Wednesday, July 29, 2015

7/15/15


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!

Monday, July 20, 2015

7/08/15

BATMAN #42 — What’s not to love? This team is giving us a tale of Batman that we haven’t seen in really any form or fashion in nearly eighty years of continuity, and that alone is worthy of praise. Capullo/Miki/Plascencia have been masters of sequential storytelling since making their respective debuts in this title, and this issue is certainly no exception. I’m digging the idea of giving Jim some new rogues instead of just throwing Clayface at him, which I totally thought was happening at first. I love that that’s Julia in disguise, the first time she showed up and gave a different name, I was very much confused. The only beat of this I question whatsoever is what may be Snyder trying to placate fans or head inevitable bitching off at the pass by immediately being like, “No, okay, here’s Bruce, he’s fine and has a beard now, everything’s going to work out, don’t worry.” I mean, give us just Jim for a while. This whole deal with Gordon Bat-Robot has to play out for like more than six issues, right? At least a year or why even do it? Seems like you need at least that much time to scratch the surface of the potential of this set-up. So, why not give us the first six issues with just Gordon, then drop Wayne in the park right there at the end of the first trade? I don’t see any narrative benefit at all to trotting him out immediately and everything to gain from keeping him up your sleeve. Maybe I’m wrong and they’ll be some amazing crucial thing he does next month or in #44, but I’m probably not the most objective. Hell, I still wish it was Dick & Damian on BATMAN AND ROBIN and Bucky slinging around that old shield over across the street.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #8 — Kerschl returns to regular duty as the spotlight shifts to Kyle, who I previously cared about less than anyone else in the ensemble, but of course once Cloonan/Fletcher give him a little bit more attention, he’s perfectly engaging as a protagonist in his own right. This series really should just be THE ADVENTURES OF MAPS MIZAGUCHI, though, at this point. She is stealing every panel she is in without fail, immediately blurting out the deal with Tristan being only the most glaring example. Love love love this book.

JLA #2 — Bryan Hitch actually manages to raise the bar from last issue, which might raise the eyebrows of regular readers of these reviews, given how much I gushed over that situation last time. But it’s true! Rao coming to Earth is such a terrific premise, and Hitch really mines it to its fullest here. Of course, we all know that this whole deal is going to go whack-a-doodle faster than you can say, “Dead Superman from a parallel universe,” but it’s great fun to see Kal’s earnest belief juxtaposed against Bruce’s (and the reader’s) more realistic assessment of the situation. The two pages of Aquaman are again terrific. I am in love with newscaster Rosemary Chen’s line, “Superman has stated that he’ll remain on site and take personal responsibility of the safety of the world.” Because of course he will. Way to sum up the guy in one sentence. You’ve got to enjoy Batman & Cyborg Boom-Tubing into the Bat-Cave; that’s probably not going to get old any time soon. Funny bit about Bruce denying poor Vic access to the Bat-Network. Lois’s “Do We Need Another God?” is a terrifically crafted thinkpiece. The sole stumbling block for me was the three panels with Bruce and Alfred right at the end, there. I would have liked a little more showing a bit less telling. That single beat aside, this is pretty much a perfect Justice League comic book. I’m crazy about it and still kind of in shock that Hitch found a way to escalate from last issue. Keep it coming, Boss!

STARFIRE #2 — This one is even better than the first. Just get a look at the two-page splash on Pages Two and Three. While Lupacchino and the rest of the art team provide dynamic action with beautiful body language and acting, Conner & Palmiotti continue to demonstrate total command of what makes the character tick, her begging Stella to stop because she’s going to have to fly through the roof in order to save the bird, for instance. This is one of those examples (like a certain freckle-faced teen down below) in which I could absolutely take the character or leave her, but the craft behind this series is so top-notch, you can’t help but be charmed and if you care about comics at all, you have to pay attention. 

LANDO #1 — Marvel has been batting a thousand on these things thus far, so I had to at least give this one a shot, even though I’m not as big of a fan of Soule as some other folks. Maleev/Mounts naturally knock the art out of the park, making it look like Billy Dee Williams while not skewing the whole deal into too photorealistic of a place. Soule gives us an opening scene that does a fine job of setting the tone and establishing our title character as the charming scoundrel that he is. And the idea for the big job is just fine. But Lobot?!? Talking Lobot? That’s not going to fly, brother. John Hollis’s dead-faced demeanor is the entire selling point of the character for the few minutes that he’s on screen in V. I love the idea that this guy is so plugged in to Cloud City that he can’t be bothered to utter a word to either his subordinates or his boss. I’m pretty sure that the character name was derived from “lobotomy,” even, which obviously isn’t exactly the deal, but the point is, this guy walking around with Lando having banter and saying things like, “I can’t have more than one drink, that makes my implants go crazy,” reads about as ridiculously as Chewbacca suddenly breaking out into English. Not nearly as much of a betrayal of canon, perhaps, but just as nonsensical. It made this thing seem like fan fiction. Which, of course, all of these technically probably really are on every level that matters, but the other three series never read like that.

DESCENDER #5 — It’s getting grisly gruesome up in here! I keep hoping this thing is going to skew a bit softer PG so that I can bring my little girl in on the fun and it keeps veering harder and harder PG-13. “We’re fucked,” indeed! Oh, but it’s so so good. I’m not sure how many issues this is going to last, but we’re definitely sinking into the depths of the second act here, as most specifically illustrated by Dr. Quon’s twin set of difficulties. That is a hell of a cliffhanger; I am definitely going to be waiting for #6 with a bit more desperation than I was this one just to find out exactly what is going on and who really knows what. Lemire & Nguyen can do no wrong.

BLACK SCIENCE #16 — What an insane ride this book is. Remender certainly tries to pack in as much characterization as he can, but that old Pillar just won’t let up for a single issue. Kind of a left turn that came out of nowhere on Rebecca, but I guess that kind of thing has been happening this whole time. Scalera once again takes it to another level with that double-page thing across Pages Eight and Nine kind of codifying everything that this book stands for, just a wild jetpack ride that’s in danger of crashing at any given time but whose momentum cannot be contained. Dinisio has beautiful colors again from Page One on. And of course, I have no idea what even happened there at the end. Glad to read Remender’s note at the end. That first volume of UNCANNY AVENGERS, in particular, was a hell of a story, but we will definitely benefit from him focusing on his own original properties for the next little bit here.

SAGA #30 — And so we come to the ending of the fifth arc with a reunion and a resurrection bringing the action to a close for the time being. I enjoyed this one for the most part. There were several examples of solid acting through Alanna’s facial expressions that stood out to me. Fine work, Fiona Staples. And another terrific closing image. It reminds me of the way I think they shut down #18 or so? When Hazel was suddenly not a baby. Vaughan is really good at those parting shots showing us milestones of her development. The more Hazel, the better, it seems like.

BEST OF WEEK: ARCHIE #1— A reboot is a very delicate thing. You’ve got to strip down the property to its most basic elements, honoring the beating heart at its core. It’s a nuanced balancing act between peeling away the brambles of continuity that have accumulated over the years and now date the material while retaining the fundamental aspects that make the story unique. It’s been seventy-five years since Archibald Andrews and Betty Cooper made their debut in the pages of PEP COMICS #22, and in that time, Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and even that sneering old Reggie have entered the mainstream pop lexicon. Before the Fonz ever looked in the mirror to confirm that you couldn’t mess with perfection, before John Hughes first shouted, “Action!” or Ferris Bueller ever decided to take a day off, the gang at Riverdale High defined the high school experience for popular culture. Now, Eisner winners Mark Waid and Fiona Staples hit the reset button and give Archie and his friends a new beginning. And it is magnificent.

Waid makes the intelligent decision to break the fourth wall immediately. The first page is a splash of Archie simply introducing himself. This serves to draw the reader in right away while conveying what an affable personality our title character has. You can’t help but immediately like him while he catches us up on what we’ve missed because this is a total in medias res situation. Archie and Betty have been the Riverdale power couple for, like, ever, but some mysterious thing happened that’s been hashtagged as “The Lipstick Incident,” and now the pair has split. Nobody knows why, and Archie’s best friend Jughead Jones isn’t talking. And the Homecoming Dance is coming up. That relatively simple conceit is more than enough to send the reader racing through to the last page, arriving much sooner than he or she would prefer. Waid, a master of characterization, gives everyone a distinct voice, managing to make even Reggie more appealing than usual while elevating Jughead to basically Mercutio levels of scene-stealing through his nearly Machiavellian machinations in the name of friendship. Staples delivers twenty-two pages of perfection, ratcheting down the impressionistic style that has won her such acclaim on SAGA in favor of more distinct lines with an energetic momentum that suits the teenage characters and featuring vibrant colors that are a delight to behold. This team could not have done a better job realizing this material. Every component is meticulously crafted and a joy to experience working in concert as part of a seamless master class in sequential narrative. I’ve never really cared one way or another about Archie, but this was so well done, it was the best comic of the week by far, and I absolutely can’t wait for the second issue. 5/5 Atomic Breakups.

THE FOX: FOX HUNT #4 — Old Dino just goes a bit psychedelic here, folding in a bit of Escher to the hallucinatory madness. Most of this one is Paul tripping out on some gas and making fun of his own shitty rogues gallery, but there’s a nice beat at the end that brings things full circle in terms of a family of foxes and promises a rewarding conclusion next month.

INJECTION #3 — Ellis/Shalvey/Bellaire all crank it up a notch here. I had no complaints whatsoever with the first two issues, but this is a much more cohesive and coherent experience as we flash back to the team interacting with each other in a way that clearly delineates the individual characters and we zoom in on Maria and Robin as they have a conversation that by anyone else’s would be boring expositional infodump but of course in Ellis’s hands, is a riveting update torn from the latest New Scientist/whatever esoteric fairy mythology business he’s been reading of late. The two-page splash with Robin is stunning. The set-up with the athame has me very eager for the payoff next issue. It is exciting to watch these people do exactly what they want to do in the world of creator-owned.


PROVIDENCE #2 — In which Mr. Black and Mr. Mason take a walk, and then Mr. Black very nearly loses his life by treading in subterranean chambers that he should damn well know to keep clear of. All perfectly riveting proto-Lovecraftian horror and intrigue from Misters Moore & Burrows. And then like eleven pages of backmatter; it seems like Moore just wakes up and craps out sixty thousand words every single day of his life. Legend!

Friday, July 17, 2015

7/01/15

SECRET WARS #4 — Well! This is a little bit of the old not-fucking-around-from-the-get-go. Really, the cut of Thanos’s eyeballs as he dodges the Mjolnir swing in that first splash sets the tone for a simply masterful issue that grabs the reader and never lets go even as the narrative goes careening over the cliff. That initial battle is juxtaposed with an even tenser situation as Strange continues explaining the new status quo to the newcomers, with a chilling, “Long may he wear his crown,” early on to let you know just where we’re at. And you’ve got to love Victor’s interaction with his Minister of Science, Valeria Richards, as well as his reaction to finally seeing Reed. Interesting that Sue doesn’t recognize her dearest. I guess that’s to be expected; I assumed her heart had just dropped to sub-zero temperatures after #1. Then there are a couple of legitimately surprising fatalities in the final scene, there. They seemed quite sudden but are certainly the escalation we need here at the halfway point of the series. So far, this has delivered on every level, paying off years of set-up that Hickman has meticulously packed in to dozens and dozens of issues of AVENGERS with Ribic/Svorcina providing strong storytelling that always puts narrative first throughout. Strong material.

A-FORCE #002 — More greatness after the excellent debut issue. We cut right to it here with the Sub-Mariner squad encountering a portal that’s a really nice excuse to Photoshop in a bunch of art from other series realities (which I am totally not saying in a bitchy way; it was a delight to run into Skottie Young’s Li’l Cyclops vs. Li’l Cap in this context). Then cut to this mysterious Eternity Girl sort of figure that Nico found at the end of last issue. She’s still mute and appears to maybe be causing these projections, or at least the Sentinel that she magics up faster than you can say ASTONISHING X-MEN #1, but she’s got a lovely smile. And it looks like Medusa’s aggression is not as passive as it initially seemed, big surprise. This one was over too quick but lovely while it lasted.

PRINCESS LEIA #005 — I toooootally spaced that this was only supposed to be a mini-series and got kind of punched in the face by the last page here before it made me remember. But, man, do Waid & the Dodsons stick the landing. Just a perfect resolution on every level: accepting the traitor, culminating the relationship with Evaan, using oration to negotiate orbital reinforcements, and a hell of a speech passing on the torch to shut it down before Leia gets her own hero’s welcome that Dodson’s panel composition locks right into the end of EPISODE IV, bringing us full circle to the first page of this series in a very cool and natural way. This ending was perfect and majestic and punched me in the face, two out of three qualities that Leia herself can certainly be said to embody.

DARTH VADER #007 — Oh man, I love how this series is suddenly intercutting so heavily with the main title. What pure-blooded STAR WARS fan’s heart is not going to race at the idea of Vader performing a forensic examination of the Luke Skywalker vs. Boba Fett battle in Ben Kenobi’s hut on the southwestern edge of the Dune Sea? That’s just easy money, right there. I didn’t care quite as much after that opening, I guess by definition just because it’s hard to really top, I guess, but Gillen brings it right back up to a gasp with the reveal on that last page. Dr. Aphra, you are not playing the odds, ma’am!

BEST OF WEEK: GRANT MORRISON’S 18 DAYS #1 — Simply put, as if such a thing were possible, this is Morrison’s rendition of THE BHAGAVAD GITA by way of Kirby. Though Jeevan J. Kang’s style is closer to more of an Alan-Davis-level photorealism, it must be said. That combination pretty much blows my critical faculties out the window because all of these ingredients are things that I love. MAYbe I would be crazier for this if Scioli had taken a break from his eye-bleeding efforts over at IDW and was dropping more seething insanity into this, panel by panel? I don’t know, it’s pretty hard to imagine improving on this. Wonderful details like the caption, “Dollars and cents, the new gods.” That’s ridiculous. Morrison does a magnificent job of boiling down and clarifying the stakes without minimizing them for readers unfamiliar with the source material. This is a battle for nothing less than all of creation across all of space and time with billions of lives, born and unborn, living or dying based on the outcome. It is fought by millions of superwarriors and assassins, demons and monsters, giants and dark spirits, but at its heart is the story told to Master Archer and Most Feared Superwarrior Arjuna by his charioteer in the middle of the battlefield in the final moments before the carnage begins, a charioteer who just happens to be Krishna, the Living God. I can’t believe that this book exists, but I’m so happy that it does.

ONYX #1 — Ha ha, I am glad that Brother Ryall just comes out and says it in the backmatter because while I was reading through and enjoying all of that gorgeous Rodriguez staging and those facial expressions, a little voice in the back of my mind kept muttering, “Jesus, he reeeeeeeally went for it with the ROM obsession at long last.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’re enough differences and the basic Spaceknight premise is elastic enough that this series looks like it’s very much going to be its own thing. Of course, anything with art by Rodriguez/Fotos is going to be an absolute feast for the eyes, and Ryall does fine work setting up an ensemble with nine named characters, not counting the titular protagonist. I got screwed up with, I think, a misattribution on Page Five: in the first panel, the general asks Cosmo a question, but then in the next panel, Maps (not Olive’s friend from GOTHAM ACADEMY) answers the question. Which isn’t a big big deal, but that’s an unfortunate place to break reader momentum when we’ve just dialed it up hard enough to learn the names and faces of that monster cast on the previous page. A small quibble, though, this issue provides plenty of soaring spaceknight action and energy-blade slicing, and I am thrilled to support these creators’ original work.

8house #1: Arclight — Well, if you were a fan of Graham’s PROPHET, especially in the first year or so before it went completely nuclear cosmic apeshit, you are going to love this. The narrative tone is almost identical, even though we’re earthbound. Churchland’s impressionistic and muted, almost bleak, palette conjure up some alternate Renaissance populated by aliens and hooded tentacle-faced true loves who just want to get their bodies back. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this first offering from 8house, but this is a perfect initial outing. I feel like the minority of comic book fans who do latch on to this are really going to be freaks about it, it’s got “cult hit” written all of it, wafting through its panels, which I mean in the most complimentary possible way.

WE STAND ON GUARD #1 — I’m still smarting hard enough from that UNDER THE DOME horrorshow and remain not charmed enough by SAGA that this was the first BKV release in forever that wasn’t an automatic buy for me based on his name alone, but Skroce/Hollingsworth more than pass critical threshold to make me want to give it a look. And they are some pretty pages. Vaughan does a solid enough job setting up the family dynamic before raining down fiery death in the opening scene. I’m onboard with the cut to the modern-day when the little girl is a little bit older and much more badass, but then dude just absolutely fucking ruins it with that pitiful Superman diatribe. It’s almost like Vaughan’s got his whole schtick down to this inane formula: insert acerbic spin on beloved pop culture property into conversational monologue (a la the diner scene from RESERVOIR DOGS), add “fuck” or “motherfuck” because it’s cool, then juxtapose it with some really cool “oh shit” image calculated to make the reader go, “Oh shit, he went there!” No, no, no. Superman is not “a motherfucking Canadian.” That is a very forced and really almost terrible analogy that I could almost forgive, even with the guy calling him “Supes,” for God’s sake, until that splash that supposedly pays it off but that I just straight-up hated. I might give this one another shot, but it is becoming increasingly clear to me that I have very likely parted ways with the guy who had me on the edge of my seat a few years back every single month with Y THE LAST MAN and EX MACHINA. Which is a shame and I feel bad about, but this isn’t working.

AIRBOY #2 — Just when the first issue has primed us for what to expect, here comes James Robinson’s dick flapping in the wind while he runs down the street. Hinkle continues to really excel and sell these pages. That was a deft Previously… on the opening page. It’s a really nice choice to give the title character a full (though of course relatively flat) palette and keep everything else monotone (or whatever it was CASANOVA used to be, I forget now, but this look is forever CASANOVA to me). Of course, things have to take more of a, shall we say, moral plunge, but I’m glad to see Airboy lifting us up out of the situation and apparently throwing the creators into his own war-torn world. Bring on #3, which is going to by definition just HAVE to feature less dick and dick-sucking, though we live in hope.

CHEW #50 — Well, damn. I can’t believe that all this went down this issue. I mean, I know it’s a milestone issue and all, but damn. I’m not going to say one word about it other than terrific work from The Mighty Layman & Guillory, maybe even a cut above their usual magnificence. All of this was earned, and I really can’t wait to see what happens next.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #12 — Well, you know what, I read all those names across the top of the cover and then thought to myself throughout what a lovely job McKelvie/Wilson were doing on the interiors, so mission accomplished as far as bringing in Kate Brown to maintain a consistent artistic tone. In hindsight, I can see how at least it’s very much not Wilson’s palatte, but good show for Brown throughout. Aw, I miss YOUNG AVENGERS. As for content, this one didn’t move me so much. It seems like the creators love it much much more than I do. Which is important, the passion, but it’s not punching through, for me at least. You know what, though? PHONOGRAM Volume 3 on August 12th. At long last. All will be right with the immaterial world. We are living.

JUPITER’S CIRCLE #6 — Wow, Millar drops the hammer here. Pretty bleak. This most recent two-parter lacked depth and I’m not sure if that’s just because Kyle is a more shallow character or this arc just isn’t firing as hard. Or maybe I’m not drinking heavily while watching MAD MEN concurrently with this book’s release anymore? That was definitely a pretty spiffy way to dial in when this one was getting started. This one’s still quality but coasting more than a little bit here as we round the turn.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #8 — Has it been awhile since #7 came out? I feel like I missed an issue. This one was lovely all on its own, though. Albuquerque/McCaig serve up some delicious horror and Snyder keeps tension tight and everything humming right along.

ACTION COMICS #42 — I am digging on this depowered seriously scrappy take on the big guy. Forgetting he’s invulnerable and such. What hijinx! Pak & Kuder do terrific work making the mostly previously unknown supporting cast stand out. I like that Dante fellow! Quite a closing scene, there. You kind of knew it had to go that way but were holding out hope regardless. More quality from this title. We expect nothing less! Also, respect to Dan Hipp for the terrific TEEN TITANS GO! Variant covers gracing this issue and the following.

DETECTIVE COMICS #42 — Apparently Manapul’s out on art? Kind of a limp way for his partnership with Buccellato to expire. I was enjoying what they were just getting up to here with the whole Gotham Central POV on the Gordon Batman situation. The art fill-in by Fernando Blanco even pairs up with Buccellato’s colors into more of a Phillips/Breitweiser zone, which is maybe even an intentional match with the narrative tone that’s a bit more Brubaker than what we’ve been getting. Certainly sorry to see Manapul go, if that’s actually the case.

ZERO #18 —Good call bringing in Tula Lotay to shut it down. This was certainly a beautiful David Lynch fever dream. Down to the inexplicable appearance of wild horses, even. Narratively, this series really let me down on the momentum that was roaring through that first volume. I don’t know if it’s because Kot got so many other gigs since then and spread himself too thin or just grew out of caring about this or what, but while I wasn’t like put off or anything by this ending (I liked the lack of dialogue and overall tone), I closed the issue and just shrugged, Well that’s over, which I certainly hope doesn’t happen at the end of old Bucky Barnes Across Space & Time here in just the next little bit.


SATELLITE SAM #15 — We pretty much hit the, so sorry, climax last issue, so this one’s more of an epilogue, all that it’s got to do is provide closure for the surviving characters and set them up for their off-panel lives to come. Which it does a fine job of. Fraction’s rhyming first-page character descriptions are charming enough with a punchline for Stanhope that made me chuckle. Nice to see Michael and Gene come out okay. I could have used a little bit more agency attached to Libby’s final outcome, though it was a nice beat when she and Michael called each other by their full names. I actually had to turn back through when I got through to the end to make sure that I hadn’t skipped a couple of pages in which Kara Kelly didn’t get such short shrift. She deserved a little bit more. Chaykin pulled out all the stops, though, and continued his masterful work throughout. The switch to color for The Sign was a terrific touch. All told, this series didn’t overall punch me as hard in the face as it seemed like it was going to based on the promise of the first issue, but it stayed true to itself and delivered a seedy filthy good time, which is all any of us could have ever asked for. Mazel Tov!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

6/24/15

BEST OF WEEK: SUPERMAN #41 — I love every page of this. I really for the most part enjoyed the first arc by Johns/JRJr, but this is just some next-level business. Terrific opening three-panel sequence that we never even catch up to (and that will probably be the end of the arc?). And then we’re back to the soon-to-be-expired status quo, Clark as a reporter with only Jimmy clued in on his secret identity. It’s nice of Yang to provide us at least one adventure of the big guy having an adventure with his best friend before Lois blows the door wide open. I love the line, “Superman is here. DAMN.” That is, indeed, the correct reaction. We get a quality adventure with Jimmy running support before our hero rocks the serious solar-flare vision, which was terrific, but I can’t believe there was not a single dot of Kirby krackle to be found anywhere on that page. I mean, that was a decision, right? Couldn’t be an accident and, respectfully, it was the wrong decision! No sweat, though, the following two pages with Lois bring us right back into rhythm. I dug her repeating Jimmy’s “anonymous tip” motif and even that line about people with secrets not sleeping at night, usually that kind of retro-hindsight reader-foreknowledge line doesn’t work for me, but this one completely landed. An interesting hint that maybe she taking the whole thing personally is a principal reason for the outing, perhaps. And then, frankly, an alarming back half of the issue. Nobody wants to see Superman blackmailed! This is another interesting wrinkle, though. Maybe this leads to Clark having Lois blow the whistle on his secret identity with his blessing? Solid set-up here. Romita/Janson/White continue the dynamic work that they executed in the first arc, but it’s Yang who really shines here, showing up with a dramatic and exciting script that highlights the first superhero’s strengths while boldly carrying him into a new era. Recommended for one and all.

BATGIRL #41 — Oh, BurnsideGirl, we missed you so much. Stewart sits out on the layouts, but Tarr has got it more than under control with a fellow named Lopez assisting on backgrounds. We open with a follow-up to all of that Mother Electric business, which is a fine way to introduce the new Bat-status-quo before cutting to the meat of this series, the interpersonal interactions between the cast, most notably welcoming James “Dad” Gordon to the fold. It’s true about the clean-shaveness, so much of Gordon is apparently his mustache and glasses, it’s a little hard to believe. No black borderlines in the panels or word balloons, was that a thing in this book before the break? It really stands out here, lending a softness to the scene of father and daughter while also really making Lapointe’s washed-out palette of several yellows and greens stand out. And of course, Stewart/Fletcher are wise enough to give us exactly what we want for a cliffhanger, the situation implied by the cover. A welcome return to form, but I really can’t wait to see What Happens Next.

GRAYSON #9 — Oh, how I missed Dick so much. Now, they’ve got me doing it. That’s a pretty sad opening page there, how’s our boy going to get out of this one, Mr. Malone? An interesting upgrade on the Spyral hierarchy while Seeley/King take the meta-dialogue winking to another level entirely. If you’re looking us in the collective eye and having to ask, bro, no, you’re probably almost certainly bi-sexual. The one misstep, I am seriously not okay with Dick referring to him as “Bats.” Maybe this has already happened in this series once before? It is not cool. Might have been when he was twelve. I’m going to need a translator for those last couple of pages. All praise to Janin once again for drawing the absolute hell out of this, the man is an art-beast who should never be let out of his cage but fed very well and treated with all love and kindness.

THE FADE OUT #6 — I feel like that Dottie Quinn is maybe kind of a bad apple. Don’t really trust the squint behind her spectacles. Not quite buying Charlie as this beachcombing lover-man all of a sudden. There’s really not too much to this as a single when you go through and try to find a lot to talk about, but that’s owing to how well the creators manage to get out of the way and just tell the story, whether through words, lines, or colors. They’re some of the best working today.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #3 — That old Tumbril is not a nice fellow. Xanna’s arc is definitely playing out to be the most interesting thus far, though she’s certainly had the most on-panel time, so maybe that’s not fair. It’s, I don’t want to say, “nice” to get Golgoth time for more than a single scene. Rewarding? Chilling? Waid/Kitson/Sotomayor continue turning in quality work.

DAREDEVIL #016 — This run has been going on for several years now, so it’s definitely a big deal for Wilson Fisk to finally show up on-panel. Waid and crew do a good job injecting the opening scene with enough give-and-take and enmity to capture the reader’s immediate interest, as many times as we’ve seen Matt, if I may, stare down the Kingpin. Samnee/Wilson knock that Page Six splash of the many artistic deaths of Matt Murdock out of the park. And Foggy and Kirsten’s mutual sigh on the following page, oh, they both love Matty so much. And but everything seems to be circling round the drain all of a sudden! “NEXT: FINALE PART 1”? I hadn’t heard that Waid was moving on, but I suppose that’s what’s happening. Well, sad but it should be a rip-roaring curtain call.


UNCANNY AVENGERS #005 — The End? I think Remender might actually potentially be done with these people. Which is a little bit bittersweet, this ends a line of excellent serial storytelling he’s been doing in the Marvel Universe that has been unbroken since UNCANNY X-FORCE got going quite a few years back, now. I was definitely a bit lukewarm on this arc while it got spinning up, but it finished strongly enough that I feel good about the whole deal. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the Vision & the Scarlet Witch. But aren’t we all? Amidst all the reasonably blatant editorial set-up (Here comes another Evolutionary War! The twins have a dark secret!), Remender brings his characters to the end of their time with him and provides a satisfying coda for at least Wanda, though I expected a little bit more for Rogue. But everything ends, as they say.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

6/17/15

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 — This issue blindsided me in more ways than one. I didn’t realize it was coming out today. I had no idea that there were going to be six (or seven?) variant covers featuring every member of the League (which looked quite striking side by side on the rack, by the way). I didn’t know that it was going to be $6 or feature 48 damn pages of glorious Hitch art. And I didn’t expect the script was going to be as rock-solid as it was. Really, just a terrific opening on every level. A very immediately engaging premise that is of course a very foreboding set-up for the tale to come. Nobody wants to see a pile of dead Supermans (pretty sure that’s how the plural of that should go). You know, it took this issue to make me realize, for all of the criticism that Snyder took for the disaster porn aspects of the fiasco that was MAN OF STEEL, that aspect of it really is just coming full-circle with the widescreen city-leveling madness that Hitch first popularized with Ellis back on their THE AUTHORITY fifteen years gone already. Think about it, though, every Hitch project since then, of course THE ULTIMATES and then the FF run with Millar and that mini-series with Wossy all the way up to the original AGE OF ULTRON thing with Bendis, there are a loooooot of finely rendered depictions of cracked-ass skyscrapers getting torn down to rubble by unmitigated superheroic destruction. And while we are quick to criticize that going down on the big screen (really kicking into gear with JOSS WHEDON’S MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS, as well, let it be said), we’ve always just been stunned by Hitch’s draftsmanship. Certainly no one’s coined the term “disaster porn” to describe it that I’m aware of in all these years. Maybe it’s just because the characterization in the comics has been better and so the destructive catharsis feels more earned? An interesting discrepancy. This issue here, though, is nothing but Hitch at play with DC’s biggest guns. The Aquaman scenes are an interesting standalone juxtaposition with the other more straight-ahead superhero action. There was maybe a little bit more mostly gratuitous swearing than seems ideal for a book you’d want to get a bit evangelical with amongst the younger crowd (In just the centerpiece ensemble fight scene alone, Batman busts out two “Dammit”s [which actually almost could have become more of an entertaining thing if he’d maintained the rhythm and just stuck with that as like a sort of an involuntary epithet Tourette’s crutch for while high-powered business is just breaking down], a “damn” that broke that rhythm, Parasite calls Wonder Woman a bitch, and Superman even gets in on the action with a “damn,” as well). Overall, though, this is a tremendously entertaining issue and a pleasure to feast your eyes on, as well as an intriguing premise that actually feels like something we haven’t seen before, after all of these years. You’ve got to almost feel a little bad for poor Mark Millar, the golden boy who can churn out creator-owned Hollywood-ready books that get optioned just as fast as he can sign up an A-list artist for “pages”/storyboards but who is apparently still blackballed at DC from scripting his dream gig on basically this very title. When the script is this solid, though, we don’t even miss him. I fervently hope that all of the DC cinematic folk who have apparently fetishized Miller’s DARK KNIGHT run from thirty years ago are still paying attention and can swerve the situation of their output a little bit in this direction. They can still get their buildings all smashed to powder while everybody stays true to who they are as a character and not be deconstructed into some apology that was played out around the time Marvel went bankrupt. But, I digress. Go, Hitch!

ROBIN, SON OF BATMAN #1 — I have made no secret that early on in the now-bygone days of The New 52, BATMAN AND ROBIN shot out in front of the pack in terms of quality, consistency, and overall emotional devastation, really packing it in in terms of what your monthly superhero sequential can and should be able to deliver on a regular basis. Those guys did such a strong job that they brought a tear to more than one fanboy’s eye through the at-the-time soul-crushing trick of putting Batman through two years of shit in order to earn a single smile that is one of the most rewarding payoffs I can recall expecting in serial fiction. So, when writer Peter J. Tomasi went on to other projects, all were sad but then buoyed by the news that at least the art team would soldier on with Patrick Gleason taking on scripting duties singlehandedly. My optimism was tempered by the fact that for every Darwyn Cooke or Paul Pope or Erik Larsen one-man-band storytelling engine, there are the cautionary tales of Todd McFarlane cutting his teeth on one of the best-selling polybagged comics of the nineties and not, in fact, managing to rise above it all. Or, um, that time they let Andy Kubert out from behind his drawing board to wreak serious havoc on this very character. But hey, this series apparently has a Man-Bat sidekick named Goliath, so right off the bat, we’re starting out ahead of the game. And never looking back. Of course, the art maintains the very high standard that Gleason/Gray/Kalisz have set for themselves, but the terrific news is that Gleason appears to have already spent so much time with Damian Wayne and be so invested in the character that he gives every indication of being the only person besides Morrison or Tomasi to be able to strike the right balance of arrogance and relentless drive to honor his father’s legacy that is such a core component of what makes Damian who he is. And oh, it does my heart good. I really wanted to be able to fully invest in this title. Not only is this a very satisfying pilot episode representing the new status quo from Page One, but the Year of Blood/Atonement storyline sounds like a perfect long arc and is perfectly in line with Damian’s long-term development as a character. For all the rebooting, reimagining, and streamlining going on these days (see: BATMAN, GRAYSON, SUPERMAN, BATGIRL, STARFIRE, and this next one down below), as important as that is to kick off the cobwebs and dust of years of accumulated continuity in order to pull in new readers to this ever-diminishing fanbase, it is just as important to reward the long-time stalwart readers with palpable non-illusory growth over time to characters who we have become invested in over the course of years. I couldn’t stand Damian Wayne when he showed up in Morrison’s first issue anymore than anybody else could. But somewhere along the way, maybe as early as him shit-talking Dick & “Pennyworth” that very first time he was in the suit in that first Quitely issue of BATMAN AND ROBIN, I realized how much I actually liked the little bastard, shit though he was. And the work that Morrison and Tomasi put into him in the intervening six years made him one of, if not the, most nuanced, interesting, and well-developed new character in at least mainstream superhero comics, if not the entire medium. It is so gratifying to see that he remains in good hands while entering this new fatherless time in his crimefighting career. God help us all.

BLACK CANARY #1 — I have been seriously onboard with both the Burnside BATGIRL and GOTHAM ACADEMY since their first issues and also really dug the Annie Wu/Kate Bishop issues of HAWKEYE (which I realize isn’t like a controversial stance on either count), so it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to try this thing out. Though I have to say, I worried that maybe we were stretching ourselves a bit thin already spinning Dinah out of Barbara’s book, there. Any concern was completely misplaced; this book is totally its own thing and a more compelling direction for the title character than I recall reading. It’s certainly nice to see her fronting an eponymous band as opposed to completing the phrase GREEN ARROW & _______. This series is rock and roll all the way. Like, already more rock and roll than SCOTT PILGRIM, and those books had a backbeat built in to every turn of the page. An all-new supporting cast here, the band gets interesting character tics but not too much exposition out of the gate, but there’s enough to invest in. Hell, anyone who can cause a guitar to phase and flange, echo and delay without stompboxes has my full attention. What a terrific counterpoint to Dinah. Love Fletcher’s scripting, love Wu’s art, I’m all in for the big rawkshow.

BEST OF WEEK: ASTRO CITY #24 — Okay, and then something like this comes along and just blows everything away. I’ve been trying to parse exactly how Busiek/Anderson and friends made me care so much about a super-powered gorilla who just wants to be a rock-and-roll drummer, but somewhere along the way, I realized that I was already answering my own question. There’s also the fact that we’ve been visiting ASTRO CITY almost-regularly for twenty years now*, and the roving-eye constantly-shifting protagonist aspect of this series has resulted in some of the most concise, consistent, and fully realized world building that it’s ever been my pleasure to encounter, the kind of work that you can really only do panel by panel, year after year. Serious respect to Busiek for not only having Samaritan explicitly quote the mantra of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, “There’s always a way,” but have him deliver this line during a rooftop scene that’s a cover version/homage to the all-time classic Saving Regan scene from #10. And you’ve got to love a little touch like just throwing Astra in, a supporting character that doesn’t have to mean anything unless you remember her being a little girl in #2 of Volume 2 many many years ago, and then she had that incredible one-shot just a few years back when she graduated high school. So there’s all of that character investment charged up in a character who’s just one of six in an opening fight scene that’s just meant to establish the status quo for the issue before immediately upsetting it. These guys make all of this look easy, and it’s so enjoyable to read, but the level of craft required to make all of this happen requires master storytellers, and we are lucky to have them bringing us tales that we can care about as much as they clearly do. There have been so many times when I’ve finished an issue and just hollered, “That’s the series! Do that! Don’t put that person on the bench for the next five years, I’m begging you!” Even though that’s the beauty of this series. It’s an entire fully realized universe in one single title. But I have never ever wanted a spinoff ongoing title from this book more than THE NEW ROCK’N’ROLL ADVENTURES OF POWERCHORD! Please, Kurt Busiek, make it happen. I’m begging you.

TREES #10 — Okay, yeah, so Ellis doesn’t appear to be even writing this with breaks in mind, the page count just runs out and we’ll see you next month. As hoped for, that flashback that ended #9 makes a little more narrative sense when we can actually have the back half of the scene. This mayor guy is an interesting new character. And then we’re back with the surviving doc, managing to insult her new locale while not offending the locals. Jason Howard remains a cartooning barbarian on this thing; every turn of the page really is a delight, no matter what horrible shit Uncle Warren has the characters doing or saying or thinking about.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #9 — Nice reversal here. We zoom out to the sheriff and get most of the sympathy/empathy we might have built up for old Euless Boss over the course of the last arc beaten out of us with a single baseball-bat-maimin’ scene. What is it about this county and big ol’ sticks? The shifting character focus might be the most interesting aspect of this series, but I think all most folks are waiting on at this point is for Earl Tubb’s daughter to show up and just start chucking napalm out on the street, cooking barbecue in the undying flames. I enjoyed the nooks and crannies of this issue and had no problem dialing in to our new temporary lead, but I wish they wouldn’t have gone with the straight MAD MEN pilot ending on the last page. That was such a powerful thing when it happened the first time, you can’t really do it again without suffering from inferior comparisons, certainly not in the last beat of your first episode.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #9 — Who among us was prepared for the secret origin of Pandor? Not I, fellow Stunned! Really glad to hear about 3-D Cowboy’s newfound sobriety and improved situation at home. But then this whole issue is batshit crazy! Once again. There is nothing in the world like this series, and I am grateful for that, but then I recommend that you all ascend into its finely rendered insanity as often as possible but no less than once a month. Long live King Pandor of the Royal Burger!

LOW #7 — Mmm, this is an interesting little zoom-in here where we completely bail on the main plot fired up from the first arc and cut to another city, focusing on a pair of woman, one of whom is basically imagination police, an upgrade from Bradbury’s firemen from FARENHEIT 451, whose job it is to eradicate artists, which is unfortunate because her lover is a really talented painter. There’s some meaty character work here, reminiscent of THE OUTER LIMITS, a very solid done-in-one that’s a rewarding experience all on its own. Tocchini throws down maybe his best pages yet again. This is still an interesting one to watch, especially in light of this new wrinkle in the narrative format.

BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER #009 — As usual, Rudy absolutely paints the hell out of this thing. The layouts are dynamic, and the eye can’t help but be drawn across the page, torn between the desire to marvel at the depth of skill and technique inherent in every innovatively bordered panel while eager to devour the next images. Kot’s script, however, leaves much to be desired. We burn basically the entire issue on Loki taunting our hero in rhyme before eventually being overcome at the end, which comes across as terribly self-indulgent and, if not squandering Rudy’s considerable talent, at least not making optimum use of it in terms of telling a story that’s engaging and entertaining. I wish this thing felt a little bit trashier, a little bit pulpier, a little bit less impressed with itself and packed in with more heart-pounding moments of action, adventure, wonder, and space-opera glory. It doesn’t have to just be an analogue of FLASH GORDON or ADAM STRANGE, but it feels like it’s trying so hard to range around and not be those things that it’s failing to do the most important thing: latch on to the reader and never let go.

THORS #1—I’ve been tradewaiting Aaron’s run on THOR but had to go on and jump right in to this situation to stay current with the event as it unfolds. This is a great take on things that Aaron has going here. The vibe that Hickman was rocking in #s 2 and 3 of the main series was a sort of Thor Corps, very much an analogue to what Hal Jordan and friends get up to on the other side of the corporate spectrum. Here, Aaron doubles-down on that concept, making this almost a straight procedural in which the Thors have partners, investigate murders, are called into Odin’s office and berated for not clearing cases, drink mead in bars when they’re not solving murders, the whole nine realms (forgive me for that). That’s a great look for this title even before featuring Ultimate Thor & Beta Ray Bill as our two leads. Terrific interplay to be had between the two throughout this book. And all kinds of great supporting characters waiting in the wings, Storm is a Thor here, as is a Destroyer, and even Thor-frog gets in on the act as a medical examiner. The art team shows up in force with Sprouse/Story providing dynamic visuals and Gracia making them look as beautiful as he always does. I am all in on this one, to be sure.

OLD MAN LOGAN #002 — Bendis/Sorrentino don’t let up as they just right away set out to maximize the potential of a set-up this nutty and straight-up kick our grizzled Man Named Logan into the Age of Apocalypse, which results in more confusion than anything else this issue, a slight momentum-killer that Creative mitigates by just bringing dude face to face with Apocalypse himself by issue’s end. Grand and glorious fun, both of these SECRET WARS tie-ins are the high end of what is possible when the creators embrace the madness inherent in a premise this wide open and just get to work telling the best stories that they possibly can.




*is this the first time, in all these years, that an ASTRO CITY volume has made it to #24? Seems like that Volume 2 shut down at #23 and we’ve never made it this far since, what with all that THE DARK AGEing for all those years. Huzzah!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

6/10/15

BATMAN #41 — Well, I thought those bunny ears they put on top of that armor looked as stupid as anybody else did, and that first image was certainly not putting their best foot forward in terms of advance PR, but I was confident that once we actually got to the interior pages, these guys weren’t going to let us down. It’s Snyder/Capullo/Miki/Plascencia, after all. This is definitely a compelling pilot episode for Gordon Batman/Commissioner BatGordon? I guess I don’t want to be the one to coin a stupid name for him, surely somebody else will take care of that (Update: Bullock does a few titles down with Bat-Robot, apparently). These guys have certainly earned my trust in terms of getting it done inside Gotham City and I’m interested to see where they’re going to take this. It does seem a liiiiiiiiiittle bit soon to already be teasing Bruce Wayne’s return, but I guess that’s the nature of the beast.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #7 — In the vernacular of this milieu, I am Team Kerschl all the way and had serious doubts about anyone else being able to bring the artistic thunder on this book to a similar degree, but Mingue Helen Chen does exactly that. We don’t even need Olive on-panel for a single page as Maps steps up to the plate with a charming misadventure co-starring new enrollee Damian Wayne. She’s such a wonderful fully-realized character, and they play very well off of one another. My favorite panel has got to be Ode to the Grapple-Gun of My Dreams. And was Damian quoting Luke Skywalker on the next page before they went swinging across campus? You’ve got to love the reference to Inishtree and old Contarf Wayne leading in to an untold case of The Batman and a demon bird. Good times! Professor Macpherson & Ham the mystery-solving dog are also interesting company to keep. Damian almost slipping and calling Batman his father is another instant classic. Really wish he was going to be staying around, but I guess him joining the ensemble was too good to be true. It would be hard for him not to dominate the whole book, Mercutio-style, I suppose.

STARFIRE #1 — I had high hopes for this one based on Conner/Palmiotti’s involvement. They’re the ideal team to tackle writing Kori’s solo adventures, but with the help of Emanuela Lupacchino, they absolutely knock it out of the park. Starfire stays true to herself and expresses the openness and alien naïveté that characterized her earliest appearances back in the Wolfman/Perez heyday without being overly sexualized and just shabbily treated the way she has been here lately since the reboot. We get an interesting enough new supporting cast; I was completely engaged as our heroine rocketed from adventure to misadventure. The only stumbling block for me was when the two of them just broke down in the car crying over the dead grandmother. That seemed a little out of nowhere to me, but it did get us into the bar for some beers, so I’m willing to let it slide this time. Definitely onboard to see where this one goes.

DETECTIVE COMICS #41 — I like these guys writing Bullock as the lead character much more than I do them handling Bruce Wayne, apparently, because this script was clicking for me in all the ways that the Anarky plot wasn’t, as gorgeous as the art remained throughout. It’s an interesting new status quo, and making this title the modern-day equivalent of GOTHAM CENTRAL is a great call, as much of a deal as that is to live up to. But Bullock hollering, “Lies!” while roaring off his barstool to join Montoya in the cop vs. biker brawl is a terrific launch out of the gate.

CHRONONAUTS #4 — What a hail-Mary finish! This double-sized finale pulls this strange trick where it kind of pivots like the third act of a motion picture and suddenly drops the majority of the humorous time-travel gags (not that there could have been that many left, those last two issues were bananas) in favor of suddenly reinforcing traditional ideals and values of family and security, all while still sprinkling in amusing subversions such as the final fate of Mannix and, of course, the very last beat of the series, which had me laughing out loud and applauding. Terrific scripting from Millar and absolutely fantastic art from Murphy/Hollingsworth. I look forward to the inevitable cinematic adaptation brought to us by Matthew Vaughan.

NAMELESS #4 — Okay, so this is just basically some deeply scarring shit for folks who always kind of wished that EVENT HORIZON had taken it about thirty-five minutes further. Which is a group that I used to think that I was a part of, but it’s some terrifying frontier out here, mi hermanos! Burnham plumbs new depths of horror and fine linework and my man Morrison is, shall we say, not using the medium to encourage and inspire us to unlock and activate our own true potential as much as just icepick nightmares directly into our brains. And Fairbairn’s colors are immaculate. Everybody here is doing terrific work, as long as you have no problem that they’re basically dumping a fucking horror show into your eyes. Last night, I soaked my contacts in bleach-water and now everything is much better.

BEST OF WEEK: DESCENDER #4 — Good Lord, I love this book. I thought that last issue was as much as they were going to elevate the game, but I didn’t realize, it frankly wasn’t until that shot of the cover for next issue that’s a pin-up of all of them together that I realized that this is just another ragged group of a crew who has no reason being in each other’s company thrust together due to circumstances beyond their control, which is of course a trope of these things, but this slow burn is a bit more nuanced and controlled than the way that the crews of the, say, Millennium Falcon or Serenity came together, which creates a much more pleasant result because there’s the illusion of this organic coming together that’s totally unforced (pun intended) even though obviously that’s not the case. But the way that no-nonsense Captain Telsa riffs off of the somewhat cowardly Dr. Quon and both of them off all three ’bots, it’s just . . . this is some really really good storytelling here. And that’s just Lemire’s scripting, I haven’t even gone into the sparse but beautiful destruction that Nguyen has been throwing down on every single page. He’s a master of cartooning, and the sincerity in Tim’s face when he exclaims, “I want to help!” is so earnest, it’s immediately heartbreaking. Stunning. I know this has got to be a mini-series because these guys are just too in demand, but please, no one tell me when it’s going to end because I never want it to. Wonderful wonderful.

BLACK SCIENCE #15 — This series is really accelerating toward a crazy place, but every page is already more than worth the ride. Scalera came out guns blazing in #1 and continues to find a way to escalate his craft. That splash on Page 16 revealing the next potential distraction is a thunderous piece of interior art that mandates a judicious level of Kirby krackle, to be sure. And I’m crazy for the scrawls of velocity in the sky behind Grant any time that he’s flying. To say nothing of Dinisio’s colors, and Remender is obviously really putting his heart into this one. Just really terrific work all around.

INJECTION #2 — I have more questions at the end of this one than I did after #1, but I enjoyed the hell out of the ride. That Declan Shalvey can really stage a fracas throwdown for you. Ellis is in no rush to make us fully acquainted with our ensemble, but there are some key conversations in this one that help flesh out their relationships to one another. Beautiful colors from Jordie Bellaire again. I’m just grateful that Uncle Warren has seen fit to grace us with monthly shots of his madness once again.

SAGA #29 — As dedicated Wednesday Night Faithful know, I am in the minority of individuals who are not completely falling over themselves to proclaim the supernova greatness of this book and how it’s saving comics and the greatest thing since STAR WARS back before George started calling it EPISODE IV. Sometimes, these singles rub me the wrong way. This one didn’t. Maybe it was because they surprised me by holding off on the “Oh no they di’n’t” moment until that horrific double-splash on Pages 6 and 7 as opposed to just blasting it in our faces first thing. The last panel on Page 5 leading up to that spread is incredible. Since it’s this book, we know that our eyes and imaginations are about to be permanently scarred, but it’s still a pretty horrifying turn of the page, there. And the requisite shocking character death(s) abound once again. But leave dear Ghüs alone. Never Ghüs!

THE FOX: FOX HUNT #3 — Mae gets in on the superheroing act, making it a full-on family affair, though Paul is too busy fighting a disgusting tentacle-woman to get hip to the situation. Haspiel & Waid serve up more of the same Silver Age thrills with dynamic art and a script that krackles. This issue is good fun all around and Douglas Wolk’s essay on the fox legend is a charming piece of back-matter.

SAVAGE DRAGON #204 — Well, I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming, but the screwball teen sex comedy vibe that was dominating this one for the last little bit, while at the time seeming like a completely organic plot development reflecting the age of its characters, was also just a serious set-up for all of the conception difficulties that are about to rein down on poor Malcolm. It shouldn’t be funny, but it almost is, how when any previous liaison tells him that she’s knocked up, his immediate go-to response is, “Abort! Abort!” like he’s watching TOP GUN or something. Of course, the elephant in the room is that we haven’t heard about Maxine’s status yet, but so far we’re two for two for fertilized eggs. Not a good sign, methinks.

SILVER SURFER #012 — “THE END?” Does that mean we’re done with this series? If so, this was a lovely and elegant way to go out with all of the cosmic threat removed, the conflict stripped down to the relationship between our titular protagonist and Dawn Greenwood. Slott never spun his wheels with this one; several of these status quos would have been entertaining as more than single-issue set-ups. I was just getting used to bearded-fisherman Norrin Radd. He seems like a fun guy to knock back a few with at the bonfire, you know? I cut my teeth on Jim Starlin and Ron Lim throwing down the absolute justice on SILVER SURFER around 1990 while bringing Thanos back before INFINITY GAUNTLET hit and that run will always have a special place in my heart, the beats it hit on a month-to-month basis, but these guys and gal might have produced a more iconic run that speaks to the Platonic ideal of who the character really is at his core. I certainly hope there’s more to come.


SPIDER-GWEN #005 — Okay now but what? This issue straight-up ends with a To Be Continued, but then editorial just slams the door on that when you turn the page and says that we’re done here. I am interested in following the adventures of this character somewhere else but would really prefer for Latour/Rodriguez/Renzi to be chronicling them for the next two to eight years, please. Especially when this series is doing nothing but picking up steam! As if there’s not enough going on with developing the regular cast, we get Felicia Hardy dropped into the mix complete with a double-page origin that tells us all we need to know before the rock show commences. You’ve got to love Matt Murderdock’s early-days costume in this universe being identical to the Netflix version. He seems to kind of be shaping up as Gwen’s nemesis, yet another inspired choice in a series full of them. The script is tight. All of the art is on point. Please bring this book back to us intact after all of the Secret Wars are over with. Don’t show us what a world with SPIDER-GWEN could be like before cruelly ripping it away after a handful of issues. Really, a drum solo in just the perfect place might have been all that this book needed to put it over the top and steal BEST OF WEEK from that DESCENDER, no mean feat at all.

Friday, June 12, 2015

6/03/15

ACTION COMICS #41 — I have been loving this book ever since Pak/Kuder came on board, but these guys really take advantage of the line-wide relaunch/soft reboot/whatever we’re calling it to substantially elevate their game on this title (and without renumbering, even, what a trick). We’re thrown into what turns out to be the beginning of the resolution of an all-new desperate situation involving our hero just barely making it to the fringe of civilization after presumably walking from a Fortress of Solitude that turned against him and possibly had something to do with depowering him? It’s a risky non-linear maneuver, kicking events forward and promising via cheeky editorial footnotes to fill in the gaps later on in subsequent issues, but it pays off, creating an immediately engaging story in which the reader is just as uncomfortable and thrown out of the comfort zone of the usual status quo as our protagonist. Kuder’s dynamic layouts guide the reader’s eye along the page with an energetic hum, but the real work is happening in the excellent character acting that he accomplishes through emotive facial expressions and striking body language. These people really do come alive. Morey/Hi-Fi lend the proceedings a decidedly European tone with the employment of earthy hues throughout, which serve to complement the back-to-basics approach that Pak & Kuder’s plot have brought us around to, echoing the situation that Morrison had going back in #1 of this volume, not only bringing back the jeans-and-a-T-shirt look but even working in a faster-than-a-speeding-bullet sprint and a leaps-tall-buildings-with-a-single-bound hop in successive pages, to the point that when Brother punched the shadow creature, as great as that splash was, my first reaction was, “Hey now, where the hell is that locomotive?” But the best thing, the very best thing about this issue is that two-panel shot halfway through when one of the very cool and grateful neighbors of Kentville asks our boy if he’s still strong, and the guy big responds by dangling a bunch of kids off of his biceps while beaming, just smiling so wide. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That’s not just MY Superman. That’s Superman, full stop. Such terrific work these guys are doing, so glad that they seem to be absolutely roaring into a second wind on this run.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #41 — Now, this is the business that I’ve been waiting for. I have not been loving Johns’s work ever since the reboot but checking in intermittently, and the fellow finally throws it down. This is a very satisfying issue on every level with all of the balanced interplay between the ensemble that this book requires to be successful and plenty of Mister Miracle and Mother Box to boot. My sole scripting quibble was that he’s got Superman saying “For who?” which is grammatically incorrect and basically impossible for a genius reporter who sometimes goes by the name of Clark Kent to utter. Other than that, glory throughout. Jason Fabok finds a way to elevate his previously jaw-dropping game and brings the absolute thunder throughout with several iconic splashes that always arrive at just the right time and never at the expense of narrative clarity. There could have maaaaaaybe been a little bit more Kirby krackle throughout, but I’m probably always going to say that, as much trouble as I give poor Scioli for bringing krackle on even like 14 out of 20 pages with his latest series sometimes over at IDW. I bought this issue on a hopeful note, and it really delivers on every level. I’m all in for The Darkseid War and glad to be.

STAR WARS #006 — A pretty legendary wrap-up to the first arc here. It’s a shame to have to say goodbye to John Cassaday & Laura Martin, but I am certainly grateful to have had them providing interiors for a full six issues.  They certainly blow it up on the way out the door, though. We get Luke Skywalker fighting Boba Fett in Ben Kenobi’s old place with a blue lightsaber versus a jet-pack and a trusty droid to help save the day. There is a terrific series of cliffhangers. I’m sure that there will be people howling about the big reveal with Han, but it seems perfectly in character to me and certainly makes the situation a bit more complex, going forward. Finding Obi-Wan’s journal certainly opens the door to a bevy of interesting tales filling in the Jedi Knight’s lost years on Tatooine. Paging Ewan McGregor! And that last scene, man. Some pretty iconic business.

DARTH VADER #006 — This is really just two scenes. We have an in-depth review of all of those new bad guys that bum-rushed Vader at the end of last issue, which is all well and good but I didn’t care too much about it. The business kicks in, though, in the back half of the issue when Boba Fett shows up to make his report. Now, at first I was calling Bullshit, as they were just giving us the same thing we just got at the end of the main title, word for word, but then Vader’s reaction kicks in and Larocca starts dilating the time with flashbacks to key moments from the prequels featuring dearly departed Padme, which really adds a great deal of narrative weight to a scene that already played well but definitely deserved to be expanded. Very solid craftsmanship on the interweaving between titles here.

PRINCESS LEIA #004 — Waid & the Dodsons keep up the thunder as our princess makes plans to trade herself for an Alderaanian that the Empire is holding hostage and two members of her staff try unsuccessfully to recruit the people of Espirion to the cause, a subplot that I’m sure will build to something worthwhile but that feels totally shoe-horned in here.

SECRET WARS #3 — Now that the bar has been raised so high by #2, we’re walking into this expecting some pretty serious business. As Sheriff Strange and the Thor Corps begin to unravel the mystery of the interlopers from Earth-1610, God Doom & Imperial Consort Susan Richards weigh his reign. Man, even just a relatively simple summary of this thing sounds just too cool. When Strange explains the new status quo to the crew who have been in stasis and reveals who’s been playing God, the stunned reaction shot is one for the ages. Ribic/Svorcina are still drawing the hell out of this, but it’s Hickman’s vast imagination that is propelling this series into arguably already the most enjoyable Big Event I have ever enjoyed from the House of Ideas. Very very strong material.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #041 — We come at last to the final issue of this title, as apparently the Bendis run is concluding in what they’re calling UNCANNY X-MEN #600. It’s definitely a bittersweet issue, very well made, but I’m just kind of sad because the ride is almost over. This is especially a bummer as Bendis brings in a whole new crew of favorites (as well as Random) who have been consigned to mutant limbo the past few years (not Illyana’s place either, I mean, the unpublished kind). I was always a fan of the Madison Jeffries incarnation of Box. There’s a terrific riff on generational humor as Boom-Boom straight up screams at the titular characters to get off her lawn. Asrar/Gracia throw down the kind of thunder and lightning to which we’ve all become accustomed. I am really going to miss this book. 

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: RENEW YOUR VOWS #1 — Wow. All right, let it be said that no one hated the neck-breakin’ climax of MAN OF STEEL more than I did. I won’t belabor that anymore but only mention it here as context to say that while that ending absolutely did not work for me, this one does. A very similar set-up, but Peter making the same decision makes total sense, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a parent who wouldn’t do the same thing. You’d have to search a lot harder to find an psychotic alien symbiote as an antagonist, but you get my point. This really just serves as the pilot episode for what is a completely reset status quo by issue’s end. This one has A-list talent all the way with Slott/Kubert leading the charge, but more importantly, it follows the initial premise to its inevitable conclusion: if Peter & MJ really had a kid, there would be a brief period of not-yet-getting-it because he’s Peter Parker, but pretty soon, he would realize that he’s got to hang it up for the greatest responsibility of all, being a parent. Very interested to see where this one is going next issue.

BEST OF WEEK*: NONPLAYER #2 — It’s impossible to discuss this issue outside of the context of the fact that it’s been a little more than four years since #1 came out. My little girl was only two years old when we got blown away by #1 and I said to myself, “I hope this Simpson guy has a couple more of these in the can because it looks like these pages took a loooooooong time to produce.” Well, I was certainly right about that. He did not, and now my little girl is done with kindergarten. But let’s just talk about the issue on its own merits, yes? It’s a pretty staggering situation. Both inside covers are in-story art, bringing the total page-count to thirty uninterrupted ad-free pages of a singularly unique and absolutely gorgeous story that is as immersive and all-encompassing as the truly massive multi-player online virtual role-playing game that is such a critical element of this series. If anything, creator Nate Simpson ups the ante on his insane, super-precise detailed visuals that have basically anyone who lays eyes on them running for cover. Every page is basically a staggering feast for the eyes that I suspect even has Geof Darrow shaking his head, muttering, “too much, too muuuuuuuch.” The colors evoke strong Moebius tones, which is a perfect fit for the futuristic science-fiction tone of the series. But hey, we all knew that Simpson could draw like the greatest badass of his age. The really good news here, particularly after such a long wait, is that his script does everything that it should be doing here. He seriously zooms out and rather than provide another very gorgeous set-piece (which was a great opening hook on #1, don’t get me wrong), Simpson gets on with some serious world-building, introducing several new characters who populate the real world in which Dana Stevens lives (and with whom we are so busy meeting, we only get Dana for two panels this time out. Simpson is berserker!). We open with Jeff Homer, the charismatic but clearly sinister CEO of Lands Unlimited, the manufacturer of “Warriors of Jarvath,” the fantasy virtual reality game that apparently over a billion people are playing at one time. So the deal is, this game is such a ridiculous simulation that it actually has an entire artificial planet up and running at any given time, creatures living and dying in the deep oceans that nobody ever sees and so forth. The girl interviewing Homer brings up some allegations about the non-player characters, a title-referencing exchange that is obviously a huge deal going forward. Apparently, the non-player characters in “Warriors of Jarvath” can straight-up pass a Turing test, but Homer assures us that it’s all “smoke and mirrors” and nothing to worry about. Famous last words! Then, we do need a little action, so cut to a hostage crisis at a fish market where we meet Roland Hanley, a police detective who’s seen it all but appears to be a pretty good dude. Simpson doesn’t really sink his teeth into this character to let him break out of his basic good-guy tough-cop archetype, but he’s likeable enough. Probably his defining trait at this point is that he’s unflappable, completely not fazed by all of the crazy tech and giant robot business that’s got all of us readers bulging our eyes at every turn of the page. Then, there’s Alan, the apparently genius programmer who Homer fires from Lands Unlimited because it looks like he’s maybe been breaking some sanctions on coding AI and making them technically human? That seems like a safe bet. Alan eventually goes home to meet a synthetic customized Queen Fendra android. She was the one who Dana killed last issue, remember. And he’s just basically a sad sack who’s trying to code his idealized virtual reality into real life as well as he can, bless his heart. We also learn about the National Artificial Intelligence Bureau (NAIB), who use a riff on the MINORITY REPORT triad called CUBE (Cognitively Unlimited Bulwark Entity) to solve crimes. And then we head back to the South Realms of Jarvath to check in with King Heremoth, who is wounded but learns from a soothsayer that Queen Fendra yet lives in another dimension (they call it Hell, but it’s just the real world), and so he asks for his sword and then the door slams shut on this gorgeous expansive tale. No wonder there was no time for Dana this issue! Hope no one has been waiting too long for any kind of insight into her tamale delivery methodology! Simpson is an unparalleled force. This issue was very much worth the wait on every level; it had a lot of expectations to live up to multiplied by the massive gap in publication, but it exceeded my very high hopes for it. I am hoping that we can maybe get a look at #3 some time before 2017, but whatever works. Certainly don’t start rushing it at this point, my man, hey.

TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE #7 — Yikes. This is the THE PRISONER-Scarlett’s- goin’-crazy!/goin’-crazy? issue and totally works, even though it’s so intentionally jagged to reflect her experiences that it really took me a second pass through to fully even understand what was happening on several pages. The deal with Scarlett’s family was a bit disturbing. The way Scioli has the panels go askew in a mist of blood when she slits Fred’s throat is a very intelligent piece of panel layout. When she comes face-to-face with herself, the backmatter mentions THE PRISONER, but I was thinking that cave in Dagobah all the way. The following one-page fight is some strong mirroring work, that double-kick really is a thing of beauty. And what symmetry, on that last page, she’s juuuuust about to chop of Zarak’s head and then we see her in headmaster-of-Scorponok mode returning Bumblebee’s head to Optimus, which also calls back to the start of the issue. If you had asked me ahead of time, I would have said that I would prefer for this insane book never to zoom in on any one character at the expense of the whole massive ensemble, but great comics is great comics, and Scioli’s done it once again. Just tremendous work. I guess this series will have to stop one day, but not for many issues, I hope.

JUPITER’S CIRCLE #3 — All right, finally we’re shifting focus, maybe we’re going to do a bunch of two-parters on individual team members? This is really nothing new but all in the execution, as a member of the team decides to trade in his wife/family for a newer sweet young thing. I don’t think it’s going to end up very well for him, no. More solid work. Between STARLIGHT, CHRONONAUTS, this series, and its parent title, I think I just about trust Millar to produce quality again, no matter what. It’s been a tough road back.

MORNING GLORIES #46 — Even ten-year-old Irina is a terrifying battle-beast! That fight in the bathroom was almost funny. Another –centric here brought to us by those Spencer/Eisma rapscallions. I definitely appreciated all of Professor Meylikhov’s discussion of #22 in the backmatter. And here comes Zoe again, this could be a fearsome match-up if Irina would just put down her sniper rifle. Kind of worried about how crazy it’s going to get for #50, this ramp-up kind of snuck up on me.

THE WICKED + DIVINE #12 — Jesus, you guys! You’re not supposed to DO that! Not cool at all! Jesus!

(but thank you for the PHONOGRAM ad at the end, you know it made my week)

ZERO #16 — This one’s a little bit more coherent than last issue as the adventures of William S. Burroughs continue. Terrific likeness work from Robert Sammelin, particularly that one black-and-white page with Patti Smith, that business pulls you all the way right back to the Bowery.

AIRBOY #1 — Oh my goodness, these guys. I’ve never encountered Greg Hinkle before, but he is clearly a force in the world of cartooning. Robinson’s script is wry, funny, and unflinchingly honest. I feel like I’ve read that he’s gotten sober since the events depicted herein? Probably a Good Thing. This is indeed some Hunter S. Thompson shit right here, it probably was indeed the call to go ahead and just explicitly state that. What we have here is a couple of creators engaging in the loveable antics of a very serious bender that apparently results in the Morrisonesque meta-appearance of the public domain Golden Age character who they’ve been trying to channel all along. Getting Robinson to write this, however close to the truth the opening scene really is, was a stroke of brilliance. I very much look forward to the next issue. I did think the blurbs at the end were overstating the situation just the least bit. Maybe the creators got to read all four issues; maybe they just really related in a way that I haven’t had the means to thus far. Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed the issue, it’s just that calling it the best thing that Robinson’s ever written seems kind of harsh to the denizens of Opal City, you know? Ah well, we live in hope.



* Any other week, perennial champions ACTION COMICS, STAR WARS, SECRET WARS, or TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE all would have been shoe-ins for top honors, but how can it be anything but NONPLAYER? I mean, wow, dude’s been working on it since before The New 52 was even announced. Think about that for a minute. Nate Simpson, take very good care of yourself, please sir.