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Singles Going Steady 6/5/2013: Punk Rock Yeezus

A comic review article by: David Fairbanks, Jason Sacks, Nick Hanover, Danny Djeljosevic, Daniel Elkin

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

 

Elsewhere on Comics Bulletin:

  • Tiny Pages Made of Ashes took on some alright stuff, also took a break.
  • Digital Ash covered some good and pretty good stuff and also checked in on a bunch of major long-running webcomics.
  • Demeter is a lovely self-published mini comic by Becky Cloonan.
  • Jamil dropped the final word on Dark Avengers in his review of the last issue.

 

The Wake #1

(Scott Snyder, Sean Murphy, Matt Hollingsworth; Vertigo/DC)

 

The first Sean Murphy comic I remember reading was Hellblazer: City of Demons, and his style was expressive enough that I actually had to stop reading what is probably one of the gorier Constantine tales and let my stomach settle a bit. Murphy was able to convey a violence that somehow seemed more disturbing because of how his characters straddled the line between realistic and cartoonish, and I knew I'd at least have to give him a shot in whatever he worked on. This led to the beautiful but somewhat disappointing Joe the Barbarian and the edgy-but-not-particularly-well-written Punk Rock Jesus

If you asked me a year ago whether I thought that Scott Snyder would make a good match for Murphy on a Vertigo title, I'd have had trouble articulating how brilliant it would be. Then I started to sour on Snyder, reaching the point I'm at now, where neither of these creators would draw me toward a comic without an interesting premise. And they would have to nail that first issue for me to stick around.

 

 

Luckily for The Wake, I've been hooked by its mystery. Snyder's trademark excess of narration is absent, Murphy's pencils are given a depth that they lacked in Punk Rock Jesus, beautifully colored by Matt Hollingsworth with a palette that feels like it belongs equally in old newspaper adventure comics and a good Vertigo horror story.

And the story, well, "man delves too deeply and awakens something terrifying" is not particularly new or original, but the team managed to pique my curiosity enough with the characters, dialogue, and art to want to see just where this is headed. The premise may feel stale, but their execution of it gives me hope that I'll enjoy what's coming next.

 

 

My only real complaint is that this first issue is almost wholly build-up, which makes me worry that Snyder's going to do his usual and drag out a five-issue story over the course of this ten-issue miniseries, but the fact that we have three different timelines going on -- two of which we have only just glimpsed -- makes me think that The Wake will feel just as rewarding ten months from now as it did in this first issue. 

- David Fairbanks

 

Lost Vegas #3

(Jim McCann, Janet Lee; Image)

 

Lost Vegas might just be the most imaginative series on the shelves these days. It also might have the most heart. 

This third issue brings us all the astonishing adventures that we've all gotten used to with Lost Vegas, all the conspiracies to escape the space station and bizarre events in the casino, the imaginative alien species and wonderful sci-fi-tropes beautifully drawn by the irrepressible Janet Lee.

 

 

Readers also are given a heady dose of back-story, as we're shown how Loria ended up aboard the Lost Vegas. We witness the tragic destruction of her home planet at the ends of a Godspar, her deep friendship with her mentor and her quick fall after that mentor tragically dies on the majestic starship.

By giving us Loria's backstory, writer Jim McCann and artist Lee offer us even more to reflect on as we observe at this amazing science fiction universe they created. The small references to backstory expand in this issue. Readers see still more tantalizing glimpses at the history of these events and characters. We get a sense of what happened before the Lost Vegas became a major part of the future of the universe while the creators present us with many hints and allusions to a past that is more intriguing the more we know about it.

 

 

Lee and McCann also give fans a heavy amount of action, adventure and roguish intrigue, with a memorably thrilling cliffhanger that makes me anxious for the final chapter of this terrific mini.

As always, Lee's art complements McCann's story in a way that helps to render both creators' work often seem breathtaking. It's hard to visualize anyone telling this story with the otherworldly charm and complexity that Lee conveys in this project. Even her humans look weird, while her non-humans are tantalizingly fascinating.

 

 

Lost Vegas has been criticized for not having enough grounding in reality, for throwing too many extraterrestrial species at the reader at the cost of creating characterization. That's an interesting criticism because that exotic feel and strange setting is exactly what I enjoy the most about Lost Vegas. I love comics that take me to places that I could never imagine myself and give me experiences that I never knew I wanted to have. That's exciting to me because McCann continually plays fair with me. The deeper I probe into the world he's creating, the more I see the foreshadowing for most every event that happens. Lost Vegas is thoroughly grounded in the fictional reality that Jim McCann and Janet Lee create.

I'm heartbroken that Lee and McCann will only give us four issues of Lost Vegas because this is one of the most creative and entertaining comic books I've read in a long time. It literally takes me far away from my daily life.

- Jason Sacks

 

Adventure Time Annual #1

(Roger Langridge, Alex Cox, Bryce Carlson, Dustin Nguyen, Josh Williamson, Jason Ho, Derek Fridolfs, Whitney Cogar, Kory Bing, Sfé Monster; BOOM!)

 

It's not difficult to figure out why so many indie comic folk are not only drawn to Adventure Time, but accepted into its quickly expanding empire. As a show built around the potential of imagination, and the way a child's imagination specifically isn't beholden to genre or coolness or whatever, Adventure Time is more flexible than any other hit show of recent memory when it comes to adaptation. The new Adventure Time annual is a great showcase for this, collecting the likes of Roger Langridge, Dustin Nguyen and Alex Cox amongst others for an anthology of Finn and Jake vignettes that run the gamut from an alphabet story to a fake board game to more standard adventuring from the duo and their cast of weird friends.

 

 

The creators involved in the anthology do an excellent job integrating their singular styles and visions into the world of Adventure Time and they continue the show's capacity for not speaking down to children, which in turns allows the work to be equally interesting for adults. Most of the stories of course focus on the specialness of Finn and Jake's friendship -- Cox's board game short "Sword Most Awesome!" has the titular sword trying to seduce Finn away from Jake with a promise of ultimate power, while Derek Fridolfs' "The Summiteers" has a sentient backpack inadvertently getting between the two BFFs-- but some, like Josh Williamson and Jason Ho's Ice King spotlight "Dungeons and Desserts" and Kory Bing and Sfe Monster's "The Lemon Sea" focus on other characters. 

 

 

Though it's the first annual, this release is impeccable in its consistency and charm, more than worth its slightly increased cover price (though that "realistic" cover by Alé Garza is kind of terrifying) and also helpful as an introductory piece for new fans or those who have been curious about the series. Danny may have ruffled some feathers when he claimed Fast and Furious 6 is more consistent than the entire Bat franchise at this point, but I think we can all agree that Adventure Time continues to be the real franchise to beat.

- Nick Hanover

 

X-Men #1

(Brian Wood, Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, Laura Martin; Marvel)

 

Funny that Nick Hanover should mention Fast and Furious 6, because X-Men #1 also opens with somebody driving a car real fast.

Thanks to writer Chris Claremont, X-Men is the comics franchise with the largest number of strong female characters (and largest number of characters, PERIOD), and his successors have made sure that this mini-universe is populated with mutants as diverse as their superpowers.

 

 

But nobody ever took the opportunity (or got clearance from Marvel editorial, more likely) to round up the major female X-Men and put them all in one comic together -- except that time Chris Claremont and Milo Manara did it but that doesn't count. Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel have done it for real, for really real, and decided to call it X-Men because that's what it fucking is.

 

 

Seriously. If you're into X-Men, this is just that -- Jubilee saves a mutant baby who happens to be a host for the sister of noted villainous germ Jonathan Sublime (from Grant Morrison's New X-Men run) and shit's gonna pop off at the Jean Grey School. Rogue flips a train, Kitty Pryde is finally written like a young person again and Psylocke makes a bow and arrow with her psychic knife thing. It's the most natural thing in the world, except that Wolverine isn't around. And the less of that guy, the better. Brian Wood's script is some of his punchier, more fun work as of late, and Olivier Coipel can't make bad-looking comics. It's a really strong debut.

 

 

To get back on my gender-related soapbox, I think stuff like this might be the key to progress -- unite a bunch of female characters like it ain't no thang and call it X-Men or Defenders instead of X-Divas or Defendolls. Here's a real-life example -- at Emerald City Comic-Con this year I sat in on a panel about how comics creators use the Internet and social media, and the entire panel was female comics folk, and nobody made a big deal about it -- except for me when I was praising the idea to the people who put it together. There are still lots of issues that need to be talked about, but I think if we keep doing stuff like that and like this X-Men comic and eventually one day an all-female anything won't lead to bros losing their shit on Reddit.

- Danny Djeljosevic

 

Next Testament #1

(Clive Barker, Mark Miller, Haemi Jang; BOOM!)

 

 

Horror master Clive Barker wants to reintroduce you to the God of the Old Testament. You know, that guy who flooded the entire Earth slaughtering everyone except for Noah, who asked Abraham to kill his only son, who sent plague after plague upon the Egyptians, who fucked with Job like nobody's business -- you know, THAT GOD -- mean-spirited, insecure, vengeful, and powerful. Not the kind of guy you want to piss off.

Guess what? In Clive Barker's new 12-issue miniseries Next Testament, he's pissed. 

 

 

Next Testament #1 all starts with a dream, a vision. I've often had conversations with my students about how, in some cultures, individuals who have hallucinations are hailed as prophets, shaman or visionaries, and they are promoted to positions of power and reverence because of this. On the other hand, in Western culture, these same sort of people make us, the larger society, nervous, so we medicate them or 5150 them and put them away until they become more like the rest of us. Visions make us agitated; dreams fill us with unease.

In the first pages of Next Testament, wealthy industrialist Julian Demond has a dream which sets him on a quest. As he is a man of wealth and power, he is allowed to follow this vision. It leads him to run through the desert blindfolded (rich as that is with symbolic intent), until he stumbles upon an ancient monument festooned with giant faces, one of which sprouts horns from its head. 

You can see where this will lead, can't you?

 

 

This all ushers us to the appearance of Wick, the father of colors, the Lord, Our God. Freed from his prison, Wick prepares to announce himself to the world. Meanwhile, back in California, Demond's prodigal son Tristan has the sudden sense that something is wrong with his father, and so he and his fiancee, Elspeth, journey back to the family manor for some good old fashioned sleuthing.

This first issue does a fine job of doing all the things a first issue is supposed to do. It introduces our characters, it sets the stage for the upcoming conflict, and it raises enough questions for the reader to want to know more. Why does Demond have the vision? Is Wick really God? Why was he imprisoned? What will be the result of his freedom? What can Tristan do about any of this? We've got the tension, and, as active readers, we demand resolution.

 

 

Unfortunately, Haemi Jang's art is a bit of a stumbling point in this book, though. While he does an amazing job of realizing Wick and his prison, it is his faces of the lesser beings that took me out of the experience.  There's just something amiss, as if at times they are plastic mannequins and not men. When the emotion is high, Jang can pull off something believable, but there is page after page of flat affect that is disrupting.

Still, there is enough going on in Next Testament #1 to make me eager to see issue two. Barker and Miller are playing with God here, and that's a subject always ripe for a critical exploration. Were this a big budget film, those Focus on Family folks might have dusted off their picket signs and there might have been a Million Moms ready to launch some sort of boycott. But this is comics -- BOOM! Studios to be exact -- so it will be interesting to see what comes of this.

Anyway, the next time you see some bearded, toothless gent wandering the streets in rags, muttering to himself about God's wrath, you may want to stop for a second and listen. Who knows, that man could be an actual prophet with something of importance to impart. One thing's for sure, though, you don't want God coming back all pissed off.

- Daniel Elkin

 

Five Weapons #4

(Jimmie Robinson; Image)

 

Jimmie Robinson's high concept comic about a school where the students learn to be assassins rolls happily along towards its conclusion. As you might imagine in this issue, everything both starts to come together and starts to fall apart. 

 

 

Taylor Shainline, our protagonist in this whole drama, is without a doubt the smartest person at his school, a kid who can defeat the members of all the different clubs through his wits and cleverness. He's also a hell of a nice guy, which rankles some of his teachers and fellow students at the school -- but that may because of jealousy as much as it is an actual dislike of the kid. 

 

 

But Taylor has secrets. In fact, most everyone in this comic has secrets. The burqa-wearing L'harma may not be who she seems to be, while the monocle Principal O has her secrets and the nurse without a nose has her own secrets. Meanwhile, someone knows Taylor's secret as well as the secrets of the Shainline family, so they're in danger as well.

This all adds up to a wonderful mad froth of nasty craziness, a made much more berserk because everybody is a skilled warrior  and knows how to defend themselves and, oh yeah, the comic is drawn in Jimmie's traditionally charming clear line style which gives everything a fantastic deadpan feel. 

 

 

This comic kind of sneaks up on you as a reader. At first the reader is lulled into a nice sense of security with a feeling that everything is safe. Then Robinson starts introducing one thing after another that gives the comic a whole different energy than what came before. 

This is going to make a hell of a trade.

- Jason Sacks

 

Morning Glories #27

(Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma, Alex Sollazzo; Image)

 

If I'm honest, my least favorite part of time travel stories are the mechanics. I don't need my time travel fic to make sense or follow plausibility, because good fiction shouldn't require explanations -- if anything, those explanations often work against the suspension of disbelief that storytelling hinges on. Which is why Morning Glories has become a bit of a slog in the past handful of its issues, with the notable exception of issue 26, which launched the second season of Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma's long-running series.

 

 

That last issue was unique in its willingness to let the story breathe, focusing on the time hopping adventures of sort of lead character Casey, offering Eisma in particular a lot of room to just let his art be, with panels devoted to intimate details and quiet moments rather than the packed to the brim dialogue and repetitive scenes that dominated the back end of the first season. But now with issue 27, Spencer has gone back to his unfortunate habit of spinning narrative wheels explaining away story details instead of actually, you know, progressing the narrative. 

 

 

I'm not one to argue that a creator needs to move at anything other than the pace they feel the story requires, but Spencer has developed a tendency to explain away the magic of his own stories, honing in on details rather than letting us imagine what's happening between the panels. In this instance, it's the continuously unfolding notion of Casey as the architect of her own peril and misfortune through a forced time travel paradox plotline. The first two arcs of Morning Glories were remarkable for their efficiency and world building, but since then we've been stuck in a grind of "shocking" deaths, constant timeline tinkering and seemingly a betrayal every issue. Spencer's Lost love is notorious, but one would hope he'd be a little more aware of that show's worst tendencies and would learn from its mistakes. This is still an extremely addicting, promising series, but it needs a shot in the arm, and soon.

- Nick Hanover

 

JUST A REMINDER: WALT SIMONSON OVER EVERYTHING

 

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