2019 comics challenge


Collects issues 0 and issues 1-5 of Lady Mechanika miniseries.

Writer and artist: Joe Benítez

This is a very interesting comic set in a steampunk world. There’s a mention of werewolves and the mechanical humans are an amalgam of humans and steampunk machines but no other magical stuff.

The first issue in the collection is issue 0, where Lady Mechanika meet the monster of Satan’s Alley. In it, we’re introduced to most of the cast. Lady Mechanika is hunting a monster which has been haunting the street called Satan’s Alley. She’s listening in on the mercenaries which Blackpool Armament has hired. She manages to catch the creature before them. She fights the creature but then she realizes that the “creature” is an intelligent being who is just hungry and scared. He’s a boy who has been created by someone he calls “master”. He’s half human and half mechanical creature. To Lady Mechanika’s surprise, he remembers meeting her. She doesn’t remember him but then she doesn’t remember her past. But before he can tell her more, lord Blackpool’s mercenaries shoot him.

Lady Mechanika fights with Blackpool and the mercenaries. She also meets a timid young doctor Littleton. Blackpool is established as the main villain who wants world domination through machines.

The rest of the story starts a year later. A young woman with mechanical arms is trying to escape from a group of men in dark, military-like outfits. She jumps to a train which takes her to Mechanica City. However, she dies at the train station. Lady Mechanika thinks that she might be related somehow to her own origin so she starts to investigate. She meet again doctor Littleton and this time she also meets his young daughter. Later, she tries to steal the corpse from Ministry of Health’s building but someone knocks her out and takes the corpse. Lady Mechanika is left behind to deal with Commander Katherine Winter who has just one eye and long, flowing red tresses. Apparently, they knew each other previously and have grudges against each other (probably about a man). The Lady shoots the commander’s troops and leaves. She follows the mechanical corpse’s previous escape route to a Romani Circus (Circue du Romani). She finds the gypsies similar to herself: they’re shunned by others just because they’re different and they keep secrets.

The Lady (we never find out any other name for her) has a close colleague, Lewis, who drinks all the time. He seems to be a mechanical genius and builds all sort of gadgets for her. We briefly find out about his tragic background and reason behind the drinking. The Lady is determined to find out about her past and to stay independent from anyone else. She’s an excellent shot and hand-to-hand combatant. She wears man’s clothing while on the job, but she wears large skirts and tight Emma Frost type corsets at other times, probably to fit in to this pseudo-Victorian world. She also takes part in a masked ball where she wears a very detailed dress and mask.

Unfortunately, the women have impossible figures and pouty lips, and the lady herself is contorted to impossible positions when fighting, in high heels. Otherwise, the art is very nice and very detailed. The mechanical body parts were especially nicely done.

This was a fun romp. I liked the rivalry between Mechanika and the commander .Although it was quite a let down when the hints in the dialog established that is was just over a man. I also quite enjoyed the precocious girl who knows all about Lady Mechanika (presumably from reading fiction about her) and doesn’t believe that Mechanika is herself. She was hilarious. I also love a good masked ball where the heroes and villains meet and can talk without knowing (or at least pretending) they don’t know who the other is. It was far too short in this comic but I really liked it while it lasted.

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Collects issues 1-5 of Through the Mirror.

Writers: David Tipton and Scott Tipton
Artists: J. K. Woodward, Marcus To, Chris Johnson, Josh Hood, Carlos Nieto, Débora Caríta
Publication year: 2018
Publisher: IDW

I’m a fan of alternate universes. This comic is set in Star Trek’s Mirror universe and in the same timeline as the Deep Space 9 Mirror episodes. It’s a sequel to the Mirror Broken comic.

The story starts with Worf and a couple of Enterprise-D’s security people doing an inspection of Starfleet mining facility on Naia VII. Someone has been stealing equipment and the mined resources. At first, the Enterprise people don’t notice anything strange but then Worf sees an Enterprise crewman, Jones, who shouldn’t be there. And he’s has goatee! When Worf tries to talk with Lieutenant Jones, he fires on Worf and his people. They chase him but he managed beam away, together with Commander Riker, who has two braids on his beard and La Forge who has artificial eyes instead of his visor.

Back on the Enterprise, Lieutenant Jones denies leaving the Enterprise and the logs back him up. However, the Enterprise receives a distress call from an Andorian battle cruiser. They’re very tough so the crew has bad feelings about it. They find the cruiser has only a few survivors and they accuse humans of attacking them. The ship has been stripped of everything of use. On the security logs, Riker and Picard are shocked when they see their own faces.

Then we switch to the Mirror universe crew. Their Picard has a bold plan: to infiltrate Enterprise-D, force the crew to abandon ship, and take the Enterprise for himself. To do that, he sends inquisitor Troi and Lieutenant Reg Barcley to Enterprise-D.

This was fun. Our crew figured pretty quickly what was going on. The Mirror universe crew used a (regrettably short but hilarious) holoprogram to train Barcley to interact in our universe, or at least the way they thought the “our” universe would be like. Everyone would complement everyone all the time. Also, the infiltration duo has first season’s uniforms so Troi is in the short skirt uniform with a head band. That was really a blast from the past! Unfortunately, the interactions between the Mirror crew and the Prime crew were far too short. Beverly was barely there at all and even Wesley was just working on the background.

The final story is “Ripe for Plunder” which is set some months before the main story. In it, Data goes looking for Emperor Spock. This was also a fun little story, with only Picard and Data appearing from the TNG crew. It was a little shocking to see how ruthless this Data is.

“Ripe for Plunder” is the only story with painted art and for some reason it seemed to fit the story and characters much better than in the previous collection. The main story has more ordinary art by several artists which was mostly ok.

I felt that the story was too brief. I would’ve loved to see more interaction between the crews. Especially when Troi went to Enterprise-D, I was looking forward to her confronting “our” Troi but that didn’t happen. She did meet Riker but that was far too brief. I was kind of disappointed with Barcley’s big role because I would have wanted to follow a more prominent character. He did find out how the crew treats the “our” Barcley and wasn’t too pleased with it. In fact, the story ends with a cliffhanger. Happily, the Humble Bundle’s Star Trek bundle does have Terra Incognita so I’ll be soon diving in to that, even though it promises more Barcley. (I don’t hate him or anything, he’s just one of the least interesting choices as the focus character.)

Collects X-Men Red issue 6-11.

Writer: Tom Taylor
Artists: Mahmud Asrar

This comic was discontinued far too soon. It was building up steam and high concepts but then it just ended.

Cassandra Nova is targeting the original Jean and her team. They’re in Atlantis so Nova sends a teenaged Hulk to attack it. At the same time, Jean has sent Gambit, Nightcrawler, Trinary, the new Wolverine and her sister to retrieve a phone from the murdered UK ambassador’s things. Since phones record everything around it, it has the brief conversation between Jean and Nova which could prove that Jean didn’t murder the ambassador. Meanwhile, the people of Atlantis are building Searebro to enhance the abilities of both Jean and Trinary. It seems to be a kind of new Cerebro except that other people can use it, rather than just telepaths.

Most of the fighting in the collection is two-fold: Jean versus Nova on the psychic plane and Trinary versus tiny sentinel nanites. Nova is keeping Forge under her mental command and has forced him to invent nanites which Nova implants into humans. These so-called sentinites detect mutants and make the carrier attack them. We also get a brief Jean versus Rachel fight. (Poor Rachel; despite her powers, she’s constantly mentally controlled.)

The team is just starting to form and work together when the comic ended. While most of the plot lines are tied together, it felt a bit rushed. But overall I really enjoyed the two volumes and even the new characters.

I rather liked the hopeful ending. I also think this could be fitting end for Nova, but I doubt it will stick for long. Presumably, the team also rescued Forge, although we didn’t see it.

Collects issues 1-5 and annual 1.

Writer: Tom Taylor
Artists: Mahmud Asrar, Pascal Alixe

The original Jean Grey is back! (In Phoenix Resurrection which I have mixed feelings about.) And she’s not happy about the state of the world and especially about the relations between mutants and humans. So, she’s determined to change things for the better. But to do that, she needs a team of both old friends and she also recruits some new ones. And she wants to rescue as many mutant children from bigots as she can. I really liked that premise. It seems that mutants are even more hated and feared than almost ever before, even mutant children are attacked and some humans want to confine mutants to their own ghettos. It all has a very strong parallel to our own world, unfortunately.

The collection starts with the Annual where Jean is reacquainted with her old friends but also with bigotry when the X-Men are hanging out at the school which has been relocated to Central Park. Some of the humans don’t want to see mutants. Jean teaches one of them a lesson, but it’s not enough to her. She also confronts Black Lightning, the man who killed Scott.

The actual comic starts with a mix of old characters and new. Kurt, Namor, and eventually Storm and Gambit are the old characters. Jean talks with people, she even addresses the UN. Her plan is to make mutants a nation, so that when (other) nations discuss how to “deal with the mutant problem”, the mutants will have a say as well. However, when Jean’s framed for killing the UK ambassador to UN right in front of cameras at the steps of UN building, she and her team are on the run. They go to Wakanda and later to Atlantis.

This was, in a way, a return to X-Men’s roots: humans outright hating mutants, Jean and her team hunted for a misunderstanding, powerful enemies at every turn. It’s also more tied to modern day problems than space adventures. The master villain is Cassandra Nova. I was a bit disappointed that Rachel (Grey) was again going to be someone’s puppet. In this case, Nova’s.

The idea of mutant nation isn’t new, either. Jean mentions Genosha and Utopia which both ended badly. She’s also not an elected leader and some mutants are criminals, so I’m not sure which way Taylor is going to take the story (since the comic ended with vol 2, not very far).

Jean is one of my favorite characters, so I’m happy that she’s back. Kurt is another of my favorite X-Men, so it was great to see them working together. X-23 (or Wolverine) and her sister Honey Badger were also good additions and so is the Indian mutant Trinary. She has technology powers. The later additions of two of my other favorite X-Men Storm and Gambit were also great. I already have the second volume.

Collects: Avengers (1963) 124-125, 129-135, Captain Marvel (1968) 33, Giant-sized Avengers 2-4, Avengers: Celestial Quest 1-8.

Writer: Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas
Artists: Bob Brown, Don Heck, John Buscema, Dave Cockrum, Joe Staton, Joe Giella, John Tartag, Jorge Santamaria, Scott Hanna

This huge collection has Avengers from 1960s and the Celestial Quest which came out 2001.

However, it’s quite a bit disjointed at the start. The collection starts not Mantis’ first appearance but the first version of her backstory. A criminal which the Avengers have just arrested, Libra of the Zodiac, claims that he’s Mantis’ father. But Mantis has no memory of him and doesn’t believe his wild story. However, Swordsman believes him and even though the Swordsman is wounded, he takes a quinjet and heads to Saigon to confront the man who killed Mantis’ (Vietnamese) mother, a crime boss the Swordsman worked for before. The Avengers follow him and find him defeated. The Avengers fight against a monster from the stars. When they return to the mansion, they’re drawn into an epic space fight against Thanos’ forces. These issues also establish that Swordsman loves Mantis but she doesn’t love him, that the Vision loves Wanda and she loves him but Mantis wants the Vision because Mantis wants someone more powerful that the Swordsman (who apparently doesn’t have any powers).

The Celestial Madonna story starts when a large star appears over the Avengers Mansion. Kang the Conqueror appears and claims that the star announces that the Celestial Madonna has come and since the Madonna will give birth to “the one” and her mate will be the most powerful man on Earth, Kang is determined to take the Madonna for himself. There are three women inside the mansion: Wanda, Mantis, and Wanda’s mentor Agatha Harkness. So, after defeating the male Avengers, Kang kidnaps all three women so that he can find out which one of them is the Madonna and he also takes the Vision, Iron Man, and Thor to power his robotic minions. The Swordsman he scornfully leaves behind but Harkness guides the Swordsman to where the women are kept prisoner. While he can’t free them, he meets with the most important ally the Avengers will have, time-traveling Pharaoh Rama-Tut. The Swordsman, time-traveling Rama-Tut, and Hawkeye go after Kang.

The Avengers are rescued but the Swordsman is killed. When he lies bleeding to death Mantis apologizes to him the way that she’s been treating him and confesses that she does love him. The Avengers and Mantis return the Swordsman’s body to the garden of Priests of Pama and then she returns to Saigon where she thinks she grew up, on the streets. Thor, Hawkeye, the Vision, Iron Man, and Thor accompany her. However, things aren’t as she remembers. Eventually, Kang and Immortus kidnap the male Avengers and Mantis again, this time to to fight against the Legion of Unliving in Immortus’ Limbo.

The story reveals the first version of the Vision’s past but, perhaps more importantly because they aren’t retconned as much, also the past of the Kree and the beginning of the Kree-Skrull war, alongside with the story of the Celestial Madonna which is actually very small part of the story. In fact, even the story titled “the Origin of Mantis” isn’t. It continues the origin story of the priests of Pama and the sentient plant the Cotati, and the Vision.

The final eight issues are the Celestial Quest where Mantis has left her son with his father on the planet of the sentient plants the Cotati, and returned to Earth. Except that she has been split into several incarnations of herself (the freak, the mother, the prostitute, the priestess, and the avenger). When Thanos kills each incarnation, the remaining Mantises become more and more aware of herself until the next to last one is able to call to the Vision for help. The current Avengers (the Vision, the Scarlet Witch (who have broken up), Thor, and Silverclaw) along with the Squadron Supreme’s Haywire (who is grieving his girlfriend Inertia and is only with the other heroes because he thinks he’ll have chance to get her back by appealing to Death herself) accompany Mantis to the Cotati’s home planet to save her son Quoi from Thanos. On the way there, Mantis and Vision get together and Silverclaw develops feelings for Haywire. They also tangle with some reptilian space pirates whom later become Thanos’ minions, except for the only female pirate who eventually starts a romantic relationship with Quoi. Unfortunately, Quoi is rebellious a teenager who resents Mantis for abandoning him and he refuses to listen to her.

I rather enjoyed the older comics more, especially the middle part with the huge fights with Kang. Although Kang does come across as far more bluster than bite, he’s still one of my favorite Avengers villains. However, I really didn’t care for the odd “romances” which were straight out of E. R. Burroughs: the woman (both Wanda and Mantis) gets upset with her man (Vision and the Swordsman, respectively) and she’s cold towards him until he rescues her (or a revelation is made in case of Mantis) and then suddenly they marry. In fact, Wanda is only in a couple of the older comics because she’s learning witchcraft from Harkness and stays behind. She and Mantis constantly snipe at each other.

Mantis is a very different character from the movies. I’m not sure if Englehart wrote her deliberately as such an unlikable female character. If so, my hat’s off to him. Mantis a “mistress of the martial arts” and even defeated Thor with her skills. However, she doesn’t appear to have any superpowers except for some vague empathy. She’s a fearless fighter. But romantically she’s very capricious, turning her affections from the Swordsman to the Vision whom she knows is in love with Wanda. Mantis later explains that she wanted a super-powered man and that she felt close to the Vision because they were both lonely and felt that they weren’t really part of humanity. I don’t know if she tried to flirt with Iron Man or Thor but it seems a bit strange that since they’re both single, she wouldn’t try. (Of course, they both have their own comics and she wouldn’t appear in them, that’s probably the real reason.)

Interestingly enough, we find that Mantis is linked to another unlikable female character, Moondragon.

I was less happy with the Celestial Quest. Mantis’ son especially grated on my nerves. He speaks strangely and is far too much a grumpy, self-absorbed teenager to be a fun character.

Collects Wonder Woman (vol 3) issues 40-44.

Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan, Chris Batista, Fernando Dagino, Doug Hazelwood, Raul Fernandez, Nicola Scott

Simone’s final collection has again two story lines. Murder of Crows is a two-part story guest-starring Power-Girl. The five (male) children of Ares and some of the Amazons have apparently mind-control powers. They talk to people and make them believe what they want, even inciting violence. They start with twisting Diana’s heroic battles by questioning if she was heroic or if she was working with the villains in the first place. Then they use their power on Power-Girl and twist her against Diana. The lasso of truth plays a big part, of course.

The final story line is the Wrath of the Silver Serpent where an alien armada comes to Washington and only Diana and her friends can stop them. This story hails back to second story line in “The Circle.” A couple of Green Lanterns find a world devastated and the destroyers are heading to Earth. The space ship makes a force field around Washington DC. so nobody can get in or out. So, only Diana, Achilles, the gorillas, and the remnants of the DMA can resist the Citizenry.

The Citizenry have huge silver snakes which can destroy whole cities and in the end, they will ground the whole planet into food and fuel for the Citizenry and their ships. But their leader turns out to be a more personal menace to Diana: she’s Diana’s aunt Astarte.

This was a good ending to Simone’s run. Once again, Diana shows her strengths as a warrior, a diplomat, and a strategist. She’s confronted by a horrible nation where children are turned into remorseless killers from a young age. Yet, she finds compassion for them and offers peace before she’s forced to use violence. Still, there are a couple mysteries which were left unsolved. The biggest being Astarte’s history; she remembers herself and Hippolyta as children while in this incarnations, they were all created as adult Amazons. Also, we don’t get to see Hippolyta’s and Astarte’s meeting after being apart for 3000 years.

Still, I quite enjoyed Simone’s run.

Collects Wonder Woman (vol 3) issues 33-39.

Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan, Bernard Chang

This collection has two story lines. The first is a two-part story “Birds of Paradise” where Diana finds out that Genocide isn’t dead but someone is hiding the body in Tokyo, in a metahuman fight club. She asks the Black Canary to show her the ropes and together they go to the fight club, undercover. In the second one, several story lines get a conclusion when Diana confronts Achilles and eventually Zeus.

The first two issues are campy fun. Diana and Dinah dress up as slutty wrestlers to hide their identity. Dinah says: “We look like high-end trashy hookers in a Tarantino nightmare… Perfect!” However, they don’t find Genocide. Instead, they find Dr. Psycho and Director Steel and the goddess of violence who wants revenge.

When Diana returns home, she has a talk with Tom. Earlier, she admitted that she doesn’t love Tom, but she wants to have children with him. So, Tom breaks up with her. Luckily, Diana can vent her frustration on Giganta but then she and Giganta have a bonding moment over their dissatisfaction of their love lives and they team up to take down Achilles’ peace party. Achilles threatens Hippolyta and Diana backs down. But then Diana realizes that she must confront him and heads to Themiscyra.

Zeus is going to retire the Amazons. In order to do that, he resurrected some of Greek mythology’s greatest heroes, including the Argonauts. He also created Achilles to be the king of the Argonauts and the Amazons. Zeus is apparently the only one to be surprised when the Amazon are very dissatisfied with that. Hippolyta agrees to step down because that’s the will of her gods. However, Alkyone, the villain from Simone’s first WW story, agrees to marry Achilles, legitimizing his rule. Alkyone was the captain of Hippolyta’s guard but she hated Diana so much that she (and her three loyal Amazons) tried to kill Diana when she was an infant. The four were imprisoned. Why Achilles would think that they somehow represent the Amazons, is beyond me. However, Alkyone is a great villain and her actions are understandable. Since this is a superhero comic, it all leads to a huge fight between Diana and Achilles, with the Argonauts and Amazon caught in the middle, choosing sides.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this collection. The first two issues were campy fun but didn’t really add to the story line much and the whole retrieving Genocide’s body was forgotten in the second issue. I loved the main villain in the second issue; Diana agreed to make amends to her and no doubt her choice will come back to haunt her. I’m happy to see Tom go but was baffled with Diana wanting to settle down and have kids. I guess that’s supposed to show her “human” side, make her more relateable. But I don’t remember anyone else taking this angle with Diana. And she seemed to have misled Tom a lot, which was very out of character for her. I liked most of the conflict Zeus created and the Argonauts ended up not so villainous, after all, which was a nice touch. I’m glad that Donna also got her chance to shine and that the conflict between her and Diana was resolved. A good, solid ending for Alkyone’s story that started in the Circle. She’s one of the best WW villains.

One more Simone collection to go. I must confess that I enjoyed Birds of Prey much more. Also, Simone’s collections aren’t stand alone. Definitely start with the Circle to get the most out of the stories.

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