Yet another week with a large number of first issues, including a couple of highly-advertised Big Event books from Marvel and DC. Before getting to those, however, there are a couple of less-hyped, but more worthy, books to mention…
Strictly speaking, this isn’t a first issue, but it’s a “soft reboot” of the title, with a new creative team, location, look and tone for the character, so it should count. Also, it turns out to be really good: I was skeptical of a couple of male writers handling a “modern,” early-twenties Barbara Gordon, but these guys pull it off. Stewart’s best known as an artist, but he’s worked quite a bit with Grant Morrison (Seaguy!), and has apparently absorbed some tricks, while Fletcher just last week debuted Gotham Academy, and showed he could write young-adult-oriented, realistic-for-superheroes women characters. Add in Tarr’s appealing, manga-esque art, with a knack for physical forms, expressions and action that proves equally capable of handling comedy and drama, and the result is a good-looking, smart, funny and vibrant portrait of twenty-something roommates (two of whom just happen to be superheroes) starting out their careers in the big city. For anyone who likes Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk or similar bright, pop-styled Marvel books, it’s good to see the normally-grimmer DC getting in on the party.
Who would have thought that Archie — Archie — would end 2014 with two of the best horror books on the stands? Aguirre-Sacasa is responsible, with his out-of-nowhere work on the zombiepocalyptic Afterlife With Archie, and this book’s in the same, heh heh, vein: it’s set earlier in the young witch’s career, as she begins high school, and in a slightly different “world” than Afterlife, but it’s got the same canny ability to take familiar characters (there are still the aunts, the talking cat Salem, the warlock cousin, etc.) who were built for comedy, and somehow keep them recognizable while transferring them to a creepier, more-horrific setting (it’s like Alfred Hitchcock directing a My Little Pony cartoon). Hack’s good at walking the light/dark, comedy/sinister tightrope (just look at the striking, die-cut cover), much like Francavilla over in Afterlife, and the result is the rare spinoff book that’s just as good as its source.
October’s the month for horror debuts, and Snyder’s superstar status as the writer on Batman has earned this comic a lot of pre-publication attention; USA Today featured it prominently in a story on modern horror comics this week. As the cover indicates, it’s a Blair Witch Project-y story about Creepy Bad Things in the Woods, and it’s very good at setting up its viewpoint character, a plucky teenage girl with at least one disturbing event in her past, and creating an atmosphere of slowly-building dread. Jock, as you might expect, is a good artist for this sort of thing (remember his iconic pre-New 52 Detective cover, with the Joker turning into a flock of bats?), and whether he’s drawing the eerie woods, a kid hitting his mother in the face with a rock or a screaming deer, he makes it work, drawing the reader in to witness the horror with intimate, close-up skill.
Now we get to the event books; this one’s Marvel’s, and it involves everyone getting together to fight a near-unstoppable Red Skull. If you haven’t been reading Uncanny Avengers, good luck understanding what’s going on (although a two-page summary at the beginning helps), but briefly: the Skull has grafted the dead Professor X’s brain into his own head (!), gaining Xavier’s mental powers, and when Magneto kills him (!!) he turns into Onslaught (!!!) — Red Onslaught, a skyscraper-tall menace capable of sending psychic hate waves around the globe (all this happened before this first issue, mind you). This causes all the X-Men to kiss and make up, link up with the Avengers, and give readers a huge case of ’90s nostalgia. If you were going to pick someone to draw 32 pages of dozens of heroes punching a huge red skull-faced bad guy, Adam Kubert would be on the short list; the Red OnSkull (Red Skullslaught?) is both mean- and cool-looking, and all the heroes look well-drawn and suitably heroic. If you want a fast-moving, action-filled event mini-series, this fills the bill nicely.
DC’s new Big Event comic is yet another year-long weekly series — their third right now, which may be asking a lot of readers and their wallets, although this initial offering’s 38 pages of story for $2.99 is a lot cheaper than Axis’s 32 pages for $4.99. Half of this first issue is a recap of what’s been going on in the new-52 Earth 2 book for the last two years: five years ago, Apocalypse invaded Earth, and was driven back at the cost of the lives of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman; everybody’s been dealing with the ramifications ever since, while new heroes like the Alan Scott Green Lantern, Jay Garrick Flash, Dr. Fate, etc. have risen to take their place. Now, Apocalypse has re-invaded, and chaos ensues. According to the Futures End weekly series, which is set five years in the future (I know; just bear with me…), this war will end with the destruction of Earth 2 and all its surviving inhabitants fleeing to Earth 1 — assuming, of course, that the Futures End future doesn’t change. This is all wildly complicated, especially considering it’s going to go on weekly for a year, and having three writers and eight artists listed in the credits doesn’t help (Axis at least benefits from having one writer, one artist and a clear style and tone). If you’re a big DC fan, it’s probably essential reading, although even the low $2.99 price point is going to end up costing over $150 after a year’s worth of books, money that could go to an awful lot of other comics….
This is a first issue, but a known quantity: Ennis has been been writing war stories set in various eras and featuring various historic battles for over a decade now, and they’re all well-researched, gritty, poignant, bloody and very human. This one’s a WWII tale, set in England, about a rookie American serviceman who ends up as part of a crew running B-17 bombing raids, and, as all these stories do, it manages, without sermonizing, to say quite a bit about war’s very particular blend of boredom, horror, stupidity and heroism; if you’ve never read Ennis’s work in this area before, it’s definitely worth a look.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which defends comic retailers (and others, like librarians, publishers and, yes, even readers) against censors, publicity-seeking DAs, self-righteous clergymen, ignorant parents and other prudes, offers its annual collection of comics creators writing about First Amendment rights. As always, there are dozens of creators involved — highlights this year include Stan Sakai, Jonathan Hickman, Brian Wood, Terry and Rachel Dodson, covers by Michael Allred and Walt Simonson and, on the back cover, the Lumberjanes as drawn by Kate Leth. Proceeds go to the CBLDF and will help stop stupid people from telling you what you can and can’t read, so it’s a cause that any comics fan should feel good about supporting; getting 48 no-ads pages of stories for your money too is just a nice bonus.
This is, happily, quite a bit better than the money grab it could have been; Duggan is good at recreating the smart, deadpan-funny-but-serious-too tone of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, and mixing in some of the patented Deadpool snarkiness and insanity, while Lolli and Canagni do a decent job with their clean, modern style that helps to move everything along briskly and clearly. Major points for having Kate Bishop show up in a Hallowe’en costume as Alan Alda’s M.A.S.H. character “Hawkeye” Pierce, and never having anyone mention it; it’s nice to see writers who trust readers to get the jokes without jabbing them in the ribs and rubbing their noses in it.
A preteen kid’s playing ball with his dad, chases an errant throw into the woods, and disappears; a year later, a bearded guy in his 20s shows up, claiming to be the kid, who got transported to another dimension and became a hero, fighting against trolls, fairies and other magical creatures against that world’s dark lord/dictator (time moved differently there…). The mother and father (who are on the verge of divorce, shattered by the son’s disappearance and suspicions that the father was somehow responsible) and older brother have to decide whether to believe him — as do the authorities. That’s an intriguing premise for a series, and between Bressan’s very solid art and Williamson’s extensive world-building, this offers a promising start; there’s a twist on the last page that should be more than enough to hook the reader into coming back for the next issue, too.
A New-52 regular-series debut for Jack Kirby’s creation from the old Demon comic, about a blue-skinned, amoral witchboy who dimension-travels to our Earth. Nocenti packs a lot of character and story into the script; in a weird way, it’s a counterpart to Batgirl, as its late-teen, school-dropout protagonist arrives in New York and tries to figure out how to survive and thrive in the big city. McCarthy’s imaginative layouts and pack-in-the-details art mesh well with Nocenti’s dense, layered storytelling, and while this comic isn’t always easy or clear to read, it’s always intriguing; readers will feel like they got their money’s worth.
This, on the other hand… if you’re going to cash in on the Guardians/Avengers Thanos craze, and feature the craggy-faced Titan prominently on your cover, it would help to have him in your book. But no… this is actually about his son, Thane; Thanos himself is only seen as the immobile stone statue that said offspring turned him into at the end of the Infinity mini-series. Even ignoring that the big purple bad guy has shown up in other books since then, this feels annoyingly like a bait-and-switch tactic, and the fact that Thane, and pretty much every other character, is drawn as ugly and mean doesn’t help; for a first issue, this offers little incentive to get any future episodes.
I’ve been telling y’all (actually, based on the time I spent living in Pittsburgh, it’d be “y’uns”) about how good this book was since the first issue, and now the initial six-issue trade/arc has ended up winning it both Harvey and Eisner awards for best new series, so really, you should have listened. This is a good check-it-out issue, too, with none of the fantasy/sf component, but a lot of the realistic/wise relationship stuff, a new character who leads to a funny/educational scene (like an afterschool special, if it was shown on censor-free cable), and a dramatic moment at the end that promises to rev up the story again. Fraction and Zdarsky are, simply, very good at what they’re doing here: weaving a compelling story while talking about sex in such a grown-up and matter-of-fact way that it’s likely to save some of their readers thousands of dollar in therapy later; the letters pages alone are fascinating enough to be worth the book’s $3.50 price.
Another really good book I keep pushing on everyone. Not much space left here, so I won’t gush too much, but DeConnick’s really good at making Carol smart, heroic and funny all at once, and this issue, the conclusion of a two-parter continuing her adventures in space with her “cat” and Rocket Raccoon, is refreshingly light and fun, with a couple of great panels by Takara; cat and Rocket fans, especially, should like it quite a bit.
Wagner, who has an affinity for pulp heroes, just got done writing The Shadow: Year One mini-series, and now, via time travel, he’s pitting that character against his own unstoppable, malevolent creation; The Shadow wins the first round, but the fight is far from over, and watching the two smart, powerful antagonists try to outthink and outfight one another is fizzy, well-choreographed and brutal fun.
Start of a new arc, with the Justice League coming after Batman (one at a time, conveniently, instead of as a group). Did he do something wrong? Are they possessed? Given the answer, I don’t think this will stop being the top regularly-published book any time soon; Snyder’s as good at Geoff Johns at giving readers exactly what they want, even when they don’t know they want it.