Greetings ‘Rama readers! Pierce Lydon here! Our regularly scheduled Best Shots brigadier David Pepose is recovering from watching Avengers: Age of Ultron too many times so I handled today’s column. We’ll kick things off with Oscar Maltby’s look at Convergence: Suicide Squad #2.
Convergence: Suicide Squad #2
Written by Frank Tieri
Art by Tom Mandrake and Sian Mandrake
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Amanda Waller's crack team of crazies take on the living Gods of Kingdom Come in Convergence: Suicide Squad #2, an explosive action book with a hell of an ending. Despite the solid finale, this second installment of Convergence: Suicide Squad lacks both the style and substance of its moody and evocative first issue.
Frank Tieri's script veers so far into melodrama by the issue's climax that it becomes rather enjoyable as a soap opera and pro wrestling-style guilty pleasure. Tieri hasn't forgotten Suicide Squad tradition, and he upholds it beautifully by doing away with the characters you'd least expect. You'll certainly whisper “he wouldn't... he wouldn't!” as you turn those final few pages, but he does. Needless to say, if the pre-Zero Hour continuity was still the main DC status-quo, comic shops the world over would be awash with blood today.
Away from the tragedy of those final pages, there's not much to chew on. There are a few fun character moments, mostly concerning Deadshot and Deathstroke's obvious rivalry. Lex Luthor: The Yellow Lantern is a solid enough premise that he could happily maintain his own title, and his plan to infiltrate New Oa is another memorable little knock on the problem with Green Lantern's only weakness. Despite this, there's no denying that seeing the Squad take on the dystopian heroes of Kingdom Come just isn't as satisfying as watching them play off each other. Much of the grim flavor of Tieri's first issue script has gone, replaced with the generic sound-bytes of the archetypal hero/villain face-off: “What are you fighting for, traitor?”, “Die, pig”, etc.
Tom and Sian Mandrake's muted colors and back-alley style don't suit the technicolor superhero mash-up that Frank Tieri's script requires. The needs of Convergence have overridden this talented creative team's strengths: the murky criminal element that permeated Convergence: Suicide Squad #1 is almost entirely absent here, in favor of massive fight scenes that seem ill-suited to Tom Mandrake's occasionally stiff posing. Amongst the squashed characters and too-busy panels are a few choice pieces of artwork, usually when Tom isn't struggling to fit in 5+ panels of complex action into a page. A shock explosion that hurts both teams makes for Mandrake's stand-out page, enhanced by Sian's moody coloring. Her palette of yellows, greens and blacks is thematically appropriate, adding some variety to Tom's heavily shadowed ink-work.
Convergence: Suicide Squad #2 is the night to its preceding issue's day, the con to its pro, the Lisa to its Bart. Tom Mandrake struggles to depict the bright and clear super-heroics that Convergence: Suicide Squad #2's script so clearly requires, although he manages to crank out a few memorable images. Frank Tieri's script does the bare minimum when the two teams finally collide, but remains strong for quieter scenes. All in all, a shocking yet riotous finale means that Convergence: Suicide Squad ends on a high note; it's just a pity about the 16 or so pages in the middle.
Howard the Duck #3
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Joe Quinones, Jason Latour, Joe Rivera, and Rico Renzi
Letters by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
After a brief sojourn in deep space, Howard is back on Earth, palling around with his grand total of two friends and getting robbed at gunpoint by Aunt May. Chip Zdarsky, Joe Quinones, and Rico Renzi continue their hilarious hot streak with this third installment and even start to dip into Howard’s rich and certifiably insane continuity. Howard may not be the best private investigator in New York, but he is certainly a ball to read about each month. Even though the plot revolves around the simple recovery of a MacGuffin, Howard the Duck #3 takes more than a few hilarious left turns into lunacy; just another Wednesday in the life of everyone's second favorite Marvel talking animal.
Howard the Duck #3 picks up directly after the last issue which found Howard back on Earth and in possession of the necklace that he was tasked to find in the debut. Unfortunately for him, someone else has their eye on it too, and that someone is a gun-toting Aunt May. After being rolled by Spidey’s eldest living relative, Howard is shaken down by his employer, Mr. Richards, and given three days to recover the necklace. What follows is a by-the-numbers P.I. story that ends in the oddest way possible. I don’t want to completely spoil , but let’s just say it involves a cadre of fighting old people and a Skrull that nobody has heard from in nearly twenty years. Chip Zdarsky has really found his groove with Howard the Duck #3. The jokes come quickly and often, as does Howard’s put-upon interactions with the world around him, and Zdarsky has no problem playing the ridiculous situations he puts Howard and Tara through completely straight. This includes Howard’s idea of a stakeout, which is just him getting naked and being fed bread by old people in Central Park.
Zdarsky also has makes excellent use of Tara this issue, positioning her once again as a fun foil to Howard’s inherently pissed off nature. Tara is a cool, collected barrel of laughs rolling with everything put in front of her with grace. She also gets one of this issue’s best jokes after Howard calls her out on her not-so-senior citizen disguise, which includes cut-offs, a tank-top, and a large sun hat. “I’m planning to age super gracefully,” she says before showing her novelty medical ID bracelet, which just says “Old.” Tara is the absolute best and she continues to be a highlight of Howard the Duck.
Speaking of highlights, Joe Quinones, inker Joe Rivera, and colorist Rico Renzi continue to impress with their tight, bright, and expressive artwork. Fan-favorite Quinones structures each page with classic five- to six-panel grids, but packs each panel with cartoony character designs or great visual gags, making pages like the villain’s introduction pop all the more. Quinones constructs this page like a rotating set of concentric circles all centered around a middle point, while the dialogue balloons guide the reader’s eye across each circle, ending on the final center point. Its a simple inversion of the regular panel grid page, and one we have even seen employed in other books, but it still works wonders after page after page of normalcy, relative to Howard the Duck. Rico Renzi’s colors also continue to pay rich technicolor dividends as he drenches each page in bright, eye grabbing colors. Even when things look grim for Howard and Tara, Renzi still manages to add various rays of color amid the inky blues of a darkened warehouse.
Howard the Duck #3, along with its back-up story with art by Spider-Gwen and Southern Bastards’ Jason Latour, is yet another solid and entertaining issue of a series that has yet to hit its peak. Chip Zdarsky, Joe Quinones, and Rico Renzi are firing on all cylinders, yes, but Howard the Duck so far still feels like there are places to go and jokes to tell. Howard is a character whose schtick is often played out after only a few issues, but this series has avoided that trap by simply not forcing it. I can’t wait to see what Howard and Tara get up to next because I know it will either be funny or ridiculous or some combination of both. With any luck, Howard the Duck will keep us entertained for as long as our hairless ape attention spans will allow.
Written by Jeff King and Scott Lobdell
Art by Ed Benes, Eduardo Pansica, Trevor Scott, Scott Hanna, Wayne Faucher and Peter Steigerwald
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Convergence is near it’s end and we’re still not really closer to understanding this event. This issue sees a couple of details lifted from The Multiversity and the promise of big battle royale but little in the way of meaningful character or plot development. Ed Benes art is solid enough but it's hard to know how much to attribute to him or his co-penciller or the host of inkers. I’m glad that the art hasn’t been awful throughout the entire event but we haven't seen a crossover that meanders this much since last year’s Original Sin and that’s not a compliment.
Jeff King and Scott Lobdell are right to ground this issue with the heroes from our world. Bringing them into the fold finally gives readers something familiar to latch onto and signals that something might actually happen. Plus with the heroes that star in the "New 52" titles’ lives in jeopardy, there are finally some meaningful stakes. That’s what this event has lacked: meaningful storywork. The majority of it has read like a hastily thrown together Elseworlds story because there’s no context for the events and there’s no reason for readers to care. That isn’t to say that unfamiliarity breeds a lack of interest because The Multiversity was a pretty wild ride despite a lack of true marquee characters, but this is a publishing line-wide crossover event that’s promised big changes. The stakes for readers are different and they should be. The various tie-ins have been exhausting to keep up with and add little to the main narrative so while this title is supposed to be the meat of the story, it hasn’t really delivered on that.
I think it’s the fixation on Dick Grayson as some sort of worldchanger that has me perplexed. While the character exemplifies so much of what makes the DCU great and he’s a character that is generally easy to root for (kind of DC’s Spider-Man, in a way), he doesn’t seem to fit into this odd locale with this cast of characters. Plus it’s not “our” Dick Grayson and the character hasn’t experienced any great failure so any redemption doesn’t really feel earned. His arc is lost on me. If he exists to help Telos find his humanity, well, I guess that’s something but it feels like a narrative shortcut.
The art is strong enough to make this one readable though and the biggest strength of the script is that it calls for so many different characters. This allows Ed Benes and company to provide a lot of fan service, rendering characters from so many different eras with style and substance. I don’t think the art does much to help sell the emotional beats of the story (the biggest emotional beat is a fairly typical Superman inspiration speech that sees him posed just as he’s posed a thousand times before) but that’s like trying to draw water from a rock at this point. The splash pages are great and the ending gives Convergence a bit of momentum leading into the final chapter. But “the promise of things to come” is not necessarily a reason to like something in the present.
I think this event is finding some sort of footing but it has yet to really resonate with me in any meaningful way. Telos hasn’t been a compelling character from the onset of this story so any development he has towards the end of the story doesn’t really look to make us suddenly care. Great villains are usually born of great tragedy (in this case, Thanos specifically comes to mind) but Telos’ great tragedy is so amorphous that we have no context for it. I’m glad that DC is putting some competent artists on these issues to at least make for something easily readable but there’s no substance to this event/ And without that substance, how is it supposed to have a significant impact on the line moving forward?