Bookwyrm’s 10-Word Comic Reviews & Recs: Helena Crash, X-O Manowar, The Few & More

And the indie train continues. I swear, I wish I had given the other imprints a chance back when I had a lot more disposable time and income. Before kids, I frequented a comic shop in my hometown two or three times a week. I even worked in one for a summer. But all I ever read were superhero comics — mostly DC, but a few Marvel on occasion. Had I known that Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Valiant, and others were putting out such awesome stories, my pull box would have been stuffed every week — and I would have been broke. Oh well. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

In this week’s comic reviews: coffee is illegal, which naturally leads to a dystopian future; a woman nurses a baby out in the open and the world doesn’t end (it had actually already ended); a classic character gets pulled out of retirement for one last war; Batman reveals his secret identity to a woman for absolutely the first time ever; and a girl named Riri proves that she is one of the best heroines Marvel has going right now.

Ready or not, here they come. Here are this week’s issues that #RocktheRack:

HELENA CRASH #1
Publisher: IDW
Story: Fabian Rangel, Jr.
Art: Warwick Johnson Cadwell

What The Trades Say:
From writer Fabian Rangel Jr (Space Riders) and artist Warwick Johnson-Cadwell (Tank Girl) comes a new pulse-pounding, caffeine-fueled, sword-swinging, machine-gun firing, car-crashing sci-fi adventure comic! In a future where coffee is illegal, Helena is a courier, delivering black market goods to anyone who can afford her services. When Rojo, a ruthless crime boss, asks her to assassinate his rival, the alien mobster known as White Demon, Helena finds herself in the middle of a gang war! To survive, Helena must use all of her skills, and seek help from her friends to stay ahead of her enemies!

What Bookwyrm Says:
You’ve just stepped into a seedy bar in the near future. It’s dark, and the interior of the bar is entirely lit with the neon signs that flicker on the walls like bug zappers. You go up to the bartender, a middle-aged man with a ruddy face and three gold teeth, and you ask for a Helena Crash. This is what he hands you: a little cyberpunk, a little film noir, a handful of explosions, and a lot of coffee — all in one smooth drink. I’m betting he used a whiskey base.

HELENA CRASH is an exciting read, and one that definitely surprised me. It’s not something I would have normally reached for on the comic rack. The cover didn’t do much to inspire me, so I almost walked right past it. However, I read somewhere that you shouldn’t judge a book by those anyway, and it’s hard for me to pass up a #1 and a chance to discover a fresh, new story. I’m glad I didn’t pass it up.

I love neo-noir. The style just speaks to me, and it’s on full display here. You can almost hear the sax in the background as Helena narrates her day, including a small monologue where she waxes philosophical on her name. You get a little bit of background, a little bit of conflict, some nice character beats, and a solid opener.

While the artwork isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I can understand the style choice. It’s frantic and kinetic, like our protagonist. When things move fast, they don’t just blur; they often distort. Look at a freeze frame of a golf ball being hit if you need a visual reference. That’s what the artwork here reminded me of. Is it the tightest depiction of structure and anatomy? Not by a long shot. But that’s not what the artist was going for. Would I want to read something like Daredevil done in this format? Not remotely. But for this book, it works.

Twitter-Ready 10-Word Review:
Neo-noir a la Tank Girl. This ride looks like fun.


THE FEW #3
Publisher: Image
Story: Sean Lewis
Art: Hayden Sherman

What The Trades Say:
The sci-fi epic of survivalists, militias, and an extremist America marches into its third issue. Hale’s past and a deeper secret she is keeping from the militia is revealed as the Palace forces and Herrod’s forces begin to make their way into the safety that Hale, Davey, and Peter have convinced themselves of.

What Bookwyrm Says:
Another non-mainstream book, another interesting and unconventional art style. Still, THE FEW is a compelling read. I seem to have inadvertently chosen a dystopian theme for this week, but who cares? The goods are the goods.

For those dropping into the middle of this story like me, you may need to do a bit of light Googling before diving in. Here’s the short of it: In a dystopian America, two survivalist men are traveling through the woods and stumble across a sleeping woman carrying a gun and a baby in a gas mask. Is that enough to get you interested? It was for me. And I’m glad I picked this one up.

In this issue, we get a peek into the background of the woman, Edan Hale. (Looks like we’re going to have to wait a little longer on the baby.) Hale is a former soldier, one who figuratively embraced the ways of the Sith and dealt in absolutes. (12-year-old terrorist? It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re still getting a bullet in the brainpan.) A conflict of conscience with her mentor starts her journey down a different path — one that I’m sure we’ll learn a bit more about in future issues. Right now, however, this is some solid storytelling with telling character moments. I love the fact that the reader was dropped into the middle of the story and learns a little bit more about the protagonist and her world with every issue. If there’s one thing I can’t stand in fiction, it’s the exposition dump. You know what I’m talking about. It’s the “well, we need to set up this world quickly, so we’ll just have a character explain literally everything about it to an audience surrogate” move. I like when stories introduce their own mythologies a little more organically. That’s what’s going on here.

As for the artwork, it took me a bit, but I warmed up to it. Though the line work in the art can be a bit much sometimes, the color choices are absolutely beautiful. It’s muted — understated in the best possible way. It’s stark. It’s hopeless. But it’s striking. It’s the best advocate for minimalism that I’ve seen in a long time. Sherman could have gone the Sin City route and chosen high-contrast black and white with bold accent colors, but he didn’t. Instead, he went with a light sepia throughout, with faded accents that are dialed up just enough to register as different. For something so subtle, it’s a bold choice, and I think it works beautifully.

Twitter-Ready 10-Word Review:
Both badass and beautiful, the Few is truly masterful storytelling.


X-O MANOWAR #1
Publisher: Valiant
Story: Matt Kindt
Art: Tomas Giorello

What The Trades Say:
Born under the oppressive thumb of the Roman Empire, Aric of Dacia learned warfare at an early age. It was amid such violence that he was abducted by an alien race. Forced into slavery, he survived where others perished. His escape would come from bonding with a weapon of immeasurable power: the X-O Manowar armor. With it, he returned to Earth…only to find himself stranded in the modern day. But that was a lifetime ago. Now, far from home on a strange and primitive new world, Aric has begun a new life. Liberated from his past, he tends to his crops. Free from war. Free from violence. Free from the armor. But the machinery of death marches his way once again. Conscripted into an alien army and thrown into an unforgiving conflict, the fury inside him finds voice as he is forced to embrace the armor once more.

What Bookwyrm Says:
Before sitting down to read this one, my knowledge of X-O MANOWAR was pretty limited — and by limited, I mean that the title sounded familiar. That’s it. So if you jump in on this one blind, you’re right there with me. Luckily, it seems like this comic was written with both of us in mind.

We are introduced to a man with a past — one that he would rather not share. With the exception of his slightly alien bedmate, it would seem he would prefer to be left alone. He lived a life he left behind, and he has moved on the best he can. But, as usually happens when protagonists believe they’ve retired, he gets pulled right back in. In this case, the man is a soldier with an incredible suit of armor. Pulled from his home and drafted into an army to serve as a human shield, he finds himself fighting not for a cause, but for his own survival. It’s riveting stuff, and it even manages to pull on the old heartstrings a bit.

Before I move on, I have to mention the art. Even if the story had been terrible (which it most certainly wasn’t), I would have read this one for the artwork alone. It reminded me of the old John Carter and Conan book covers by Frank Frazetta. That’s a pretty high compliment.

Twitter-Ready 10-Word Review:
Excellent revamp. Come for the artwork, stay for the characters.


BATMAN BEYOND #6
Publisher: DC
Story: Dan Jurgens
Art: Bernard Chang

What The Trades Say:
“Rise of the Demon” Part One! A new world power that no one anticipated or recognizes is re-engineering large swaths of the planet in the aftermath of Brother Eye’s destruction. Batman is drawn into this tale of global conquest after a violent visit from his old foe, Curare. His only chance of success hinges on an old friend joining him in the fight that looms ahead.

What Bookwyrm Says:
With this issue, we’re treading into some pretty well-traveled territory for a Batman story. Someone he loves finds out his secret identity. He struggles to come to terms with the impossible balance between his superhero life and his personal life. And right when he makes the choice to give his attention to the girl… well… something happens. I want you to read the damn thing — I’m not going to spoil the entire issue. Just most of it.

But really, who couldn’t see that coming a mile away?

So, with such a predictable story, why am I recommending this one? Simple. Because this time, it’s Terry McGinnis going through these motions, and he’s a completely different character than Bruce Wayne. Different personalities, different motivations for wearing the cowl, different ideas on how to be Batman, etc. The latter comes into play when Bruce is back in the Batcave for the first time after being held captive by the last arc’s villain and believed dead by everyone else. He talks with some of Terry’s friends who are there with him and states that the Batcave was never meant to be a hangout spot. Bruce’s Batman was always a loner who reached out to others only when needed. Terry is a different creature altogether. He knows he needs a network of support.

Also of note in this issue is the baddie. Curare is a total badass. She’s the Lady Shiva of Neo Gotham, and she really knows how to raise the stakes with a minimal amount of page time. Batman fans weren’t a huge fan of this comic’s first arc, but it looks like this one is off to a rousing start.

Twitter-Ready 10-Word Review:
Familiar territory, but strong characters make this issue stand out.


INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #5
Publisher: Marvel
Story: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Stefano Caselli

What The Trades Say:
The world now knows about Riri Williams and what she can do. So other heroes come to court her for their super-teams and villains come looking for revenge on Iron Man. Welcome to the Marvel Universe, Riri Williams! (Oh, and Deadpool.)

What Bookwyrm Says:
Really Marvel? No caps in the trade summary this time? Your regular copywriter must have been on a coffee break. No complaints here.

Ladies and gentlemen, Riri Williams has truly arrived, and I can only hope she’s here to stay. To say that her character is a breath of fresh air is an understatement. She’s smart. She’s talented. She can hold her own with the big boys. Yet she still has a vulnerability about her that makes her both endearing and captivating. Like Peter Parker in his early days, she’s just a kid — but she takes on the burden of being a hero not because she has to, but because she can. She can do these things, so she has a responsibility to do them.

One of the most touching moments in this issue came in its first few pages, when Riri’s mother talks to what she believes is the disembodied voice of Tony Stark (if you don’t know, don’t ask; it’s way too much to sum up without taking up a majority of this review). She talks about how hard it is for her to know that her daughter is going out there and risking her life, but also how much she admires her for doing just that. The mother-daughter dynamic between the two of them is a fresh one: They are a family with no secrets, no hidden agendas, and no guilt issues. It’s idealistic, yet still realistic. In other words, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Glad to have you around, Ironheart. Please… stay a while.

Twitter-Ready 10-Word Review:
The mother-daughter dynamic makes this a keeper. Welcome, Riri.

And that’s all for this week for comic reviews, folks. Until next time, this is Bookwyrm signing off. Now go get your read on.

Ryan Haddock10 Posts

An award-winning author, avid reader, occasional roleplayer, and father to three young geeks-in-training, Ryan loves a good story in any medium — from books and movies to comics and video games. In addition to the above, he is also a dedicated Whovian, a superhero enthusiast, and a Browncoat who just can't seem to let it go. You can find him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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