This Week in Comics – 8/14/19

Powers of X #2 – It’s hard to believe the relaunch of the X-Men is just four weeks old. In short time, the dual-series reboot collectively known as HOXPOX (House of X, Powers of X) has rocked the funny book world. Each issue has given us so much to process, experience, fawn over, and obsessively dissect. Or just enjoy the ride, if that’s your thing. It’s certainly easy to do. The dialogue flows with the pitch-perfect precision of a Swiss watch, and the artwork is lush and ridiculously rich. Each issue has been dense, beautiful, and immensely rewarding. This week is no different. POX#2 brings together many of the threads set down in the previous issues and begins to tighten them into focus. Somehow though, it also introduces even more layers to a story spanning an incredible span of time, space, realities, and lives. Geriatric graybeard X-fans like me could go on and on and on (and on…) about all the many brilliant flashes of lore Hickman has sourced from, but the true proof is in the final product that’s been distilled. It’s a potent mixture that feels like it’s been crafted from a garden that contains every element of the X-Men, and not just from comics, but from films and cartoons and your own grubby little imagination while playing with Toy Biz action figures in the afternoon sun. I was hoping HOXPOX would be a mildly entertaining return to some semblance of functionality for the X-Men. I didn’t expect this. This is something else. Get ready- here comes tomorrow.

Titans: Burning Rage #1 – I picked this up on a whim, mostly because I had no idea what it was. I’ve always loved the Titans universe, stemming back to the New Teen Titans era, but the countless modern iterations have been a mixed bag over the years. (Honestly, Titans could use a HOXPOX style blow-up…but then again, that’s going to be the answer for every long-running comic franchise now, isn’t it?). Whereas HOXPOX feels like the future, this random Titans series feels like the past. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. First off, I have no idea what continuity this is supposed to be taking place in, nor do I recognize this exact permutation of the Titans team. This book rolls out a fantastic foursome of Robin, Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy. The Robin in question is Tim Drake, the one-true godking of Robins. It surprised and delighted me to see this, as post-New 52 and Rebirth, Drake’s time has Robin (like, the 25 years I spent reading the character) were quasi-erased. Annoying, like bad propaganda, we’re supposed to forget that Tim Drake was ever Robin and pretend he was instead Red Robin, a goddamned burger restaurant name. But I digress. Forget all that. What you get here is Tim Drake as Robin (correct), a solid if thin collection of Titans, and a pretty standard super hero team romp wrapped up in a package that feels absolutely identical to a DC comic you could buy off the shelves in 1998. It feels so much like an old story that I actually had to look it up to see if this was a reprint. Turns out it is indeed a reprint, but surprisingly not one from the ’90s but rather from within the last year– Burning Rage collects a story originally serialized in Wal Mart exclusive comics. Which makes a whole lot of sense. The story feels pared down to the point of being elementary. You know those sample adventures in the opening of role playing games or comic book ads shilling toothpaste or fruit pies? Burning Rage almost comes off as that level of comic book execution. To paraphrase some guy named Zaphod, It’s just, like, this comic, y’know? The action is pretty pedestrian, yet it flows in a way that feels natural and just kind of works. The main villain, the Disruptor, has the feeling of a “villain of the week” from one of CW’s DC superhero shows. In fact, the whole story from veteran creator Dan Jurgens has a CW hour-long vibe to it. There are even familiar nuggets from the The Flash TV show like the prominent featuring of S.T.A.R. Labs and even a mention of Big Belly Burger. Again, I’m not sure what this thing is, where it’s supposed to take place, or what universe it’s drawing from, but whatever, that’s almost as refreshing as it is bewildering. The art by Scot Eaton and Wayne Faucher is solid, especially in the action beats. It really does feel like the kind of thing DC excelled at cranking out each week in 1998- an accessible adventure with all the expected tropes of a superhero comic. I guess this thing is running for seven issues. I don’t think I’ll be back for the rest– the cover credits kind of baited me by listing Jurgens, Rapmund, and Sinclair as the sole credits, so I took that to be the creative team. I guess those are just the cover art credits though, which is a weird move. Anyways, an almost alternate universe Titans story that is good for a young reader or someone who just wants the basics and absolutely nothing more, and/or a mega Tim Drake fan. I think I just talked myself into issue #2…

Black Hammer/Justice League #2 – Jeff Lemire consistently blows me away. His stuff has such a clarity and straightforwardness to it. It just seems to go, hitting the ground running and giving you everything you need not just to enjoy things, but also deeply feel things. It’s remarkable how economically he does this, and it’s all just darn near perfect, really. He hooked me with Sweet Tooth and I think I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve ever read with his name on it since, which is nuts. Nobody can be that consistent, can they? Canadians, man. Something in the water up there. Anyways, Black Hammer is Lemire’s superhero universe he’s cooked up at Dark Horse, and it’s packed with fun and interesting characters seemingly inspired by the wacky history of comic books, but with that trademark Lemire darkness pulling like an undertow. I don’t know what you call it, exactly– a kind of gothic rural noir, I guess. I knew next to nothing about the Black Hammer world and was able to enjoy issue #1 of this crossover without any trouble, and same can be said for issue #2. It’s a great single issue, and one of stark contrasts. The Black Hammer squad is plopped into the DCU, and nothing says welcome to DC than fighting Starro. Lemire and artist Michael Walsh have a lot of fun here, pairing the rough and tumble Black Hammer heroes with the tropes of a DC superhero comic (no cursing!). These pages are offset but a much more somber, darker storyline with the core members of the JL trapped in a kind of surreal small town nightmare prison. Lemire and Walsh create something here that to me feels like a Dark Horse book and a DC book fused together. Not that there’s any singular type of Dark Horse comic or DC comic, both publishers have a wide and varied selection…but somehow it’s there. If you enjoy left-of-center superhero tales like Doom Patrol, you’ll find a lot to like in Black Hammer/Justice League.