Wednesday, March 26, 2014


BATMAN AND AQUAMAN #29 — After last month’s conclusion of the gripping five-part Two-Face arc, it looks like this title is going to slide back into a THE BRAVE & THE BOLD-style format with our first seemingly random team-up completely covered by internal story logic and giving way to the best single issue of this series since the forever crushing #18. This issue features our titular heroes storming the beach of Ra’s Al-Ghul’s secret island headquarters only to discover a pod of mutilated sperm whales whose wombs have been used to grow a gang of super-deformed Damian Wayne clones. The no-dialogue Page Sixteen of Batman rushing into the hangar and fighting a bunch of ninjas is yet another iconic sequence that Gleason/Gray/Kalisz toss off with apparent ease that belies the serious sequential storytelling mechanics that are this book’s stock in trade. These men make excelling at their craft look effortless when, of course, it’s anything but. And it’s funny, when Millar had his Joker/Batman pastiche character Nemesis do this exact same thing a couple of years back, I was the first to call bullshit, but Batman screaming at his son’s grandfather from outside the front windshield of an airborne jet, I have absolutely no problem with that. He’s Batman. This remains the strongest offering from DC’s New 52 and shows no sign of slowing down. I know it’s going to happen sooner or hopefully much much later, but I will be heartbroken when the day comes that these men have told every story on this book that they want to tell.

BEST SINGLE OF THE WEEK: ANIMAL MAN #29 — The end of an era. Jeff Lemire put his stamp on this book to such a definitive degree that now that he’s decided to move on, DC has just cancelled the series. That is some Morrison/Gaiman-level business right there, Wednesday night faithful! This final issue serves as a heartfelt epilogue to the entire run and is a slam-dunk from start to finish, knocking it out of the park by invoking the simple and heartfelt sweetness of Maxine Baker, who has been the heart and soul of this series for the majority of the run. There are no tricks here, this entire issue is very straightforward. We open by welcoming original series artist Travel Foreman back to the fold for a few pages. Foreman’s distinctive art style went a long way toward initially defining the mood and overall tone of the book, and it is a beautiful bit of recursion to have him back to bookend the series. As in all great serial fiction, the end here is not a hard THE END, but merely a springboard for more adventures in the characters’ lives that will take place off-panel outside the observation of us three-dimensional readers but still accessible through our imaginations. I was pleased to see these particular members of the supporting cast assume an elevated role. What follows is a short no-nonsense conversation between Buddy & Ellen that it looks like should yield an end to the marital strife that has been such a prominent part of their relationship in this volume. But the real centerpiece of this issue is of course the bedtime story that Maxine tells her father that is all the sweeter for its innocent skew on recent events, because it shows that Maxine has not let all of these horrors taint or corrupt her. Despite everything that has happened, she has held onto her childhood, her purity. Lemire enlists the other half of his SWEET TOOTH/TRILLIUM heartbeat, Jose Villarrubia, to color his own art, resulting in a stylistic shift that perfectly matches the content and hammers the reader with a level of emotion more often seen in creator-owned books. But Lemire’s level of engagement with this material is so strong, he loves the Bakers so much, that they might as well have sprung from his own heart. It is this deep and abiding connection that has made this such a strong offering every single month since September 2011, and all of us who have been tuned in all along the way are going to dearly miss this title while wishing the Bakers love and all the best in the world.

WONDER WOMAN #29 — Serious business from Azzarello/Chiang/Wilson right here, as what initially seems like the big showdown takes a left turn when one of the more well-rounded members of our supporting cast reclaims her mantle. Amidst the seething might of Kirby Krackle, naturally! The whole gang is reunited and it turns out that this was all merely prologue for the major battle looming on the horizon. To say anything more would be to spoil the fun of letting this book punch you in the face repeatedly. Highly recommended!

SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #6 — The business really starts to kick in here as our heroes do nothing less than prevent a total nuclear strike of every tactical nuclear warhead in the world with the aid of some reverse-engineered Kryptonian crystal technology. That is a pretty serious little hunk of Earthstone! This issue cranks things up on the creative side a little bit more than we’ve seen from the past couple of singles, of course Lee/Williams/Sinclair continue to absolutely murder every single panel, but the first-person Clark narration that we all took as a given when it was announced that Snyder would be writing this character hits me with a bit more resonance and seems like more of a bull’s-eye this time out than it has here in the last little bit. This is really going to make one blistering single-sitting read when the whole thing is collected.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #1 — Pearl & Skinner return as Snyder/Albuquerque come roaring back from their hiatus stronger than ever. Both men have really elevated their game here. The idea to have Pearl running her own underground railroad for vampire children in the sixties is almost as cool as Skinner operating out of a buried train car. And the art has possibly never looked better. It didn’t seem as though there was much room for improvement, but these guys are firing on all cylinders and turning in first-rate work. It should be a hell of a second half.

THE UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE #3 — We’re one issue closer to the end of the world and have orcs from Tolkien and tripods from Wells to help us along the way. And just when things can’t get any direr, here comes the spirit of Pullman channeled via some fresh ox-blood on a bunch of branches. Matters escalate quickly. It is hard to believe that they’ll be anything left for nine more issues’ worth of narrative, but if Carey/Gross have proven anything, it’s their ability to conjure up story long past the point that weaker souls would have typed “The End” and shuddered off into the remainder of their dreary mortal existences.

ZERO #6 — Of course I couldn’t run across this Francavilla cover and leave this soldier behind on the rack after getting slaughtered by that first trade, and I am glad that I did not, as this is an indispensable episode that deserves weeks of consideration and rereading before the next installment is available to us. I’ve never heard of Vanesa del Rey but of course she brings the justice like every one of her predecessors on this book. The setting this time out is none other than the Large Hadron Collider, where our hero comes face to face with his ostensible nemesis who bookends the adventure with a parable about spooked Soviet artillery horses triggering a phase shift from frozen lake into supercooled watery death that is clearly a metaphor for some kind of transformation or supercollider particle death that he willingly undergoes at issue’s end. Del Rey’s final pages depicting the inside of the chamber are exceptional, bringing to mind Kirby and Byrne machinery but in a scratchier, looser style that is very much her own while also being reminiscent of Murphy’s work on JOE THE BARBARIAN. Really glad to have this issue while also feeling the diametric opposite to have run into the wall and caught up with everybody else, waiting another month or however long it takes until #7. This issue suggests that Kot has plenty of mind-bending Ellis/Hickman bleeding-edge science waiting in the wings and that espionage spy-thriller and a story of post-apocalyptic survival are only the first two genres on a long list that this series will be mining.

SEX CRIMINALS #5 — The haunting specter of Kegelface! This final issue of the first volume is a very dense read. I couldn’t believe it when I went back and counted only twenty pages. We’re finally all caught up, various backstories fully exposited, Suze & Jon captured and finally escaped and running off into the next volume. Fraction continues to lay down solid character beats throughout; two people walking around having a conversation is still terribly compelling. And the Chipper Zdarsky maintains the very high bar he has set for himself on art. The lines, so clean! The colors, so much with the popping! It’s no great wonder that this book is a breakout success and everybody’s freaking out over it. Such an entertaining unflinching blast of unique. And the best letters column going, hands down. Which, of course, “hands down” sounds all sexy now. “Nailed it!”

PROPHET #43 — It’s not quite all-hands-on-deck, but we’ve got six guys on art to chronicle the montage backstory of Hiyonhoiagn, which pulls off the neat trick of coming off both as alien and outside the realm of terrestrial experience as it ought to but also completely relatable to us earthbound folk. I love the horizontal panel that’s a straight Image nineties flashback of Badrock in his Rib Bib looking across the table at Troll. It really brings home how far this crew has pushed these characters, a stunning thing to have gotten to observe these past couple of years. I was also a fan of the shell-walled arena of death. And anyone who complains that the main feature is not worth the $3.99 alone, not even counting how wrong they are, should look no further than “Pieces,” the five-page backup by Daniel Warren Johnson and Doug Garbark. These have always been solid but really cranked up lately, I’ve moved up to almost looking forward to them as much as the headliner. They’re consistently these really tight, moving short pieces by people I’ve never heard of. Quite the package, this. I think I heard we’re calling it a day with #45. Can it be? That would be a shame, but they’ve certainly succeeded on a creative level with this title past even the most optimistic projections.

ROCKET GIRL #4 — Drunk Commissioner Gomez probably needs his own book. Or just a recurring strip in the back of this one. We need to make that happen. Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclair continue to deliver on the greatness implicit in the relatively simple premise of teen-jetpack-cop-travels-back-in-time-to-save-future. I mean, I guess there are plenty of ways to mess that up, but they certainly haven’t so far. This is still roaring good fun. I love the shot of Dayoung crashing up through the floor of Penn Station. And that last panel with Gomez at the gates is quite gripping in its own right. Now that her lead-time has expired, I hope that Ms. Reeder takes as long as she needs to put as much care into these pages as she likes. We will wait for the quality.

UNCANNY X-MEN #019.NOW — I love the stupidity of throwing a great big #1 up in the corner even though we all see that this is really issue number “nineteen-now.” The meetings where this shit gets decided must be channeling straight Monty Python. I certainly like to pretend that John Cleese is the driving force behind all of the ridiculous decisions that The Big Two like to regularly crank out. At any rate! Bendis continues to hit his mark and Chris Bachalo’s incredible and idiosyncratic layouts and panel-work elevate this into one of the best books on the stands. There’s also a pretty solid artistic uniformity at work throughout these pages given the fact that there are five inkers. And of course if your Bachalo doesn’t have time to color every page, Jose Villarrubia should always be your first call. Yet another beautiful issue.

NEW AVENGERS #015 — Man, I wonder how much lead-time Simone Bianchi had to crank out this many interior pages in a row, was definitely only looking for him on one or a maximum of two of these issues. Hickman is really laying some serious groundwork here, biding his time and building a threat on a scale that we haven’t really seen before from this publisher, an infinite number of worlds and dead heroes. It feels like this cycle is about to come to an end, though. After all, there’s only so many times we can watch other Reed Richardses get shot into the heart of the sun. I really can’t wait to see what kind of a monster climax this is building to, though I’d say we’re still at least quite a few months off from hitting it.

DAREDEVIL #001 — New #1! Perfect jumping-on point! Waid/Samnee/Rodriguez show up and give us nothing more than more of the same, quality storytelling featuring the character distilled down to his essence with pitch-perfect narration and plot escalation throughout. This very much feels like a season-premiere, we’re thrown into the action in medias res with no lingering subplots whatsoever until a question-mark on the last page that will of course keep us coming back for more. Here’s hoping the new #1 boosts sales, because this superhero book certainly deserves a massive audience. They should all be this tremendous.

BEST OF WEEK: NEMO: THE ROSES OF BERLIN—Nothing but tightly focused sequential destruction here from start to finish. The folks who skipped the backmatter on HEART OF ICE last year because there weren’t enough pretty pictures definitely missed an important installment as we barrel right on in to the next adventure building upon the joining of the houses of Dakkar & Robur. Reading this volume through the first time, I was so fully immersed that I wasn’t able to pick up on exactly how lean this thing is. You’ve got that first page of German (that I’ve really got to get a translation of because you know Moore’s got them just straight up giving away the salient plot details right there at the top), the next two pages are a single gore-drenched splash depicting just another day at the office for our heroine and hero with a mere two panels more than enough to set up their status quo and establish the ease of their relationship with one another, that third panel of dialogue that throws everything out of whack, and by the end of Page Four, we’ve got the entire premise for this adventure pretty well established. Janni & Jack’s little girl and her husband have been shot down and taken prisoner by Chaplin’s Hitler analogue Herr Hynkel in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and now they must go in and kill everybody in order to save her. Terribly straightforward, as far as these things go. Kevin O’Neill’s designs for the city are staggering. There’s no telling how many words actually went into describing some of these splash pages, but there are a few occasions this time out when, for the final pages, Moore gives Todd Klein the day off and lets O’Neill just rip it apart without any dialogue whatsoever. The architecture is evocative of not only Lang but also what might have happened if the oppressive worlds of Orwell and Huxley crashed into Lang’s jagged edges, all with a healthy dose of the kind of nightmarish concrete Hell that Anton Furst’s Gotham City brought to life in Burton’s first Batman movie. And Ben Dimagmaliw hangs with every nook and cranny, supplying a subtle palette that brings the lines to life without ever really calling attention to itself. Moore manages to work in plenty of characterization along the way but the emphasis in this installment, as was the case last time out, is forward momentum. Adventure! The casualty that occurs shortly past the halfway mark is the most efficient piece of character-dispatching since Wash was a leaf on the wind, in one swift stroke, the stakes are raised to their greatest possible level. Everyone can die at any time, and I even found myself questioning if I even correctly read way back when that this would be a trilogy because everybody was surely about to be dead with the next turn of the page. There’s an immediacy and urgency there that is simply not possible to convey to the reader in monthly corporate comics. There are those who think that LEAGUE has declined since dive-bombing out of its original premise/cast after the second volume, that it has mutated into something too self-referential and Ouroborosian to be entertaining to anyone but the most snobbish literary intellectual. I can see how some folks felt a little bit left in the dust when we trap-doored from H.G. Wells to the multi-media/genre insanity of THE BLACK DOSSIER but feel as though each and every volume has been an improvement on what has gone before. These NEMO one-shots initially sounded like they would be nothing more than a diverting tangent away from our sole remaining original protagonist but they have not only fleshed out our amalgamated mythos in the first half of the twentieth century to a great deal but given us a new lead character as compelling as any who have come before, all the more fascinating due to the fact that she is practically an original character, the template of Jenny Diver from Brecht’s Threepenny Opera grafted onto the Nemo legacy.

For all the glory of the fifty-six page sequential adventure, I almost found the backmatter more compelling. Moore clearly adores writing these, you can feel it in the care that he lavishes upon every sentence. The third paragraph opens with: “In the silver drench of a full moon, our craft began a roaring drop towards the curdled masses of the Riallaro Archipelago's famed fogbanks, billows parting like ethereal spun sugar to reveal a startlingly space-age and electrically illuminated view of Princess Janni Dakkar's brigand nation from above.” That is some gorgeous prose, right there.

Fifteen years after publishing their first issue, Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill are still roaring ahead great guns and offering one of the most consistently entertaining while intellectually stimulating stories in any medium. Let the long wait until the next volume begin.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


This is the SXSW edition, meaning I did not start reading these until three in the morning on Thursday, but I did the best that I could!

BATMAN #29 — Um. That has got to be the grimmest GCPD recruitment poster imaginable. Snyder’s retcon reason for the Waynes to go see the movie works for me with the pertinent conversation passing the test of seeming not like a writer trying to shoehorn in his own pet ideas and “what shoulda happened” but instead the result of organic character-driven plot advancement. I wasn’t really a fan of referencing Miller’s “Goddamn Batman” over that gorgeous splash of the Bat-dirigible, but it certainly is a nice touch for Capullo to then reference the shot of Bruce in the Bat-tank from THE DARK KNIGHT TRIUMPHANT in the very next panel. Very cute. That shot of the silhouette and lightning a few pages later should not have come as a surprise to anybody. Just a hell of an image. Capullo/Miki/Plascencia continue to blow it up every single chance they get. I was, in particular, digging on the softened color tones for that opening flashback. Snyder’s doing a great job overall here as usual, though I did experience a breaking point when the monstrous Doctor Death, whose mutated limbs were wrapped around the railing on the deck of the airship, went into the looooong anecdote about the song “Tokyo Moon” and his family’s history with the serious storm crashing down all around them. I could no longer suspend my disbelief. Had no problem with Batman making the impossible seventy-foot leap between ships, did not even blink at that. But that particular monologue seemed a bit overwrought and silly. Regardless, at only $4.99, we get a full double-sized forty pages of absolutely gorgeous story, the best value you’re going to find this week.

BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #12 — Man. A fairly crushing bit of business, right here. The plight of animal-loving still-deceased-in-regular-continuity Damian Wayne searching high and low for his missing pet turkey Jerry during the final weeks of November is a rough one. Sandwich Day, indeed. A gaggle of silly food-related puns ensue during the slugfest with Condiment King and his Food Fighters, and it isn’t really until the very final installment, “Our Family Album,” that Nguyen and Fridolfs start yanking out all of our heartstrings by the page. Damian tries to go all Mission: Impossible but is no match for Alfred and his scissors. We are then treated to a speculative montage as to what exactly Batman might be getting up to on this particular evening that runs quite the spectrum, a fraction of which is attached to the left. But it turns out our hero is just out doing good deeds. The shot of he and Gordon enjoying their coffees on the roof of Police Headquarters does a nice job encapsulating what I love about the style that Nguyen went with for this series. This entire run coming down to Alfred and Damian looking through an album of family photographs is just perfect, I cannot think of a more heartfelt and beautiful way to bring the curtain down on this wonderful series. Because Bruce Wayne could not do what he does without his family. First, he only had Alfred, but then one by one, he has brought so many lost souls under his wing who have saved him as much as he has saved them. The final panel of Bruce tucking in an exhausted Alfred who is still clutching the family album, the living document that all of the memories that these good people have made with one another, giving the smallest measure of comfort to the man who has raised him since he was eight years old, that is one of the most heartfelt and powerful images that I have been lucky enough to get knocked out by in some time. I am really really going to miss this one, loved to read it five times to my little girl every month, am so grateful for these twelve issues and will treasure them for all time.

* * * *

EAST OF WEST #10 — Is it just me or did a hell of a lot happen in this issue? I guess it’s just because so much went down and we finally made it back to the main narrative, but this one was crammed so full, it felt double-sized on the first read. Serious advancement/plot development and I’m doing my best to just roll with all of that emboldened italicized lettering as just part of the staccato rhythm of the book. Dragotta/Martin elevate their game here, which should not have been possible, really incredible work page after page after page. I still wish Hickman would spend a little bit more time lavishing characterization on more of his ensemble. Wolf gets just a little bit here, which highlighted to me the overall dearth of it throughout the cast thus far. Checking back in with Xiaolian would mitigate that to a great degree. Best issue since #5, no problem. And a nice touch to pay off #6 on the last page.

STAR WARS #15 — Kind of a set-up issue as we check back in with the Rebel Alliance and Leia’s impending marriage. I assumed we’d get Carlos D’Anda back in the fold but Stéphane Créty does a terrific job holding it down in a stylistically appropriate manner. Luke somehow got a bit more petulant and whiny during the break, but I guess that’s what happens when your serious crush/unknown twin-sister is about to marry herself off for the good of the galaxy.

ASTRO CITY #10 — Winged Victory’s arc finally comes to a close not amidst a flurry of fisticuffs but through well considered inner monologues that put character front and center. Solid work from one of the most consistently rewarding superhero titles on the rack.

FANTASTIC FOUR #002 — All right, I’m on board with this story, but I hope we’re not going to get hammered with “The sad, bitter end of the Fantastic Four” over and over and over. It’s already seeming a bit belabored here on the first page of the second issue. And, oh whoa, Franklin, don’t let’s bring up HEROES REBORN, hey? Some of us are still trying to forget. I don’t know, man. Kirk’s art is terrific, but I’m still not sold on Robinson. This is so far feeling way too doom-and-gloomy, more in line tonally with The New 52 or the shenanigans Nolan and lately Snyder have been getting up to with the DC guys than the Silver Age bleeding-edge science glory sweetness where this book lives. Johnny shedding a tear on the last page kind of says it all. I think I’m giving this one more month and if everybody’s still clutching themselves and weeping as it’s all crashing down around them, will probably just head on back to the immortal Kirby run.

WOLVERINE #003 — Feh, Stegman is still a beast on art (especially that last page, damn), but I’m really not a fan of the pity party that Cornell is throwing for Logan. With no end in sight. Now, they’re hyping that they’re going to kill our protagonist. Time, I think, to pull the ripcord on this particular parachute. I did enjoy Cornell working an “Eh?” into Logan’s dialogue.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #024 — Now, we’re really getting to it here. When this crossover was announced, it seemed like a blatant move to have a hardcover collection ready for when the Guardians movie bows, and surely it is, but Bendis has of course done a terrific job mining the considerable overlap between these two books’ shared ideaspace. It’s insane how much Claremont was able to pack in there back in the day. This book continues to feature some of the best ensemble characterization and bedazzling art on the rack. Bendis deftly juggles the voices and interaction between all members of both teams and even manages to work in a Season Four ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT quote from Kitty, who naturally binge-watched the entire thing the weekend it uploaded on Netflix. And Immonen/von Grawbadger/Gracia, I’m really running out of things to say about them. Stunning work every single time. We’re left with a logical reversal for our cliffhanger that is earned and has me on pins and needles for the final installment.

HAWKEYE #017 — Futz! When this crew needs an inventory issue, they go for it. Two revolving teams have not been able to keep this book on schedule between them and so Steve “Hawkguy No More” Wacker digs deep and enlists letter-par-excellence Chris Eliopoulos to draw an entire issue based on the cartoon show that Clint sat down to doze of in front of at the end of #006. Which sounds ridiculous but is, in fact, glorious. Eliopoulos is no stranger to sequentials, of course. His FRANKLIN RICHARDS, SON OF A GENIUS is a staple at our house and COW BOY was also a pretty well received release, I believe. And the ubiquitous Jordie Bellaire makes her series debut to lend colors that are pleasing to the eye while staying flat enough to blend with what we’ve come to expect from Hollingsworth. I love the “MY NIGHTMARES ARE TURNING REAL!!” line. Fraction does a great job grafting the main aspects of this book onto a children’s adventure starring animals with the dingoes of course being the most hilarious example. Dog. At the end of the day, this book is nothing more or less than a romp, entertaining in its own right while serving as a very creative way to beat them ol’ deadline blues.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


ACTION COMICS #29 — And so the first arc comes to a close. Tremendous work. I’m a huge fan of Pak’s Page One insane run-on-sentence-first-person summaries that function as a PREVIOUSLY…, I hope they stay around. Kuder continues to knock it out of the park, though I could tell that some pages were fill-ins, some fella named Jed Dougherty doing the best he could. Am still really digging Wil Quintana’s palette for this. I like how, not once but twice, when the big guy can’t handle it anymore, he just goes into straight Cavill-heat-vision-rage mode. Burn it all, Kal! And the poignant Baka-hugging end totally snuck up on me despite being very organically developed throughout the course of this arc. Tremendous work. Still so grateful that ACTION COMICS is this great again. Because it always should be.

DETECTIVE COMICS #29 — Aw man, I just assumed that Jason Fabok would drop back in for Layman’s finale, but I guess he’s already hustling on ETERNAL pages just as hard as he can. It’s a shame not to have him here, but Aaron Lopresti once again does his share of heavy lifting. This finale makes perfect sense, of course our hero was undercover all along and outsmarted Scarecrow by palming an antidote. Classic Bruce! A really nice touch on the last page, not only does the battle never end but it cycles right back to the first of the Layman/Fabok run. At eighteen issues, it might be odd to say that it wasn’t enough, but it certainly seemed like this train could have kept rolling for another couple of years at least. Quality work throughout. Looking forward to seeing what trouble Manapul/Buccellato will get into next month. We certainly know that it will look gorgeous and have the best Eisner title pages going today.

FOREVER EVIL #6 — Ah haha, Johns certainly gets points for the set-up and punchline of the first two captions. But then “You need to see what they’ve done to Nightwing” is just a bit too meta- for my tastes. And I don’t get why the sight of the Murder Machine is such an Oh-my-God moment. I mean, the name is much more ominous than the sight of it. It looks like a doodad. I was definitely expecting something one hundred times more gruesome on the page-turn. Not that I was hoping for it. And shouldn’t the Shazam of the alternate New 52-Earth not be like an evil dick? Isn’t that what Johns and Frank rebooted our latest iteration into? I don’t know, man. The art is terrific. I guess I just want everything to be as good as FINAL CRISIS and nothing else maybe ever will be.

TRILLIUM #7 — Already so near to the end! This is a mini that I have definitely enjoyed serialized and am glad I picked up in singles. Though I’m sure I’ll eventually snag the trade, as well. I was wondering what further flipping tricks Jeff Lemire had up his sleeve and he executes what’s probably the last one here as Nika goes double-splash-sideways to fall back to the future. It is a very cool contrast having Lemire color one of the time-zones with Jose Villarrubia providing counterpoint on the other, anchoring the more bleed-heavy washed-out thing that the writer/artist has going on with something a little less impressionistic. Quite a collaboration. And we get the Atabithian-glyph language translation, a very cool move. I still need to go back through and do some translating. A suitably ominous cliffhanger as we finally put an end to our time-hopping and deal with nothing less than the eradication of the human race setting the stage for the last love story ever told. If only Mama Lemire had taught her little boy how to dream big!

CATALYST COMIX #9 — And so we come to the end. Joe Casey & Friends bring all the stories in to a series of senses-shattering climaxes! “Agents of Change” goes out as nutjob as ever with my favorite bit maybe being the glorious absurdity of misattributing “I Am The Walrus” to T.S. Eliot. Though the opening caption giving way to a TED talk is pretty funny all by itself. The resolution here makes total sense. But is that a reference to the Ewan McGregor motorcycle doc there in the first caption on the last page? Of the three, I was least into “Agents of Change” and it was still pretty solid. And in the final installment of “The Ballad of Frank Wells,” Frank lays it down to the president and Ghost Abraham Lincoln in the Oval Office itself. I had no idea where this story was going to wind up after the cataclysmic madness of the first chapter, but it wound up being a unique and, dare I say, relatively realistic take on a Superman’s impact upon the global superpowers. The last panel is, of course, perfect. “Amazing Grace” ends with as much seething cosmic thunder as we’ve come to expect. I particularly enjoyed Paul Maybury’s choice to go with the eight tiny panels across the top third of Page Three, solid cartooning that really highlights Grace’s inner battle. The real business emerges from Casey’s Kirbyesque captioneering on Page Five, though: “IT TAKES GREAT STRENGHT TO FINALLY LET GO, TO CONFOUND YOUR ADVERSARY WITH A CHANGE IN TACTICS TO DRAW UPON THAT WHICH HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITHIN YOU, TO TAKE THE BELIEF OTHERS HAVE IN YOU AND TURN IT INTO PURE POWER AND DISCOVER THE ULTIMATE TRUTH ABOUT ONESELF!” A particularly interesting shift on the last word there, which should be “yourself” to maintain person, but it is the shift to “oneself” that shatters grammatical agreement. “DELIBERATE LINGUISTIC REACTUALIZATION!” I also like how Page Six has “sun god” as the sixth and seventh words on the page and then seven words from the end, Casey goes ahead and drops “metropolis.” That business is not an accident, people! Grace & her golden city 4evah!

This anthology was consistently an intelligent, thought-provoking look at what the superhero genre is capable of, jam-packed full of 28 pages of greatness every single month for the low low cover price of $2.99. Many thanks to Joe Casey, Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury, Ulises Farinas, Brad Simpson, Rus Wooton, and the editors at Dark Horse for making the impossible a two-dimensional certainty!

BEST OF WEEK: STARLIGHT #1 — I thought I was just about done with Millar. I can’t believe how terrific this is. It’s a perfect first issue. Every element, the dialogue, the characterization, the pacing. And the art. It could not be a better fit. Millar obviously could have sweet-talked Hitch or Gibbons or maybe even pulled old Cassaday back out of sequential retirement again (I had to get his cover) if Millar wanted the sort of highly rendered photorealistic thing that is those gentlemen’s specialty. However, Goran Parlov’s style is ideal for this, cinematic and expressive while never over-rendered, always just the right amount of detail with a master’s eye for composition and layout. This is reflected in the two very disparate sections of the story, which almost look like they’re shot by two different directors, testament to Parlov’s consummate skill. And Ive Svorcina’s colors light up the page, conveying fantastic vistas on the alien world while highlighting the drab and dreary modern-day reality that Duke has chosen for himself. This book is drum-tight, everything is presented to the reader in shorthand. We get all that we need to know about the past adventures on the alien world in six-and-a-half pages. The two sons between them only rate three scenes in less than three pages and we don’t need to see them again; they’re pieces of shit, we’ve got it. The wife is only on-panel for a page and another panel, and that’s still enough to justify the gaping void that exists in our protagonist’s life for the duration of the present-day sequences. And then, of course, inevitably, the final call to adventure. I don’t know how Millar managed to imbue this with so much heart. On the surface, it really looks like nothing more than his latest cavalier attempt to sell his fourth or fifth mini-series to Hollywood for more Big Option $, and this one just happens to be “FLASH GORDON meets UNFORGIVEN,” but hey, that and Parlov were enough to get me to give it a shot and I am so glad that I did. This is so thrilling and pitch-perfect, I almost don’t want #2 to come out and ruin it. But then, this is only the beginning, and there is such a multitude of fantastic possibility just over the horizon.

JUPITER’S LEGACY #4 — I loooooooove Frank Quitely. Just look at that cover. He did that with a pencil. Once upon a time, there was a blank piece of paper and then he started drawing on it and now those people are there. It’s almost too much to believe. It turns out that the first three issues of this were really just set-up as we jump nine years forward and meet the character who it’s looking is our actual protagonist. Of course, the world is total horror in light of the events of last issue but it only takes half of this next single for our boys to whip up a sequence that will just about get John Williams’s Superman overture roaring through your head, which is about the highest compliment I can pay something like this. There’s a lot of heart in this, as well. Absolutely did not think Millar had it in him, guy really knocked it out of the park this week.

VELVET #4 — More espionage greatness from Brubaker/Epting/Breitweiser. We head on down to Monaco and the glamorous Carnival of Fools for gambling with masked royalty. Mrs. Breitweiser’s colors on the Page Eight spread are particularly glorious. It’s just occurring to me that this has got to be a finite thing, it’s not like Epting is just going to sign on for an open-ended couple-of-dozen-issues-at-least type of situation. That would be years and years of his life. This is maybe the first act break? If Codename: Mockingbird turns out to be a major character, perhaps. If he’s even still breathing.

SECRET #6 — These two titles together are a solid idea for an espionage double-feature in concept, but I’m afraid that this book suffers from the comparison with VELVET. At least from a characterization standpoint. Ryan Bodenheim obviously and absolutely just wrecks everything on that spread across Pages Four and Five, digging deep into that Darrow/Burnham vein of a bit of the ol’ hyper-rendered ultra-violence. God, though, man, the italics. If I’m just barely easing into it on EAST OF WEST, it’s making the dialogue in this book a self-parody. “I’m pretty sure work’s not done for the day.” How’s this going?” “I gotta tell you.” These are not phrases that need to be emphasized and calling attention to them makes them silly in a way that they would not otherwise be. I want to like this quite a bit more than I actually do. Come on, Hickman!

UNCANNY X-MEN #018 — Marco Rudy shows up and once again destroys everything. Easily some of the most inventive page layouts being produced today, beautiful characters who can really act, occasional shifts into David-Mack-level KABUKI painted greatness, the man is on fire. There’s been so much going on, I didn’t even realize that we haven’t had time to properly deal with the integration of the original team into the ranks of Cyclops’s Weapon X crew. Which is of course some necessary interaction to depict. Rudy’s been posting this cover for weeks to encourage speculation about who’s holding the gun. I love that it’s metaphorical and what the answer actually turns out to be. I’m a little unclear on exactly what goes down at the end there, does Cyclops see an enemy and just open up wide? Or take a page out of the Cavill-Superman-heat-vision-rage playbook? Whatever the case, this is a fill-in issue of the highest caliber.

MOON KNIGHT #001 — What a furious monstrosity for Wacker to leave in the wake of his exodus from the East Coast. We welcome Uncle Warren from the zones of dystopic pulp fiction and neon futurist conferences back to the land of monthly sequentials. This sounded like it would be mental when I first read of it but it exceeded even my most fearful projections. Our man Detective Flint radiates a serious FELL vibration that is perfectly at home within these pages. Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire’s art is a good match, setting the atmosphere for this muted and bleak corner of the Marvel Universe, one we really haven’t had a chance to visit since those six issues of the Secret Avengers trying to poke their heads back in the door first opened by Ellis’s monstrous THUNDERBOLTS run. I suspect that we have only begun to descend into the vileness, filth, and horror.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


There are more plot-specific spoilers than usual this week. Be advised!

UNCANNY AVENGERS #017 — Um. Wow. Should someone tell Remender that they’re about to release the new Captain America movie? Seems like last time that happened, it nuked Brubaker’s quality years-long plot involving Bucky coming back from the dead to wield the shield and so forth, and then but before we knew it, the book was back to pretty much the same status quo it’s enjoyed for decades. Now that it’s time for that Winter Soldier business to start playing out at the Mighty Marvel Multiplex, here we are, one month out and, Bro, Remender just really killed Steve Rogers. Not just that, he had The Grim Reaper eviscerate the shit out of the poor guy. Blood eeeeeeeverywhere. Then, for an encore, Thor fails and a Exitar the Celestial Executioner just straight up destroys the planet Earth and then Thor is back on Asgard with his dad and All-Father’s all like, “Yeah, it’s really too bad those humans couldn’t get it together and stop fighting amongst themselves, I had great expectations that they eventually would.” And Thor just can’t like swing his hammer around a lot and make that one better, right? This isn’t Chris Reeve in 1978. The only way I can see to dial this whole thing back is that old infuriating trick about having Wanda say some magic words that completely change the world in the blink of an eye only the thing is she was one of the first people Remender took out, probably for that very reason. Very interested to see how they’re all going to get out of this one. Stunning McNiven art, as usual.

BEST OF WEEK: HAWKEYE #015 — It is a rough day for calamitous cliffhangers! Everything’s going along it seems like pretty okay in the embattled Bed-Stuy world of Clint Barton when that terrifying clown fellow in the white suit shows up at the end and then straight up shoots our hero in the head and then his brother in the gut. Can Wanda not be dead in this one, perhaps? What the hell gives? And the maddening thing is that because of the scattershot crazy way this book is coming out, we’ve already got #016, Eliopoulos’s splendid animated issue is #017, Annie Wu will be back with Kate Bishop for #018, and then that’s going to give Aja enough lead time to actually follow up on this cliffhanger in, cross our fingers, three months? That old Wacker certainly did leave a wibbly-wobbly editorial jumble on his way out the door. Of course, Aja/Hollingsworth’s work on this is as impeccable as ever and Eliopoulos distinguishes himself on letters. Still my favorite Marvel book, no problem, Bro.

FANTASTIC FOUR #001— I have made no secret of my annoyance at being jerked around by Fraction going all Millar/Hitch on the immediately preceding run. I said to myself that I’d just go back to my Lee/Kirby issues or even reread the Hickman run and bail out on The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. But what kind of True Believer would that make me, Oneiric One? I had to at least check in and see how Robinson/Kirk begin their run. And am I glad that I did! We start out with ominous tidings as Susan Richards lets us all know via an epistolary montage that the FF has fallen on hard times, Reed is no longer with the science and she kind of hates him (!), Ben is rotting in jail, and Johnny is a drunken lout, which, that last one doesn’t seem like too much of a modification. And all of that is via a brief three-page run opening up onto a double-page splash of the team in all their glory versus Fin Fang Foom, everything we’ve grown to know and love about the comic. Which happens a couple more times before the battle is over. It’s a glorious celebration of what makes this team fantastic while returning the series to first principles, four members of a family fighting a giant monster in Manhattan. The sole false note was when the post-battle dialogue between Reed and Sue struck me as a bit forced, but I’m hoping Robinson will ease into his characters’ voices over time. The art is nothing short of wonderful, Karl Kesel staying over on inks, producing dynamic panelwork with Leonard Kirk on pencils and Jesus Aburtov on colors. I am cautiously optimistic about this new chapter in the lives of Marvel’s First Family.

WOLVERINE #002 — I love how Otto/Spidey’s dialogue is CLEARLY him speaking Supervillain the entire time, he’s not even trying to be Parker. Stegman continues to blow it up on art here, channeling the kind of hyper-stylized greatness that we’ve come to expect from JoeMad. I’m not loving Cornell’s take on Logan in this second volume, however. As much as I dug on everything that was happening just a few months ago, it feels like Cornell is spinning his wheels here. And not sure I see the point of having a cliffhanger in flashback. I mean, Otto throws him off the roof before #1 even starts, right?

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #012 — Oh dear, that was a tragic opening scene with the Summers plane going down. This is pretty mandatory reading for folks who have been taking the All-New ride with Bendis’s X-Teens as we get some powerful beats with Scott reuniting with his father and receiving comfort from Laura. And are those sparks flying between Kitty and the Star-Lord? Sara Pichelli proves once again that she can produce pages that can go toe-to-toe with the greatness spilling forth from Immonen/von Grawbadger on a regular basis, very impressive material.

THE WAKE #6 — Yeeeeeeeellow. We flash-forward two hundred years to a world completely overrun by the oceans and the creatures that dwell in her depths. I dig Matt Hollingsworth’s stark shifting of palette but really think that Jared K. Fletcher should have provided some black outlines for those captions, they’re just about unreadable over that yellow sky. Sean Murphy continues to absolutely terrify with the depth of detail in his world-building, that first wide short of the outpost of Wallton is staggering. Or that shot of our new heroine’s home, just gorgeous. I dig the concept of a heroine named Leeward. And you knew we weren’t done with Dr. Archer and going to hear a message from the past. This is pretty riveting stuff, right here.

BATMAN/SUPERMAN #8 — Greg Pak still feels like he has more stories to tell starring multiple heroes from parallel universes as he welcomes back original co-conspirator to a new arc that brings The Huntress and Power Girl into the fold. It’s a pretty cool dynamic, Batman suddenly being confronted with his seventeen-year-old daughter and resisting the genetic imperative to trust her. And I like how they’re both sneaking around not being forthright with the Superman/Power Girl collective. That makes perfect sense. All told, an interesting opening to the arc.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #18 — Hmmmmmm! Pitarra brings the true and holy justice on what are probably his best interiors of the series to date, turning in highly detailed and immaculate work that takes no shortcuts every single page. This issue, we bid adieu to not only the The-Dude-sounding blue alien but apparently another member of the cast that made for quite the HolyShit! last page, even if you could kind of sense that some serious business was just about to go down. You totally get the sense that this is Hickman completely flying without a net or outline and that absolutely anything can erupt at any time. Tremendous madness and hyperviolent fun for all!

BLACK SCIENCE #4 — I hope that this title can always be released on the same day as THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS, they make for such a solid double-feature. Things keep going really badly for our beleaguered cast of characters as it looks like we lose a member of our cast to a flying gang of high-tech Native Americans. Matteo Scalera continues to absolutely tear it up and Dean White experiments with an exotic palette, the effect of which is an interesting juxtaposition with what Murphy/Hollingsworth have going on over in THE WAKE. Another indie success story continues!

SATELLITE SAM #6 — There’s not too much to distinguish this issue from what has come before. Chaykin is still tearing it up. Mike is still screwing and drinking everything in sight. Good times abound.

CHEW #40 — Layman & Guillory return with another installment as they hit the two-thirds point of completion on this landmark series. And Tony Chu spends the issue suuuuper space-stoned, dragging his old partner John Colby into the trip. I am a huge fan of the anthropomorphic versions of those characters, I would love to see a strip of nothing but stoned Tony-Bunny and Colby-Fox completely laying waste to whatever psychedelic landscape in which they find themselves. And it’s wonderful to again get another montage from the twisted mind of Layman, those are always a highlight of this series.

WRAITH #4 — “Mother Mary in the manger,” indeed. The Christmasland kids are terrifying as our cast of irregulars attempts to survive through even a few minutes and find some way back home. I do not like their chances terribly much.