of critical mass that lets him get away with it, the webs of connections he slowly laid down over the last few years are starting to catch flies.  Mildly recommended.  $3.99

Dvandom, aka Dave Van Domelen, is an Associate 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), feels like his warranty has expired, is an occasional science advisor in fiction, and part of the development team for the upcoming City of Titans MMO.
"And...there's a possibility that I might actually be Count Dracula." (silent panel) "Get out of my office." - FBI Agent Ecsed and Doc Chary, Vampirella #23
Dave's Capsules for August 2021 Dave's Capsules for August 2021 Reviewed by Dvandom on Friday, August 27, 2021 Rating: 5
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