Wednesday, July 29, 2015


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 17, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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