Singles Going Steady 5/21/2013: 'Dream' is the New 'Avengers'

A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Nick Hanover, Zack Davisson, Jason Sacks, Danny Djeljosevic

Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.


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Dream Thief #1

(Jai Nitz, Greg Smallwood; Dark Horse)


What would you do if you woke up in a strange room and didn't know where you were, or what you'd done the night before to get there? This is a question repeated thrice in Dream Thief #1 and its answer gets darker and deeper and bloodier each time it is asked.



So Dark Horse is re-embracing the superhero genre with a slate of new series, and Dream Thief may be the best of the pack. Right now, this book is slated to be a five-issue mini, but I have a feeling that, assuming the next four issues are as good as this one, Nitz and Smallwood will get to play the long game with their character. 

This is one fine piece of comic book making, and it has the potential to go just about anywhere. It had me from the get-go and kept me flipping pages with intensity.

In Dream Thief, Nitz has pulled off the difficult job of making his protagonist loathsome. We're not talking anti-hero here, we're talking asshole-hero. John Lincoln is a thoroughly reprehensible individual: egotistical, smug, self-centered, he's the kind of guy who cascades through his life pinging off other people and using them to his advantage. He's the kind of guy who blames everyone else for anything that goes wrong in his life. The kind of guy who, honestly, even a pacifist would punch. Yet somehow, through the machinations of Jai Nitz's narrative, we're engaged in what happens to him. Are we rooting for him? Are we waiting for his comeuppance? Neither of these things are necessarily true. What engages us is watching him come to terms with the mystery that surrounds him.



This is a book about an Aboriginal Mask and the exploration of Justice (with a Capital "J"). Freed from the constructs of societal expectations and definitions, bad deeds are punished utterly, completely -- there is no gray area here -- there is no lawyering or tricks or loopholes -- the Dream Thief is all black and white. The irony here is that the vessel that Justice inhabits is vaccuous, vain, petty, and cruel. That's some strong mojo; those Aboriginals apparently knew what they were doing. This dichotomy will no doubt make for good storytelling, leading to questions of identity and motivation that might not otherwise have a platform from which to spring.

Then, of course, there is the somnambulism drama in this book. I sure do love me some "I did it in my sleep" stories.



Complementing Nitz's writing is the art of Greg Smallwood. Dream Thief #1 is apparently Smallwood's first foray into the world of big-time comic creating, yet he seems to have stepped into this series fully formed. Smallwood says that Alex Toth and Chris Samnee are his influences, and his pages show it. I also see a little Greg Scott in his characters. Regardless, Smallwood is his own man and his storytelling is inventive, engaging, and sound. He even plays with the echoes Nitz has written into this book, to the point of using punctuation itself as a layout motif. He's handling all the art duties on this series, including the lettering, and he's got the talent to do it. One thing for sure, no matter what the ultimate fate of Dream Thief, you'll be seeing more of Greg Smallwood.

Dark Horse has got a hit on their hands. I just hope enough comic buyers realize this.

- Daniel Elkin


Helheim #3

(Cullen Bunn, Joelle Jones, Nick Filardi; Oni)


You might not know it but we're in the midst of a Viking epic renaissance. The previous world title holder for best ongoing Viking tale was Brian Wood's Northlanders, which moved between eras and locations and was unified by its strangely anti-violent take on an exceedingly violent people. Wood used Northlanders to depict the toll a culture of warfare has on its people, honing in on the costs and sacrifices that go into vengeance and territorial pissing and all that ruckus. You wouldn't necessarily think it from outside appearances, but Cullen Bunn and Joelle Jones are interested in similar things in their supernatural Viking series Helheim.



The first two issues of the series seemed to be somewhat black and white in their morality, as our Frankenstein's Monster of an anti-hero Rikard fell in battle, only to be patched back together and sent on a quest for retribution. By the end of the second issue, he was given pause, as his adversary Groa seemed to be not too dissimilar from his lover and guardian Bera, guarding over a village of her own, complete with innocents and starving townsfolk. And in a scene straight from any number of iterations of Frankenstein, Rikard stumbles across an innocent girl near the water who imparts important wisdom on him.


Bunn and Jones' partnership has been confident since the beginning, but now that their story is coming into full visibility, Jones has been able to stretch and create some truly stunning backdrops and creatures, with Nick Filardi's color palette swelling alongside it. The third issue is brighter, imbued not not necessarily with hope, per se, but with the light of realization, as Rikard has found new purpose and sees the truth of his situation and witnesses the full extent of the conflict he's in the middle of. There's a lot of different directions Helheim could go from here, and most all of them are promising. 

-Nick Hanover


Lobster Johnson: Satan Smells a Rat

(Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Kevin Nowland; Dark Horse)


Lobster Johnson: Satan Smells a Rat is another great entry in Mignola and Arcudi's modern day pulp action hero. I love the title; It's a clever homage to Satan Met a Lady -- the first filmed version of The Maltese Falcon. But that's where the homage ends because this Lobster Johnson story is a medical horror drama about corpses fished from the drink and hidden rooms with strange experiments. And the claw of justice comes down hard on such things.



Kevin Nowland's art is a good fit for Lobster Johnson.  He has a solid, realistic style that pulls all the right nooks and crannies out of a decaying, bullet-riddled corpse. The macabre elements of Satan Smells a Rat are handled just right -- eerie instead of in-your-face. I believe he does the coloring as well, and I love the way Lobster Johnson is colored as slightly translucent, as a ghost amongst the living. 



Johnson comics are masterpieces of the self-contained storyline -- in only a single issue Satan Smells a Rat delivers more punch and impact than most long-form serialized comics. And because Lobster Johnson is a true mystery man -- no one know who he is, of why he wages his one-man war on evil -- his comic can be picked up and enjoyed by anyone at anytime. No prior commitment required. Just a delicious little snack in the middle of your comics pile.

-Zack Davisson


The Dream Merchant #1 

(Nathan Edmondson, Konstantin Novosadov; Image)


As soon as I chose to review Nathan Edmonson's new dream-related comic this week, my Internet friends quickly told me "you picked the wrong title." Apparently there's another dream-themed series that premiered the same week, and many readers apparently love that other comic. Well, that's fine. There's room for two comics on the stands these days that explore the sleep state. Besides every creation that spends time in the land of dreams will always live in the shadow of Neil Gaiman's masterpiece, right?



I haven't read the "other" dream comic, but I enjoyed this book. The Dream Merchant #1 is a 45-page introduction into the rather fucked up existence of our lead character Winslow, who's haunted by his nightmares -- in fact, Winslow's whole life appears to be centered around his attempts to keep his weird visions of flying through a mysterious existence at bay. See, Winslow's dreams contain an important secret, a memory of something that the world is trying to forget. Odd ethereal beings are attempting to kill our lead character, beings that seem to exist merely as shadows barely glimpsed out of the corner of your eye. These strange creatures flicker in and out of the pages in the same way that they do in Winslow's consciousness, giving The Dream Merchant a very spooky mood.

Central to a story like this, of course, is the question of identity. If Edmondson is telling a typical plot-driven tale, there would be a big twist that would reveal Winslow as some kind of dream royalty. After all, he's adopted by parents who don't seem to care for him very much, he's stuck at a school that means nothing to him, he literally lives in a place that is throughly different from our world, and Winslow sees to have a preternatural ability to attract helpers in his journey. But I count on Nathan Edmondson to bring the unexpected with his comics. I'm curious how this tale will unfold as we move into future chapters of this storyline. 



Much of The Dream Merchant's success of is due to Konstantin Novosadov's loose but surprisingly intense style. Novosadov's characters look eccentrically unreal, as if even the most human supporting cast members are being perceived as dreamlike creatures themselves. Winslow and his somehow too-eager helper Anne are just slightly distorted in Novosadov's linework -- an arm is too long here, a face is strangely flat there. In some comics that sort of rendering would be a sign of weakness; here that type of execution gives this first issue a feeling of uncertain confusion, creating an otherworldly place that helps to add depth to Edmondson's story.



The Dream Merchant #1 is a fairly slow start to this series. Edmondson was smart to give readers a double-sized premiere issue so that we readers will have plenty to chew on. But even at twice the standard length, this initial chapter still is quite decompressed. Hopefully events will pick up as this book moves ahead, when we can see if there is a real race to see which is the better dream themed comic. I'm pulling for the Dream Merchant.

- Jason Sacks


Justice League #19

(Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, enough inkers to justify keeping Ian Reis doing this book monthly, Rod Reis; DC)


I'm a pretty dumb guy, so I'm finding myself enchanted by post-Jim Lee Justice League. For one thing, with Ivan Reis penciling, the book looks amazing. There's no excuse not to have marquee names on Justice League, and when the only freelancers you hire are sub Whilce Portacio bros, Ivan Reis is your best dude because he draws like the parts of Neal Adams. There's a scene that's basically a throwaway gag of "The Atom was in a video game the whole time!" and Reis illustrates the shit out of some orcs riding into battle. It's a lot of effort just because Geoff Johns wanted to shoehorn in a Sword of the Atom reference.



Story-wise, it's the opposite of the early days of this New 52 title, where nothing happens in a given issue and I hate it. Never mind that it's just a series of riffs on stuff that happened before. Someone's stolen Batman's failsafes yet again, just like "Tower of Babel." Wonder Woman and Superman invade Kandaq like something out of The Ultimates. The new members of the team have to contend with a rebooted Silver Age villain who's stalking the corridors of the Justice League space base, just like that Grant Morrison JLA two-parter with Green Arrow and The Key. 



There's still a lot of dumb stuff in this book -- the hokey briefcases with the superheroes' symbols on them, Atom coming out of a laptop screen as a weak modernization of the old guy's "coming out of the phone" trick, but it's well illustrated and there's enough density in the book that it doesn't feel like a waste. Talk about damning with faint praise.

- Danny Djeljosevic


Iron Man #10

(Kieron Gillen, Dale Eaglesham, Guru; Marvel)


After praising Kieron Gillen and Dale Eaglesham for finally making a decent Marvel space comic last issue, I'm kind of forced to eat my words this week as the story becomes decidedly Earth-bound. Part two of "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark" goes straight up Ocean's Eleven, as we learn that Tony's gestation was so problematic that daddy Stark had to seek out help from an alien con man who sold him info on 451, who was at the time the hostage of a group of aliens who owned and operated a casino called Area 52. Yes, really.



As great as it is that Gillen is having fun with the storyline, issue 10 of his Iron Man run is all kinds of WTF and mostly not in a positive way. Howard Stark and his grey alien buddy Rollo wear polyester suits, and there's the whole subplot of Stark recruiting the likes of Thunderbolt Ross, Dum Dum Dugan and Jimmy Woo for the aforementioned Ocean's Eleven riffing, and everything clunkily slides towards its narrative resolution in a way that feels like a cheat.



The good news is that Eaglesham feels far more confident here, and he does execute some genuinely exciting character design, a pleasurable mix of retro costuming and timeless style. But this entire issue comes across as a diversion, some kind of LOL set-up to distract us from the real shit that's coming. Which is fine, but I tend to enjoy Gillen more when he isn't doing plotting on the level of a Family Guy episode.

- Nick Hanover



(John Byrne; IDW)


Man, I really wanted to enjoy this comic book. I've kind of vaguely aspired for years to be a fan of John Byrne's work again. After all, Byrne represents all the attributes that I generally look for in a comics creator in 2013. He's an auteur creator, spending his time creating and delivering material that means a lot to him, presenting that material on his own schedule. 

Byrne has the power and freedom to create comics from his heart, that represent his own very specific views of the world. Maybe best of all, at this point in his career, John Byrne damn well answers to absolutely nobody in the comics world. Byrne is as maverick as they come. He can manage nearly every aspect of his comics himself -- every detail from the precise lines on the page to the size and shape of his comics to every other possible aspect of the comics.



So if Byrne has so much freedom, so much license to do whatever the hell he wants to do in his comics, why is he turning in poorly thought-out, dull shit like Doomsday.1?

This is basically a very bad comic book. A lot of Doomsday.1 doesn't seem well thought through. By that I don't just mean the many plot points that are hammered to users via leaden exposition or the characters that seem to be thoroughly one-dimensional as we get to know them.



What I mean is that Byrne's storytelling chops are absolutely terrible in this book. Again and again he messes up the relationships between his people in relationship to each other. In an opening sequence on board a space station, Byrne has the astronauts move in ways that are not physically possible given the way that he creates the physical space. In panel one of the very first page of the story, one astronaut is upside down and several feet away from another character; in the second panel, the man and woman are on the same physical plane as each other and the man has moved from the woman's left to her right. The physics of that scene simply does not work.

That might be the most dramatic way to create the tableau, but it makes absolutely no sense in context. That moment completely drew me out of the comic.

As if that one badly broken scene isn't enough, that type of lazy storytelling happens again and again in the book. There's a section of this story that takes place in a shuttlecraft that I found more and more confusing the longer I stared at it. See, there's a hatch underneath a bunch of astronauts in a very cramped space, and the characters seem to move around more than they need to in that space and the whole thing makes no sense whatsoever…



Once you start noticing this kind of thing, it starts to drive you crazy. I started picking apart every moment in this comic to see if Byrne was messing up his placement of people in relation to each other. I ended up feeling overjoyed when I'd find another egregious error. 

That basically got me started hate-reading this book for all the other oddball elements that Byrne includes. I loved how Byrne basically has the Pope (who looks very young) declaring that he has no faith in God, and the furious angry relationship between an astronaut and his asshole dad, or the first female President of the United States, in a manly suit and tie that looks like something Annie Lennox might have worn in the 1980s, explaining why she is in the Presidency rather than her dead predecessor. 



Damn it, does loving all this badness make me a bad person? I feel unclean for feeling such an extreme amount of hate for this comic. I want to love JB. I want to live on his message board. I want to be a happy member of the JB cult! I want to never refer to Superman as Supes. I want to scream from the rooftops that JB is my God and that everything he touches with his pencil is pure gold. I want to paper my house with mediocre JB commissions. I want to spend all my money on the gold leaf super deluxe reprint of Next Men. I want to declare his childhood home in Calgary a Canadian National Landmark and I want Alpha Flight to be reprinted immediately -- im-fucking-mediately, I tell you -- in a super deluxe edition. I want the so very, very dearly to bring back the love that I felt when Byrne was actually really fucking goddamn amazing. 

But that's not going to happen. Sorry, Mr. Byrne and his ever-shrinking legion of fans. I gave this comic a real try. Doomsday.1 is really quite awful.

-Jason Sacks




FF #7




Avengers: The Enemy Within #1


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