I read comics. So should you.

The Stack-6/28/17

In new books, reviews on June 29, 2017 at 2:18 pm

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This week in comics: A whole lot of jaw-dropping, revelatory moments. It was exhausting, and wonderful. But first, apologies are in order.

I’m overly skeptical of nostalgia and crossover gimmicks, to say the VERY least, so naturally I felt it incumbent on myself to take a big ‘ol poop on DC’s latest superhero/Looney Tunes mash-up specials as soon as they were announced. None received more of my spleen ventings than Batman/Elmer Fudd. Why? It seemed so absurd, in the most crass and exploitative way. “What can you possibly do with this?” I thought. You either make Batman look Joel Schumacher-levels of hokey, or you try to make comedic cartoons dark and edgy, which is only a SLIGHTLY worse crime in my eyes than, say, co-opting those cartoons in order to sell your dumb fucking truck mud flaps or ‘urban’ t-shirts.

Despite how cranky I can be, I always keep an open mind, and try not to level substantial criticism against any comic without having read it first. So, I read it. Turns out, it’s both successful in its execution, AND very enjoyable. Let me be clear: It’s not that I doubted the impressive talents and abilities of Tom King and Lee Weeks; I simply didn’t think you could put this particular chocolate in that particular peanut butter and get anything other than corporate dysentery. I was wrong. This creative team rose to the challenge, and made something engaging, that was reverential without being tiresome, and stood on its own as a story. It appears that when you make the Looney Tunes into human citizens of Gotham, it’s a perfect fit. It also needs to be said that Lee Weeks needs to be the sole illustrator of Batman comics going forward. To my shame, I had forgotten what an artistic powerhouse this guy is.

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And now, with foot firmly planted in mouth, it’s time for me to review my other favorites from this Wednesday:

Mother Panic #8 (Jody Houser, John Paul Leon, Dave Stewart, John Workman-DC/Young Animal): The hunt for the body bag killer continues, and Violet bullshits her way closer to her prey using the only resources she really has available: the internet, Otis’s army of rats, and her fame’s uncanny ability to get her on television. There’s some great scenes elaborating on her cybernetic implants, and artists John Paul Leon and Dave Stewart really convey just how much pain and suffering those devices are causing her. For my $3.99, this is a far more compelling tale of crime-fighting in Gotham than most of the actual Bat-family books right now.

Black Magick #6 (Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott, Jodi Wynne, Chiara Arena-Image): At last, the triumphant return of one of my favorite new Image titles! In this issue we see Rowan, in a ritual on her thirteenth birthday, contacting her entire lineage, and then nearly going mad with anger and despondency as a result of having lifetimes of distrust, abuse, torture, and murder thrust upon her in one night. This story of a witch who works as a police detective has been top notch, and I really must stress again how strong this book is on ALL fronts. Nicola Scott’s greyscale art is mindblowing, adding flourishes of color precisely when they’re needed. It’s rare to see lettering that’s a deviation from the norm, but Jodi Wynne’s is a perfect example, clear yet distinctive, and more thematically true. Do yourself a favor and get caught up now.

Secret Weapons #1 (Eric Heisserer, Raúl Allén, Patricia Martín-Valiant): This miniseries is another great example of delving deeper into superpowered characters who get overlooked and ignored–the C and D-listers. In this case they have literally been left behind by their benefactor, the infamous Toyo Harada. Without his wealth and protection they are exposed, struggling, and prime targets for an alien creature that absorbs abilities from bathing in the blood of psiots. Enter Livewire, a former student and soldier of Harada’s who wants to do for these kids what no one else would. This was a terrific first issue, with particularly creative use of character powers and page layouts. If you’re a Valiant diehard, or someone who enjoys comics like Generation X or Runaways, you’ll  want to check this one out.

Saucer State #2 (Paul Cornell, Ryan Kelly, Adam Guzowski, Simon Bowland-IDW): So this is it. An alien intelligence has been spotted at the edge of our solar system, and is advancing. President Alvarado has no choice but to snap into action and confront the greatest shitstorm of panic that the human race has ever known, and she does so with flying colors, assembling an inner cabinet that will advise her on how best to approach the subject with the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Major Abramowitz is seeing to some scheming loose ends, and the greys appear with one hell of a revelation. The feeling here is similar to what’s going on now in the final arc of Letter 44. Both are outstanding comics, and are required reading for fans of Sci-Fi, alien stories, and conspiracy theories.

Saga #44 (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Fonografiks-Image): Wandering a hostile backwater planet, trying to deal with Alana’s miscarriage and the bizarre magical powers that it’s imparting to her, Hazel and her parents are devising a train-hopping Plan B while some locals close in on Petrichor and the ship. The ending is of course another unforeseen shocker, but I’d like to take a moment to focus on those locals. What’s intriguing here is that they are a sort of mirror image of our main characters: a man and woman from very different races (one is a black human, the other is a white centaur), who had a mixed child that no one else around them approves of. The difference here is in ideology. This family seem to be decidedly pro-life (in terms of the unborn, anyway–they had no qualms about murdering adults, even pregnant ones), whereas Alana and Marko came to this place seeking an abortion (though due to the disturbing miscarriage). One of our longest, most heated disputes in this country is playing out in the pages of Saga, with all the grey areas that it entails. Bravo.

And that’s just about it for this week. As always, thank you for reading comics, and for reading this. Feel free to comment and share, and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @rabbit11comics. Don’t forget to support your local shops, be good, and I’ll see you in seven.

The Stack-6/14 & 6/21/17

In new books, reviews on June 22, 2017 at 11:49 pm

Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep ni ni bong, everybody! So yeah, you COULD go and see YET ANOTHER pandering, garbled mess of a Transformers movie this weekend, OR you can hear me out for a minute and learn about all of the amazing comic books that came out recently, and spend your hard-earned energon on those instead, thus making the world a better place. If Transformers 5 had a poor showing at the box office, perhaps Hollywood would get the message that we’re tired of formulaic shit. With comics sales on the rise, perhaps we’ll just continue to get more of them, and their creators won’t need to rely on Patreon to make ends meet. Some win-win food for thought, free of charge.

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Let’s start with last week’s books, which I failed to cover in a timely fashion because, despite having played every single Persona game, I am still terrible at time management. More accurately, the little time I had left after playing Persona 5 for far too long was not managed well. I am merely mortal, folks, and my hobbies are many. Okay, before this goes from digression to full blown video game review, let’s get to the comics.

Cinema Purgatorio #10 (Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Garth Ennis, Raulo Caceres, Max Brooks, Gabriel Andrade, Keiron Gillen, Nahuel Lopez, Christos Gage, Kurt Hathaway-Avatar Press): Look, I know the arguments. Many of you have Alan Moore burnout. They just announced a Watchmen reboot TV show. You’re tired of his name being used as comic book cool kid currency. Perhaps you don’t like just how often sexual assault shows up in his work. Just bear with me for a moment, and trust in your old pal Jared. He won’t steer you wrong, even when he talks in the third person like a total wanker. This book is REALLY good. All of the work in it is strong, and it contains one of my favorite Moore stories, which goes right up there with Promethea and Miracleman. We see from the point of view of the main character that they are trapped in a purgatory consisting of an old movie house, one which shows films that are familiar, but also bizarre. Moore uses this as his platform to dissect the malicious underbelly of Hollywood and other studios responsible for the cartoons, movies, and news reels of yesteryear. This latest installment is pure inspired brilliance. In it we’re subjected to a children’s film starring precocious, sleuthing scamps who, appropriately enough, are investigating a cursed cinema. The kids’ aunt mentions that movies played there skip, are missing frames, and that sometimes a hair will get caught in the gate of the projector. Soon after, those things happen to the very film these kids are IN, only from their perspective that manifests as time jumps and an otherworldly centipede demon. Things go from innocence to horror so quickly that it is genuinely jarring. You can say a lot about Alan Moore, but you cannot say that he has lost his ability to layer a unique story, and deliver it with real impact.

Winnebago Graveyard #1 (Steve Niles, Alison Sampson, Stephane Paitreau, Aditya Bidikar-Image): Steve Niles is one of comicdom’s great horror writers, responsible for fan favorites like 30 Days of Night and Criminal Macabre. In his latest, a miniseries about a family taking a road trip that goes horribly awry, he combines some of the great horror movie tropes like creepy carnivals and small town death cults into something uniquely unnerving. What really makes it all gel so well is the sketchy, atmospheric look of Alison Sampson’s artwork. I keep paging through and finding new details.

Secret Empire #4 (Nick Spencer, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Sunny Gho, Rod Reis, Joshua Cassara, Rachelle Rosenberg, VC’s Travis Lanham-Marvel): Just a quick word or two on this issue. There is some new, messed-up fusion of Hank Pym and Ultron that lives in Alaska, and it is my new favorite thing in the Marvel Universe. That is all.

Green Valley #9 (Max Landis, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cliff Rathburn, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Pat Brosseau-Image): The exploits of the Knights of Kelodia come to an end in this oversized final issue, and it’s a surprisingly happy end for our heroes, having overcome a time-travelling criminal from the future and his pet dinosaurs. I’m eager to see more from everyone involved with this title. It was a beautifully constructed little crowd pleaser.

Bug! The Adventures of Forager #2 (Lee Allred, Michael Allred, Laura Allred, Nate Piekos of Blambot-DC/Young Animal): The Allred family are unique in the comics world for many reasons, but after reading another issue of Bug! two things stand out most to me: They have a genuine reverence for the classics, and they communicate that love with a carefree, adventurous spirit that you can’t help but smile at. If I didn’t hate garbage words like ‘wholesome’ so much, I’d use it to describe this. It’s fun but never too cheesy. It’s like your dad showing you his comic collection, if your dad had a brief flirtation with psychedelics and a proper love of Jack Kirby. Set in World War Two, this month’s journey has appearances from The Losers, Sandman, Blue Beetle, and lots of abominable snowmen.

Bitch Planet Triple Feature #1 (Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Maria Fröhlich, Andrew Aydin, Joanna Estep, Conley Lyons, Craig Yeung, Marco D’Alfonso-Image): One thing I believe that we need a lot more of in comics are rebellious political voices. I mean that. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet has been leading the charge, telling the story of a prison planet exclusively for women who will not submit to the will of men, and doing it with a middle finger planted firmly in your face the whole time. The Triple Feature lets some other creative teams add to this world, showing what perceived transgressions can get a woman, in an already bad set of circumstances, with the deck stacked against her, arrested, banished, and confined. Each tale is disturbingly familiar, but ends in a defiant awakening for the main character. And just like in the core title, there are some really thought-provoking essays included at the end.

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Moving on to the current week. It just MIGHT be my favorite of 2017 so far. It was a magical rainbow of genre, tone, and nudity, like a swinger party sponsored by Skittles. Now that that awkward simile is out of my system, let’s take a look at the highlights.

Shirtless Bear-Fighter #1 (Jody Leheup, Sebastian Girner, Nil Vendrell, Mike Spicer, Dave Lanphear-Image): The following sentence is entirely true: This comic book is about a man with a huge dong who loves flapjacks and punching bears. If that doesn’t sell you on the book, I don’t think anything will. Inspired lunacy in the spirit of recent Image greats like Chew and God Hates Astronauts.

Nick Fury #3 (James Robinson, Aco, Hugo Petrus, Rachelle Rosenberg, Travis Lanham-Marvel): This book is an absolute work of art. I obsessively study each issue, because they are a perfect storm of story and art, form and flash. It’s a straightforward spy thriller at its core, but that simple framework allows the penciller, inker, and colorist to craft a mesmerizing sensory overload on each page. It’s bold, and it’s enchanting, like the man himself.

Royal City #4 (Jeff Lemire, Steve Wands-Image): This was a gut punch right in the feels. If you too are a struggling creative person who bailed on your hometown as soon as you possibly could, and are now staring down the barrel of forty, trying to formulate a plan for your third act, you will probably weep like a baby after reading this.

God Country #6 (Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Jason Wordie, Dee Cunniffe, John J. Hill-Image): Speaking of crying, in this final issue Donny Cates and company totally stick the landing in this tale of fathers and sons and giant magic swords. It beautifully conveys how precious and brief human lives are, and how they transcend and become immortal through story and memory, though not in a saccharine way. These characters are Texas boys, after all.

The Mighty Thor #20 (Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson, Valerio Schiti, Veronica Gandini, VC’s Joe Sabino-Marvel): Now let’s stop being mopey and move on to– ah crap, time for more crying. SPOILERS Jane, trying to explain herself to the Odinson, collapses on the ground, possibly succumbing at last to her cancer, and it occurs just as the realm of Nidavellir is attacked, with Muspelheim Firefly Riders burning a camp of elf refugees. Volstagg of the Warriors Three has children with him during the attack, and they die in his arms. In a daze, he goes to Old Asgard and discovers the hammer of Ultimate Thor, calling to him. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new War Thor. SHIT IS ON.

Plastic #3 (Doug Wagner, Daniel Hillyard, Laura Martin, Ed Dukeshire-Image): Okay, we need to have a brief discussion about this book, since we’re in Downerland at the moment. I think it may have crossed a line. I know how that sounds. It is, after all, a book about a guy brutally killing others who have wronged his sex doll. But wow, there is some absolutely repugnant sexual assault in this issue. And while the woman involved survives it, and even asks to join Edwyn on his bloody quest for revenge, it just feels like too much. It feels lurid, and too easily dismissed. If you’ve read it too and want to exchange notes, please do so, because this one really bugs me.

Crosswind #1 (Cat Staggs, Gail Simone, Simon Bowland-Image): And that brings us to Gail Simone’s newest book, in what I’m ashamed to say is my worst segue ever. It too involves a woman who, while not physically attacked, is harassed and belittled to the point where it will fill you with rage just reading about it. But then the twist hits, and you get the suspicion that all this is building to what can only be described as Grade A motherfucking comeuppance. SPOILERS It would appear that this browbeaten housewife has just switched bodies with a man so stone cold that he shot his childhood friend dead just to keep his boss happy. It’s the ‘Freaky Friday’ body swap trope, but I’m completely confident that there’s much more in store than just a couple of fish out of water.

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #1 (Chip Zdarsky, Adam Kubert, Jordie Bellaire-Marvel): Let’s end back on a fun and silly note, shall we? Cool. So even if you only possess a passing knowledge of modern Marvel comics, you know that there are a buttload of Spider-People running around, including multiple versions of Spider-Man. Among them of course is the original Peter Parker, primarily over in The Amazing Spider-Man. That’s where all the drama happens, and that’s fine, but too often it feels like something is missing. That something is Spidey’s trademark wisecracks, quips, and put downs. Where did they go? Fear not, because Chip Zdarsky is here with a new Spectacular title, chock full of web-swinging and joke-slinging, and plenty of verbal and physical sparring with folks like The Human Torch, Ant-Man, and Ironheart. It’s goofy and gleeful, and I suspect it is exactly what folks will be looking for after going to see Homecoming next month.

Okay, it’s time for me to shoosh my face and get some sleep. Thanks for reading comics, and for reading this. Feel free to comment, share, and follow me on various social media spots at the links below. Don’t forget to support your local shops, be good, and I’ll see you crazy kids in seven.

The Stack-6/7/17

In new books, rants, reviews on June 8, 2017 at 7:46 pm

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This week in comics: A trio of comics dealing with the consequences of pursuing vengeance, Shade helps us come to terms with our impending decrepitude, and a boring hetero cis dude for some reason feels compelled to talk about how Iceman tackles coming out as a gay superhero. But first, it’s time to play, ‘What lame-ass stunt are collectors hoarding this week?’:

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This. It’s this utter nonsense right here. Now I think our heroes should be allowed to be happy, but this is so out of character for Bats.

There wasn’t a whole lot of levity in this week’s pile, and that’s fine. Just because your granny still calls them ‘funnybooks’ does not mean that they have to be a constant chucklefest. Within the pages of the incredibly strong number ones and assorted ongoing storylines, shit did indeed get real. And it was oh so good. Let’s take a closer look.

Victor LaValle’s Destroyer #1 (Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith, Joana Lafuente, Jim Campbell-Boom! Studios): You have to be cautious and respectful when building upon a classic story, and you have to possess a clear purpose, or it’s just more lazy fanfic. LaValle understands this, and his vision for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein brings its characters into the modern world in clever and heartbreaking ways, while keeping true to the themes of conquering death and exploring the darker side of humanity. The monster, up until now exiled in Antarctica, is suddenly and violently reunited with us, and the remaining scientists aware of his existence are attempting to mobilize to greet him. History repeats itself, but with shiny new technology, and the added tragedy of race relations and gun violence in America. UPDATE: I realize this book is two weeks old, but Diamond shorted me and I only just got it now. It made such an impact that I just had to add it to the official stack anyway.

Extremity #4 (Daniel Warren Johnson, Mike Spicer, Rus Wooton-Image): I don’t know how they do it. This series is a story of bloody revenge, dressed in a world of fantastic post-apocalyptic tribalism, and it manages to be completely fresh and engaging despite how familiar those concepts are in modern fiction. I suspect it’s primarily because the human (and even not-so-human) emotion on display is genuinely complex, warts and all. It hits the heart as hard as the lush, kinetic artwork hits the eyeballs. And if that is too touchy-feely for you, I’ll have you know that there’s badass airships, giant spider creatures, and lots of punching, too.

Spider-Man #17 (Brian Michael Bendis, Oscar Bazaldua, Justin Ponsor, VC’s Cory Petit-Marvel): Miles has been struggling with a lot lately. Ever since receiving the vision that showed him killing Captain America during the last Civil War event, he’s been worried that he’ll snap and go too far. He’s had a crisis of confidence, and it has only gotten worse since he beat up everyone in a bar while pursuing a purse snatcher. SPOILERS After seeing his friend Bombshell hospitalized from an encounter with Hammerhead, rage takes over and he foolishly puts himself in a very dangerous situation–one which could cost him his life. I always enjoy storylines that remind us that superheroing is, even for those with special powers, insanely stupid and dangerous business. You can bitch about grim and gritty™ all you like; without stakes that we can relate to, there’s no story, and no reason to engage with it.

Shade the Changing Girl #9 (Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, Ande Parks, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Saida Temofonte-DC/Young Animal): Have I mentioned before that this book is brilliant? I did? Several times? Well, it is. There’s so much to chew on in each issue, regardless of whether you’re a new reader or an old fart like me who considers the Milligan run their prized possession. Speaking of the elderly, in this issue Shade delves deeper into Gotham City, attending a concert featuring her favorite Earth band, The Sonic Booms. The problem is, in her excitement, she forgot how long transmissions from our planet take to reach her home of Meta. The Booms are well beyond their prime, and so are all of their human fans. Not satisfied with this revelation, she uses her madness powers to try to help everyone recapture those glory days, if only briefly. Then, it’s on to the next adventure. Ah, youth…

The Unsound #1 (Cullen Bunn, Jack T. Cole, Jim Campbell-Boom! Studios): This one gets filed under ‘Things You Don’t See Much in Comics and There’s Probably a Very Good Reason For That’. The thing in this case is madness. Many of the best horror stories focus on it, and that’s understandable, since there isn’t much that’s more terrifying than learning that your senses and intellect, the very things that read and interpret the world around you, are possibly unreliable, and may actually be turning against you. It can be hard to communicate that feeling convincingly, in any kind of narrative, but this creative team has nailed it. There’s page after page of images that will elicit the following reactions: “Well that’s not right”, “What the hell am I looking at?”, and “NOPE NOPE NOPE”. Asylums have not been this unsettling since they let Grant Morrison play in Arkham.

Iceman #1 (Sina Grace, Alessandro Vitti, Rachelle Rosenberg, VC’s Joe Sabino-Marvel): Okay, I need to preface this review with full disclosure. What you’re about to read is written by a heterosexual man whose understanding of being homosexual comes from friends, a mishmash of entertainment that runs the gamut from insultingly uninformed to explicit and enlightening, and the Babadook. What I’m getting at is that while I’m not qualified to speak about this with anything close to authority or experience, I’m an ally who is doing his best, and I mean no disrespect or harm. Okay, on we go.

Bobby Drake, the mutant known as Iceman, has recently met his younger self (X-Men are always involved in wacky time displacement crap that makes little to no sense), and it sparked a profound, live-changing epiphany. Bobby is gay, and he’s not sure what to do with that knowledge. He isn’t ready to share this with his family, since they are still not handling his life as a superhero very well. He wants to get out there and date, but his day-to-day is utter chaos, and besides, teaching and training the kids at The Xavier Institute is a full time job. Those lame dad jokes aren’t going to tell themselves.

The thing about this issue, and again, this is just the two cents from someone on the outside, is that Bobby and his struggle feel very true-to-life. He isn’t presented as a stereotype, and he’s allowed plenty of room to just do his thing. Alone in his room, trying to think up a description of himself for a dating site, or talking to himself outside a hospital after the adrenaline from a fight spins down, he takes a look at his situation and arrives at the conclusion that most of us do, from any walk of life:

*shrug*

That does it for this week. As always, thanks for reading, and for reading comics. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter at the links below, and feel free to comment, complain, and share. Don’t forget to support your local shops, be good, and I’ll see you in seven.