Fastball Feedback: Comic Book Reviews for August 12

Despite endless drama, awkwardness, and general anxiety, being a teenager is actually a lot of fun. You get to discover what makes you you, fall in and out of love as quickly as a pop single plays, and experience so many things for the very first time. It’s no surprise that the stories with the most fun find themselves rooted in the no man’s land between between childhood and adulthood. This week we’re checking out three adolescent adventures set in an English university, a little American town called Riverdale, and a galaxy far, far away.

Archie #2

Written by Mark Waid

Art and Colors by Fiona Staples

The big Archie relaunch continues this month with the second issue from comics all-stars Fiona Staples and Mark Waid. Archie and Betty have broken up and Lodge Manor looms on the horizon in an issue that builds towards one of the greatest love triangles in American fiction. It’s another installment filled with classic characters, high school humor, and plenty of hijinks.

The opening chapter of this issue confirms Jughead as the series' breakout star. Mark Waid has tapped into something new with the character; he is like Ferris Bueller, if Bueller actually possessed empathy and a conscience. His conversation with Archie and backstory reveals him to be the book's hidden wiseman, far older than he appears or acts. Through Jughead, Waid even sneaks in a clever dig at Man of Steel. His strength consistently lies in dialogue and wordplay in this series. A lot of the gags in Archie #2 read as being very standard though. Archie’s clumsy exploits and their horrible consequences could have been pulled from an issue in the 50s or 60s. They are, in and of themselves, pat and safe.

Fiona Staples makes the humor in Archie #2 come to life though, delivering these rote jokes with style and panache. It’s exaggerated exactly enough to land with some sense of shock, and some of the faces displayed in these scenes are priceless. The acting of Staples’ characters absolutely sparkles as well. It’s no surprise the big body humor lands, but she brings the same intensity and response to close ups and dramatic pauses. A panel focused squarely on the bridge of Betty’s nose and her eyes reveals an incredible feeling of frustration and focus. A lot comes across purely through those blue eyes and brows. This is part of a makeover sequence that is the issue's true highlight. So much detail and honesty are packed into the seemingly minor struggle of getting prepared for a party, that it is difficult to not fall in love with Betty.

Archie #2 continues to deliver on all of the best elements of the first issue. It’s accessible, fun, and an absolute visual delight. While the series is not delivering anything new, that’s never its intent. It plays it safe and executes each page of high school tomfoolery and melodrama with grace, producing a comic that is enjoyable for all ages.

Grade: B

Kanan: The Last Padawan #5

Written by Greg Weisman

Art by Pepe Larraz

Colors by David Curiel

Kanan, The Last Padawan draws to a close after a big cliffhanger left both Caleb (not yet Kanan) and his rougish companion Kasmir under the boot of Imperial troops (literally in Caleb’s case). It makes for an action-packed conclusion to this mysterious part of the Rebels’ star's origin. That action, like much of this mini-series, is an assembly of stock parts that create a working, but uninspiring comic.

Grey and Styles, the antagonistic clone troopers, reveal just how perfunctory the story is here. The motivation behind almost every one of their actions is paper-thin, driven by the needs of the plot more than any recognizable desires. Grey has a big moment at the end that is worthy of a thorough head scratch, appearing from nowhere like a ship blinking out of hyperspace. Caleb and Kasmir are also treated like special friends, but that relationship has been completely unearned in this series. Dig any deeper than the surface-level functions of this plot, and you'll find a calorie-less center in this story.

The action is clearly portrayed, with a few exceptions. The opening and closing of an airlock requires readers to guess at the cause and effect of the scene with no obvious visual cues, and a final panel that could be read in two different ways. Other moments in the script are oversold and play in a fashion so melodramatic it pushes them into being silly, specifically a goodbye between two friends. Almost everything about Larraz’s storytelling is functional, but it never manages to surprise or engage except when it drops below par.

Kanan, The Last Padawan is perfectly standard franchise comics. It hits a lot of familiar territory and story beats without ever adding a new spin. It’s a story that has been done many times before both in and outside of the Star Wars universe. While not terribly executed, it hardly provides a reason for its own existence. Kanan may entertain younger fans of Rebels, but it’s unlikely to strike a spark with anyone who has read more than a few Star Wars stories.

Grade: C

Giant Days #6

Written by John Allison

Art by Lissa Treiman

Colors by Whitney Cogar

Giant Days reaches its halfway point this month. Winter has arrived and the three women at the center of this college romp are on holiday. Esther and Daisy find themselves in their friend Susan’s hometown, Northampton, and have to find her before old enemies take out longtime grudges. It all combines for another slam dunk of an issue, moving this seminal school year along and also managing to deliver a self-contained adventure filled with shenanigans.

The quality of Lissa Treiman’s character work cannot be understated. Esther, Daisy, and Susan all reveal their personalities so clearly through their designs and expressions. The effervescent Esther moves like a slip of water that's unaware of gravity. Her wide eyes and face make her emotions pop big in every panel, and the scene where she hits the dance floor is pure magic. Each action in that scene draws the reader’s eye forward and lands a punchline with the seeming ease of the most skilled Sunday cartoonists. Most of Treiman’s pages work as self-contained episodes, creating mini-chapters within the larger structure, packed with jokes and effortless bits of characterization.

Allison balances his dialogue and jokes within the issue very well. While there’s a consistent pattern of banter between all of the characters, nothing ever feels over-written and sight gags stand on their own. Inventive little twists, like a mirroring record and comic shop are enhanced by dual clerks and commentary. Speech bubbles enhance the setting and bring forth new information, making for a comic that is driven by words and images working in tandem. It also allows Allison to deliver pages of jokes, and almost every one of them lands.

Giant Days #6 is an incredible amount of fun. It is a joy to tag along with these characters on their misadventures. And despite the generally low stakes, the issue never feels slight. Instead, it captures the whimsy and aimless propulsion of college-life, making you want to run ahead even if it’s unclear why. There are good friends and good times to be had, and that’s more than enough.

Grade: B+

What did you think of this week's comics? Sound off in the comments below.