BEST OF WEEK: HAWKEYE #022 — Bro. Way to hit the bull’s-eye, Bro. This is a hard thing to talk about because I don’t want to go into specifics and spoil what turns out to be, no surprise, an affecting finale to such a definitive run. Just the Previously... copy alone had me all choked up. The one detail that I’ve got to say but will still keep mostly vague is that on Page 3, I realized what Fraction was going to do and was so so sad about it, though it’s damn obvious when you think about it, and then he did on it on Page 8 and I was crushed but then made it all the way to Page 23, and it was like, No, Bro, totally faked you out, made you believe. Maybe I’ll just only refer to things by page number and then you can follow along at home or on the boat? Yeah, okay, let’s do that.
You’ve got to love the return of the cool customer on Pages 4 and 5. “Fixin’ to,” is conveying all kinds of badassery in only three syllables, but then just the way the syllables pop two panels later in that “Bro, look at all this crap, Bro. Need dang dynamite--“ That last sentence really did something to me. The diction of the Tracksuit Draculas has elevated to the sublime. Kate’s face on Page 8 perfectly conveys her immediate loss of total cool and composure, a thing of awful beauty. Aja/Hollingsworth have been such magnificent collaborators throughout, but they really elevate their collective thunder to another level here as Fraction backs way off the dialogue to let them do most of the heavy lifting in the climax. I didn’t realize it on the first couple of passes, but there are only three lines of dialogue at all on Pages 8-12. That is some hustle from the art department! The only single thing I would have liked to see and didn’t get is that it seems like they went back through some greatest-hits-type material like the sign-language on Page 20 calling back to, was it #019? It would have been cool to have Lucky smelling Clint’s arrow on Page 6 be accompanied by a little graphic of Clint’s head a la the beloved-by-all #011. Ivan trying to talk his way out of the showdown on Page 15 is as vintage BroTalk as Kate’s solution to the moral conundrum is elegant. And Clint’s final showdown with The Clown on the following pages (after she saves him, natch) goes down just exactly the way it should. I already said, but really, enough praise cannot be lavished upon Aja/Hollingsworth for these beautiful pages. The action is so crisp and expertly framed throughout, but then also and with Clint still rocking his hearing-impaired situation, people’s facial expressions and body language are so important, and Aja captures the nuance of quite a spectrum of emotions that the reader is able to experience without any dialogue at all. Such impressive work. And how about that Page 24? The majesty of that following final sequence reset my dials and it wasn’t until I went back through that I realized that Fraction just throws this thing down here to drop the mic on his way out. This issue resolved every single loose thread to such tremendous satisfaction, no mean feat considering how invested readers became in this series, but then you’ve to love this serious insane moment that does serve as the finale of the arc with Kate’s father while also radically escalating the situation if and when anyone dares to pick up the pieces. Really terrific work.
The final phone call is right where it needs to be and makes perfect sense, but then that last scene. My God. It’s just so futzing perfect. And iconic. And everything that this series WAS distilled down into the last three pages. Those two characters standing side by side for the last time we’ll ever see them, or at least the last time it will be exactly like this, the end of THIS story. The love and pride the teacher feels for his student offset by her knowing nonchalance as she pretends not to notice while going about her business. That cut to silhouette as they draw their bows. And then back to the same shot as they release. Just what Aja does with the difference in their facial expressions in that moment! And I am wild about that last page, how much it leaves up to the reader. Are we coming in on an arrow POV? Is it Kate’s since we’re up and to the left of the target? But veering ever nearer that X all the while? The lack of resolution is so so perfect because it doesn’t matter who hits the target, if they both do or if one arrow gets split or what, because this last scene dials into this Platonic ideaspace, these characters are always going to be in these roles, overcoming all of their massive and disastrous shortcomings as the world comes crashing down in all the ways that matter and nocking their bows, drawing back the arrows while blocking out everything burning down around them and finding their targets before finally and forever releasing.
BLACK CANARY #2 — Fletcher/Wu deliver on the considerable promise of the first issue and give us an installment that shows our heroines desperate and on the run while trying to master basic self-defense skills and not break up before the tour ends. Terrific interpersonal dynamics between Lord Byron and Paloma Terrific trying to keep the band grounded and on-track while Dinah focuses on protecting Ditto and beating the hell out of whomever is trying to capture her for their own nefarious ends. Once again, I’m loving Ditto’s vibrational guitar magic as a counterpoint to our lead character’s patented sonic scream. Annie Wu produces more highly stylized pages that are just the right level of cartoony while conveying dynamic action, complete with a couple of Figures 1-4 that it looks like she might have picked up from Aja while hanging out on the West Coast with Miz Bishop. DC has a really cool and vibrant thing going here in the de facto Fletcherverse of this title, GOTHAM ACADEMY, and BATGIRL, and it is a beautiful thing to watch unfold.
ROBIN: SON OF BATMAN #2 — This is another high-quality second issue. The art team has obviously proven themselves month after month, year after year, so while I’m expecting greatness at this point like the spoiled son of a billionaire in sore need of redemption, the real treat continues to be Gleason’s drum-tight scripting. The overall plot is a gripping premise that very much suits a Damian solo book. The interaction with his mother and the new Nobody produce the needed tension. And the dialogue is right where it needs to be. I feel like this one’s going in under the radar for some folks, but these guys are doing nothing more or less than continue the magnificent story they started even before the The New 52 reboot and are still holding the banner high, even without the benefit of Tomasi-we-will-miss-you-forever’s considerable scripting prowess.
JUSTICE LEAGUE #42 — Man, is this arc kicking ass. It has all the weight and ridiculously elevated stakes that validate the gathering of such an outrageous stacking of superhuman firepower, which you honestly almost never see any creative team manage on a regular basis with this crew outside of the all-time classic Timm animated run (and Morrison’s nineties reboot, it must be said). But even though this is still all basically set-up, it is riveting as hell. Superman & Luthor stranded on Apokolips, Darkseid doing nothing but granting an audience with Desaad and Kanto, the Anti-Monitor on the verge of smiting most of the League, Mister Miracle vs Darkseid’s baby’s mama, and hanging out at the Rock with Metron are all totally engrossing scenes before that last one takes a turn that is such a forehead-slappingly magnificent piece of fanboy service, you can’t help but pump your fist at the sky. This really might have to be the high point of the arc, and no shame, because next time, they’re going to have to collapse the nigh-infinite possibilities and just show the one thing that actually happens, but in this next suspenseful four weeks, it seems like almost anything can happen next and it will be staggering. I really really loved the beat when, just when the situation could not get more drastic and eyes could not pop out any harder, Johns absolutely nails what Batman’s second question would be and then knocks that moment out of the park. So damn good. I wish the cinematic debut of this team could just be a straight adaptation of this. Fabok/Anderson continue just embarrassing most everybody else. So glad and grateful to see this book firing at such a high caliber, especially with Hitch over there doing his own exceptional business. Oh, and respect once more to the Dan Hipp TEEN TITANS GO! go-go dancin’ variant cover, which is even more hilarious juxtaposed with the interior art.
TREES #11 — Ellis does not mind taking his time with the slow burn here and letting Howard just sell this thing one or two glorious pages at a time. It seems like the colors are a bit more lush and vibrant this arc? While it’s certainly easier to keep track of only these two characters this time out, neither one of these arcs has its hooks into me making me crazy for the next issue. But I’m sure it will be riveting enough when it appears. I hope no one is still waiting for some kind of massive catch-all explanation about the Trees. They seem to be just the weather. Until they murder everyone horribly in the last issue, perhaps. That’s our Uncle Warren.
ISLAND #1 — Anthologies are a dicey prospect. By definition, they’re a grab-bag of both creators and characters. The quality will ebb and flow, but if you can make it through to the end having really enjoyed at least part of it and without being forced to skip something because it was so unbearable, it’s time well spent. And there’s something cool about diving in to a new random collection of stories without fully knowing what you’re getting into. The best deal, though, is when whatever folks curating the anthology are people whose work you enjoy. It stands to reason that even if they’re not directly responsible for the content, you’re going to dig whatever makes the cut if they do. But it’s so much better when they contribute directly. Brandon Graham and Emma Ríos are both cresting into career peaks in both artistic output and widespread recognition. Graham has followed up his several years writing and drawing the seminal and critically lauded KING CITY with the tonally similar and equally mental MULTIPLE WARHEADS while also spearheading the multi-creator revival of PROPHET, which is about as alchemical a character rehabilitation as I have ever encountered. Ríos started out on self-published zines before breaking in at Marvel with Mark Waid’s STRANGE, which led to OSBORN, her first collaboration with Kelly Sue DeConnick. The immediate and apparent synergy between these two women brought Ríos over to fill in for a couple of issues of CAPTAIN MARVEL before they brought their excellent creator-owned PRETTY DEADLY over to Image, which earned Ríos an Eisner nomination last year. Now, Graham & Ríos are publishing an oversized monthly anthology that’s 112 pages and costs only $7.99. In an age when that same price-tag will get you only forty pages of AVENGERS action, ISLAND is worth checking out on value alone.
This first issue delivers an immersive and uncommon experience from the moment you crack the cover. Marian Churchland (8house: arclight, recipient of Graham’s possibly-non-figurative “muffin delivery service”) provides a pair of two-page watercolor abstract paintings that set the mood, the first one with washes dominated with white and yellow evoking the sky, then the turn of the page giving way to a nighttime that might be stormy. This somewhat ominous opening is immediately mitigated by a whimsical page featuring Graham’s cartoon avatar being roused from slumber inside the actual and all-too-real shot of the man’s sleeping head. An omnipotent voice who might belong to Eric Stephenson tells him that he can do whatever he wants, and Li’l Graham responds that of course he’ll be wanting some of that old cannibalism but first let’s call some doodz to put together this here comic. And away we go! Ríos is up first with the first 24 pages of I.D., which takes place in a near future and juxtaposes three people discussing their desire to become guinea pigs in some sort of body transplant procedure with some good old car-crash fisticuff violence courtesy of an unnamed group of masked attackers. Ríos writes and draws, opting for the same monotone coloring style that was such a hallmark of the original run of CASANOVA with red being the color of choice here. She’s an excellent storyteller and stages her shots well throughout. The multi-shade single color causes everything to get a bit less easy to follow when the action breaks out, but it’s worth squinting through to work it all out. Ríos follows this up by providing illustrations to a five-page essay by DeConnick that is an affecting tribute to her deceased friend and mentor, poet Maggie Estep. A powerful piece of writing.
The second story was a wonderful surprise because I had no idea that Graham was going to be serializing the second volume of MULTIPLE WARHEADS in these pages, but here we are. Sexica and Nikolai are back with their ever-lovin’ organ-running and werewolf-penis-dreaming selves, and Graham continues to excel at providing highly detailed vistas that you can stare at for five minutes at a time and still not manage to take in every detail. I felt like I took a bath in these 30 pages, and they were over far too quickly with the pun-count and cringe-factor possibly at an all-time high, though this is merely speculative and not based on statistical data of any kind. The last 44 pages belong to Ludroe, who writes and draws DAGGER-PROOF MUMMY, the story of a skater girl searching for her lost mentor Dirk, who it looks like has probably had some kind of off-panel secret origin that’s turned him into the title character, a fellow who knows a thing or two about street fighting and is indeed as dagger-proof as the title suggests. Ludroe’s art is kinetic and exciting, conveying the impression that the artist is very much a skater first and comic-book creator second. Fans jonesing for the return of Jim Rugg’s long-lost-but-never-forgotten STREET ANGEL will be ecstatic to happen upon this opening chapter. And then we close with a loose three-page sequential mediation by Graham on angles and staging scenes in comics with a casual but authoritative tone that is very engaging. I very much enjoyed the Graham story and cared enough about what Ríos and Ludroe got started that I’m delighted to be on the hook for another eight bucks next month, though incoming creator Simon Roy is going to have a bit of heavy lifting to do to cover for Graham, whose MULTIPLE WARHEADS won’t return until #4. If you keep hearing about how this is a new golden age for comics, particularly of the creator-owned variety, and wonder where an ideal jumping-in point might be, look no further than ISLAND #1 for a diverse sampling of talented creators with unique voices.
ASTRO CITY #25 — Another beautiful issue of one of the best comic books ever. The look on Amanda’s face, really just her eyes, there on the bottom of Page 9, that pretty much says everything you need to know about the superhero genre and its ability to quicken the heart and inspire anyone who believes onward toward greatness. An origin issue has a lot of heavy lifting to do. Our heroine has to basically infodump her mom’s entire backstory just to get us all the way up to her own maturation and baptism of fire. In most hands, this would frontload the deal with way too much exposition, but in Busiek’s, it’s a gift, just more story for the telling and we devour it as fast as we can. Amanda has an engaging relatable voice that is irresistible not to dial into, and her teenage optimism is a welcome blast of Silver Age goodness that is timeless in any day and age. Merino shows up for a bit of fill-in work that’s almost as welcome as seeing Quarrel featured prominently in the mix of Amanda’s surrogate gang of super-aunts. The last page of this issue had me grinning from ear to ear while once again battling the bittersweet assurance that this series isn’t going to suddenly become The Adventures of Hummingbird. But what a fully realized and richly developed world these creators are carefully crafting, one character at a time.
SILVER SURFER #13 — Of COURSE the board is jealous! We saw that one coming a mile away. Slott/Allreds don’t coast on that odd dynamic, though, electing instead to take us back through on a whirlwind greatest hits edition of most (if not all?) of the locales that we’ve visited thus far. Terrific wink at the audience there in that last line on Page 2 about the Earth not going anywhere. Usually, I can’t stand that shit, but that one made me laugh. Because, yeah, business gets a bit frantic right in the middle there. The representation of Doom as a form of Eternity with Battleworld & Knowhere just floating around inside him makes all kinds of sense. And that’s quite a zoom-out at the end! These creators show that they can hang with any sort of editorially mandated crossover that roars in to rip their series apart, no matter the scope or scale.
GUARDIANS OF KNOWHERE #1 — I haven’t been picking up too many of the offshoot minis, but this one was too A-list to pass up, even if you know there are going to be no Star-Lord quips to be found. Deodato & Martin really bring the glory to those first three pages, setting the stage in lush but still nihilistic hues that evoke BLADE RUNNER just enough while not making us want to cut our wrists with how bleak it all is. There was maybe a little bit too much time spent on fight scenes this issue for my taste, making it veer more toward the decompressed end of the spectrum, but of course these artists make it look beautiful. It was interesting enough to check in with everyone, but I’m not sure there was enough of a hook for any character in particular to make me pick up the next issue. We’ll probably just see how heavy of a week it turns out to be. Oh, the suspense!