So I’ve been doing these capsule reviews of new titles over at Siskoid’s Blog of Geekery for a while now, and Comic Hunter, being my local comics store, has asked me to ‘port a bit of that content here. I’m more than happy to oblige. In this series, I’ll be doing capsule reviews – short and sweet – of various new series (or relaunches), with an eye towards making recommendations to the discerning comics reader. Usually, these will cover a handful of new books, but I thought I’d start big with a larger number of new series that have come out this Fall (20 rather than 5 to 7). Some favorites that have premiered in the past three months or so.
Batgirl by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr for DC. People screamed bloody murder when Gail Simone quit Batgirl due to editorial interference, but by then, I wasn’t reading the book anymore. One flip through Simone’s last (#35) reveals the sneering superhero action I don’t much want to read. But then the Batman Family’s editorial stewardship changed for the better, and it looks like DC is finally allowing changes in tone even within a specific family of titles. That’s great. I LOVE the Batgirl relaunch. This is a low-tech Batgirl, obviously impacted by Batman Inc.’s bankruptcy (or whatever is going on over there), and I like the new costume (I fairly hated her New52 duds). Set across the river from Gotham, on a university campus, Barbara gets a full new cast of fellow students (and the now homeless – in more ways than one – Black Canary) and an anime-ish art style that suits both the action and the girl-friendly character stuff. This is a post-Sherlock Batgirl too, the series highlighting her brains with stylish deductive sequences, and her concerns are strictly 21st-century, with dating site fraud and anime convention fanatics as part of the techno-savvy mix. And in complete contrast to a lot of the books these days, you get a LOT of story for your hard-earned cash. Pages with 8 panels or more abound, and each of the two issues that have come out tells a complete story in addition to catering to several subplots.
Recommended? Yes, awesome. You’ve got me, don’t lose me with Batman crossover shenanigans now!
Birthright by Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan for Image. What I was afraid would be yet another Narnia rip, where a kid goes to a fantasy world and becomes its hero, actually had an interesting twist going for it. Birthright (that is a VERY generic title, so you’re forgiven for not noticing it on the racks) is really about that kid returning to the real world, all grown-up though only a year has passed for us, and dealing with the consequences of his disappearance. It’s destroyed his family, and it’s not clear how a fantasy barbarian can make things better while also going after five evil wizards hiding out in contemporary America. We flash back to his youth in the fantasy world of Terrenos (great map, by the way) as well, so there are two stories going, really, and lots of mysteries to uncover. Andrei Bressan’s art is excellent, his Terrenos hitting the right notes for the trope, yet not looking like any world we’ve seen before; and he’s just as confident with the real world and its need for emotional expressions and police procedural scenes.
Recommended? To my surprise, this is a resounding yes! There IS a way to do that fantasy story I haven’t read before!
Copperhead by Jay Faerber and Scott Godlewski for Image. Yes, it’s another SF crime drama (like The Fuse, Red Mars and Roche Limit; only the first of which I found essential), but it’s also a western on an alien planet, and that’s a classic trope I haven’t seen for a while. Clara Bronson (badass name) is Copperhead’s new sheriff. She must contend with violent aliens, corrupt mine owners, an artificial loner living up in those thar’ hills, a terrible murder, a crotchety alien deputy, and a 10-year-old son. And Faerber actually DOES make use of SF tropes; it’s not just a “skin” on top of a normal western. The murder mystery hinges on understanding an alien culture, there’s a bias against artificial beings created to fight a war, etc. Plus, pretty sweet art making it come alive, with lots of cool aliens and action.
Recommended? I say yes. If you haven’t checked out Brent Gladney’s issue-by-issue reviews elsewhere on this blog, please do. He’ll tell you what’s what. I liked it a bit more than he did, but he isn’t wrong in his criticisms either.
The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips for Image. It seems that every time Brubaker and Phillips come out with a new series, I sample it, think it superlative, and then promptly trade-wait it. I don’t know what it is about The Fade Out, but I’m up to issue 3 already, and feel no such compulsion. Well, I guess I’m enough of a cinephile to find stories about early Hollywood’s underbelly inherently interesting. Certainly, this murder mystery wrapped in corruption and conspiracy, has managed to keep me coming back for more. After Fatale, I was surprised, by pleasantly so, that the series didn’t dovetail into fantasy/horror stylings; the setting is more than enough to generate story content without having to cross genres. The protagonists, a scriptwriting team, are interesting and memorable, and how they are connected to the murder has just the right dash of ambiguity. To give readers interested in the subject matter more bang for their buck, each issue also includes text pages and illustrations discussing real Hollywood tragedies. Extra content is something Image is trying to do with a number of its titles. Even without that content, this creative team has another hit on its hands.
Recommended? Yes, and I don’t even think I’ll wait for trades this time.
The Ghost Fleet by Donny Cates and Daniel Warren Johnson for Dark Horse. I was a big fan of Cates’ Buzzkill, and The Ghost Fleet, while completely different, tickles the same spot in my brain where I keep my appreciation for high concepts. Violent and kinetic, Ghost Fleet is about covert transport of… what exactly is at the heart of the book’s mystery. During the Revolutionary War, it was done with ships. Today, it’s trucks. FINALLY! A book that’s meant to outdo Marvel’s U.S.1 with crazy 18-wheeler action! With a title like that, you’d expect some supernatural shenanigans, and they’re definitely there. They might even bring about the Apocalypse! The concept has enough juice and originality to last a long time, if it’s supported, and takes place in several time frames. A whole universe and history of potential, if the creators would care to tap it.
Recommended? I’m definitely on board. I hope you’ll jump on too.
Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl for DC. You might be right in calling this book Batgirl’s sister book, what with the same scripter, anime esthetic, and focus on young female characters. I don’t think it’s quite as charming or exciting though. The Academy has a certain Astro City vibe to it, showing us what it might be like to grow up in a creepy Gothic city like Gotham, where it’s more than likely you have family members who worked for some madman or other. It’s a world where the Bat-signal is on every night and the kids are sort of blasé about it. To my surprise, there’s no obvious link with the kids we follow and well-known Batman Family heroes or villains. Best I can come up with is that the chemistry teacher appears to be Professor Milo. Exactly. Think Mean Girls meets Veronica Mars, with the popular kids in some kind of Satanic cult, and you’ll have it about right.
Recommended? Is this more Locke & Key) or Harry Potter? Not sure yet, but fans of either could find something to like.
Guardians 3000 by Dan Abnett and Gerardo Sandoval for Marvel. With the Guardians of the Galaxy’s star on the rise, and fans of the original iteration complaining that Star-Lord etc. weren’t THEIR Guardians, it was only a matter of time before the 30th-century group got its own series. Dan Abnett is a great choice to write it because he’s got lots of experience with SF superheroes, most notably The Legion and Hypernaturals (which I really liked). Right away, he makes the year 3014 distinctive with its own lexicon and crazy hyper-science, and taps into what I’ve always liked of the franchise back in the day, the way it uses Marvel Universe elements (Cap’s shield, Tony Stark’s A.I., Galactus’ new herald, Annhililus’ descendent, etc.) as fun continuity references. (I poached this approach for my 28th-century Justice Legion role-playing campaign.) Fans of the current Guardians may be a bit confused as to who these guys are, the only recognizable name Yondu’s, but it’s easy to catch up thanks to our point-of-view character Geena, who may just hold the key to what’s really going on in the story, with twists that may yet redefine who some of the Guardians are.
Recommended? Yeah, a nice surprise! The first two issues were a lot of fun, which I think it what readers are now expecting from the Guardians name.
Hawkeye vs. Deadpool by Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli for Marvel. Hawkeye is on such an intermittent schedule (6 months between issues 19 and 20), a second book in the same style isn’t one too many. Obviously, it’s not quite as sharp as the Fraction/Aja award-winner, but it has its moments. Deadpool isn’t as meta as I want him to be, but there’s one particularly hilarious moment near the end of #0 that takes the mickey out of Hawkeye’s avant-garde story-telling style that made me laugh out loud. And before I knew it, I’d read two more issues. Kate Bishop also features strongly, so that’s nice. The comedy stems more from buddy movie banter, though I do wish Lolli’s amusing and expressive art would be a little more consistent with its portrayal of Hawkeye’s current struggle with deafness. Sometimes he needs Deadpool to pull his mask up so he can read his lips (and yuck, by the way); other times he must be able to read them when it’s down. And then there are time when the characters say it’s up and it isn’t, or vice-versa. Not as clever as the parent series, certainly, but mistakes aside, still pretty entertaining.
Recommended? Well I got this far (third issue) from a single joke in the first one, so all signs point to yes, though it’s no substitute for the main Hawkeye book.
The Kitchen by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle for Vertigo. What happens to organized crime wives when they’re husbands go to jail? Well, in 1970s Hell’s Kitchen, one woman tries to keep her man’s criminal empire (such as it is) from slipping away. It’s a story worth telling and very cinematic thanks to Ming Doyle’s impeccable art, but it’s perhaps TOO cinematic. Some moments are decompressed across an entire page, for example, resulting in a rather short read. It’s an 8-issue mini-series, which seems to be Vertigo’s preferred method of delivery these days (most of their projects seem to range between 7 and 9 issues), and perhaps that length was imposed on the creative team based on their pitch? The Kitchen will probably make a fine trade paperback where the longer length can sustain the decompression. As shorter installments, the average consumer may feel less than satisfied.
Recommended? I’d like to read the story cover to cover, but as a monthly, it may not move quickly enough.
The Names by Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernandez for Vertigo. I used to eat up Milligan’s stuff with great hunger when Vertigo started, but more recent projects have lacked, for me, the quirky originality of things like Shade the Changing Man, Enigma, Human Target, or X-Statix. The Names didn’t quite reach me the way those earlier works did (and I fully concede that I’ve become a different reader too), but after the first issue of this thriller, I kept reading through to the third, so it appears to be a success. Not that I know exactly what’s going on yet, but surely, that’s the effect a conspiracy mystery should have on the reader. The protagonists are interesting and original – the young wife of a murdered businessman, and his son, a mathematical genius, brought together to solve the man’s death – though as we can’t possibly share their unique backgrounds, the way they put the pieces together is a bit of a cheat. We’re kept from ever following the clues ourselves, or even from understanding how conclusions are drawn. The plot involves the eponymous secret society, market manipulation, and for that science fiction twist Vertigo seems to love so well lately, an artificial intelligence that may have run away from the Names. These ingredients will have 9 issues to come together (the first issue said 8, but it looks like they added one since), and the scope is already big enough to sustain that long a story. Fernandez’s art reminds me of Dave Johnson’s on 100 Bullets, which seems appropriate, though he does slip into exploitation mode (an upskirt here, an butt shot there) about once per issue. Enough that I notice, not enough to lodge a formal complaint.
Recommended? In tune with the times and a good read for the modern comics fan.
ODY-C by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward for Image. This whacked-out adaptation of the Odyssey retains a certain formal, Homeric language, but where its exoticism came from ancient words, ODY-C’s come from neologistic inventions. It’s a space opera with its own alienating distance, forward rather than back, and most of the characters have been turned into women to boot. It started out as Matt Fraction’s take on Barbarella, but evolved well beyond that into a most unusual story. It might scare you, or seem a little pretentious, but it winks at the reader enough that it lets you know its tongue is squarely in its cheek. Is it emotionally engaging? Not really. Is it clever and interesting? Definitely. And Ward’s psychedelic artwork is certainly up to the challenge of creating something you’ve never seen before.
Recommended? Remember Ulysses-31? Yes? Well, it isn’t really like that ;-). Fans of Homer’s original will want to see what Fraction and Ward have done with it.
Punks: The Comic by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Kody Chamberlain for Image. I have a soft spot for experimental comics, and Punks, an irreverent and hilarious collage comic, is worthy of the label without losing its audience in elitist nonsense. It’s definitely got a dadaist streak, but you can still follow the stories (unlike the truly Dada mini-comics I used to make). The characters are Lincoln, Dog, Skull and Fist, essentially those heads on human bodies, and their tales are funny, needlessly violent, and just a little bit meta. It’s quite amusing and unlike anything else on the stands. There’s some material from 2007 also included in each issue, but I wasn’t aware of the title back then. Thanks to Image for bringing it to a wider audience.
Recommended? Yes! Fun and original.
Rasputin by Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo. Cutting back and forth between the Mad Monk’s youth and the day of his many-times-killed death, Rasputin is a very attractive book, but a rather short read. He’s played as a man with magical healing powers – the supernatural is alive and well in this world – a man haunted by the evils practiced on and by him. Rossmo’s art is the real star, crafting a number of crystal clear sequences despite the lack of dialog. But that’s the thing, while the medium is well suited wordless action, it sometimes seems like you’re not getting your money’s worth if you get to the end too quickly. And the first two issues of Rasputin went by very fast. However, there IS something there. Rasputin’s story in inherently intriguing and I can’t say it’s not well told.
Recommended? On the fence. The frequent silences would make this a less frustrating project to read as a trade, but someone needs to support it so it gets completed satisfactorily.
Spider-Woman by Dennis Hopeless, Greg Land and Jay Leisten for Marvel. Is it damning with faint praise if I say the book wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be? I liked Jessica Drew’s recent appearances in Hawkeye and Secret Avengers, and Hopeless writes her much the same, a somewhat jaded superhero, all sass and no patience. She’s funny, no-nonsense and generally pissed-off. I really like her. Greg Land, I dislike immensely, but he seems to reign in the worst of his proclivities, with few postures you’d be able to point to as traced over pornography. The real problem is that the series starts in the middle of the Spider-Verse crossover event. So Jess – and Silk, and various other Spider-Girls – is running around the multiverse from page 1, and if you’re not following the event, it’s just the weirdest thing. Now, I’m enjoying Spider-Verse, that’s not a problem, but just what will Spider-Woman be ABOUT once that wraps? Who will be in it with Jess, what will the focus be? Unknown. And THAT, more than Land’s inability to make lips match up (page 16, panel 1) is the problem.
Recommended? If following Spider-Verse, yes, but once that’s over, the book will be on trial again.
Sundowners by Tim Seeley and Jim Terry for Dark Horse. An interesting take on superheroes, “Sundowner” is a psychological diagnostic, and an unscrupulous shrink has brought a support group of delusional costumed “heroes” together for his own purposes. But what if they AREN’T delusional? Or at least, not COMPLETELY delusional? While we can’t dismiss the possibility everything we see is their hallucinations – and their interpretation of what’s happening is definitely suspect – this de facto team has too much of a shared experience for it NOT to be real in some sense. Seeley throws lots of interesting concepts into the book, from a woman who must sin to accumulate holy power from God, to a henchman who sounds like a Mattel’s Farmer See’n’Say. Whatever’s really happening, the world view seems to include a battle between heaven and hell, and a dark satanist conspiracy for the control of reality. It’s not all high concept either; there’s a good variety of damaged characters struggling with mental illness, less than perfect living conditions, and/or forces man was not meant to know. Perhaps it’s a metaphor.
Recommended? Yes. The deconstructionist approach doesn’t feel like the umpteenth retread of Watchmen – a feat in and of itself -and I want to read more about this world and its characters.
Superior Iron Man by Tom Taylor and Yildiray Cinar for Marvel. No Axis logo on the cover, but make no mistake, Tony Stark has been morally inverted by those events. Superior is essentially Tony Stark if he’d learned nothing and was still the character we saw at the start of the first Iron Man movie. Does that appeal to you? It’s actually not bad. Taylor’s been making his living turning goodies into not-so-goodies in Injustice and Earth-2, but he doesn’t have to go too far off-model with Tony. Mostly, it’s techno-savvy, with lots of interesting applications for Iron Man tech and appearances by more heroic characters to balance things out. Unlike Bad Falcon in Cap & The Avengers, who’s just an ultra-conservative parody, this Iron Man is funny, charming and the most despicable of capitalists. A hero(?) for the times. It shocks without being violent (surprising in its own way), has something to say about our culture (not something deep necessarily, but I can’t say that about every comic on the stands), and asks questions I want to see answered.
Recommended? The “Superior” brand better could be in danger of getting diluted through over-use, but this series isn’t a threat to its seal of quality. I’m back on the Iron Man wagon.
Thor by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman for Marvel. Nope, I don’t have any problem with a female Thor. In fact, I quite like her, whoever she is. The first issue basically ends with her appearance. Not a lot to go on there as we say farewell to Thor Odinson (in a particularly DC kind of way… whatever). The premise is that no one can lift the hammer anymore, certainly not Thor, and it’s abandoned on the Moon following the events of Original Sin. The Asgardians leave, a woman’s hand reaches for Mjolnir, and lo and behold, she is worthy. Who is she? The second issue doesn’t tell us either. That’s fine, it’s a neat mystery, and I like how she SPEAKS as Thor, but THINKS as a human being, surprised at the information her Thor-self imparts. So she’s not normally a goddess, but she can survive on the Moon. Place your bets! It gives a human touch to a series that often lacks it, behind its wall of thees and thous, but there’s plenty of Norse action too, with Frost Giants bursting out of the ocean floor and causing mayhem. I really liked Dauterman’s art on Superbia, and he brings the same slick pencils, detailed action and quirky expressions to this book.
Recommended? Yes, I definitely want to see who Thor really is, and beyond that, how she handles the joys and lows of being the Goddess of Thunder.
Tooth and Claw by Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey for Image. As of the second issue, The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw (copyright shenanigans, obviously), this is an epic fantasy series featuring a world of anthropomorphic animals (I don’t know if it’s the success of Planet of the Apes or what, but there sure are a lot of these right now) who treat magic as an economy. But the sum total of magic is mysteriously diminishing – call it an allegory, if you like – and the wizards want to call up the fabled Champion that opened the flood gates of magic in the first place. Guess what species HE might belong to. It’s Busiek, so you’re right to expect a good story. He’s great at weaving believable politics into his tale and I especially like the involved nomenclature of the spells everyone uses. Dewey’s art is a big part of its success as well, great character designs and environments.
Recommended? I don’t care what they call it, yes, it’s definitely worth it.
Wayward by Jim Zub and Steve Cummings for Image. We already know Jim Zub knows a little something about Japanese culture – he shows it in his Samurai Jack comics – and Wayward is a good distillation of that. Rori Lane is half-Irish, half-Japanese, just moves to Tokyo to stay with her mother, but it’s a Tokyo where the supernatural – and I must hasten to add, several anime tropes – is very real and accessible to her. Cummings’ pleasant anime style certainly fits the subject matter. Where it shines, I think, is in the exploration of Japan from an outsider’s point of view. And I’d have read that comic. Just a girl trying to integrate into Japanese culture, a new city, the school system (and there are some nice text pieces giving more details about that aspect of it too). It’s when it gets into animal people, and spirits and Tuxedo Mask action that I lose interest. It’s not that it’s badly done, it’s just that I’m not a big anime fan, you know?
Recommended? If you like those ingredients, it’ll definitely spark your interest.
Wytches by Scott Snyder and Jock for Image. A book that’s been getting rave reviews over the past couple months, Wytches is about a family looking for a fresh start after their teenage daughter, Sailor, was suspected of killing another girl, a bully, who was actually taken by the forest. Looks like nowhere is safe though, and old evils come home to roost. If you’re a parent, Snyder’s designed this book to make you FREAK OUT. There’s all sorts of nastiness out there, some of it a horrific metaphor for things that could actually happen. And there’s a LOT going on, more than in your average comic book. Sailor may be the protagonist, but the whole family is interesting, and have their own original back stories, jobs, and secrets. I’ve always liked Jock’s art, but Matt Hollingsworth’s layer of watercolors gives it a more earthy, sensual feel.
Recommended? Yes! Another winner from these creators, which is hardly a surprise.
Next time, I promise to keep it shorter. I just wanted to catch everyone up while those first issues were still available.
Siskoid writes entirely too many words a day (often about comics) and considers himself the king of the run-on sentence.