Tuesday, September 1, 2015

8/19/15

STAR WARS #8 — Well, I had doubts that any regular crew would be able to follow the Cassaday/Martin greatness to any capable extent whatsoever, but Immonen/von Grawbadger/Ponsor set it on fire. Ponsor, in particular, shows up with some luscious tones when ALL-NEW X-MEN has trained me to be appreciating Gracia over these other guys. The art is terrific throughout. Aaron kind of dicks us around return-of-dead-Starbuck style with the Sana Solo thing, as now after all these weeks of us waiting for cliffhanger follow-up, Han is denying the whole marriage thing, but that of course doesn’t seem like terribly solid intel at the moment. This issue was certainly enjoyable but felt a little bit slighter than the singles in the previous arc, not quite as much happening this time out.

BEST OF WEEK: JUSTICE LEAGUE #43 — Johns/Fabok/Anderson absolutely keep blowing it up. This continues to be the epitome for how you handle a massive event within the pages of what should be the biggest, most important team book that DC produces. Massive set-piece rock’em-sock’em plot set-ups with a couple to several Holy Shit! moments happening per issue but never failing to lose sight of the nuanced beats as these icons supercollide off of one another. Superman & Luthor stranded in Apokolips continues to yield fruitful results. It’s a terrific moment when Luthor’s jaw drops at the sight of blood running down the side of his nemesis’s face, but my favorite beat of the entire issue is when they’re running for their lives from the approaching army and Superman tries to finish Lex’s sentence with the fact that without solar radiation, soon he’ll be “human,” and even then and there with their very survival in question—running for their lives, remember!—Luthor can’t let it slide, has to correct Superman that he’ll only be “powerless, you’ll never be human.” Oh, Luthor. The little girl and I could not stop laughing about this. The contempt and loathing seeping through, such terrific work. And of course you have to love Batman rocking the Mobius chair, which is only beginning to yield strong narrative. Wonder Woman’s Scylla & Charybdis comparison at the end of the issue was maybe a bit forced and held down the momentum of those insane pages, but overall, this issue was a very dynamic and exciting third part of the most engaging storyline this title has had since the reboot. Fabok is destroying it every single panel to the point that you can almost see Jim Lee clutching his temples when the pages come in, freaking out like the rest of us. I've been a fan since first spotting Fabok on a Batman fill-in not that long ago, but the guy has leveled up to a ridiculous extent in a very short amount of time and is really pushing this thing all the way forward, cranking everything up to a breathless pace. Exhilarating work.

ROBIN: SON OF BATMAN #3 — Still killing it! Best issue of this series yet. You have got to love Maya punching out one of Damian’s teeth on one page, soothing Goliath on the next, and then the amazing splash of everybody just chilling out on the page after that. Gleason continues to just script the bejeezus out of this, continuing/honoring the very strong character work Morrison & Tomasi have put into our title character while propelling him headlong into his own solo adventures. And of course, so good to still have the band together. I hope that Gleason/Gray/Alamy/Kalisz are planning to produce this title for a very long time. They are showing no signs of flagging, throwing down greatness every single month like it’s no problem.

BLACK CANARY #3 — Very little dialogue necessary as Wu gives us page after page of Dinah rocking glorious fighting-on-the-roof-of-a-moving-train good times with the tremendous elevated stakes of having to be on-stage in twenty minutes or the band is off the bill! I’m still digging this new conceit of our heroine fronting a rock band on the run, though it does seem the least bit dicey to suddenly retcon her powers as being connected to Ditto? I guess forget about continuity and enjoy the ride. Ha, it’s not like Ollie showed up as her husband, which certainly threw me for more of a loop.

ASTRO CITY #26 — In September 1995, I had just arrived in Austin to attend the University of Texas. I was delighted to be assigned to a dorm down the street from Dobie, this outrageous private dorm I had stayed at a couple of years back that had a two-level shopping mall for its first two floors that, among other wonderful places, contained Funny Papers, a comic book shop. Living just a couple three blocks within walking distance of a comic shop was a dangerous and wonderful situation. The first time I walked in after I moved to town, I immediately spotted a new Alex Ross cover on the rack, which was huge because at that point, all he’d done was MARVELS and I guess that old TERMINATOR: THE BURNING EARTH series that of course nobody cared about. But here is was! A new Image series! By the guys who did MARVELS! Making up their own superhero universe! This was going to be the best thing since 1963! So excited, I reached for it right away and flipped to the first page, something I never do before buying an issue. But I just had to lay my eyes on that first Alex Ross interior! Would it be a splash? Some panels? Surely a splash, right? It was . . . huh. Brent Anderson? The guy who did the X-Men graphic novel from way back? I mean, he’s fine and all but . . . Alex Ross isn’t painting this? I gave a great sigh and put the book back on the rack. Nothing against Mr. Anderson in particular, it was just such a letdown for this not to be the full-on official follow-up to MARVELS. I gave the entire first volume a pass. And the second one, for that matter. Of course, the price of that first issue shot way up as the years went by. I eventually picked it up for like five dollars quite some time later, shaking my head to myself all the while. But this was years later. It wasn’t until THE DARK AGE started that I finally made it into Astro City and realized how short-sighted I’d been about the whole deal, immediately going back and devouring the first two volumes.

All of which to say. It certainly hasn’t been twenty years for me. But I guess it’s been at least ten? More than that, I bet. Busiek/Anderson/Ross do a wonderful job of bringing everything full circle this month by returning all the way back around to where it all began, Samaritan dreaming of flying around through wisps of cloud in his birthday suit. The plot has a nice balance to it in that good old Asa certainly has center stage but the plot of this issue is elastic enough to allow us to check in on a vast majority of the by-this-time seriously extended ensemble, from the Furst family to that new cute little chibi-headed heroine reminding us that the whole deal that got rolling at the top of this volume with the fourth-wall-breakin’ alien ambassador is still simmering, as well as a gang of cameos from several heroes pitching in while Samaritan is out of commission, all resolving in a satisfactory manner by issue’s end, complete with the customary Samaritan-zoom global overview roll call of just what went down that night, how many villains were caught/natural disasters averted/lives saved/etc. The really wonderful thing about this issue is that, while it completely succeeds in revisiting the territory it first traversed 240 long months ago and really barely even scratching the surface of how much work the creators have put in issue after issue, character after character, and really kind of knocking out the reader with the full breadth of the panorama of how much this book actually contains, this one’s not any kind of big event, not substantially better than it ever is every single issue. It’s always this good. And we readers are so so lucky to be able to have had this series for all this time. Here’s to twenty more years.  

SAVAGE DRAGON #206 — Nothing more or less than good savage fun, this time with a graduation thrown in the mix. The bit about Dr. Doom’s origin cracked me up, that was a perfect set-up and punchline, I was very much like, “Hey, isn’t that..?” Solid as a punch thrown by bashful Benjamin J. himself, Larsen shows up with yet another love letter/homage to everything that Kirby showed us makes this medium the most vibrant storytelling engine there is to be found, this month with even more punching!

ARCHIE #2 — I went with the slamming Paul Renaud cover though would have been happy to go home with the Fiona Staples in-mirror shot if that had been on the rack. No surprise, this is another Waid/Staples home run with our title character almost relegated to a supporting role while Betty Cooper takes center stage. Though it is interesting that Veronica does show up on-panel but still without saying a word. And we even get a secret origin of Jughead thrown in for good measure. Waid is juggling the ensemble with all the deft seemingly effortless characterization we expect, packing plenty of wonderful little moments into this without making the pace seem anything other than breezy. And what a last page, that look on her face. We still don’t even know what’s going on, but of course she wants him back. What’s the deal? I don’t care. This book is still perfect. I never would have thought that I could be so pumped about these characters but these creators are knocking it out of the park.

TREES #12 — I’m digging this volume a little bit more than the last one, God rest poor Chenglei’s soul. The mayor is hitting me as a relatable and fun sort of fuckup, and I find myself rooting for him while he’s blundering around on the way to the next mess. Ellis is creeping the overall deal with the poppies forward ever so slowly, but the glacial pace is working. We care about these characters not the damn Trees. Though What The Hell Is With The Trees, Anyway? Howard remains the engine propelling all of this loveliness forward. And what in God’s name is on this cover anyway? Some sort of black poppy priest? Horrifying.


ISLAND #2 — The Roy story was definitely good but doesn’t manage to do quite the amount of heavy lifting that Brother Graham managed last time. As if anything can, I guess. Ludroe comes back to really stick the landing on his “Dagger Proof Mummy.” I had no problem with the first part, but the finale cranked it up for me quite a bit. Also, it’s nice to see one story come to a close as another begins, lending a fluidity to the collection that’s preferable to everything being a series of five-part stories that all begin in the first issue and end in the fifth. The plot of Rios’s “I.D.” is happening, and of course she can draw the hell out of anything, but the red monotone was working for me even less this time out, probably due in no small part to it being the headliner, so instead of opening up with this and then expanding our filters to all the madness of Graham, we end the collection by dialing our color spectrum almost all the way down to red red white and that other lighter shade of red. Would I feel the same way if it was in that sweet CASANOVA Volume 2 Moon-blue? I kind of think maybe not? At any rate, bless Miz Rios and Brother Graham, the both of them, for putting out such an original and varied anthology where quality creators can find a home for their work to find fresh eyes that might never have bumped up into them otherwise.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

8/12/15

BEST OF WEEK, OBVS: PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #1 — Ah. There you are, darling. At long last. For the past five years, I’ve hollered about to anyone who’d listen how important the second volume of PHONOGRAM was, not as much in a context-free vacuum but specifically to me at that moment in my life, one year into being a stay-at-home dad and closer to the precipice than I had realized to growing not up but away from the person I had been, drifting toward a different state of being not by choice but circumstance, and it was these singles telling the stories of seven phonomancers on one night that happened to be the day after my daughter’s negative-second birthday that snapped me back into their jaws and whipped me around and shook me and reminded me who I had been and how important it was to never let that go, all while inundating me with all of this perfect pop music that I had never even heard of. Of course I knew some of the Britpop, Blur, Elastica, Oasis, and the like, but I’d never heard of the Manics or Kenickie or The blessed Pipettes or The Long Blondes, and I had lived my whole life without “River Deep Mountain High.” And somehow “Hey Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” was the theme song that encapsulated the aching heartsick fleeting sensation of how all of this could only feel new for a little while before it would stop remaking and reminding me and just become part of what I had always been and not realized quite yet. This series, that volume in particular, THE SINGLES CLUB, has had more of an impact on me than most of the hundreds and hundreds of comics that I have devoured in my time, but I can’t recommend it to just anyone or really anyone at all and expect a similar result. It was a thing of its time, a convergence unique only to me. I’m sure several others (with that unfortunate 4K ceiling, natch) could report similar circumstances, but there you are.

All of which to say, that this volume even exists is a source of great joy to me before even cracking it open. Of course, it has so much to live up to. And I am certainly not the person I was those years ago. Similar in many ways, but my little girl is now beginning first grade. I have three jobs and just got hired for a fourth and know damn well all the who I ams that there are, I just need the time to actualize them to their full potential. And so we come, at last, to the story of Emily Aster, who has been near the front since the beginning but only ever taken center stage for that third issue last time out. And of course, since then, Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson have given us the glorious run of YOUNG AVENGERS before unleashing THE WICKED + THE DIVINE upon the world to fairly resounding acclaim. I couldn’t wait for us all to get back together again and have a look at one another. Once it was time to read the new books, though, I realized that I should have a run through the old batch and reached for Penny’s initial romp through Volume 2 before realizing that I would be doing Kohl and the whole enterprise a disservice if I didn’t run all the way through. Sooooooo, a couple of hours and several Lone Stars and thirteen issues of PHONOGRAM later, I was finally ready to return to London. And a good thing I read back through, I remembered most of the high points of Volume 1 but couldn’t remember The Myth for shit. And who could be ready for young Seth? Not I, certainly. Oh oh, and somehow, through all of my previous love, I had somehow managed never to spin Dexy’s “Plan B,” and so was riveted by that even before it turned out to be the title of this very latest first installment. You see?!? All for me! My favorite part, though, was them dropping the URL address right at the bottom of Page Twelve. I dutifully stopped reading and immediately watched Poly Sterene’s “Ghoulish” on my iPad, completely riveted before I found out the entire posthumous context. And that’s even before Gillen’s wonderful inversion on “Take On Me” by having a girl from this sequential world fall directly into the goddamn A-ha video with McKelvie of course knocking the style out like he’s been practicing it since the day he was born, which I suspect is around the time this video was first released. I was laughing and crying and the entire wretched mess was really the best and worst possible way to begin another Wednesday Night Mass.

DESCENDER #6 — In terms of narrative flow, it’s a somewhat strange call to tuck IN the secret origin of Dr. Quon here at the back end of the arc just because you really typically don’t want to end on backstory, but Lemire/Nguyen have, in just a very few issues, already crafted such a rich and compelling mythology that of course we gulp all that backstory exposition down and ask for seconds before they do indeed drop the hammer in such a way that has to have anyone with a heart, mechanical or otherwise gnashing teeth and shaking fists over this damned two-month hiatus. Lemire has done solid to excellent work-for-hire material since ESSEX COUNTY, but this is the sweet stuff, the mother lode, the SWEET TOOTH, TRILLIUM mainline business right here. I have made no secret of loving it since the first issue, but if you’ve been reading along at home and for some reason ignoring my love (which happens in just all kinds of contexts, I’m sad to report), then for the sake of all you hold dear, pick up this first trade for $9.99 next month.

INJECTION #4 — This is another one that fills in the blanks better than the first two issues, and it’s pretty interesting. Ellis is doling out an intriguing narrative that engages on its own terms, and Shalvey/Bellaire continue to throw down sequential dynamite at every turn. Worth it for the Kilbride montage alone, even if you already saw that panel about the TED talk ten times on the Internet before this issue ever came out (which I was kind of sorry about once I finally read this thing; I would have laughed my ass off at that and kind of fallen in love with what’s-his-name in context if that had been the first time). I’m digging this one just a little bit more than TREES, if anybody’s making us play the Which Is Better? game (and if they are, Thor beats Hulk in the final round every time, you guys, so there).

SECRET WARS #5 — I think everyone’ s so so damn event-jaded (and fair play if they are, it’s been a rough decade), but the elegance and greatness of this event is just not something that’s getting talked about enough. I wish this could have been a years’ worth of double-published FF/AVENGERS stories. I want 36 issues of the father/daughter relationship between Doom & Valeria, arguably the most compelling introduction that Hickman made into the mythos that he barely even had time to scratch the surface of before moving on, but that that shot of her as a teenager donning the Doom armor in a montage in S.H.I.E.L.D. vol. 2 #4 accelerates to eye-popping terminal velocity just in one panel. Doom’s line about her not confusing undying love and eternal patience while just addressing her as “child” was aching perfection, the only way to follow up having him quote Gaiman re: the high cost of living. And then back at the top, you’ve got to love the straight-faced dogmatic nonsense of Strange’s eulogy’s narrative involving Doom and the departed as the only witnesses to creation itself. Hickman gives Owen Reece a voice closer to Klaw in the original version of this with the repeated lines and what not, but I’m thinking that’s more of an intentional homage. This was very much a reset issue after the out-of-control madness of #4, more of a full-stop than I expected, but the concepts are so big, the ideas so massive that it’s terribly compelling just to follow these people around watching them trying to figure out what’s happening. We’re going to need a massive crank-up here in the homestretch to reach this set-up’s exponential potential, but the creators are certainly up to the task that they have set for themselves. If I didn’t love PHONOGRAM so much, this would be my Best of Week. Everybody, quitcher bitchin’.

A-FORCE #3 — It’s still so good! Our heroines are on the ropes as Baroness She-Hulk runs afoul of some Thors and one of their number pays the ultimate price. Even though we’ve barely seen this version of these characters interact, the death scene played with all the appropriate gravitas, in large part due to Molina’s splash-page staging. We’re all just expecting greatness at this point, and Bennet/Wilson/Molina certainly keep delivering.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #8 — This detective club is really coming together. The Kerschl cover says it all. This remains one of DC’s most exciting and flat-out fun books. There are several fun references packed in here, from Olive missing acting in Mr. Trent’s House of Secrets play to Maps quoting Faith’s “Five by Five” to Pomeline dropping a “nerf herder,” but my favorite was Lillards throwing down a Clue reference after tranking Coach Humphreys. And of course Olive’s mom used to be a pyrokinetic supervillain. This series has it all.

ACTION COMICS #43 — Pak/Kuder continue bringing the justice with the ballad of the depowered Superman of the people. They have really done fine work stripping the character all the way past even his wacky Silver Age trappings down to the core of the character, an inspiration to the world, sure, but just to his neighborhood, first and foremost. I love how they’ve zoomed all the way in to that. The “You’re all Superman now.” moment played with as much depth and raw power as it deserved to. Well done, all.

BATMAN #43 — All right, well, that’s a pretty great reason to bring Bruce back already. What an interesting wrinkle in the whole deal. I questioned but never doubted him for an instant, well done, Snyder. Our guy has just been erased and now he’s been purged of everything that makes him Batman. Fascinating. Capullo & Plascencia close in on the end of their fourth year of absolutely putting it down with Miki along for most of the ride. And Bat-Robot-Gordon remains a compelling permutation. You almost don’t even need rogues, even, new or old!

STARFIRE #3 — No letdown here, Conner/Palmiotti/Lupacchino continue to craft an excellent book that redeems the character from all of her mishandling since the reboot. The script zings along, featuring only one character we’ve ever met outside these pages, and the art remains as stunning as the effect that our protagonist seems to have on at least every background character. And now we’ve got Power Girl’s cousin or something in the mix? Terrific fun.

BOMBSHELLS #1 — This series sounded like a slam-dunk as soon as it was announced, and that was before I figured out that A-FORCE co-writer Bennett was scripting. It is indeed terrific. It takes its time. With the exception of the cover, our heroines have yet to meet, as we get to know them in three distinct chapters. It’s interesting to see the level of modification. This is basically just a straight-up Golden Age version of Diana while Batwoman’s taking her name a bit literally while riffing on the old Rosie the Riveteer deal, and Kara is pulling a straight RED SON. It all work, though. The art by Sauvage recalls the lines of Paquette and colors of Lotay, fine company to be in to be sure, particularly in this context. It looks like DC’s got another brand-new hit on their hands, and I couldn’t be happier.

VELVET: THE MAN WHO STOLE THE WORLD #11 — Brubaker/Epting/Breitweiser bring us the first installment of the new arc. This one takes its time, content to simmer along at its own pace. The art continues to stun. It’s been ten years since Brubaker & Epting first got together with that Captain America run that stunned everybody, and the quality and depth of their collaboration has clearly been enriched by the intervening years. Brubaker is clearly having a blast crafting his very own espionage yarn and the art is just like its protagonist, stunning and it doesn’t put up with bullshit of any kind.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #4 — We check in with Minister Valpurgis, who it turns out is conspiring against our villain protagonist, old Golgoth. And our planet’s salvation might arrive in the form of space aliens! I confess that I haven’t gone back to the first volume after all of these years and so was a bit sketchy on the particulars of the guy who just showed back up, but Waid made it all clear enough so that I wasn’t super-confused. More terrific work from Kitson, clean lines throughout. This volume is beginning to pick up the narrative pace, to be certain.

ODY-C #6 — Jesus, there were a lot of damn books this week. We haven’t even made it to the Moore/Morrison showdown. Here though, we’re checking in with Ene’s ship and specifically the great bull of Troiia, “He of the cock that once launched in his honor some ten thousand swiftships,” Fraction folds in a couple of layers of storytelling 1,001-Arabian-Nights-style and gives us a terribly engaging done-in-one that manages to not even check in with our spanning ensemble. Ward’s first all-digital issue is a wonder to behold with a palette that is unlike any upon which I have ever laid eyes. If you’re curious about this series but hesitant to just jump in, this is the one that will let you know what you’re getting into without ruining the first five issues for you in any way.

PROVIDENCE #3 — All right, I don’t know. I am one of those who argues that THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN has gotten successively better along the way. Yes, counting THE BLACK DOSSIER and all of that apeshit lightning-dick CENTURY business before finally leveling off (relatively speaking) and calming down with Ms. Janni Nemo here most recently. I also found some merit in the soul-crushing horror of NEONOMICON. All of this to say, to all those who have scoffed at Mr. Moore’s output of the past decade or so, I have only scoffed in turn. But three issues in, this one’s leaving me cold. I’m having trouble dialing in. The craft is certainly apparent. It’s probably the best work of Jacen Burrows’s career with well-crafted composition and camera motion throughout the issue that would make Dave Gibbons nod along in paternal approval and careful linework leading to understated acting throughout the panels. And the script is certainly fully realized. Moore doesn’t ever do anything half-hearted. I just don’t care about this guy and thus far haven’t been given even the seed of a reason to begin to. I didn’t even bother wading through the backmatter this time around just because it hasn’t really lent much to the overall narrative thus far. The character’s a bit overly simpering for my taste, perhaps? I don’t know. I’m a little disturbed just because I’m always going to find something to respect about Moore’s work, he’s too much of a master craftsman for that not to be the case, but this is the first time that I haven’t really cared for the story he has chosen to tell.


GRANT MORRISON’S 18 DAYS #2 — Morrison infuses the single scene of King Yudish crossing enemy lines to receive a blessing from his enemies with no small amount of character development for members of both factions. This goes a great length toward heightening the suspense and drama that was already in place from the first issue, and of course, the battle has yet to begin. While Yudish is apparently just like the best, most noble warrior ever, Morrison wisely makes the characters Drona and particularly Bheemsha of the magnificent laugh very likeable so that even though Duryodhana is very much cast as the bad guy in this conflict, those who serve with him occupy more ambiguous territory. Kang once again turns in art that is dynamic and exciting wherein simply a small group of men crossing the lines of a battlefield is imbued with majesty and grandeur. Not that much happens in this issue, but it’s carried off with such craft and character precision that it’s all terribly engrossing and I can’t wait for the next issue. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

8/05/15

BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER #11 — All right, whoof-duh, for some reason, I thought that this was the last issue and was getting increasingly freaked out over how they were going to wrap this one up. Rudy’s art remains a stunning revelation, every spread and every panel displaying a staggering amount of care and artistic glory that you almost never find in a monthly single. I might have said it before, but it’s so good, it hits JHWIII levels of greatness where you’re just pissed at the publisher for having the temerity to put ads opposite a single page even one time, never mind ten; they really all need to be kicked back to the end. Kot continues to not knock the lights out for me, though, I’m sorry to say. There is absolutely nothing to yank us up into the stars and make us care about these characters. This issue has a nice bit of caption repetition that’s poetic enough with that “Into the void we go” bit and there are some swell rhymes in the Loki scene, but the latter actually comes across as more affected than anything. It’s frustrating to see such tremendous art in service of such boilerplate scripting. The characters in this could be anyone. There isn’t a single thing they do that’s unique to Bucky & Daisy. You could graft Clint Hawkeye & Kate Hawkeye into this same situation and it would read the same. Or Sam Wilson & Maria Hill or anyone else who loosely fits these types. Not one thing that’s happened since this series has begun has been an organic outgrowth of character, who these people are and how what’s happened to them before now has shaped them. It’s just been a cool enough science-fiction plot with stunning visuals. I’m hopeful that some staggering twist has been held in reserve until the finale, but we’ll see.

GUARDIANS OF KNOWHERE #2 — The art is certainly well done and all, but Bendis isn’t doing nearly the amount of character work adequate enough to make me give a shit about dropping back by. Only picked this one up after a pretty much flat first issue because I trust him and like him and wanted to give him one more chance to hook me, and maybe next issue is going to be amazing now that we’ve spent four dollars and twenty pages getting to know Yotat the Destroyer before he rolls up to slaughter Mantis & Gamora on the last page, but I am having a rough time investing in this pretty much at all on its own merit, never even mind the fact that we’re just a couple three months away from a reset button anyway.

DARTH VADER #8 — Gillen continues stacking the deck in this second arc with an entire gang of new supporting characters who are all engaging and even threatening to kick everyone’s favorite Dark Lord of the Sith out of the spotlight. Aphra is emerging as an intriguing protagonist in her own right, and then you’ve got the psycho-droids and evil Wookie, the bounty hunters, the twins, and then this other entire level of upper management all reporting to the still-living Grand General Tagge. And that’s before we meet Vader’s new adjutant, who gets quite a nice moment right off the bat. This issue is more set-up than anything else, but there’s so much going on, it’s pretty compelling all on its own.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #9 — Snyder/Albuquerque/McCaig hit the gas as this series rockets toward its inevitable orbital conclusion, maintaining the exciting pulpy horror roots that have brought it this far.

MORNING GLORIES #47 — It isn’t a party until someone breaks a bottle over Gribbs’s head. So, well done, all! I’m digging this election arc and rooting for Ike to somehow be King Headmaster of the Academy when all is said and done. Terrific bit with Hunter and the password. Classic Ike.

JUPITER’S CIRCLE #5 — It is surely because he is such a fun hard-drinking charismatic showboating type, but I have to say that I am digging on the exploits of old George the Skyfox more than anyone  else so far. Millar’s doing really terrific work zooming in on the old team and fleshing them out one by one while poor Quitely spends the rest of his life drawing the main series. At least we got PAX AMERICANA!

THE FOX: FOX HUNT #5 — Wow. That strayed into some pretty dark business, by any standard. At least there was ice cream afterwards! Haspiel’s art continues to convey dynamism and deliver gripping sequential storytelling as timeless as the masters that he learned it from. Definitely onboard with the third volume of this whenever such a thing comes to be.

SAVAGE DRAGON #205 — Larsen plays another cool layout game with the single page-length vertical panel along the left side of the page and then five horizontals running down the other two-thirds of the page. But, man, he doesn’t pull any punches with the pregnancy plot even a little bit. Women are getting pregnant and unpregnant at a pretty alarming rate, here. Larsen does solid work, once again providing the reader with the requisite slugfest while never losing sight of the fact that it’s the various interpersonal dynamics he’s set up within the ensemble that make this book sing.

8house: Arclight #2 — I came home from the new FANTASTIC FOUR movie (that I didn’t hate nearly as much as everybody else, though of course it did end up being a very hot mess) and reached immediately for this to reread because I needed a straight shot of that sense of awe and wonder and strangeness that Kirby could always give you in that original run and that Graham and cohorts have excelled at channeling for years now. That’s about the nicest thing I can say about anything. I love the narrative tone in this and the way that the ending cascades over to another one of Churchland’s paintings like the ones that opened ISLAND. Fine work to be found here, indispensable for PROPHET lovers.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #13 — I made it to the second page, flipped back to the cover to see who was on art, and then felt like a total asshole. Of COURSE Lotay. The colors should be a dead giveaway by now. But yikes, man, that Twitter shit was just ugly. I’d like to think that that’s an exaggeration but am afraid it’s barely a stretch. And then what a disheartening final page. I’m sure this issue is some kind of commentary or at the very least snapshot of where a huge chunk of our social media culture is at the moment, but it sure is a drag to make it through, I will tell you that. Come on, Immaterial Girl. It is almost your time, Darling.

WE STAND ON GUARD #2 — A solid second issue. Nothing as stupidly offensive as the Canadian Superman thing from last issue. The Skroce/Hollingsworth art is once again terrific. Nothing noteworthy in the characterization to hook the reader, but these guys are nice enough to keep a 22-page book with no ads at $2.99, so I can at least hang out with that for a little while and keep giving BKV a chance to make me care about these folks.

THE FADE OUT #8 — Business is moving along a bit faster now as several interesting developments keep happening off-panel (I actually typed “off-screen” at first, so bravo, Brubaker!) and even between issues. The only thing we know for sure is that Charlie is probably going to light at least another dozen cigarettes before all is said and done and probably get beat up at least three more times. Devin Faraci’s backmatter essay on Joan Crawford’s rumored stag film is an engaging and informative piece of writing with a strong tag at the end. This book’s regular team of Brubaker/Phillips/Breitweiser is possibly the most consistent in the industry at evoking such a thick atmosphere. You don’t as much read one of these books as take a bath in it. And then need a shower afterward, but that’s your problem.


BEST OF WEEK: AIRBOY #3 — Terrific work here escalating all of the drug-induced madness that has already come before. You have got to adore the explicit in-dialogue Mignola reference early on, so perfect. And what a fine day to have a Skywolf to go with Skyfox up above. The centerpiece of this issue, though, is that talk with Robinson & Airboy in the morgue over young Robinson’s shot-up body. We’re going along having so much meta-fun and then Robinson just suckerpunches the reader with the poignancy of a breakdown/confession about how broken he actually is/was in real life. A surprising and touching bit of openness made all the more effective by the immediate 180-degree turn of Hinkle drawing his own dick bigger than our eponymous hero’s forearm. Hilarious business. The amount of destruction that Hinkle throws down on this project can't be overstated. The cartooning is terrific, with everyone's facial expressions and body language very much selling Robinson's dialogue. The action spreads are exciting and dynamic. And the coloring deserves special notice, with Robinson and Hinkle now the odd men out, specters in a more vivid and vibrant alternate WWII. Just wonderful work throughout. The sole fix for this issue that I can see is that it seems like most folks will read that trail of word bubbles on Page Eight backwards from the way that it’s intended since it’s not immediately clear that you should start at the bottom of the page. The fix would have been to actually trail that first “Follow me” over to the bottom of Page Seven to clue us in on the unbroken trail. Otherwise, there’s not enough reason for the trained eye to not jump to the top of the page. Overall, though, this is another very strong outing and forecasts that the best is still yet to come. Can’t wait to see how it all ends up.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

7/29/15

SUPERMAN #42 — The Jorge Corona variant cover of this issue is just the greatest. You want an entire cartoon show that looks just like this. But we’re stuck with the greatness of Yang/JRJr./Janson/White giving us only the second part of their Secret Identity No More! arc, featuring Lois actually ripping our boy’s shirt off, knowing what she’ll find underneath but still pretty shocked about the whole deal. I dig the idea that information is the new currency of the twenty-first century, the prize that must be safeguarded the most. Maybe Clark tells Lois to publish as the only option to defeat these HORDR folk? And I’m sorry, but was anybody else reading “Hodor” instead of this new crew’s actual name? Some unintentional humor that is welcome nonetheless. Still so grateful that both Superman titles are now this terrific and unmissable. That’s how it should always be.

BATGIRL #42 — What is not to love about our Babs teaming up with her Bat-Gordon daddy with him having no idea what’s going on? I mean, though, really? No idea? You’d think he’d start to pick up on it now at least, if he hadn’t sussed to the truth already. Maybe this is one of those Aunt May things where he’s known all this time and just respected her privacy and not made a thing about it? It doesn’t matter. Tarr is as on-point as ever, this time with breakdowns by a couple fellas I’ve never heard of, Wyatt & Lacombe, and colors by Lapointe, but everything looks terrific. The fights scenes are dynamic and there are a couple of tight shots of our cowled heroine that are so iconic-looking, you wonder if they’re posters that you’ve seen already. More strong work from one of DC’s best.

BATGIRL ANNUAL #3 — This is magnificent. Anyone considering skipping this maybe (because the regular series came out the same day and that will get you your fix just fine, and Babs Tarr isn’t even on art anyway, so) is doing him- or herself a serious disservice. This is a 36-page tale too big to be contained in a regular-sized issue or even by a single artist. Bengal, LaFuente, Doyle, and Chen (hey, there are two Mings providing art duties on this book; that is not something you see every day. Go, Mings!) all bring their own respective thunder and actually mesh pretty well, so that it isn’t too jarring as the tale segues from one artist/guest star to the next. The cover only reveals that Grayson is in the mix and so I won’t go in any further, but let’s just say that anyone who is a fan of Fletcher’s other books in the pocket Fletcherverse really really needs to hang out until the last scene. I was so happy. Cut my eyes out, but as much as I really love Tarr’s art, this might very well have been the most satisfying done-in-one from this Burnside reconfiguration yet. Terrific fun.

STAR WARS #7 — What a great idea for fill-in stopgaps in between arcs. You just go to the journal of Old Ben. Bianchi/Ponsor show up with terrific art that maintains the ridiculous quality level set by Cassaday/Martin while Aaron provides the MacGregor-narrated captions of a Jedi whose greatest challenge is accepting willful inaction. Of course, if nothing happened, that would make for a terribly boring twenty pages, so there have got to be thugs representing old Jabba, and also a certain willful boy with a greater destiny than even he can imagine. It seems as though scripting the action for this period is an even tougher insertion than the challenges poised by sliding anything worthwhile in between IV and V. I mean, the status quo can’t change. No matter what, Ben has to wind up in that hut on the Dune Sea and Luke has to grow up ignorant of his heritage. Aaron does a nice job here crafting how a spot of in-character willfulness on the boy’s part is responsible for galvanizing his silent guardian at a time when he was at his lowest. All that and a couple of callbacks to fading away and binary suns, only one of which made me wince. This was a solid throttle-down from the main action, but I’m certainly ready to crank it back up again next month with the sickness of Immonen and whatever the deal is behind a certain Miz Solo, hey?

DAREDEVIL #17 — I’m running out of great things to say about this title. Waid/Samnee/Wilson continue to deliver Murdock glory and perfection, now only amplified by the long-awaited appearance of our hero’s arch-nemesis. How is Matt going to get out of THIS one?!?

THORS #2 — This was the first issue tie-in that I enjoyed the most, and Aaron keeps up the fun, doubling down in the opening scene with Odin delivering a crushing eulogy for a fallen Thor that is as worthy a remembrance as any warrior might ever hope for. After enjoying the art so much on #1, I was a little disappointed to see that Sprouse already needed a fill-in, though Sudzuka is definitely going to get it done for you. The back half of this one almost wanders into continuity sludge after the strong implication that the main Thor, the guy they’re calling unworthy now who’s the one who starred in those hundreds of issues Marvel comics put out since the early sixties, it looks like this guy might also remember the pre-Battleworld status quo from the way he’s talking. And of course, an old friend has to show up by the end. There had been so much else going on that I honestly hadn’t missed him yet. Storm Thor & Destroyer Thor probably deserve their own spinoff book.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #10 — So, we’re just going to jump around for a bunch of one-shot –centrics, it looks like. That’s a pretty economical way to get to know some other folks better, zooming in this time on our most repugnant fella yet, that old Esaw Goings. We don’t really gain too much empathy for the boy, as was the case with Coach Boss’s surprising second arc, but you’ve got to at least respect his consistency. The repeated internal monologue bursts were great fun. You know what, though, Jason Latour’s essay at the end of this issue on the need to take down Ol’ Glory was as cogent and intelligent an analysis of a prickly issue that I have seen, paying respect to any calls for heritage while never losing sight of the truth that the image is inextricably linked to the centuries-long oppression of a race and forever will be. Kind of like old Esaw, only the exact opposite, pretty much.

BEST OF WEEK: TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE #8 — Not that Sciloi has been fucking around for a single page of this, but this issue he manages to rocket it up to an even more ridiculous and gloriously over-the-top level. Snake-Eyes Cobra Last Summer homage giving way to young Billy Commander getting just ripped apart by the Snake God. Omega Supreme’s transformation from highway and casual destroyer of Decepticobras into a rocket ship spiriting the upper echelon of Joes away to Cybertron is ingenious. And only takes three pages! There’s a wonderful madness to the way that Scioli hyper-compresses so much action and thought into every single page. Every one of these issues really could be a fantastic 48-page special without sacrificing the breakneck pace, but there’s something magical about the degree to which this series has been racing along red-lined pedal-on-the-floor since the beginning. The two double-page splashes of Optimus Prime VS. Megatron are, of course, for the ages. And what a finale, The Boom Beyond Booms, a magnificent homage to #21. Surely NOT The End.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS: THE SUN BEYOND THE STARS #2 — Narrowing the focus down to just Yuri & Laika remains a good idea, as the pair get a little bit of elbow-room to stretch out into their own adventures. Pitarra continues to refine his style past his strong Quitely/Darrow roots and on into something more uniquely his own. And it looks like the interstellar hijinx are only beginning, with Laika of course being the most intelligent individual by a significant margin.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #10 — And so Ryan Browne brings the blistering madness not to a close but actually careening off a cliff into the existential terror of infinite white space! Not my little friend! Browne manages to crank up the art on this one, his rendering ability matched only by his apparent frothing madness. Here, we find Dr. Doom remixed with a Metron design! The most horrifying Environmints ad of all time! Worlds colliding! And blessed news from the 3-D household! This one has it all, folks!

LOW #8 — Respect to Remender/Tocchini/McCaig. After burning through just seven issues, while maintaining the long-term motivation of this adventure, this dramatic shift in dynamic after the first arc results in what feels like the creation of almost a different book. A tighter and more intimate one, at least in this first installment. The art remains knockdown drag-out stellar, but it’s the character work that really makes this one sing. Between this and BLACK SCIENCE (and shit, that DEADLY CLASS has still gotten by me, I’m just realizing), you can totally see why Remender has bailed on the corporate situation, and good on him. Everyone who cares about supporting creator-owned books has no excuse in the world not to be picking this one up.

SEX CRIMINALS #11 — It’s Fraction Time! Git me All the Matt Stat with an extra-long side of Chipper. I think that was supposed to be extra-large, but this book works its own magic. I didn’t get any special Scott Pilgrim XXX perversion variants, which I totally wouldn’t have minded learning in the comfort of my own living room, but the nice lady behind the counter at my friendly neighborhood LCS asked me to go ahead and open mine so that she could take a picture of me and the Pilgrim dick or whatever it was if I was a lucky winner, and when I saw that I got just the regular cover, I felt like I let all my friends down and also even the strangers who were watching me not succeed. This issue, though. These guys continue to do fine work fleshing out the supporting cast and packing all the gags into the background that good Chipper can manage. The double-shot of the Golden Years Retirement Home (“mmbop-bop!”) followed by the cat advising the residents to “Hang in There, Baby!” had me so tickled, it should be more illegal than whatever Pilgrim dick managed to elude me. I enjoyed the four black panels encouraging us to imagine all the insanity that Chipper would have provided and am sure that there’s a really funny Asian language gag on Page 5, panel 5 but haven’t managed to figure it out thus far. Don’t worry, there are only forty more Asian languages to try! At any rate, if you haven’t told all your friends about this one yet, you should really go ahead and pull the trigger on that one. Lots of fun to talk about at parties, especially after everybody’s had that fourth or fifth shot and/or beer.


CASANOVA: ACEDIA #3 — I have got to tell you that without rereading everything that has come before (or at least the past two issues and the previous volume, say), I have very little idea what is going on right now. I mean, I get that Bro has forgotten who he is and I remember that from the first two issues, but in terms of issue to issue, this is a bit of a head-scratcher without the old reread after a couple of months off. Hell if it doesn’t look magnificent, though! These might be Peter’s best colors over Brother Moon’s work thus far. I recognized Sasa at least? And at last our hero remembers who he is, even if he hasn’t quite accessed his secret extra-dimensional agent skill set of badassery quite yet. And it is always a delight to tune in to the action band attack of Chabon/Bá metanaut T.A.M.U. glory, though I hope that we get more than three pages next issue. Hey wait, last volume was only like three issues long, seems like, but maybe they were double-sized? I need to figure out what’s going on with all of that. I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

Monday, August 10, 2015

7/22/15

FABLES #150/Volume 22: FAREWELL — Faithful Readers will recall me expressing concern while reading the previous nine singles while under the increasingly strong impression that there was going to be A Whole Hell Of A Lot to resolve in this final issue. Well, Willingham and the gang were certainly of the same opinion. As it turns out, while I thought I was reading the final volume, 21, a story taking place in ten in serial installments (as has been my wont, lo these past thirteen years), it turns out that that was a penultimate deal leading up to this massive final 150-pages-all-in-one-blast that just dropped on us like a bomb out of Prince Charming’s airship (I think? Wasn’t there some sort of airship? Um, I didn’t make the intended massive reread, as it turns out). This was the only way they could escalate from #100, I suppose. And you certainly see why they pulled the plug before #200! This was getting out of hand. The first half (I didn’t count, but roughly four issues’ worth of pages) is a twelve-chapter finale that brings the main tale to a close with stunning art throughout by the regular team of Buckingham/Leialoha/Pepoy and of course Letter Emeritus Todd Klein crafting Willingham’s words just so. This is followed by an all-star murderer’s row of guest artists who continue last arc’s tradition of THE LAST _______ STORY. Of course, as one might expect (or has been taught via last arc), few of these are actually happily-ever-after type resolutions and often very eyebrow-raising endings that are much more like cliffhanger beginnings just as we are dragged away from What Happens Next by the inevitable turn of the page. This is probably never more the case than with Pinocchio & Geppetto. I mean, REALLY?!? That is some grand business, right there. I will say, that for all the ramp-up that’s been accelerating for the previous nine issues and then for the first third of monster final installment, the ending to the main story feels a bit too tidy. SPOILERS going forward. It’s not that I wanted the fields to run red with the blood of Snow & Bigby’s cubs or anything, but this was a loooooooooot of set-up for Rose to have some random talk with a random soldier the night before The Big Last Battle (I’m not missing something, right? The point was that she was talking to a nobody, right?) and then realize that, oh, she has nephews so the curse is broken and everything is actually all right as long as she goes away forever. The point of this wasn’t to be a monster anti-climax, right? Without all of the gorgeous art, when you’re not under the spell of the tale and what not but just put it in text like that, it sounds kind of stupid, right? This series has done so many things right for so long, it’s earned more than enough credit with at least me that I’m not like pissed about the ending, but it certainly could have used a bit more Ooomph!, it seems like. I will certainly miss picking this up every month. It’s been an unbroken constant in my entertainment consumption for longer than anything else, and I am so grateful to the creators for taking us along for such a magnificent ride.

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #004 — Well, I don’t know if this issue suddenly stepped it up and coalesced in the way that this series hasn’t quite yet managed for me or maybe if after last week, I don’t feel like I’m cheating on Fraction/Aja/Hollingsworth anymore or what, but I loved the hell out of this one wholly and unreservedly. It probably doesn’t hurt that the top three-fourths are the boyhood flashbacks, less of an excellent cover version building on what’s gone before and more of Lemire/Pérez/Herring’s own thing. There’s some cool old-school Alan-Moore-style juxtaposition between past and present here, a trick that usually feels played out by, oh, thirty years but works for me here. For example, something like young Clint hollering about a fight before the next panel cuts to the aftermath of the hallway battle in Bed-Stuy. And of course Swordsman has got some near-jailbait on the side for young Clint to fall in love with. This one is just roaring up right now, but it’s already a worthy successor to what’s gone before, as unlikely as it seemed that anything ever would, could, or should be.

OLD MAN LOGAN #003 — Ha, I love how every single SNIKT! in this book is like the biggest deal ever. Nice carry-over from Millar/McNiven’s original arc. That’s almost funny enough, but then they go ahead and make the killing-stroke sound effect CHUCK! Comedy gold, Bendis. I’ve already made note of it, but I really do dig the idea of just catapulting this character over the wall into the Age of Apocalypse. That’s not really going to upset anybody reading this thing. It’s always nice to check in with a Boom-Boom from any reality. It’s a shame we couldn’t stay longer, but then this guy as our tour guide over the walls into various domains has its own appeal. You’ve got to love Baron Stark trying to talk the old man out of his adamantium in like his third panel of consciousness. But we don’t even stay in Techonopolis for the cliffhanger. Sorrentino/Maiolo continue to provide beautiful pages throughout.

UNCANNY X-MEN #035 — I really never saw it coming, but of nowhere, Goldballs kind of became the breakout character, didn’t he? Poink is the new Thwip, indeed. How far we’ve come, though, with the Stepford Cuckoos not only having seniority but actually pulling rank as de facto leaders. Schiti/Isanove deliver more-than-competent fill-in art while Bendis boomerangs what might have been more of a tangent if he’d stayed longer right back around to home plate as we ramp up for UNCANNY X-MEN #600 in a few months. Though, I could swear that #034 of this ended with a TO BE CONTINUED IN UNCANNY X-MEN #600 as well, so maybe that’s just going to keep happening for a while still.

GRAYSON #10 — I am still loving how this book just completely flipped its status quo inside the first twelve issues. Terrific fun. And that’s before this issue’s Special Surprise Guest Star showed up, a reveal that was handled perfectly, followed by a terrific bit of verbal sparring. I’m also a fan of our Birdwatcher’s desperate one-way updates with Mister Malone. That is a wonderful conceit that I could stand to see last for years. Other than the fact that I miss the one true Batman so much. Bruce! I was a bit confused by that jump on the last page, but I’m pretty sure that was the point. This remains one of the very best books that DC puts out. Good on Seeley/King/Janin/Cox!

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!