BEST OF WEEK: GOTHAM ACADEMY #1 — Ever since this was announced with the cover for this issue serving as the sole piece of promo art, I have been really pumped for this series, in large part because I couldn’t wait to read it with my little girl (we have a big old LI’L GOTHAM-sized hole in our month, these days), but also just because it looked like a slam-dunk from the beginning. I love everything from Cloonan and have been jonesing for some more sequentials from Kerschl since finding his offering from WEDNESDAY COMICS five years ago (!) to be arguably the greatest Flash story ever (except for probably that brilliant retcon Fleming/Infantino did in SECRET ORIGINS ANNUAL #2 that has Barry turning into the lightning bolt that hit him immediately after CRISIS #8, but whoa hey, we’re already way off-topic). Karl Kerschl is a seriously underrated A-list type of fella. I went into this with pretty high hopes that were completely surpassed. From the get-go, we’re thrown into the middle of it with a protagonist named Olive Silverlock whose grumpy disposition hints at a troubled summer and who, in the same dualistic fashion that is such a hallmark of these mythos, is saddled with a sidekick who is the embodiment of joy and excitement. That’s not all, as in due course, we are quickly introduced to the headmaster, the soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, the nemesis, and the roommate before a dangerous climax erupts and we are treated to the inevitable cameo of our dear Master Bruce. Cloonan/Fletcher nail every beat of this, setting up these character interactions with an economical grace. These folks are all tropes of young adult fiction, but it’s the eponymous setting that’s the real star here, as well as its effect on these admittedly stock initial set-ups. The best thing about the characterization, though, is that Olive has total agency and requires no one to save her or even set her straight. Her motivation is totally internal. Which can be tricky to portray outside of moving pictures, and the team pulls it off well, here. But can we talk about Karl Kerschl? The building itself is a marvel, projecting the vibe of a haunted house that you wouldn’t mind getting lost in at least as long as the sun is up. Then, he’s got a quasi-manga thing going on with these faces, the bigger eyes and noses turned slightly upward, which is a good fit, here. And even the shape of his panel layouts is innovative, stacking them in ways that don’t immediately call attention to themselves but that are really quite impressive once you look a little closer, recalling bricks and other architectural structures. A master storyteller, to be sure. And on colors, Geyser (?) and Dave McCaig really make this feel like a living, breathing world that you could fall right into. This first issue does everything right and sets up what looks to be serious greatness to come.
GRAYSON #3 — Heartbreaking. I think this one might just barely have been a tighter script than last month’s, which crushed me, except now we have Brother Janin’s immaculate linework and layouts to accentuate the emotional devastation. The Dick-pun thing really annoyed me on the promos and the first page of #1, but they pushed it so far here, not only on that already timeless Page 3/4 one-two punch here but then throughout in the remainder of Agent 8’s dialogue, I don’t know, I guess I just have to salute them for commitment? (but not dick-salute, it feels like I have to explicitly state) What I’m getting distracted from saying is that this is already blasting up over the horizon of DC’s very best monthly offerings and these guys are obviously only just getting started. Dick has never been in better hands. I hate to say?
BATMAN ETERNAL #26 — I really love Tim doing the Wiley Wiggins bridge-of-the-nose grab while saying “We’re getting away from the point.” And the point is: More Guera sequentials! Such a coup for this book, man. It is a really terrific touch how Guera recreates the black and white flashbacks that Lee did in Hush, not only so smart but what execution. That splash recreation of Hush running up the bridge shooting at our boy is strong material. I love Julia “Penny-Two” Pennytworth finally saying “Master Bruce.” That shit is earned, people.
FUTURES END #22 — Everything is certainly spinning along now! I can’t believe there have been twenty-two of these things, the time has raced on by. But storylines are paying off. I don’t care really at all about Voodoo’s squad, but that guy talking horrible exposition to himself, and acknowledging that he was doing so in-dialogue, was a pretty unfortunate part of an otherwise entertaining issue. I totally didn’t realize that that was Ronnie Raymond being a dick in Tim’s bar earlier, whenever that was. Zircher shows up and kills it again, that final double-page spread is every bit the stunner it needs to be. The Blood Moon, indeed!
WONDER WOMAN #34 — All hands are on deck and the dialogue is sharp and the art is sharper, but for a penultimate run-up, this whole situation feels a little bit shallow. The craft appears immaculate but isn’t devastating me like experience tells me should be happening here at the end of a run this long that I’ve enjoyed throughout. I’m confused.
AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #5 — Whaaaaaaat? No Albuquerque?!? This seemed like a pretty scandalous deal when I turned to the first page and noticed this fact for the first time, but Matias Bergara does plenty of good work, and it turns out this is an American Vampire story really only nominally, being the mainly epistolary tale of an 1850 claim called Royal Forkes that is much more horrible than it at first appears. Snyder’s word count is probably three times what it usually is, what with all of the diary pages, and this whole deal is very much a thematic descendant of old EC Comics. Except for a brief mention to our doomed present-day hero’s friend Agent Book, this story has pretty much nothing to do with the AV mythos, but I didn’t care one little bit, as it provided solid entertainment watching the fella willfully lower himself right down out of this mortal coil. Don’t go down there, bro! What are you hoping to find?
LAST BORN #1 — The first issue of a brand new series is a very tricky beast to wrangle. You’ve got to hook the reader from the beginning while establishing both the rules of your universe and the tone that you’re going to be rolling with going forward, balancing action beats and dialogue while doing the most important work: getting your reader to invest in your character(s), all of this while delivering an installment that is both satisfying on its own merits and also gives a glimpse of this magnificent story that you’re going to tell with a satisfying conclusion sitting there just on the far side of the horizon. That’s why when it’s done perfectly, the results are symphonic. But, it’s a rare beast. UMBRELLA ACADEMY and CASANOVA are the last two that hit me as perfect first issues. This issue opens with a scene that seems intentionally disorienting, something goes wrong with some guys in hazmat suits at a cave, and it ruins the mind of the dad of our narrator, who turns out to be a girl in 1961 who wants to graduate high school and live life as a free-spirited Wellesley girl. But her aunt and boring boyfriend have other ideas. He proposes to her, and she’s not having it, so she runs into the woods and gets white-flashed into this ruined future landscape. Here’s the coolest deal about the issue, she stumbles upon some sort of projector that has a pair of possibly reptilian (?) guys in armor saying that Cycle 7 is over and they tried their best to take care of Cycle 8 in utero, but they just don’t know, and Goddess save Cycle 9. Cut back to blasted future landscape, there’s a brief conflict, she falls in with a couple of other folks, and they walk off. Then, some new dude crashes in from parts unknown, says he shouldn’t have drunk so much, cut to 2341 and it turns out the world’s going to end, so this same dude (who it looks like is probably a past version of the drunk dude from the last page, you can tell because he’s hitting a flask) says, Let’s start the world over. And we cut to a shot of hologram heads of our heroine and those two she just met here at the end along with a counter that confirms that the world will end in 46 days just like those guys said. There are definitely some cool concepts being flung around here, and I’m curious to see where they go. Unfortunately, Patrick Meany, whose Morrison documentary I really enjoyed, doesn’t pack his characters with anywhere near enough depth to make me invest in them. I just barely care about the protagonist, and every single other character is flat and underdeveloped. If the old guy and little girl from blasted future landscape are in any way pivotal to the development of the overall narrative, as that final panel suggests, then they need a much stronger introduction. Having the girl talk in 3-point type isn’t going to do it. I want to check this out next time and see where it goes, because it’s clearly just getting started, but this thing was nowhere near LOST meets . . . I forget now, advance hype had it as wither STAR WARS or THE INVISIBLES, but not even close, so far.
THE FADE OUT #2 — It’s kind of a trip, sets my mind spinning, these same talented folks just opening the door into yet another sprawling story. And the surface similarities to SATELLITE SAM don’t make it any easier, I think I said last month, though of course nobody’s confusing this also-great art with Chaykin in black and white. You know, if these folks put it out, I will be happy to drown in it, everybody was so at the top of their game fifty issues ago that this whole deal is like one gorgeous long noir tapestry and when one movie runs out, the projectionist already has the next one ready to go on the other reel, so it never really ends. That was an interesting note from Brubaker in the backmatter because I TOTALLY too away that Charlie thought he done killed her last issue, so I guess I’m going to have to go back and investigate all of this subtlety to which Brubaker is referring.
MORNING GLORIES #41 — A Guillaume-centric! Towerball! Jun/Hisao! I think really Jun! A rotting Hisao corpse! Or a rotting Jun corpse that used to have Hisao in it! A Jade sacrifice! Isn’t she the one we see with Hunter in the future, though? Or from the future? Or am I making all of that up? Shouldn’t I always read these much earlier in the night before having so many Lone Stars? When will I pull the trigger on the Very Necessary Reread of all this crazy?
GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #2 — I feel like I need to be maybe a little bit more on drugs to fully appreciate this. Or fully appreciating this makes me feel maybe a little bit more on drugs? I believe that, like last month, I will simply summarize the four-page opening scene as a microcosm of the insane experience of willfully opening yourself up to Ryan Browne’s diseased mind with no filter. Because any more contemplation or consideration of this will surely reduce my once-noble mind to vegetative status. 3-D Cowboy introduces us to a flashback of Dr. Professor’s first day on the job at NASA. Dr. Professor is greeted by Dr. Axligator, an alligator with a battle axe. Dr. Professor is a rhinoceros, remember. Dr. Axligator escorts Dr. Professor to Mission Control, where an astronaut owl on the moon reports via comlink that he (the owl) had sex with Mrs. Axligator. But no, it is only a joke. The owl, Owldrin, and Seal Armstrong, a seal, are hitting golf balls on the moon when a little crab walks up, clearly smitten with the golf ball, the tee, or both. Seal Armstrong hits the crab into outer space while Owldrin somehow consumes a bottle of booze through his helmet. Seal offers the booze to Owldrin. They look up and are surprised to find a “crab blitzkrieg,” hundreds and hundreds of outer space crabs descending on them from outer space. That’s the first four pages.
SILVER SURFER #006 — This is nothing more than terrific cosmic fun. I know I always keep bringing it up, but it’s because Slott so nails the The Doctor/Companion dynamic in this book, and this issue is a really great second-episode-of-the-season all on its own. We’ve got the status quo established finally, and it’s time to ride that board out as far as it will take us. Has Dawn already been calling the board “Toomie” before now? I just got it this time out, that’s pretty funny. The Allreds continue to ascend toward a peak in the distant horizon, these pages look as good as anything we’ve ever seen from them. I was so grateful for that last shot, right when I made it to the page-turn, involuntarily stopped and said to myself, “Oh, they’re not going to GIVE it to us, are they?” They did. This book is as much fun as it should be. As comics should be, in general.
FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1 — This was hard to get through in the best of ways. Gutwrenching, really. Robinson has put the titular quartet through the wringer since his first page, and it’s really starting to take a toll on not just the characters but me as a reader. I just want to go have some fun exploring the Negative Zone once in a while! Nothing bad ever happens there. But here, we have a visibly shaken Sue on her last legs just trying to force her family back together and make everything okay, but it’s too late for that. I’m still just having so much trouble reconciling this in my head. Doom was totally in the right here. At no point was he acting in any way that was completely morally and ethically acceptable given the circumstances. It was Sue who dropped in, threw a fit, and trashed the entire damn castle. This story benefits from the added page count of an annual to give Tom Grummett enough room to really stretch out and show us what happens when the most powerful member of the FF is pushed to the edge. And it doesn’t hurt that Hickman’s run coinciding with my daughter’s infancy made Valeria probably my favorite character in this title for all time. Some annuals and most Point-One issues are skippable fill-ins. This is not one of those.
UNCANNY AVENGERS #025 — Man, I don’t know. I hate to say that the thrill is all the way gone, but I’m just still having a hard time re-enlisting for a second tour with this crew after that brilliant first ride. I wish I could figure out how to shield myself from the advance media cycle, because I’m sure that seeing The Red Skull in Onslaught armor out of nowhere in full context might possibly have been an actually shocking moment, but Marvel keeps ruining it by plastering that shit all over everywhere three-months-and-counting-down-from-then-on before it happens, so by the time it’s time, I’m just like, “No, Magneto, don’t kill him, you’re just going to make him the psychic amalgam of you and Charles from the nineties. Somehow. I guess because Remender is serious aces at recycling All A That Shit?” And then I just turn the page and am like, Yeah, bring on the AXIS, then. It’s certainly a neat trick how they copped the NEW X-MEN upside-downable palindrome trick on the logo.
ALSO BEST OF WEEK: BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER #001 — It’s quite the week for crushing debuts, and these two are so far on the end of the thematic and tonal spectrum, trying to decide which one is better than the other is ridiculous. This series sounded like a really serious set-up from the moment that the title and creative team were announced, but when the premise became clear at the end of ORIGINAL SIN, I knew that we were going to be in for a hell of a ride. But, man, did these guys deliver. Marco Rudy on full art continues to absolutely crush every single panel of every page, lavishing gorgeous painted tones all over the place that recall early Vertigo greats like McKean and Fegredo, as well as Sienkiewicz and cited inspiration David Mack. Just like that Spidey mini that came out a little while back with Kindt, I found myself much more indignant than usual at the presence of ads in this book. How dare they be presented opposite such works of beauty? Why not put them at the back of the book like DC was good enough to do for JWIII on BATWOMAN before they pissed him off? Brother Rudy’s just going to have to start coming with the all double-page layout spreads so that we won’t be inundated with the requisite ten pages of ads amidst all this beauty. I do notice, going back through it now, that these are all in-house ads. Weird deal. At any rate, Ales Kot delivers a tight, very well balanced script that has Bucky and Hickman’s Daisy Johnson being basically pro-active assassins across the universe in the name of keeping Earth safe from invasion. I do wish Jason Aaron, or whomever made it up, didn’t go with “The Man on the Wall” as the title because every single time I read those words, I can’t help but picture Jon Snow and all those other boys on the Knight’s Watch. Maybe that’s just me. What’s so great about this script, though, the balance I was talking about. This is a deeply weird, pretty hard science fiction type situation that could totally get bogged down in the seriousness and stakes of what they’re doing, but Kot knows just when to buoy the situation and keep things light with the platonic camaraderie between the two leads or lines like the already-famous “Imperius Sex.” He also manages to pack this first time out full of ideas that seem like they’re setting up a whole lot of what’s to come. This is yet another Marvel book that is very much its own creature and would have been unimaginable without the creative freedom and risk-taking that Editorial has been actively fostering under Alonso’s regime these past few years. I doubt that it’s deliberate, but they’ve basically taken all the superspy espionage that was such a focal component of Brubaker’s run and mashed it up with that madcap deep space weirdness that worked out so well for Chris Pratt and his crew at the multiplexes this summer. And, more importantly, made it work. An amalgam I can definitely get behind, and these boys are just getting started. Highly recommended.