Wednesday, September 16, 2015


PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #2 — I like it. The deal with the A-Ha video is still charming and impressive and all. But I don’t know, y’all. Does this one read as a bit too samey to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE to anyone else? I’m already recognizing that Volume 2 of this title hit me at this like once-in-a-lifetime magical-moment sweet spot owing to where I was as a human being right at that time compounded by the fact that I could not bloody lay hands on #3 or #4 for weeks and weeks, which made the anticipation so much greater than if I’d just been on board picking up the singles from the get-go, so I’m not like expecting every issue of this third volume to have anything like the effect that THE SINGLES CLUB had on me, but this one just seemed to not quite be firing on as many cylinders. Or maybe failing to escalate from last issue? That might be it. I don’t know. There’s just not as much magic, Shambles. At least in the main feature. On the first pass through, I was a little bit bummed and kind of crumpled up until I turned to that back-up story “The Ice Storm” and cued up that The Go! Team track like you’re supposed to do, and I tell you what, I read those five pages over and over and over again for 4:12 and was bedazzled and impressed and enchanted and put the book down with a smile on my face and that song in my heart and didn’t even remember any of those other things I was thinking about the lead feature until I sat down to write this review. This book really is magic. Sometimes, most times, when you least expect it.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #14 — Is it wrong for me to feel cheated that they didn’t go with PHONOGRAM for the remix idea? And will I ever stop comparing this poor book to PHONOGRAM? A cool idea, the re-re-mix. I had no problem with it and actually didn’t even really start to spot it until halfway through, which possibly speaks to how frozen-fried all of those Go! Team chimes made me. I particularly dug on the McKelvie design on that double-page Who’s Next? spread right at the end. God, I miss YOUNG AVENGERS. This book will always make me yearn for all the others, apparently. So, of course this is the one they say they’re going to do for sixty issues.

DARTH VADER #009 — Well, this is apparently a Gillen hat-trick right here all of a sudden. For all the lightsaber action, this issue doesn’t really burn too much down, preferring to let the tension between Vader and the Emperor’s new guy (I forget his name, it’s not in the crawl, and no one addresses him directly all issue long; the “Fourth World Saga” this is not, my young Padawans!) simmer along, which is just fine. I could have used a few more pages with scene-stealers Dr. Aphra, BT, and 000, the former of whom at least must be eking out a limited lifespan. I mean, if I find myself suddenly indentured to that particular Dark Lord of the Sith above all others, the laaaaast thing I’m going to be doing is sneaking around the galaxy trying to scrape together a little bit of change and hope he never gets around to sensing any disturbances. If I was doing one thing in secret on Lord Vader’s watch, I’d be devoting every instant of spare time to figuring out the most surefire way to decapitate the fellow or trick him on to a rocket to the sun or something.

BEST OF WEEK: STAR WARS – JOURNEY TO THE FORCE AWAKENS: SHATTERED EMPIRE #1 — Well, I wasn’t going to pick up any post-VI canon until VII lands because I want to go in fresh, but I couldn’t say no to Rucka and that gorgeous Noto cover (which is perfect except it seems like probably Luke shouldn’t be showing any teeth; a grim little smile would do just fine, he’s either about to or just gone done burning his father’s body), and I am certainly glad that I picked it up. The first half of this issue drops in on the closing moments of the Battle of Endor, specifically what Lieutenant “Green-6” Bey was getting up to. Depicting a classic Star Wars dogfight-in-space in sequential form is no minor accomplishment, and the creative team does excellent work translating the excitement and momentum that we’ve come to expect from those things into this medium. There’s a nice little retcon where our new protagonist helps Commander Skywalker and aforementioned father’s body escape the doomed Death Star onboard that faithful old Imperial shuttle Tydirium before the lieutenant reunites with her true love amidst the sounds of wub-wub down below, going on to undoubtedly conceive Oscar Isaac that very night before goddang Han musters Dad-to-be right out of there first thing next morning. You really hope old Dameron makes it back from this one. Widowmaker’s not a good look for Han, but Daddy Dameron has done his job in terms of sperm-production. In terms of art, Marco Checchetto goes above and beyond, rendering iconic likenesses and intricately lined starships with apparent ease and always with an eye for ideal composition. This is yet another terrific opening issue of the new Marvel Star Wars, and I am definitely all in and looking forward to much more to come.

BITCH PLANET #5 — I thought “Bitch Planet” was the sub-title of my Gillen hat-trick review. But, seriously. This one keeps up the pace that #4 set. I’m still loving the De Landro art but not convinced or compelled by the amount of characterization Deconnick is packing in here. Or not. I just don’t care about these people. The backmatter talks about the creators falling in love with a doomed character or how cruel it’s going to be to give us her backstory next issue, but not enough of that passion transferred into the project to make it through the page to at least me. Folks in the letters column certainly feel differently. I wish I was more into it. Still picking this up as a curiosity but not terribly pumped about it, as I will be whenever that new PRETTY DEADLY hits.

INJECTION #5 — So. That’s everything with the origin pretty much explained and the present-day crisis resolved. I’ve made mention of it the past couple of issues, but the shape of this entire opening arc has just been odd. Pleasant odd. Or unpleasant in a lovely way. But certainly its own strange beast. It’s always a pleasure to see Uncle Warren writing exactly what it at least appears that he wants to, and Shalvey/Bellaire just look better and better together. I look forward to this team recharging their various creative energies and returning with the second arc as soon as possible.

A-FORCE #004 — Maybe they shouldn’t have put the big splash-page traitor reveal on the cover with basically the exact same layout? Not that it’s such a surprise, really, but it always disturbs me when they do this*. Deadline hustle is beginning to creep in here. You can tell that there are two inkers and one is moving a bit faster than the other, though I have no idea who’s who. Overall, though, the story remains crisp and scoots right along. And of course, that is one hell of a final double-page splash. Beautiful colors from Laura Martin, as ever. This is the first time I’ve read TO BE CONCLUDED on one of these minis and thought, “Awwww . . .”

STARFIRE #4 — This series remains a welcome breath of breezy fun starring a female protagonist with agency to spare who only happens to be a knockout gorgeous alien who leaves men drooling in her wake and whose innate goodness and optimism and automatic trust that actually borders on naïveté makes her all the more endearing. I was initially a little slow on the uptake, but Conner/Palmiotti have clearly imported this Atlee character in from their much-lauded-though-as-yet-unread-by-me run on POWER GIRL. I also dug that part at the end when Stella the sheriff hit threshold and lost her shit at the amount of nonsense that has erupted in Key West these past four issues. The most evocative image of the issue is wisely left off-panel: aforementioned sheriff underwater and punching the hell out of nothing/everything as a form of stress relief. I will say that as cool as it is to have three such strong female characters hanging out together and passing the Bechdel test all the time, I’m about ready for Sol and/or Boone or anybody else to graduate from the ogling-Kory/drooling-in-her-wake stage that has been this book’s go-to from the get-go. Lots to love in this title, though, not the least of which is the seamless efficiency that it has thus far coasted from issue to issue, each featuring a conflict with satisfactory resolution every time while always setting up the next thing, whetting readers’ appetites for the following issue.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #10 — This book is still such a fun ride, as dark as it is. I thought the first season of BUFFY (coming to it a few years after the whole series had ended, mind) was over-hyped shit and couldn’t begin to catch a glimpse of what everyone loved so much until, I think, the seventh episode when the gang for some reason had to get involved with a production of “Macbeth” and everything started to suddenly gel and become wonderful, so I immediately wondered if this was a callback to that. It’s executed with a far greater amount of craft, skill, and finesse, as I’ve loved these characters from Day One. This is a terrific and very satisfying done-in-one with a surprise villain whose presence seems perfectly obvious in hindsight. Kerschl/Lapointe/Msassyk continue to produce beautiful pages and craft memorable characters, and Cloonan/Fletcher are welcome to filch dialogue from The Bard as often as they like. Love this book.

BATMAN #44 — Usually a mid-arc fill-in is not something you want to have happen. Particularly with this book’s regular stellar team. But of course, old Jock is welcome any time, and this issue has more meat on its bones and very satisfying done-in-one qualities than most that have come down the pike in the last little bit here. It’s a nice shot of what we know and love about these mythos cast through more of a relatively topical filter (guest-co-writer Azzarello’s sensibilities no doubt tipping in here, and probably responsible for the third-person, I suspect) that almost conjures what might happen if David Simon brought his literary sensibilities and unflinching cameras to Gotham. We return to the era immediately following Zero Year, a young Batman still learning on the job every single night and a Gordon who does not disguise his awe at this still-new addition to the GCPD’s efforts. Despite the over-sized page count, this is a lean tale that pulls no punches, not letting the fantastic content of Langstrom serums and millionaire vigilantes temper the social concerns it calls into question. It is interesting that Superman has been directly dealing with police brutality in ACTION just these past couple of months and then here we have this, a powerful piece of sequential fiction that rewards rereading and will probably stand as one of the best singles of the year, which is no great surprise from the team who brought us “The Black Mirror” too long ago, but it is still a gift for which we should remain grateful.

ACTION COMICS #44 — And but then, I flew through this. No joke intended. Lee gets an upgrade that gives her so little cause for concern right off the bat that surely it’s not going to be good news in the long haul, while the big guy receives yet another dose of humility and being put in his place, but takes it in the good humor and centered spirit that he embodies. Pak/Kuder continue their run bringing the Man of Steel a bit more down to Earth but as noble and inspirational as ever. Thank goodness.

*while I’m voicing minor irritation at that, though, please indulge me in shrieking indolent raaaaaage at that fucking X-Men ad Marvel’s got inserted at every center staple so that you can’t miss it no matter what, even if your friend tries to hand you the book and you miss it and drop the issue and it opens up right there on the ground, it will still turn to that page and spoil the lineup for the new Lemire/Ramos** team, which normally wouldn’t be such a big deal, I mean nobody really gave a shit about knowing who the classic Blue/Gold teams were going to be ahead of time (back when Jim Lee convinced Marvel to go along with his bold vision for this group of merry mutants and not worry about what that other guy who’d been doing it for the past sixteen years thought), I mean, it seemed a little odd that Scott & Jean weren’t going to be on the same team, but oh well, only flash-forward to the present, the really absolute bullshit transpiring in the here and now is that the mere presence of certain individuals in this particular image goes a pretty far way toward ruining the endings of at least two (at least two, I looked away as soon as I realized what I was seeing) series that I am currently reading whose last issues have not been published as of yet, one of which, even MORE gallingly was originally solicited for May and then pushed back all the way to October, to the confusion of everyone up to and including the writer and architect of the entire situation, I speak of the final installment of Brian Michael Bendis’s excellent years’-long run split between ALL-NEW . . . & UNCANNY X-MEN, but the entire super-tense thing about his entire run from the first issue that I have been loving all this time is: what is going to be the final fate of the teenage X-Men who were picked up from #8? Well, now I and anyone else who picked up a Marvel comic this week know what’s going to happen to one/some of them. And this image wouldn’t have spoiled the ending of this multi-year running story that I have been happy to pour twelve dollars a month into if they had just fucking released it when they originally said they were going to. A serious dick move. A Frank-Miller-writing-Batman-level dick move, Marvel. End of rant in public, but never in my heart.

**a creative team that, of course, I am super pumped about seeing get their hands on the mutants, all of the bile washing up in the remainder of that first footnote up there notwithstanding

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


MIRACLEMAN #1 (#17) — And so we come to the golden age of Our Neil. As-quick-as-possible context-check since this issue for all intents and purposes is a straight-up reprint: Before Marvel finally started reprinting these, I had read the first half of the Moore run but had no idea how it ended and was therefore riveted to finally pick up the tale; thought that it definitely started relatively coasting a bit in the early double-digits before landing hard there in the final three issues with Totelben, #16 in particular standing out as one of the strongest capstones in all of Moore’s various acclaimed runs; aaaand I’ve consumed pretty much I think just about everything Gaiman has ever pumped out over the years, comics, prose, got the Mirrormask DVD on the shelf, still dissolve into a complete puddle any time anybody even mentions that Helena Bonham Carter clone they got to play the T.A.R.D.I.S. on “The Doctor’s Wife,” etc., and like any regular consumer of monthly periodicals such as yourself, I have also been an ardent supporter of Mark Buckingham’s work on FABLES for all this time as well, All Of Which Is To Say that I was very very interested to see what trouble these gentlemen were getting into over on this title back when good old Our Neil was just hitting his stride on that “The Doll’s House” arc of SANDMAN in regular monthlies. And but let’s also all together just take a minute to appreciate how horrific of a following gig this really was, one of the worst of all time. Think Romita Sr. crashing in to Ditko’s situation back in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #39 or, exponentially more terrifying later on, easing the reader through the passing of the greatest run of all time with FANTASTIC FOUR #103 (we shall not even speak his name but to say King), or certainly Alan Brennert found himself in an unenviable situation when tasked with the scripting of DAREDEVIL #192, Klaus Janson’s surely-much-appreciated continued presence notwithstanding. These monster runs, Ditko & Kirby giving birth to Spidey and Marvel’s First Family and Miller showing us just how great Daredevil could be, what Alan Moore & Leach/Davis/Totelben/et al. accomplished in those first sixteen issues of MIRACLEMAN deserves to be spoken of with the exact same reverence and awe. This run was monumental and cannot be overstated and actually not fully appreciated unless you were someone who was tweaking out at the newsstand waiting for the next installment and then running home to your tiny one room to take down some more speed and find out what happened next just as fast as you could, a sub-set of consumer that Warren Ellis has gone on record as not only claiming membership in but defining and of which I was just a bit too young to partake in sadly. But the much-discussed deconstructionism tendencies of the mid-eighties, applying actual laws of physics and even realistic characterization to Silver-Age-inspired insanity, all of that business that was supposed to have caught critical mass in hallowed 1986, it actually got started with a dream of flying in 1981 first composed by the at-the-time reigning word fountain in all of comics, who then a few years later handed the keys to Olympus to his protégé, a young tousle-haired thirty-year-old with only a couple of DC titles under his belt that would eventually stand out among others as shining examples of what a line for mature readers should look like when they figured out to call such a thing Vertigo three entire years later.

So, though. The beauty of this issue, this new beginning, is that if you know all of that and are turning the pages with baited breath (accrued and magnified all these years later, even) to see how exactly Gaiman/Buckingham/D’Israeli/Klein rose to the formidable challenge or but also if you have no idea about any of that and someone just put this issue in your hands and said, “You must read this,” it will just about hit you in the same way. All of the framing craziness is in the recap but actually barely creeps in on the actual reading experience. We’re a couple of years later and four pilgrims are making their way up thousands and thousands of steps to the peak of Olympus to seek an audience with our eponymous hero to quote pray. This story isn’t about Michael Moran or Miracleman and really almost isn’t even about the pilgrims, it’s about this new world that we’re in, the Golden Age, and their journey, their climb. It’s all about getting acclimated to the new rhythms of this story that resound almost the same as what’s gone before but with new harmonic overtones unlike anything we’ve seen thus far. And even in this world of seemingly limitless hope, there are still surprises. All told, while Buckingham’s art is suitably grandiose and majestic, the plot of this parable appears on the surface relatively sparse and plain, owing a linear and thematic debt to Chaucer, while still communicating to the reader that we have journeyed to an entirely new place never glimpsed before in all of comics, not even in this very title that has been so groundbreaking up until now. This world has changed and will never be the same and we are only with each and every turn of the page just beginning to learn what sort of realm in which we find ourselves. And the story is only beginning . . .

GRANT MORRISON’S 18 DAYS #3  — Well. An all-flashback issue to the birth of our antagonist is certainly something that I didn’t in any way expect here. But it works. It’s certainly a pretty creepy deal, the specifics of the birth that I won’t divulge here. But this was actually probably a pretty necessary call, as it has seemed like kind of a weird set-up in the first two issues, how unbalanced it is, like Arjuna’s crew is clearly on the side of the “good guys” and Duryodhana has very much been cast as the villain thus far, so it is interesting to rewind all the way back to check out the horrifying circumstances of his birth, showing what a loyal great guy Bheema is along the way at no extra charge. This is a reasonably engrossing series that seems to be still just barely getting started. Isn’t the whole deal supposed to be Krishna explaining all the hidden truths of the universe to Arjuna out in the middle of the battlefield right before the battle erupts? I’m not making that up, that’s THE BHAGAVAD GITA, right? This book is just going to blow up here at some point, but it’s quite compelling all along the way already.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #4 — All right, this is a lovely and charming issue of something, but is has so little to do with LUXURIA and GULA, it might as well be a different series. Hooray for artistic growth? I mean, I get that this is a flashback starring the guy who’s Casanova’s* boss in the new timeline, but that’s just a pretty strange move for the final issue of an arc. This is the final issue of the arc? I don’t know, I don’t want to be one of those cliché “His shit was better back when, man,” sort of guys, I seldom ever am, we all know the back half of The Beatles discography is clearly the stronger situation, but over here, this is just scanning as one more book Fraction is knocking out in between banging out television noir erotica for Chaykin to draw all beautiful-like or of course the deep time-stoppin’ orgasm insanity going down with that Chipper, as opposed to back when, those first two volumes of CASANOVA, when it was readily apparent to one and all that dude was like cutting open the veins on his wrist and pouring that into the ink they used to print the comics. All that green and blue was Fraction-blood! And those were some of my favorite comics ever. These are certainly still good. Bá shows up and knocks the lights out on the main feature. This one’s just not giving me an extra-dimensional six-fingered death-punch like the old shit used to. Man. Still loving the Chabon business, though. The ? & the Mysterians answer was disco perfection. Maybe give us more than three to five pages of this one of these days.

PROVIDENCE #4 — All right, I liked this one better than last issue. I don’t know if it was the more rural horror or what, but this one sat a little bit better with me. It just felt a little bit more old school, or maybe the lead wasn’t quite so detestable? Whatever the case, it was a nice little jolt of the scary business. And even though we ventured far away from the streets of the city, Burrows continues to drop the Gibbons compositional greatness throughout. Strong storytelling work throughout.

PLUTONA #1 — ooooohh, Jeff Lemire, you are so good. I certainly never doubted that this would be another great one, and that has already proven to be the case. Emi Lenox shows up with a style perfectly suited to chronicle our middle-school-aged characters who have stumbled upon the body of our eponymous heroine by issue’s end. There’s a very cool Spielbergian going-about-the-regular-business-of-growing-up vibe running throughout the issue that grounds this whole thing and is no doubt going to make for very compelling characterization going forward. Fans of DESCENDER, TRILLIUM, SWEET TOOTH, get on board now. Lemire is still right at it.

8house #3: KIEM — Well, no surprise, but Brandon Graham does it again again again. Of course, a massive amount of credit must be heaped upon Xurxo G. Penalta, who produces very finely rendered full color art on 30 stunning pages that looks like it took him a very nearly Nate-Powell level of time/detail/tightly-focused-insanity to accomplish. But this is yet another glorious edition of the more European mode of hard science-fiction that Graham has been perfecting these past few years, this time based on the exploits of a soldier who is projected into the reanimated corpse of her twin who has been shot far into space to the crucial place where he needs to be. Lots of space in the pages and room for the story to breathe, so we’re just getting started here, but you can take a bath in this art. And of course, if you love MULTIPLE WARHEADS or Graham & co’s take on PROPHET or any of the other 8house fare or the NONPLAYER reference made you crinkle your ears, of course you can’t afford to miss this one.

JUPITER’S CIRCLE #6 — This one started out like great fun and certainly seems to be laying some overall compelling groundwork for the shitstorm that eventually erupts over in the main book, but that’s all macro. As an experience unto itself, this issue totally fizzled out. I mean, there’s no ending, right? Because that was an anti-ending. It was even more confusing that they made a deal about this being the end of Volume I. Huh. Issue #s 2 and 4 certainly had more resounding endings. I guess we’re supposed to be all unsettled about all the horrible things that happen much later. It is pretty cute how pumped Millar is about Skyfox being the best character he’s ever created in the same column where people are like, “I love what you’ve done with the Bruce Wayne/Tony Stark archetype.” Not exactly breaking new ground here. Good fun, though, to be certain.

BOMBSHELLS #2 — Well, this one might actually be better than the first issue. The advancement of the Diana plot was certainly very compelling. I love the anyone-can-show-up vibe. Why not cue Mera? Of course, this philosophy plays out in spades there at the end when I was expecting the action to cut to Gotham and it most resoundingly did not. Those surprise guest stars are acceptable! And I feel like a fool, but all last issue and this one, I kept being like, “Okay, that’s Kara, but who’s the other one?” This book was cool enough when it was just the three originally announced leads, but certainly the more the merrier.

THORS #3 — The art quality has seriously plummeted from the first issue. And these guys are both so talented on their own (and when they’re not on deadline, I suppose). Aaron’s script certainly keeps things humming along, but I’m not quite as thrilled about the whole deal as I was after #1. Bring on another TO BE CONCLUDED . . .

SILVER SURFER #014 — Man, reading this, you almost get the sensation that that whole SECRET WARS universe-erasing situation that Hickman and his buddies have been up to lately was actually done in service of Slott & Allred’s terrific idea about what to do with Norrin & Dawn next over on this title right here. It’s interesting that Slott scripts Dawn to bring up Utopia early on because I was certainly picking up on that vibe, the whole divide-and-conquer thing. And the split-page at the end seems to bear that out on some level. Is Dawn really the true power source? Some kind of Celestial Madonna situation? Are still allowed to even use that title? This is certainly one for the ages. Hey, Silver Surfer blows up Galactus! What more d’ya want out of your mighty Marvel magazine periodical?!?

DAREDEVIL #018 — Class act. That is certainly how you do it. I actually had no idea that this run was coming to an end until last issue, so this whole deal just about took me by surprise, but of course, it was quality all the way. And it had all the things that we DD fans want most. Matt got to dress up in the mask of a dead man and go WHAP!WHAP!WHAP! on Wilson Fisk’s face/body and be repeatedly smacked upon in return, as is the nature of their relationship. He got to smell his friend’s newly remissive body chemistry, classic Murdock-style good news. He got shut down, if not actually disbarred (I think?), and but most of all, his best friend told him exactly what makes him such a good and great Matt, which is all any of us could ever ask for. Cue that sudden inexplicable in-costume diving-out-into-the-middle-of-the-night double-splash. Because it doesn’t have to make sense. We’re just grateful to have been taken along for the ride. Misters Waid, Samee, Rodriguez, Wilson, Caramagna, and Martin and Rivera and everybody else, thank you so much for making ol’ Hornhead fun again and still as great as he ever was. One of the greatest runs in a noble tradition of magnificent runs on the character.

*or whatever his name is now

Thursday, September 3, 2015


EAST OF WEST #20 — The art on this book is consistently stunning. Dragotta/Martin tear it up every chance they get with iconic jaw-dropping business. Hickman’s just not making these people come alive for me, though. With the exception of Xioalian and the little brilliant Genesis VR dude who’s on the cover but not in this issue, I absolutely do not care about a single member of this massive spanning ensemble. It’s a very strange corporate vs. creator-owned dichotomy because of course his FF run is one of my favorite things ever and while alllll of those massive ideas and ever-escalating plot engines were more of the deal in his AVENGERS leviathan than any sort of calm human interaction between any of those 18 + 6 people, both of those runs were fairly to completely riveting. But then you get this crew here, and the THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS gang to a lesser extent, and the more time goes by, the more I feel like Hickman needs to dial up the empathetic characterization aspect on whatever massive charts he’s making to keep all of his shit straight (I know that there’s no chart for THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS, but still). I want to be all-in on these titles. I just can barely be bothered to remember these characters’ names. The art is slamming, but we need more.

LOW #9 — On the other hand. I DID NOT REALIZE THAT DELLA WAS A CAINE DURING HER PREVIOUS DONE-IN-ONE APPEARANCE. I also skipped the Previously… this month, which I usually don’t do. Therefore, it wasn’t until Tajo crashed in wearing the Helm Suit that it all came together for me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. That shit was devastating! Remender is knocking it down to the ground. Strong strong character work. Again, he made such a good call bailing on the corporate situation. This is clearly where he needs to be. And Tocchini/McCaig continue crushing it, seemingly surpassing themselves month after month. Serious respect for what’s going on here.

OLD MAN LOGAN #004 — I guess it was only a matter of time before our old man here started berzerkering through the zombie symbiotes, which of course Sorrentino draws the absolute hell out of. Nice crossover here with Jennifer from A-FORCE, that’s called Brand Synergy, boys and girls! This series has overall been pretty light fare from a plot standpoint but a visual delight, which I suppose is a solid fit for (and extension from) the original source material. I was completely all right seeing the TO BE CONCLUDED . . .  on the last page, though, it certainly does seem like this train’s gone far enough the tracks and it’s indeed about time to shut it on down.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #9 — New Kirby! I mean, it’s really a couple pages of old pre-Steranko Fury Kirby that Steranko actually inked as an editor’s test to get the STRANGE TALES gig in the first place, but it’s the first time I’ve laid eyes on it. And Waid spins up some magic out of that fifty-year-old artifact from the King’s imagination, in one fell swoop reconciling Hickman’s engrossing expansion of the S.H.I.E.L.D. mythos several years back right into the Coulson era, even managing to work in an allusion to one of the last episodes of THE PRISONER. Pretty impressive work, right there, making for a very interesting set-up going forward. Lee Ferguson delivers perfectly serviceable sequentials, though you wish they would have signed up some A-list talent to mark the occasion. Overall, an excellent lead feature. The Ewing-scripted pilot/preview (?) for THE HOWLING COMMANDOS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. was garbage, though. It’s a bit late to be ripping off the actual Creature Commandos, boys and girls. Far too late. This is all mitigated, however, by the reprint of the first-ever S.H.I.E.L.D. story that eventually saw the light of day in STRANGE TALES #135 with pencils by Kirby, natch. I’ve also never laid eyes on those pages and that first splash of the helicarrier is just as stunning all these years later and having seen it hundreds of times by now. There was never, will never again be anyone like Kirby. Rest in peace, King.

GRAYSON #11 — Janin is just scary. The pages open exceptionally enough, but that psychedelic swirl weirdness there toward the end is completely out of control. Terrific nemesis scripting, as well, that guy really knows how to break our boy down. And then, wow, once again, the writers are delighted to not as much upset the apple cart but straight-up pulverize it to smithereens there in those last couple of scenes. This is such a good damn book all by itself but makes for a lovely pairing with the further adventures of the Burnside Barbara, see: following.

BATGIRL #43 — What else can I say? Every four weeks, they keep pumping out the loveliness like clockwork. Upgrading Frankie’s situation is a very good call, not even counting her suddenly getting all flirty with “Qadir, cutie.” The writing is terrific, but Babs Tarr is starting to freak me out; she’s only getting better and better. As dynamic as the action scenes are, I think I dig our heroine in overalls just putting her hands on her hips and looking all “What the f@#k?” even more. This title is the uncut loveliness and everyone needs to be reading it for always.

SUPERMAN #43 — So of course Lois wasn’t an evil opportunistic story-breaker at all but was just doing the best she could for her friend at the time. HORDR_ROOT’s little cell-phone-screen robot who jumped out of the toilet is the Sensational Character Find of 2015 (!). Yang is really carving out a nice little chunk of the mythos for himself here only three issues in. His characterization imbues the entire cast with a vibrant three-dimensional life that makes them jump off of every page. And of course JRJr. continues to smash shit up with his best Son of Son of Kirby efforts, blood lineage be damned. I keep saying this, and I’m going to say it again down below, but it is so satisfying and delightful to have strong talent working on the titles I care about most.

BEST OF WEEK: JLA #3 — Grar, Hitch continues to be a raging cage-beast of art picture-drawings. I counted Hal punching 44 dudes in that one panel. 44! But of course that’s only scratching the surface. This is nothing less than magnificent. I am obviously loving the hell out of what Johns & Fabok are doing over in the main title, but then Hitch is just dominating over here all by himself. The art is as stunning as ever, but when you take into account that he’s writing this whole deal as well, this really is pushing right up against being some career-best-level type business for the level, which is really saying something. I could do a laundry list of highlights in this issue alone, but that’s so reductive, I’ll just mention that that’s the most spot-on conversation I have seen scripted for Bruce & Clark in quite some time. And of course, the mega-Lantern punch over to the right, here. Massive respect to Hitch for all of this, and of course Henriques/Sinclair are up in the whole deal slinging their own respective fire. Strong strong work and a pleasure to consume.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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