This is the last issue of this book, ending an eight-year run (70 issues of the pre-New 52 Jonah Hex immediately preceded it): an impressive accomplishment for a western book in today’s market. Part of that is attributable to Palmiotti and Gray’s steady, solid writing — most of their earlier stories were one-issue tales, with a good grasp of their surly, barely-heroic protagonist and his gruff charms, while later ones were marketing-savvy enough to take him to the 1800s Gotham City and even, for a while, to the present-day DC universe. The other reason for the book’s longevity has been its steady stream of A-list artists, people like Jordi Bernet, Moritat — and, in this final issue, Cooke, who gives Hex (now back in his normal time) and lady-friend Tallulah Black a suitably wonderful-looking sendoff. The story dovetails with the ’70s Jonah Hex Spectacular, a digest-sized book (don’t ask) which chronicled Hex’s death and his corpse’s subsequent taxidermy and exhibition in a traveling sideshow; Hex, since he’s time-travelled, knows of that fate — but can he change it? I’ll leave that to readers to discover, but will say that it’s a clever, satisfying story and a perfect ending; add the Cooke art, and it’s easy to name this the book of the week.
Start buying this book, people — Slott’s light-but-human touch with the writing is a fizzy combination of action and romance, and Allred’s very clean, pop-influenced style makes it one of the best-looking books on the stands (this issue guest-stars Dr. Strange and The Hulk, combining with the Surfer to reunite the original Defenders, and those characters have seldom looked this good), especially with Laura Allred’s coloring. Sales on this comic have been solid but not spectacular, and it deserves a wider audience and a long run; if, for whatever reason, you haven’t given it a chance, this is a perfect single-issue example of why you should.
This is the best-selling indy comic on the charts not written by Robert Kirkman, and deservedly so. I praise it every month — Staples’s fluid, expressive art, especially, but also the way Vaughan handles his large cast of characters with wit, humanity and pathos (witness the fight between Marco and Alana this time, which feels very real and exactly right), and manages to include at least two OMFG moments in each issue (here, a couple of sudden deaths, and, oddly, the head of King Robot, which demonstrates conclusively why it’s good to be the king). Best of all, it’s refreshingly unpredictable — I have no idea where it’s going from here, but will happily keep reading about all these interesting people as long as Vaughan and Staples want to keep telling their story; its loft position on the sales charts indicates that I’m not alone.
Speaking of Kirkman… this book has had a slow build, but that’s appropriate to its moody, Exorcist-style atmosphere; he’s very good at slowly revealing background and character while at the same time moving the story forward, including enough demonic-possession scenes (like the three-page opener here) to keep readers interested, and ending on a natural “to be continued” moment. Add in Azeceta’s detailed, painterly art and clear, efficient page compositions (he has a habit of inserting small square panels within a larger one, to indicate transitional actions or highlight certain elements of the scene, that’s particularly effective), and the result is a quiet-but-suspenseful book that bears close reading well, and is addictive enough to have a long run.
One of the pleasures of reading a lot of comics is to watch a creator get better, and Remender’s a great example: after a few years of establishing his craft, doing indy books and then working for the mainstream publishers, he’s taken his writing to another level this year: there’s been Black Science, the well-reviewed Deadly Class, and now Low, which looks set to be the most ambitious and best of the lot. Its overarching theme is hope, even under impossible circumstances: it’s set on an Earth trying to deal with a rapidly-expanding sun, whose population has fled down into the ocean depths as they desperately look for solutions. Like Outcast, it’s taking its time about setting up its characters and world; the people left in a cliffhanger at the end of the first issue only get a couple of pages here, with the focus on newer ones instead, in similarly-dire circumstances. Clearly, this is going to take a while, but it’s so ambitious and confident in its storytelling — and Tocchini’s art is so good-looking (he does his own coloring, and it gives an organic, attractive tone to even the worst settings) — that this looks poised to be a major work, in a year that’s already seen a lot of them.
We’re lucky to be living in a period of great comics — in the writing, yes, but also in the art. Look at the list so far this week: Cooke and Allred are top-ranked artists in the prime of their careers, with Staples, Azaceta and Tocchini all hugely-talented up-and-comers. Powell’s another worthy addition to that list (especially considering that he does the writing, coloring and everything else himself too); there’s a clear, well-drawn line from the EC artists through people like Bernie Wrightson to him, and The Goon is his signature creation, capable of both manic, down-and-dirty Mad-style humor or serious horror/suspense. This mini-series involves the latter, as the main character and his friends have to defend their hardscrabble town from a number of former antagonists who have banded together and are determined to wipe them out. This issue has a lot less punching than the first one, but there’s a lot of character backstory and preparation for war, and enough well-drawn romance and tragedy (and, yes, a little humor) to make an effective bridge before the inevitable battle next time.
Aragones has been around longer than any of the artists listed above, and outranks all of them, both in the quantity and quality of his work and in public recognition (50 years of drawing for Mad magazine will do that…). Here, he and Evanier are having a lot of fun, as there’s a present-day framing sequence where they’re trying to save a comic book store threatened with being kicked out of its lease, while a concussed Aragones simultaneously imagines the title battle. Who will actually win, between the unstoppable Hyperborean and the immovably-addled Groo? Good question; I imagine it will end up like most of those old Superman/Flash races, only with considerably more satire and cheese-dip jokes: the only clear winner will be us, the readers.
Not much new to say about this, except that it’s still motoring along; halfway through, I started to get a little bored, but the art kept me going (Romita Jr. always looks good, and watching him draw DC instead of Marvel (or Kick-Ass) characters still feels entertainingly weird), and Johns, who’s always had his finger firmly on the fanboy pulse, knows just how to throw in a last-page plot twist that highlights the differences between the Man of Steel and new character Ulysses, chase away the boredom and make sure readers will come back for more.
Pop #1 (of 4) — Writer: Curt Pires; Art: Jason Copland
Sundowners #1 — Writer: Tim Seeley; Art: Jim Terry
Three new indy first issues, one from Image and two from Dark Horse. Wayword is the best, about a girl of Irish/Japanese heritage who comes to Japan to live with her mother after her parents divorce — and, amid the excitement of being there for the first time, begins to tap strange powers and meet stranger new friends (and enemies). Like its heroine, it’s an appealing hybrid, mixing American and Japanese influences in both art and story (it’s also got eleven different covers, for no apparent reason, so the one pictured here may or may not be available; it’s just the one I liked the best). Pop is a mini-series about how new pop stars like Brittany, Justin, etc, are actually grown in vats by some shadowy corporation, who get upset when one of their creations “hatches” and escapes before she’s ready, and ends up running into the arms of the dope-smoking owner of a collectible record and comic book store (insert your own jokes here…). The art’s sometimes a tad shaky (it never quite lives up to the clever, eye-catching design of the cover), but it’s not bad as a minor entertainment. So too for Sundowners, which is about a failed life coach/psychiatrist who starts a support/therapy group for minor-league and has-been superheroes, who, of course, eventually have to face a real threat: it’s not groundbreaking or startling, but the kind of comic that will give you ten minutes of harmless reading amusement the next time you need it.
All-New X-Men #31 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; Art: Mahmud Asrar
The inevitable two Bendis books for the week — GOTG begins a story about what happened at the end of the previous Abnett/Lanning version of the book (the one that started in 2008, was the inspiration for the movie, and saw the value of its first issue go from $3 to $75 in the new price guide), where Star Lord and the Richard Rider Nova both sacrificed themselves in a dying alternate universe to trap Thanos there and destroy him. Obviously, two of those three are back (and I assume we’ll find out about Nova next), so what happened, other than corporate-mandated resurrection? Short answer: cosmic cube, although obviously it’ll take a few more issues to fill in all the details. A-NX-M covers the aftermath of the Angel/X-23 hookup last issue, plus has an experiment/time rip in the Ultimate universe that ends up causing… well, maybe not a mutant, but some kind of new teleporter girl in the “regular” Marvel universe, in a development that looks like it’s going to bring those two dimensions (and the comics associated with them) even closer together. Both books have down-the-middle art that makes them, I suppose, typical examples of Marvel comics right now, especially with the way Bendis’s writing has become the default, house-style standard for the company (in the way that Geoff Johns’s has for DC); that’s not a good or a bad thing, but just a thing, although I’m sure fans can debate its merits endlessly.
This ends the “Cap travels into the far future” story arc, one that’s helped to reestablish that the Star-Spangled Avenger’s real super-power is that he never gives up, never actually loses, and is, annoyingly, always right; Hickman has made him the moral center of his Avengers run, and the last few pages of the comic signal a crossover with New Avengers and, finally, the beginning of an end-game for both books. Get some popcorn and settle back for the multiple-issue, duel-book conclusion that’s sure to follow over the next few months.
Still going, and still the quirkiest, and one of the most addictive, books on the stands; its over-two-year survival, and the fact that it’s lasted long enough to round into its own multiple-issue endgame (probably lasting at least another year) is a tribute to the flexibility of today’s market, and the ability of good-but-unusual comics to find a profitable niche there. This isn’t a bad check-it-out issue, either, if you want to see what the fuss is about.