Theand'r Ban-El of the House of El, punches up at an offscreen creature.

House of El Returns & Comic Book Reviews 7/14

Future State returns to us once again with the Action Comics 2021 Annual! It brings back a litany of characters introduced in Future State: House of El, which includes the best girl in DC, Theand’r. Yeah, there was no way Theand’r shows up in a comic book again and not be the first thing I talk about.

That aside, there aren’t many new books this week. Nothing on my list from the likes of Image or Boom! Studios, just DC and Marvel. That does mean I’m doing several X-Men reviews this week. As per usual, they’re pretty great, but we have avoided reviewing more Batman comics this week. DC’s output was varied enough for that, and that’s always a good thing in itself.

Action Comics 2021 Annual (House of El)

The House of El returns, with Khan-El, Brandon Kent, and Allura Van-El appearing side-by-side, flying in three different directions.
The House of El Returns!

Written by: Phillip Kennedy Johnson

Art by: Siya Oum, Scott Godlewski

Coloring by: Hi-fi

Lettering by: Dave Sharpe

The House of El has returned. While this is technically an annual for Actions Comics, it’s really a sequel to Future State: House of El. That was my favorite issue from the Future State line. It provided us with a new and diverse range of heroes who in the future, carry on the legacy of Superman. 

Everything about this book feels like its working to evolve Superman’s mythos. It’s an apt display of what happens when heroes become legends, and are close to becoming myths. Through these legends, his descendants carry on his ideas of hope and his willingness to trust and believe in themselves and each other. And as they become legends in themselves, their story crosses time and space to reach the ears of those who need to know of them. There is no room for hopelessness here, and there is no room for giving up.

It still doesn’t focus enough on the badass Kryptonian/Tamarian hybrid Theand’r, but the spotlight spreads across the House of El enough that I’m more than happy. These characters could truly carry their own series. They each have their own powersets, personalities, and backgrounds that differentiate them. None are one-note, save for maybe the villain.

Pyrrhos is an interesting subversion of Superman in concept. He avoids the problem of being an evil Superman by having different enough powersand backstory, but there’s just not enough time spent on him to flesh him out. His relationship to the House of El is perfect if he’s the villain for an ongoing story. But until there’s more time spent on him outside of a one-off, he’s going to struggle with staying afloat. 

I hope this annual leads to more from this group of characters, especially Theand’r. Whether it be an ongoing or mini-series, the House of El deserves to fly again.

Infinite Frontier #2

Batman and Superman face each other in an interrogation room, with Agent Chase watching them from behind the glass.
Agent Chase rocks a shirt and tie, maybe she should have had that design in the actual ISSUE.

Written by: Joshua Williamson

Art by: Paul Pelletier, Jesus Merion, Xermanico

Inking by: Norm rapmund, Jesus Merino, Xermanico

Coloring by: Romulo Fajardo Jr.

Lettering by: Tom Napolitano

This series lost its luster a bit the moment it had three different artists in one issue. It really took me out as I was trying to get invested in the story. I do enjoy the story so far though. It’s building this mystery by taking the multiverse seriously. It’s a nice change of pace compared to the usual hand-wavey-ness of multiverse events. It’s even nicer to see this book living up to its promise of focusing on lesser known heroes. 

While Superman and Batman both make appearances, they serve the story of Agent Chase of the DEO as they should. This issue handles a lot of characters, though fewer than the last issue, yet it doesn’t let any shine. It seems to already show signs of buckling under the weight of juggling multiple plot lines. 

That’s not to say it will buckle. The plot threads with Mr. Bones and Darkseid remain intriguing, holding my attention even as I look for its flaws. It might just help to focus on a few characters for a issue or two. Also, to be honest, if this series is at least good for spotlighting lesser seen characters with their proper characterizations, it can be forgiven if it loses the plot. So far, they’re giving characters small moments to really carry it forward, I just hope it takes the time to focus on a few spots now and then, or brings all the pieces together soon.

The one other thing readers should prepare themselves for, is the creative team being particularly indulgent with the multiverse. We just hit Kingdom Come’s universe, and if this is a sign of things to come, expect to see more cameos from universes that we probably shouldn’t be seeing much of.

Future State: Gotham #3

Red Hood chokes out the Next Batman from behind.
Batman vs Red Hood, where have I heard this one before?

Written by: Joshua Williamson, Denis Culver

Art by: Giannis Milonogiannis

Lettering by: ALW’s Troy Peteri

This series is good, but it’s also showing just how thin creators at DC are being stretched. I would venture a guess that this book is in black and white for budgetary reasons. You don’t need as much coloring and/or inking if it’s only in black and white. At the same time, this leaves the book looking like the first draft of stencils, and difficult to visually follow.

The story is good, but when the characters are left emotionless and sometimes featureless, it becomes apparent when the dialogue and narration are short and stiff. The phrase, “the sum of its parts,” can be a negative thing too. While minor positives can uplift each other into greatness, decent negatives can have a similar effect. 

It’s a shame that this series isn’t being given the chance it deserves to really succeed. Despite losing his solo, this series and the recently announced, Task Force Z, are giving Jason Todd a lot to do, I just want that stuff to be as good as it can be. He’s in my top five favorite DC characters, and I love seeing him anywhere, but it doesn’t matter if he’s not done justice.

Excalibur #22

Merlin stands before four chained X-Men, Jubilee, Meggan Braddock, Gambit, and Richtor.
Merlin’s a real jerk here.

Written by: Tini Howard

Art by: Marcus To

Coloring by: Erick Arciniega

Lettering by: VC’s Ariana Maher

Excalibur is likely one of, if not the most consistent X-Book I’ve read since Dawn of X. Marauders and X-Force fluctuate as they’re focus changes, but never Excalibur. Now with X of Swords over and Betsy Braddock back from being lost in the multiverse, Excalibur can finally set itself to doing what we’ve wanted it to do for a long time. 

Be about X-Men traveling in a fantasy Arthurian world.

It’s hinted at the politics of the land before, but was always distracted with some other mutant crossover. Now we get to dive into the history and relationships between characters like Saturnye and Merlin as Excalibur deals with them directly.

It’s a fantasy adventure, plain old fun, with plain old characters. Sure, most of the characters on Excalibur were already friends, but its also nice to step into this completely formed team dynamic. They banter and play their roles to perfection.

The other half of the book, which will be about Pete Wisdom and S.T.R.I.K.E. it seems, is building off the all too timely mutant hate from the U.K. Outside of the United States, the United Kingdom might just be the next big first-world country with a rising problem with outspoken prejudice and racism. This makes it all the more emotionally powerful when Pete Wisdom, after serving the U.K., revives his friends to make the home that betrayed him regret stabbing him in the back.

Here’s hoping the creative team handles this daring topic with grace in the future.

Way of X #4

Nightcrawler tries to break up a fight between Professor X and his son Legion.
We finally find out what happened to Gorgon!

Written by: Si Spurrier

Art by: Bob Quinn

Coloring by: Java Tartaglia

Lettering by: VC’s Clayton Cowles

Design by: Tom Muller

Way of X remains one of the best among the X-Book’s, so it was beyond sad to hear that it’s ending soon. It continues to question the very nature of what the X-Men are doing, unafraid to question the establishment that we’ve come to love and hate. 

Maybe the three laws are too vague and not strict enough. In some ways, they are both freeing and too restricting, dooming mutants in ways never originally considered. Sure, when it comes to villains like Magneto, Mystique, and Apocalypse, their villainy has seemed so grand to the world that other mutants can ignore them, or even forgive them. But sometimes there are personal feuds between mutants that just can’t be forgotten with resurrection. The big villains fight over ideas, and weirdly that feels more forgivable than the personal slaughter of someone’s family.

Fabian Cortez is a scumbag, and this is the best use of his character, probably ever. He personally tortures and toys with Gorgon, not because of some evil plot or vengeance. He’s just a petty, privileged prick, gifted with a power he should never have been born with. His hate for humans is why mutants may need more laws to govern them. Someone like him will slip through the canvas-sized cracks. 

Nightcrawler beating him at his own game felt both so satisfying, but also lighthearted, capturing what makes him such a good X-Man. It’s relieving to see someone so slimy, be overcome by someone so full of light. It’s relieving to see hate overcome, and no one does that better than Way of X.

X-Corp #3

Someone calls for Angel and Monet separately from off panel.
Two of the prettiest people rigth here.

Written by: Tini Howard

Art by: Valentine De Landro

Coloring by: Sunny Gho

Lettering by: VC’s Clayton Cowles

I love X-Corp. It’s weird, I have this weird weak spot for corporate espionage, corporate powerplays, and really, corporate anything. I have an even greater weakness for heroes who appear to have the same attitude as a villain, but use it for good. 

Basically, everything about Monet St. Croix in this book has me glued to the page. She’s the best lady around, utterly terrifying in a brawl and a boardroom. Seeing her use her business to pick apart Noblesse for partnering with Nazis was cathartic. At the same, seeing her keep her cool and not literally pick apart a corporate suit who deserved it, was also satisfying in another way. 

With Monet, there always Penance just under the surface. It’s almost as if she’s not inherently good, and this dynamic has me at the edge of my seat waiting to see what she does next. 

Jamie Maddox’s subplot of carrying the company on his self-replicating shoulders is harrowing too. I do personally struggle to care for him though. While his ability has incredible depth in its applications, he’s just an unlikeable character to me. Any character who choses to send his clones to be with his family, immediately becomes unlikeable. To have him also lead to the public failure of X-Corp’s latest product, has me both upset with him, and feeling bad for him. 

This can also be a good thing. Having mixed emotions about a character is usually a sign of good writing if they’re perfectly positioned feelings. I know X-Corp has seemed a bit superfluous to some X-Fans, but I truly believe its worth a shot.

The House of El Returns in Grand Fashion, and X-Men Continues its Dominance Over My Pull-List

I actually left the comic book store today having pulled a few books off my pull-list. I should have been sad knowing that there were a few too many books I didn’t think were worth buying anymore. But then I got home, read the House of El, saw my favorite Tamaran return, and I was happy again.

I’m glad I’ve gotten back into Superman, after going over a decade not liking him. I’m glad I’ve gotten back into the idea of hope so I can enjoy the soft moments in comics. This week, for the most part, being soft is where stories worked the best. Too often we need books to be edgy and adult. We don’t always need to cut ourselves on the edges. 

This week we just had hope, and that was great. If you could use more comic recommendations, check out the review of We Only Find Them When They’re Dead. It’s both horrific, but a story about finding new hopes. At least I think it is.

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