Tuesday, October 27, 2015


JLA #4 — Hitch is back in business and with only a single inker to boot. Of course his pages are rock-solid master-class storytelling, but the terrific news for me continues to be his very good ear for the nuances of all of these characters’ cadences in dialogue. Here, the continuity doesn’t matter; red underpants or no, these feel like the iconic version of these characters. Like the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED iterations. Which is like the nicest thing I can say about them, yeah? The characterization is all happening in and of itself, but then the big plot is also kicking them around the way that it should. How can you not love Hal stranded hundreds of thousands of years in the past hanging out on Krypton in Kandor of all places with the ancient version of the actual bad guy who’s been killing multiversal permutations of Superman for who knows how long? This is wonderful work, and it’s a pleasure to see Hitch blow it up to such effect and even without really showing off, no massive double-page city spreads like everybody else always asks him to do that take two weeks to draw, he’s just telling his story. As he should be. Really digging this run.

SUPERMAN: LOIS & CLARK #1 — I can’t express how great it is to get this character back. I was happy to embrace the New 52 version that Morrison cranked out four years ago, even if he got rid of the underwear. I fully understood that “my” Superman was the post-Swan reboot that sprang forth from John Byrne’s imagination in ’86 in the wake of the first Crisis. It didn’t really bother me when he got rebooted out of existence. We’ll always have those old comics and all that. And ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, for that matter. I didn’t feel like I particularly needed the guy I was reading about in the eighties and nineties to still be running around. And yet. I’m so glad that he is. It’s a lovely rush of nostalgic continuity to hear him referring to events that happened twenty years ago, but more importantly, it’s very interesting to see the way that this Lois & Clark will play against what’s going on here in the new Earth-0 (Right? I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to call the main New 52 place Earth-0, but then all of that multiversal madness scrambled my brain pretty good). Who better to script this than one of the principal creators of the era, Dan Jurgens? If nothing else, his presence ensures that any guest-star appearances by Booster Gold will be on-point. And Weeks drops solid storytelling chops on every page; he really is one of the more underrated talents in the industry, considering how long he’s been at it. I had high hopes for this one, and it was a little bit better than I thought it would be, even if the final-page cliffhanger falls a little flat.

BATMAN #45 — That was almost a crispy BatGordon. The Bruce/Julie dynamic continues to be interesting and something well worth exploring. I am very curious what Snyder’s plan is to inevitably reset the status quo, but it’s certainly been an intriguing journey so far. I love the deal with turning the trophies into a playground. And Gordon getting fired in the Walter White memorial chamber played out to much amusement on my part. Oh, and Capullo/Miki/Plascencia are still terrifying monsters. You wonder if Capullo is ever going to move on. I certainly hope not for a very long time to come.

BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL #2 — Things are moving right along. Seeley slides in to regular scripting duties as he did previously, and Pelletier provides quality interiors that aren’t too much of a stylistic leap from what Daniel had going on last week. It’s maybe a double-standard not to be like indignant at the exploitative element, but Stephanie Brown whispering her love for Dick “Sexy Batman” Grayson is just some priceless shit. And I don’t know if it’s just finally been long enough or what, but this is one of the first times where Jason Todd’s very presence doesn’t madden me and I can accept him as just another member of the family. Glad to see this book maintaining form thus far, though of course, we’re only getting started.

STARFIRE #5 — Guillem March’s Headless Starfire variant cover is quite striking. This is yet another quality issue that races along and leaves us with a particularly macabre cliffhanger that is well suited to the month of October. Conner/Palmiotti do such a terrific job displaying Kori’s innocent/naïve take on her own sexuality without ever coming across as exploitative, a really tough needle to thread. And Lupacchino’s work, as ever, is immaculately rendered.

STAR WARS: SHATTERED EMPIRE #3 — Terrific to see Bey, Leia, and the current Naboo queen in some dogfighting action. Though there will really only ever be one queen of Naboo for us all, naturally. There’s a wonderful moment when Leia senses the lingering presence of Darth Maul in the hanger all these years later. And even he was on the cover, but I was still surprised/delighted to see Lando roar to the rescue accompanied by classic racially offensive stereotype character Nein Numb. But “To Be Concluded?” Like, one more issue and done? That almost makes me question the point of this. Basically, “Here are Oscar Isaac’s parents for a minute,” and then call it a day. There’s not a lot of meat on this here bone, but what we got tastes fine, I suppose.

RADIOACTIVE SPIDER-GWEN #1 — Oh no, Bodega Bandit really is the worst. It’s wonderful to get this book back, though. Latour & Rodriguez seem energized and more focused than ever, though they certainly weren’t hurting in the all-too-short first volume there. We get a couple of tragic-in-hindsight flashbacks featuring this universe’s doomed Peter Parker that are kind of rough to make it through if you have a lifetime of experience empathizing with that character. It’s also gratifying to see Gwen’s dad playing such a prominent role. This book is back and as wonderful as ever .

A-FORCE #5 — Well, that ended just about the way that it had to. More terrific art from Molina/Martin, and Bennett/Wilson did a fine job juggling the substantial ensemble. Did anyone else think that there was a vibe happening there when Spider-Gwen saved MJ? They seemed to be crushing pretty hard on one another, but there was no follow-up. At any rate, I’ll dial back in on this thing when the next volume comes out. Since it looks like they’re surviving the nefarious pen of Jonathan Hickman, I guess?

BEST OF WEEK (singles): THE TWILIGHT CHILDREN #1 — When Vertigo announced their new slate of this year’s titles, I was most intrigued by the pairing of A-list talents Gilbert (Beto) Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke. The presence of either creator guarantees that whatever project it is will be a master class in sequential storytelling, but a first-time collaboration such as this is particularly intriguing. And that doesn’t even count having Dave Stewart, one of the industry’s best, on colors. I should disclose here that Beto is my favorite Hernandez brother and his PALOMAR cycle of stories is one of my favorite all-time runs, so I’m already totally predisposed to be all-in on this one after like a single scene, though I feel like that might be the case even if that opening two-page pan from the coast to the street didn’t evoke the sleepy Latin American village that Luba and Ofelia and Heraclio and Carmen call home. There are no overt signs right out of the gate, but the reader can already detect a tinge of magical realism in the salty air. Beto provides pinpoint characterization on the group of kids as they discuss Bundo, the town drunk. The sleepy-eyed look that Cooke puts on Grover’s face when he tells Jael that their parents are English teachers is an immediate classic and one of dozens of examples to be found in these pages that distinguish Cooke once again as a first-rate cartoonist. And then a damn Rover from THE PRISONER’s Village shows up, which is always a surprise in any context. What an arresting visual. The return of these ominous white balls leads to other fantastic events unfolding, confirming the initial impression that the Gabriel Garcia Marquez DNA woven into Hernandez’s other work is still very much in evidence here. And Cooke remains one of the most talented visual stylists working today. Any time that he deigns to work on interior pages is a cause for celebration. His soft line and economical detail here do a tremendous amount of work making these characters come alive and relatable to the reader. And Stewart’s colors enhance every single image, always popping without calling attention to themselves. The work these creators do on this series is a symphony, every element complementing the others and serving to enhance the whole at the highest level of craft. And they make it look easy. It is only just beginning, but it is already very apparent that this series is something very special, and we are so lucky to get it.

PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #3 — All right, and now we get to the tricks, the layout chicanery that was such a driving characteristic of YOUNG AVENGERS and had me dearly wishing these lads would come back home to this title. That sequence of Emily in side-scroll video-game mode across the multi-media madness of Pages 4-7 was the serious business. McKelvie is untouchable when he wants to be. I still need to run down the musical recommendations from this one but am intrigued by the notion of an Afghan Whigs cover of “If I Only Had A Heart.”

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #15 — Well, Stephanie Hans can definitely hold down the fort while the other lads are hanging out with Emily Aster. Very good-looking art. The story didn’t dial me in so much, but they were certainly pretty pages.

SEX CRIMINALS #13 — oh no, I got the XXX cover and now I can’t unsee that one on the back. Oh no. A, if I may, real dick move, Matt & Chipper. This is a very engaging interlude that is an interesting expansion of the universe. It definitely feels like a solid use of the narrative real estate despite the total left-turn nature of dropping something like this mid-arc. The first time through, I missed Chipper dumping coffee on Matt’s face because the foot massage was not going well over on Jon & Suze’s page. That was pretty wonderful. Where is this crazy story going next, oh Matt & Chipper?

I HATE FAIRYLAND #1 — So basically, one day Skottie Young drew one cutesy-cute variant cover too many and lost his shit, which resulted in the creation of his first creator-owned series, which stars this cute little girl named Gertrude who falls into a magical land and behaves in a most un-Dorothy-like manner (not counting the Wicked-Witch killing; I suppose in that regard, she’s spot-on). You’ve got to love the Jabba choke, and then that line of dialogue as they make their escape about tasting thoughts was channeling some straight Delirium. An entertaining beginning, though I’m probably not going to stick with this in singles. I did enjoy Young’s essay at the end. That’s right, 90s Image 4evah, Bro.

EAST OF WEST #21 — Once again, Dragotta/Martin draw the absolute hell out of this. You’ve got to love the chief on the hovercycle racing through the deadlands. And that’s before the whole cycle-cannon deal. Visually gripping stuff. Badass and so forth. And, you know, if this was an issue still in the single digits, I’d be excited that maybe here was a new ancillary character stepping up who I might be able to invest in going forward. But unless Hickman dramatically alters the course he’s been taking, I know that’s not going to happen. This is a recurring deal now that’s all the way up to being an actual trend. As we all know, Hickman’s FF run is my favorite since Kirby’s. I dig it more than Byrne’s, more than Simonson, more than Waid/Ringo even, rest in peace and stab my eyes out. It’s the perfect balance of big insane cosmic ideas that are always detonating all over the place but never manage to obscure the pitch-perfect ensemble-wide characterization going on throughout the entire run. Hickman managed to graft that balance for the most part into his AVENGERS run, but his creator-owned business, they’re always terrific ideas with stunning art, but then after a few issues, I realize that I don’t care about these people almost at all. Still worth picking up for the art alone and in case something starts happening with the characterization, but this could be so much more than it is.

LOW #10 — More very solid work from all involved, which is of course no surprise by now. I mean, who can’t get behind vampire mermaids? Remender’s certainly scorched enough earth character-wise in this book and over in BLACK SCIENCE that there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that that ex-pirate Zem fella was toast, so fair play there. This was another really beautiful issue; Tocchini/McCaig are in a solid groove and play to each other’s strengths. The only thing about this one that didn’t knock me out is that for the end of an arc that’s going to leave us on a months’-long break, it seems to me that we need a better cliffhanger than just ascending into white. I mean, I know that was a very conscious decision and probably there’s a terrific in-story reason for why we can’t get that first shot of what’s up there, but it makes the whole deal fall a little flat for me here in the days when you can’t just reach for Volume 3 of the trade and keep right on binge-reading. Remender should have kept us on the hook just a little bit better.

BEST OF WEEK (also): BATTLING BOY: THE FALL OF HOUSE WEST — Look, this was incredible. I’ve been trying to get around to doing a write-up that does it justice, but it’s been nearly two weeks and I haven’t, so I’m just going to go ahead and post this week’s run and maybe I’ll get around to it one of these days. But trust me. This and THE RISE OF AURORA WEST and the original BATTLING BOY are absolutely the shit and you have got to check them out, some of the very best comics getting made today.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


BEST OF WEEK: SECRET WARS #6 — We’re definitely ramping up for the big finish now. Valeria obviously senses on an it-looks-like-by-the-end conscious level that her “father” is the one responsible for the death of his sheriff while all who might successfully oppose the God Emperor have already aligned and are now making their opening gambits. There’s a lot to love in these pages for those of us who have been on the Hickman train for the past six years from the FF run through AVENGERS and up to now. I am a fan of Valeria, Alex, and Bentley trying to work it all out. Even though their minds have been totally altered on such a massive level, they’re still so themselves. Valeria’s reaction to her actual dad’s engineering is priceless. The two Reeds hanging out is definitely something begging for its own non-superfluous one-shot. My favoite beat of this, though, is when Valeria catches the Spideys creeping around the grounds of Castle Doom and she doesn’t recognize the original, who since Johnny died in Hickman’s run has kind of been like an uncle to her and Franklin, so our boy, whose secret identity has been such a mammoth issue for years and years, just steps up and says, “It’s me. Spider-Man. Peter.” That shit knocked me right out. But yeah, it’s all going down. The Spideys find Molecule Man and maybe earn his eternal gratitude with a three-week-old hamburger. Sinister schemes with and gets beat up on by punk-rock Carol Danvers. And in by far the most devastating pairing for AVENGERS fans, Namor & T’Challa just roll up on Stephen Strange’s sanctum sanctorum like they’ve always been bros, which is insane, and acquire the one weapon that might actually be able to take Doom out. Oh, and we finally learn what the party line is on the Fantastic Four. I’ve got to say, for the first time since the last two Marvel universes blew up, it’s not looking that good for old Victor von.

OLD MAN LOGAN #005 — A powerful conclusion. This one was meandering around here in the past couple singles, but Bendis really sticks the landing. No superfluous slugfests to be found here; instead we resonate back to the first issue and have a meeting with Emma, only it’s our Emma, hanging out in a Battleworld blend of 616/Ultimate New York. Really, it’s just very gratifying after all of this time to see our old man come home, to any home, and have a nice meal while all the youngins yammer on, astounded by his very presence. And there’s even a nice little bit in here with the latest Ultimate version of Wolverine who I guess was his son (?) but Loeb was writing it and he’s so shitty now, I couldn’t even pick it up even though Art Adams was drawing it, which was a shame, but I say this to point out that I have zero experience with or empathy for this young Wolverine character and yet still managed to be touched by what Bendis managed to mine out of the two versions meeting one another. Emma’s climactic monologue about what it all might mean is as much of a tour de force as you can pack into a corporate big event crossover mini-series, not as much foreshadowing as explicitly declaring climactic events that are yet to be published, which actually in hindsight makes sense given the fact that this book that could have been a throwaway crossover mini written by Sam Humphries or somebody had such A-list talent attached. And once again, Andrea Sorrentino delivers exquisite work throughout, particularly in the aforementioned series of double-page splashes. It will be pretty cool if Logan pops his head up from out of nowhere in the next couple of issues of SECRET WARS and just says, “Chaaaarge!” That’s a moment that’s going to come from out of nowhere to anyone who skipped this, but it will be very well earned. Marcelo Maiolo made a ton of interesting choices throughout these pages, not all of which I’m sure I agree with, but they were certainly striking. I enjoyed this ride, there is no doubt about that. But what’s this on the last page?!? Our boy survives the horrors of SECRET WARS and is going to be scripted by Lemire reuniting with Sorrentino in January? That is a pretty serious deal, right there.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 — Regular Wednesday night faithful will recall that I don’t pick this up the two or three times a month that it comes out or even every time it reboots (because that just happened, right?), but I have a lot of respect for Slott and definitely drop in for the milestone issues going all the way back to #600. This one was pretty good but didn’t knock me out as much as my previous drop-ins have. Camuncoli is solid but doesn’t quite seem to have his game up to the A-list level that this bold new global direction calls for; B+ for sure, but it’s just not quite there. And maybe I’m just getting annoyed with multimedia synergy, I will certainly cop to that, but as fantastic as she is in the show, having Adrienne Palicki riding shotgun here in the opening scene felt super tacked-in, whether or not it was Slott’s idea or Editorial’s. Also, I get why they did it, but I wasn’t a fan of them upcharging the cover price and then turning the back half of this to a commercial for every ancillary Spider-book except the one that doesn’t need any help (but hey, take a bow, Gwendolyn Stacy of Earth-65). All told, solid work, but it definitely didn’t make me like dying to pick up #2 or anything.

DOCTOR STRANGE #1 — I knew that I was going to dig this solely based on it being an Aaron/Bachalo jam, but man, these guys really knocked it out. A very reader-friendly first issue for the Sorceror Supreme. Bachalo coloring himself is just unparalleled. The guy can do anything. I loved the intro over the original Ditko panels and then that beautiful double-page reveal at the turn of the page (sneaking an old Kirby trick into even Ditkospace), and then all I could think was, “What’s with that giant fucking bear?” before a few more turns of the page made it all clear. And anyone who knows of Isotope’s James Sime’s love of/uncanny resemblance to the title character as well as his predilection for tiki bars had to be loving the Algonquin meeting there with Wanda, Shaman, and Voodoo. And Aaron is even pro enough to give us a new skeptical POV character who of course has something horribly mystically wrong with her before the curtain falls. And Nowlan blew it up on those back-pages! Glad to see that guy getting some mainstream Marvel love and dollars. $5 for thirty pages that have ads all over them is kind of a dick move for the Mighty Marvel Machine, but I guess we expect nothing less at this point. Really great damn first issue regardless.

STAR WARS #10 — Man, Chewbacca and -3PO tearing it up through bars on Coruscant should absolutely be its own show. “Blood and Lightsabers” is also a name begging for an arc. I’ve got to say, though, if Aaron’s going to go ahead and commit to stringing along this “Are they or aren’t they?” deal with Han and his maybe-wife, he probably needs to bury that in the dialogue just even a little bit and not have every single exchange between them be, “We sure are married!” “No, we’re not!” That flies like one time and then is straight bullshit, at least for those of us folks who are pacing it out in the singles. It is funny how Leia negotiates Han as payment for Sanna taking them to go help Luke, though. But bringing a Gungan into the mix, that dialect . . . man, that takes stones. Trying to read it is much much worse than hearing it spoke. I speck! And oh no, not Dengar.

DARTH VADER #10 — I’m still digging the tension between Vader and this new guy Thanoth. Dr. Aphra also remains a compelling character, though when she started in with the monologue at the guy on Naboo, it just sounded like Gillen typing every other character he does. The conversational beats, the “awesome,” I didn’t buy her voice at all. Triple-Zero calling his victim “adorable,” though, that is some chilling shit. But Vader’s reaction shot when Aphra says that it sounds like Padme was really special . . . some deft scripting and execution right there. That’s some sad shit, even though the poor guy’s still in the mask. And that’s even before the awkward moment that follows. A very well done beat.

STAR WARS: SHATTERED EMPIRE #2 — It’s unfortunate that Checchetto already needs help on art duties, but the other guys are solid. I’m a little surprised that we didn’t check in with Han and Poe’s daddy. And speaking of Poe, this timeline indicates that he’s already born and just hanging out with Bey’s dad, it sounds like? Too bad, the idea of him being conceived on Endor after the final battle is resonant. This one moves the plot along well enough, though it’s running a bit close to the recent excellent Waid/Dodsons Leia mini to have another female pilot strike up a friendship with her on the way to the next big adventure. And it looks like the Emperor is finally at long last done putting up with the Gungans’ shit, even from beyond the grave. We’re with you, Palpatine.

TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE #10 — All right, why not a The Secret Origin of Destro issue? But is that Unicron on the cover? Don’t do that to us, Scioli! That opening double-page splash is just beauty. Very interesting to be charting the ancestral connections between Clan MacCullen and the Cobra/Serpentor ancestry. Like every other issue of this series, this one was the Kirbyiest goddamn thing for miles around. Page 18 detailing the rise of the Destro name is a beautiful piece of work. And of course, you’ve got to love that nonsense Baronesses finish. Scioli is absolutely mental and is taking all of us away with him to never come back.

PLUTONA #2 — Almost the entire issue takes place in the immediate aftermath of last issue’s cliffhanger, which of course makes plenty of sense as we learn a bit more about our cast based on how they react to stumbling upon the body of their city’s most powerful superheroine. Lenox’s art is such a great fit for this story and really sets up a nice tension between how cartoony/kid-friendly it appears on the surface while depicting the stark subject matter as well as these pre-teens straight up cussing each other out. Territory well mined by Lynch thirty years ago, but there’s still plenty of material there to be unearthed. And probably always will be, I suppose. There’s an even more disturbing cliffhanger this month back in the exact same setting, even, so nice economy there. And I do wish we could have gotten more than two pages of Lemire B-side this month, but I’ll take whatever he’s putting down.

PAPER GIRLS #1 — Vaughan has really not been doing it for me lately, but I’ll still give anything of his a chance, particularly with Azzarello’s WONDER WOMAN team rounding out the collaboration. And this is a solid opening. Terrific value, 36 ad-free pages of story for a measly 299 pennies, old BKV follows the time-honored trope of setting a story in his boyhood haunt. I had a strong hunch that it was Cleveland before that was revealed in-story. It was nice to see that old THE FAR SIDE daily desk calendar again; I had one of those too. No great surprise, this issue mines the same kind of Spielberg kids-on-bikes territory that Lemire’s having such fun with up top on PLUTONA. Which is fine with me; these characters are off to a good start. And the art, my goodness. Chiang is a force, and it’s lovely to see Wilson still working with him.

8house: Yorris #4 — Well, I have no idea how the numbering for this whole 8house deal is supposed to work, but the line certainly produces some good-looking books. It was cool to read about the creators’ history in animation and effects in the backmatter, as I was definitely picking up some 80s cartoon vibes right away. And I wanted to take a bath in Barlow’s cool palette, some very soft pinks and purples to be found here. And kind of a horrifying ending. I certainly want nothing to do with a Paralysite. This issue has beautiful art and an intriguing beginning.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #11 — Well, this is certainly an interesting wrinkle. You have got to love the congregation speaking in tongues and getting all snakebit. That’s country, all right. Latour turns in some really beautiful work, that first long shot of Boone out on the river being a particular standout. This continues to be a compelling series as the Jasons stake out a little bit more narrative territory here in old Craw County.

JUGHEAD #1 — Archie Comics chose this very crowded NYCC release week to debut the second series of their relaunched line. This issue has some pretty big shoes to fill because, as we all know, Mark Waid and Fiona Staples have been knocking the lights out over on the flagship title. Fortunately, writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Erica Henderson are more than up to the challenge. Both are more than qualified to relate the exploits of Archie’s best friend. When he’s not busy putting the “graphic” into “graphic novel” and turning down Harvey awards for the critically lauded SEX CRIMINALS, Zdarsky scripts the adventures of one of Marvel’s funniest books, HOWARD THE DUCK, while Henderson’s angular lines are familiar to fans of THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL. The two are a terrific mix here as they waste no time dropping our hero into a crisis that rocks him to the core of his very being: no more hamburgers in the school cafeteria! Zdarsky’s naturalistic dialogue is well balanced throughout the ensemble, and Henderson’s facial expressions and evocative body language are a treat to study. I have got to say, though, that as a regular reader of the SEX CRIMINALS letters column (which is quite often better than the actual comic), I expected this first issue to be a little bit funnier than it is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the jokes fall flat, there just aren’t that many of them. This isn’t really the gag-a-minute pace that was more of a hallmark of this character’s previous iteration. My favorite bit, though, has to be the whole Moose-as-Hodor deal during the GAME OF THRONES parody that Jughead dreams in the middle of the issue after collapsing when he finds out the bad news about the burgers. But what Zdarsky chooses to do instead is actually insert some heartfelt sentiment and warmth into the book that not only offsets the protagonist’s archetypal goofiness but makes for much more of a compelling read. In just this first issue, Jughead gets a new antagonist and a definable set of goals, no mean feat for a character best known for his lack of motivation past the point of, “I’m about to devour all of the hamburgers on this plate.” While not as transcendentally pitch-perfect as the main title, JUGHEAD is an enjoyable slice of sequential goodness that will entertain readers, new or old. You just probably want to throw some hamburger patties on the grill before you get started because you’re certainly going to be craving one before you make it to the final page.

ACTION COMICS #45 — The arc is off to a promising start. Though it’s still pretty weird to have the news both refer to our boy as just “Kent” and to have Perry pulling a J. Jonah Jameson here. Kolins work is a terrific stylistic fit for what we’re used to from Kuder, though there were a couple of wonky panels with the foreshortening. All told, an engaging beginning with a last page that fits right in here this month of October.

BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL #1 — I dug the last boy-wonderless volume and am happy to sign back up for this latest installment. As long as Daniel doesn’t go anywhere near scripting duties! Goodness day. This is an intriguing set-up, though they’ve obviously got a lot of explaining to do about that last shot. I don’t think anyone can claim that they’re not using Dick Grayson enough over there at Detective Comics Comics these days.

MIRACLEMAN #3 — Ah yes, the famous Warhol/Gargunza issue of MIRACLEMAN. I’m just kidding. I haven’t ever actually heard of this issue. Had no idea it existed before this week. Never laid eyes on old #19 before. But it’s some beautiful work. Buckingham’s white crayon on black paper is an interesting contrast to what we’ve seen from him before now, and of course his likeness of (the sixth) Andy Warhol is spot-on. This one felt a little bit more, I don’t know, British than the other issues? Or more Vertigoey? Is that too douchey to say? You could just feel the foggy malaise dripping off of this one. I very much expected John Constantine to drop by any page and light up a fag in his time-honored way. I’m glad they’re hustling these out because you can feel some kind of momentum building, but it’s a very slight thing. Three issues in, and we’re just barely beginning to get a big picture of what the deal is with this brave new world. At least the little retrieval doohickey finally found what it was looking for, looks like.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


BEST OF WEEK: THE SANDMAN: OVERTURE #6 — It certainly doesn’t seem fair to compare 34 pages of no-ad J.H. Williams III art with perfect lettering from Todd Klein all in service of the grand finale of Neil Gaiman’s prequel—that, incidentally, brings us right back to where the tale of Dream and his Endless brethren all began with as much, if not more, wet-eyed heart-bursting power than the finality of seeing one of the last Jedi Knights completing the circle of a saga by delivering a rescued infant to be raised in secret by moisture farmers on a desert planet in the Outer Rim—it’s really not fair to compare this single issue to anything else that came out this week, but it certainly meets all the basic requirements, so I guess here we are.

It’s very hard to zoom in on what works about this because it’s perfection on every conceivable level. Did you want a little bit more from Death? Well, she won’t be feeding pigeons on a park bench, but she will be presiding over the deaths of billions in a strangely parallel reflection of the wreckage that Hickman has been wreaking all over the Marvel Universe here this last little bit. Is “Brief Lives” your favorite arc and you were afraid that Delirium was going to get skipped over just like their absent brother? Have two of the best pages of her ever written. Piggables, indeed. That business knocked me right down even before she gave away the surprise ending without me even realizing. How about Dream for once not slouching his way through millennia but actually stepping up and saving all of creation in a senses-shattering series of double-splashes that erases your memory as soon as you finish turning the last page due to the vast gaping enormity of what you have just witnessed? Which of course brings the whole thing back around to the perfect ending we were all expecting and the surprising epilogue that had me gasping with new insight into the climax of one of the richest stories in the medium’s history. Much has been made of this mini-series’s delayed publishing schedule, but I always knew that they couldn’t and shouldn’t rush greatness. Was two years too long to wait for this entire story to be published? Absolutely not. It’s true that some singles were more satisfying than others. The first, second, and fifth issues blew me away, while the third and fourth felt a little bit thin in the middle of all those months without a new chapter of this story. But I sat down this Wednesday and roared through them all in one sitting before moving on to the finale, and it was a powerful and moving experience that I certainly recommend to anyone who ever looked up in the middle of one of your dreams hoping to spy to catch a glimpse of Matthew the raven or kept trying the way into Lucien’s Library of Unwritten Books (I think it’s called?) or who was ever ever comforted by the thought of that cold void that waits for us all as long as there might be a beautiful funniest girl there to usher us at long last home with the words, “PEACHY KEEN!”

JUSTICE LEAGUE #44 — Another high-quality issue of the best arc this series has had so far. You’ve got to love Batman finding a way to level-up his dickishness With Jordan via Mobius Chair. What is the deal with that opening Joker/Batman page, though? Johns is setting up some profound retcon, I bet; there’s certainly no payoff of that deal in this issue. I wonder how many readers who bitched and mooooooaned about Busiek’s first arc on this title back ten years ago shuddered as soon as that scene ends with the mention of the planet Qward (we did admittedly spend too long on old Qward back there in that first Busiek arc). Charming times here with Negative-Superman; writing Superman as a power-mad asshole seems like lots of fun. And Flash as Black Racer is a quintessential fanboy amuck! bit of inspired madness. I love the over-the-topness of the Anti-Monitor just blasting him right through old Darkseid. And the Anti-Life Equation! That is a simple kind of embarrassing. I straight-up slapped my forehead when he hollered it out, how did everyone not see that coming like the minute this matchup was announced? I must say, though, I’m not crazy about the outcome. Deaths for shock value are surely the most played-out trope of this medium, and one of this magnitude is something you don’t really want to walk back, but that I also certainly don’t want to see stick. This Darkseid War is a great big dumb beast still lumbering in from the summer to blockbuster us all into submission with its extreme action, and it is tremendous fun.

SUPERMAN #44 — Maybe I’m getting tired of Brother’s depowered skill set? It just isn’t that fascinating to watch him throw down with The Royal Flush Gang, you know? The stuff with Perry rang true, though. That was solid work in this issue. Everything else felt a little bit rote. I’m already about Hordr’d out, I think. Hordr!

GRAYSON ANNUAL #2 — Nice deal, here. Seeley/King turn in another solid script that never fails to frame the characters in the foreground, and Alvaro Martinez’s sequentials are perfectly serviceable. I’ve always dug the jocular almost uncle/nephew relationship that Dick and Clark have, and this issue does fine work mining it, both past and present. With a bit of Luthor ex machina to seal the deal, even. This is not as devastating as other ancillary issues of this title but is still more well-crafted than the majority of mainstream superhero books on the rack.

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #10 — This issue is a little bit meatier than the most recent batch. The Albuquerque art remains stunning, quality work. However, Snyder hasn’t really put in the character work to make me give a shit about any of these people. You can dismiss that with the claim that maybe that’s indicative of the genre and how much do you care about the characters in, say, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, like character empathy doesn’t always have to be the point. I say you need it in any circumstance, and for all of this time that we’ve spent here with them over and across the years, I just don’t give much of a shit about Skinner or Pearl or any of them. It’s a cool plot, and vampires in space are good fun, but as this series that kickstarted Snyder’s career is winding down, it feels like it could have been so much more.

ARCHIE #3 — At last Ronnie gets an issue. Waid does quality work right away, making her both relatable and the same classic poor-little-rich-girl archetype that she’s embodied all these years. Once again, though, Betty steals the show as Jughead slowly brings her around to his way of thinking. Miss Cooper is two-out-of-three now for snatching this title out of the eponymous character’s hands, though that’s not that hard to do when he’s acting like this much of a toolbag. Obligatory resounding praise to Fiona Staples, as ever.

MORNING GLORIES #48 — Interesting development of the series-wide theme that our heroes aren’t really that great and maybe the antagonists aren’t so bad from a different point of view. Casey kiiiiiiind of comes off like a crazy person in this one, and then is straight up rocking some Lex Luthor type mind control by issue’s end, whether she realizes it or not. It seems like that won’t end well. Ike is still more fun to be around than any of the rest of them. We’re obviously spinning up to something pretty wacky here for the big 5-0, but Spencer’s certainly not telegraphing anything.

SAVAGE DRAGON #207 — I haven’t been picking this one up long enough to be invested enough in these characters to care about them holding up an entire issue between them. I guess we’re supposed to be scandalized at how transgressive it is to have the buxom blonde getting repeatedly pummeled by the weird red little alien, but that’s just regular Friday for some of us folk. You’ve still got to respect Larsen’s craft and one-man-wrecking-crew vibe, but this single felt mostly like a waste of time.

FROM UNDER MOUNTAINS #1 — I’m probably least dazzled by this one of all the 8house offerings thus far. This is 8house? Or just something unaffiliated that Churchland/Graham are putting out? I’m unclear. At any rate, this is still a very good-looking book. Sloane Leong’s colors, in particular, stand out against her linework. Scoring the pages featuring our royal protagonists with yellows and oranges opposite the cooler blues and purples of the antagonist pages is a pleasing counterpoint. And speaking of the antagonist, was anybody else getting a THB vibe from that opening scene when she conjured the monster creature? All told, some pretty art to found here, but there’s not that much of a narrative hook to keep us coming back for these characters, who are thus far fairly stock. Another charming value from Graham & co., though, 32 uninterrupted pages of story plus things getting started on the inside front cover, and an easily recognizable Graham double-page splash at the end to seal the deal.

ALAN MOORE’S PROVIDENCE #5 — A Gaiman/Moore bookend is always a charming evening. The line of dialogue, “I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know about this, oh God . . .” that occurs late in this issue sums things up quite nicely. Dude definitely has the right idea toward the end. Just run away up out of there, Bro! This is a winding and disturbing tale, to be sure. Once again, Moore does plenty to breathe life into these characters, but he doesn’t give us any serious reason to become invested in our protagonist other than as just the victim of all these proto-Lovecraftian torments. Jacen Burrows once again draws the hell out of everything. The driver is a terribly creepy figure. But is poor Mr. Black going to commence next issue on the cusp of being embalmed? It certainly seems that way. Never mind The Old Ones, the most horrifying things of all are truly what we do to our own brothers and sisters.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


BATGIRL #44 — And once again, though Babs Tarr is nowhere to be found, someone else shows up to absolutely knock the lights out. I recall being impressed by Bengal from I think it was that annual that came out a couple of months ago, and (s)he? does tremendous work here as well. And what better issue for Bengal to fill in on than one featuring the White Tiger as antagonist? Serge Lapointe’s tremendous colors are once again pleasing throughout. I’ve got to tell you, though, this was the week that I spent Mon-Wed hammering home the evils of plagiarism to three sections of high school students and then also discussing the importance of accepting personal responsibility to two sections of college students, so when I made it to the page where Jeremy was like, “I . . . plagiarized!” and Barbara told him he would have to accept responsibility for his part in this, I thought I was losing my mind. Everything’s come crashing in! This was yet another terrific issue.

GRAYSON #12 — Remember those old clip shows that sitcoms used to do in the eighties? The cast would sit around in a framing sequence and reminisce about times gone by and then we would see all those old clips. All this was so that the actors and crew weren’t responsible for creating that much new content while the fans got their hit for the week. This issue does a really cool version of that though with much more meat on the bone. As Dick travels around Gotham checking in with the various members of his family who have spent the past year thinking that he’s dead, each scene opens with a splash of whomever’s going to be featured in the scene, but then he/she/they are completely flanked by like three dozen word balloons containing dialogue that comes from as recently as last year or goes all the way back seventy-five years to the original Sensational Character Find of 1940! Letting all of that old dialogue wash over you is an incredible experience (even if you can’t place every single line) and provides a very engaging facsimile of what Dick might be experiencing when confronted with the sight of these people he loves and hasn’t seen in a year. It’s a really powerful trick. And like ten times more work than the clip show. But this issue acts like it’s nothing but character-based with the former Boy Wonder jaunting from meeting to meeting until, as ever, Seeley & King have something up their sleeves and the whole turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts. That first Cluemaster’s Code bit got by me, even with Jason’s in-dialogue reference, but I thought I was so clever the second time, emboldened first words of each sentence notwithstanding. And the opening scene with Bruce almost broke me down. Such sparse work, but his description of feeling joy in the middle of night instead of all the usual things that he doesn’t even miss . . . it was almost too much to take. Powerful writing. And of course Janin/Cox continue to turn in A-list work, every single page of which is a treasure to behold. I particularly enjoyed seeing their take on Barbara’s new costume design, which somehow managed to cop Tarr’s body language and general presence while simultaneously yanking her out of that, I you will permit me, manga milieu and into this more hyper-photorealistic situation. They cannot be praised highly enough.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS: THE SUN BEYOND THE STARS #3 — I didn’t think we could do it without Jordie Bellaire, but Alex Garland’s colors are really making Nick Pitarra’s lines sing. Not that they need any help; Pitarra continues to refine his style, noticeably tightening up and zooming in on fine linework it seems like every month. The bird’s-eye view shot of Yuri over UNa probably takes the cake. This guy is having fun drawing every single one of these pages, and it shows.

NAMELESS #5 — Gah! I wasn’t really prepared for the whole horrifying secret origin, but nobody asked me. No pun intended. Burnham’s intricate rendering combined with Fairbairn’s colors makes a charming though horrifying with the previous issue. The amount of effort that went into producing this depiction of maybe the most graphically depicted ill-fated séance in all of fiction is truly staggering. I mean, I’m looking back through, scanning for finer points to analyze, specific examples to discuss, and it’s all just scary as shit. Stephen King just crapped his pants. I’m closing the book now. Great job, everyone. You certainly achieved your purpose. We’ll see you next month for more absolute horror.

BEST OF WEEK: ASTRO CITY #27 — In light of last issue’s 20th Anniversary dream of flight* that brought everything around full circle to such a magnificent degree, I was very curious to see how the Busiek/Anderson/Sinclair machine would kick off this next cycle of stories. But I had forgotten that Busiek was so pumped when Ross finished the cover for this issue a few months ago that he shared it with the world like the minute that it was done. And it’s a cool spin on something that DC has done more than once in several formats: turning the main cast into cute little versions of themselves**, with chibi definitely being the go-to deal lately. Of course, this being ASTRO CITY, you had better believe that Busiek has thought this thing out to the nth degree and it’s both grounded as hell and just the most wondrous thing all at the same time. And would totally be the best first issue of the coolest spin-off series that will never come. Also, it turns out that Anderson/Sinclair take the month to get ahead on the next deal while Joe Infurnari shows up on full art duties, providing a wonderful contrast between the scratchy almost-Vertigoesque renderings of the real world before we head into what’s left of Ibbopolis and he shows us why he’s the only person who should be drawing this issue. There is something so primarily pure and innocent in American Chibi, not just superficially in her costume design but much more importantly in the core of her personality, what she represents. She exists only to help others. She has no angst, no personal problems, no supporting cast to bog her down in their own myriad web of bullshit. Ha, she actually is the Anti-Parker, love him though we do. There’s something so precious—not in the “adorable” connotation of the word, but rather the one synonymous with “rare”—about her infinite reservoir of spunk, of can-do, of what The Assemblyman called grit right there at the end. Of course she makes the noble sacrifice without a second thought, and our hearts break for her, but then of course Marguerite Li won’t leave her stranded for even a page without assurances that she’ll never really be alone. And then just when our hearts really break for Marguerite, former involuntary conduit of powerful imaginative forces beyond her ken, who is suddenly cut off from all of this wonder that has been shaping her life for the past few years, good Kurt Busiek rewrites the codes for her just as she did for American Chibi, and a new heroine flies the skies of Astro City. I swear, every other issue of this thing lately is the best damn origin story I’ve read in a long time. “You are now leaving Astro City” are some of the most bittersweet words in the English language.

*which I am super-embarrassed to say that I only caught #1 of Volume 1 being a MIRACLEMAN homage just this last month in light of Marvel finally reprinting all of the original issues, but no, that whole deal sailed right by me the first time and all these years since until just a barely little while ago.

** There was that one episode of JLU where they’re all babies that my little girl watched like ten times in one week. And then Rafael Albuquerque drew, I think, BATMAN/SUPERMAN #s 51 and 52 where cute little versions of both good and bad guys crash in to the main DCU***. And then Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs absolutely tore it up for a year’s worth of LI’L GOTHAM issues there, which in turn got referenced here recently in MULTIVERSITY amongst that crew of, yes, more little cute DC superheroes who I’m pretty sure hail from Earth-42 and did indeed have a terrible secret.

***which, incidentally, are the only comics in my entire collection that aforementioned little girl has claimed for herself and which still currently reside upstairs in her own longbox


STAR WARS #009 — Man, these Immonen/von Grawbadger*/Ponsor pages are just stunning. A very impressive kind-of-Moebius-but-all-sleek-and-cleaned-up-as-hell opening cityscape followed by some roof-running that looks to be a straight homage to that already iconic Star-Lord romping at the top of 2014’s highest grossing motion picture. And this depiction of Luke Skywalker, really one of the best one’s I’ve seen in any adapted medium. I’ve got hyperbole all over the place about it. And of course, there’s no progression on the is-she-or-isn’t-she? front vis a vis Sana Solo this month (and probably, come to think of it, won’t be anything like real resolution to that one until arc’s end at #012 or #013, I betcha), but Aaron keeps everything racing along fast enough that we almost don’t much care. That one panel where Leia’s bitching and then Sana asks Han if she’s always this cheerful then Han says he should be flying and then they both tell him to shut up is piiiiiiitch-perfect. Very nice. And a cool moment there with Luke and all the holocrons before the least surprising (but certainly good-looking) final page of the week lands. This series continues to be just a hell of a great ride.

BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER #011 — I have to say that I was pulling for an all-Rudy final issue, but at least there was a thematic in-story explanation for the difference between the two artists. Kot lands this one with a bit more passion and apparent investment than he did over in ZERO, though I still would have liked to see what a more seasoned writer with stronger character work would have done with this material and collaborator. But as ever, the real star of this book is Rudy’s lush and vibrant pages. The last sequence, in particular, is jaw-dropping splendor and really quite possibly the best work that he has produced, which is of course the kind of high note that you want to go out on. Really beautiful work.

BEST OF WEEK: ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #005 — Lemire/Perez bring the first arc to a beautiful and dramatic conclusion before cannonballing it forward in a final scene that still has me picking my jaw up off the ground. Powerful and emotionally resonant throughout, Lemire can’t resist his current interest/obsession with pushing the form of concurrent narrative transitioning and, for the big finish, actually has the art alternating between past and present every single panel, which produces a lovely, nearly rhapsodic, effect. If this had just been a five-issue mini-series, then it would have been a very worthy successor to Fraction/Aja/Hollingsworth’s nigh-unfollowable run, but the fact that these guys are just getting started is cause for celebration and even a touch of horror over the notion of what they’re going to try next.

ROBIN: SON OF BATMAN #4 — Quite an escalation to bring old Slade in the mix. Of course, the art team continues to tear it up. That wide shot with the titles where Goliath is flying in over the city might be the prettiest picture in this series so far. But then what about that fight? Those tiny eight unbordered shots of Damian vs. Slade are for the ages, strong sequential storytelling channeling both Quitely and Stewart’s greatness during the Morrison run while always reminding us of the source, the fount, Kirby’s immortal Cap vs. Batroc sequence from the all-time classic TALES OF SUSPENSE #85. More strong work from this crew. Anybody who bitches that DC isn’t consistently putting out any quality mainstream superhero titles, I laugh in their face and then choke them with my reader’s copies** of this series.

BLACK CANARY #4 — Pia Guerra! Just that opening splash makes me miss Y THE LAST MAN so much. What a terrific call for a fill-in, she’s turning in work that’s obviously very much her own style but that still fits right in with the Annie Wu greatness. We’re focusing here on ousted singer Bo with a gang of flashbacks that pretty effectively both solidifies and tees her up as series antagonist (particularly in light of that last scene). But I assumed Dinah was the blond ninja in white? Beautiful colors from Loughridge as well, it must be said.

THE PAYBACKS #1 — This was good fun with some terrific humor liberally sprinkled throughout. This series is about a group of superheroes who don’t have pockets as deep as old Bruce or Tony and can’t pay off their loans so are then drafted into service to repossess the assets of other superheroes in the same boat. Sort of a weird circular riff on DAMAGE CONTROL that is pulled off to maximum effect. The initial repossessee is Night Knight, a spot-on riff on a grim’n’gritty Miller Batman with a unicorn who just about steals the show. If you dug that old McDuffie series or love it when Garth Ennis takes the piss out of superheroes, then this one is 100% for you.

THE FADE OUT #9 — We’re really ramping up to the big bad finish now, you can tell. This is an interesting digression so late in the game to finally spell out the whole deal between Charlie & Gil. It’s not like this book has ever wanted for seamless exposition. At any rate, our heroes (such as they are) are aligned and it won’t be long until the curtain comes crashing down over this whole wretched mess, just the way old Ray Chandler woulda done it.

SEX CRIMINALS #12 — I scored the Kate Leth butt-plug XXX variant! But then almost left it lying around my office for an impressionable pre-teen music student to happen across (sad trombone). Close call. But this right here is more quality from Mt. Chipper and his little Spike. For all of Fraction’s dissembling in the letters column of ODY-C about how not-smart he is, he strings together a coherent lecture walking us through the history patriarchal suppression running all the way back to the Olympians that remains engaging even while disrupting the extreme magic-fairy vagina-tentacle action unfolding elsewhere. This is the first issue that’s actually made me wonder what the plan is for this thing, whether it’s finite or we’re just in the middle of one big old great-God-a’mighty first arc. I’ve mentioned it before, but Zdarsky seems to be refining his palette in minute ways but really streamlining the colors into the most eye-pleasing situation he can muster. These boys do fine work. And I loved reading the story of the 1,000 sketch variants that nearly broke them.

ODY-C #7 — This one, I didn’t love. Don’t know if I only needed a single about the He-Bull beast of Troiia or just want more lavish spreads of hyperspace, but this one felt something like drudgery, which absolutely should not be happening in a series with a premise this wild and beautiful. It read kind of like the kind of revenge porn people sometimes accuse Tarantino of, which, I can see their point these last couple of movies certainly, but it’s always executed (no pun intended) in a way that remains entertaining. Not so here. Maybe the backmatter’s rubbing me the wrong way, Fraction so heroically taking up the flag against women’s suppression with his iceberg metaphor and signing off with that ridiculous last line. Yes, dude, boys who rape should all be destroyed, are we supposed to cheer you proclaiming such a pedantic obvious thing from your lofty creator-owned mountaintop?

MIRACLEMAN #2 (18) — Wow, and the big guy doesn’t even show up in this one at all (except in no-dialogue imagination panels, I guess). However, Miraclewoman is actually a character in this comic and appears for more than a couple of pages. I’m not complaining, mind, as young Our Neil crafts another simple though poignant tale of an everyman who falls in love with the perfection of a goddess. And Mark Buckingham is good enough to supply perfect lines with which to tell the tale. This, just like last month, is a tale of aching humanity, which I suppose is going to be the deal going forward, more a story of the repercussions of the gods taking up residence on the planet rather than a tale of the gods themselves. Not unlike what Busiek and company got up to with ASTRO CITY a scant five years after this hit the shelves. I rather enjoyed the back-up story with the kids. Though I must say, I was rather horrified when the little girl uttered, “There’s a kid in Glasgow who made a potion in chemistry that made him invisible for a week.” Now, this story was originally released in August 1990, so it’s very likely that it was written after ARKHAM ASYLUM had already blown up the graphic novel records the previous Christmas. And it’s even likely that Gaiman and Morrison were already friends. But had Morrison already conceived off and confided in his probably-already-friend about his magnum opus/roman a clef entitled THE INVISIBLES that wouldn’t see publication for another four years? Or is this just another example of shared ideaspace? Chilling.  

*nice of them to put his name on the cover this time

**I’m just kidding, I don’t buy reader’s copies; but if something like that happens, I choke them with my own copies and then go out and buy another one for myself or hey, maybe I should wait for the trade at the point.