Singles Going Steady 10/15/2013: Sex, Romance, Action, Fear and John ByrneA comic review article by: Zack Davisson, Daniel Elkin, Taylor Lilley, Jason Sacks, Keith Silva, Rob Tacopina
Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Jason and Keith loved the braaaaaiiiinnnns behind Afterlife with Archie #1.
Superman/Wonder Woman #1
(Charles Soule / Tony Daniel; DC Comics)
Sad to say, but talented writer Charles Soule plays very safe here, entrusting much to the equally conservative Tony Daniel, and truthfully? This is the least exciting #1 I've read in years.
First, to the good. Soule divides this super-couple early on, through the topical issue of privacy. Specifically, Superman wants to keep their relationship a secret, while Wonder Woman encourages him to be more open, about them, the Fortress of Solitude, and himself generally. Any broader allegorical value you derive is to your credit, dear reader, but by foregrounding the contrast between Superman's half-life behind blogger's spectacles and Wonder Woman's full disclosure "goddess with a mission" approach, Soule creates tension and reveals character. Setting aside the ease with which Supes gets his way, and the question of whether Wonder Woman's openness is really in character, of course.
To the plot! Our super-couple investigate a storm, which would be terrific in reality, but this isn't reality, its superhero comics, where they could have been doing ANYTHING, anything at all, and it would have been less snooze-inducing than them posing among storm clouds. So, a plane is in trouble (yawn), they help out, are hampered by a hostile warship (huh?) and then comes a very big bad who's very one-note (zzz). The sub-plot is that clarkkatropolis.com (that's Clark's struggling news-blog, no really, that's the name) receives an envelope with a USB stick in it. And nobody opens it. That's it.
Both leads show their different strengths (Superman's better in the air, Wonder Woman's the better fighter), we're told, not shown, that despite their superpowers they each have shortcomings (Clark can't attract web traffic and Diana can't save the Amazons), and they both get knocked sideways by the bone-encrusted baddie (yes, that one). This comic is so busy creating parity it neglects to have either superhero do a single interesting thing, which isn't helped by Daniels' stiff "acting", poor combat, and boilerplate transitions. Everyone is pretty, every scene is believably rendered, but facial acting is strictly reserved for splashes, and genuine expression of anything is in short supply.
Considering Soule's intelligence as a writer, this is very basic superhero comics. Considering Daniels' popularity, this is bland art. Considering the potential chemistry between Clark and Diana, this is a frigid first date. To paraphrase Irving Berlin, there may be trouble ahead, but while there's moonlight and music and love and romance, why read this comic?
- Taylor Lilley
This latest issue in Marvel's blockbuster summer event, screams awesomeness from the very first page. The issues focuses on four different venues: The Avengers, The Builders, Thanos and Black Bolt and Thane, Thanos's bastard son. They all culminate into a wonderful story that had me riveted from the get-go.
The book opens on the Shi'ar Battleship--Lilandra-- where Captain America and the remaining Avengers deliberate on the odds at hand. Captain America dictates that they have no choice but to surrender and strategizes a plan, basically a "Hail Mary", and sends Thor as Earth's negotiator. Meanwhile the Builders continue to vie for the extermination of humanity describing them as a plague to the universe. Their delusions of superiority and grandeur get the better of them and they drop their defenses and allow Captain America to send Thor to them to surrender.
Thanos and Black Bolt have a throw-down on a short but seismic scale that totally demonstrates just how much of a bad-ass Thanos truly is as he has no troubles pounding the crap out of Black Bolt despite a couple of sonic blasts from the Inhuman king. It was a quick but brutal battle leaving Black Bolt pummeled into the ground and Thanos troubled over the realization that Black Bolt released the Terrigen Mists on Earth.
Meanwhile Thane, son of Thanos, of Inhuman heritage who lives in a hidden city with other outcasts of the Inhuman race. The young man is a healer and being a son of the mad titan means that his father is out to kill him. When Black Bolt uses his voice to unleash the Terrigen bomb it mutates Thane into his worst fear, him truly being his father's son, and murders his entire community. The gentle soul with the powers to heal has now become a cold-blooded killer.
The way Hickman gets into each character is brilliant whether it be the strategizing and hopefulness of Captain America or the reserved dignity of Thor. Each individual comes off as unique and honest. You believe that these characters are real people because Jonathan Hickman is that damn good of a writer. You feel the agonies and triumphs, the joys and heartbreaks. When Thane is transformed into Thanos Jr. I felt my heart sink with the reveal.
There is a moment where Thor, in his role as negotiator, hurls Mjolnir to the skies and asks Odin to deem him worthy. What comes next is an absolutely stunning piece of storytelling from both the writer and the artist as Mjolnir reaches its zenith and comes rocketing back to Thor, ripping through the lead Builder eviscerating him. This is an image I will remember for a long time as it invokes such an amazing piece of imagery, so much so that it had me screaming in fanboy delight as I read it.
The 5 star rating that I rated this book at is a testament to all those involved: from the genius writing of Jonathan Hickman to the absolutely gorgeous artwork of Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver who pour over each page with dedication and detail breathing life and emotion into each character. There seems to be soul in the eyes of these heroes and villains courtesy of the fantastic penciling of the tandem. That sense is further enhanced when you factor in the lush colorings of Justin Ponsor into the mix.
Jonathan Hickman has not only churned out a masterful story but has also set the stages for the Inhumanity event that will follow. Infinity has turned out to be an epic event and this latest issue is a modern day masterpiece in the art of sequential storytelling featuring some of the top talents in the business stepping forward and delivering amazing work. They have raised the stakes for the Marvel Universe and have set the pace for one hell of a finish to the Infinity event!
Multiple Warheads: Downfall (One Shot)
(Brandon Graham; Image)
In between stories about the poetics of love for a partner and the ecstasy of double penetration from both a human penis and a sutured on ''severed werewolf penis,'' Brandon Graham gives in to reflection: ''I sure drew a lot of butts in this comic. Maybe I'm just over thinking it. Hmmmm.'' The next drawing shows an earlier iteration of Graham as he pulls up in something that looks like two butts stuck together with ''Bumz 4 Lyfe'' written on the side and, oh yeah, this Graham has a butt for a head and the car (?) makes 'butt, butt, butt' sounds. 2013 Brandon's response sez it all:
Multiple Warheads: Downfall reprints three stories from 2003, 2004 and 2007. In most cases when a writer publishes their juvenilia or a musician releases demos it's because the publisher or record company is looking to make some quick cash off of sycophantic fanboys (the easiest of easy marks). As long as the market will bear it, so be it.
There's a flipside to this kind of cynicism which sez work like this shows the artist at his most naked, most authentic and most raw. If the self-awareness of letting his own ass swing in the air isn't clear enough, Brandon Graham doesn't need his readers to see him naked or unguarded. He's more than happy to drop trou and call himself on his own shit.
Reading Downfall is like watching Mean Streets after years of gorging on Goodfellas -- a realization of how the student became the master. 'The Fall' and 'The Elevator' hint at the charms, goofiness and truths Graham displays in the impeccable King City, his masterwork, so far. More than Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity, Downfall's 'The Fall' proves when organ smuggler Sexica and her werewolf boyfriend Nikoli hold each other, theirs is real love. For all his bad puns and sophomoric toilet humor, Graham is a softy, in love with love and comics.
From the 'this isn't for everyone category' comes the one story here that requires some massaging. As 'Sex' and 'Nik' were gestating in his imagination, Graham was drawing erotica. The result of this ménage à trois (Graham, Nik and Sex) is a kinky bit of male wish fulfillment only Graham could imagine. It's not for kids and it shows a helluva lot of asses in the air. Then again, maybe I'm overthinking it. But …
- Keith Silva
Triple Helix #1
(John Byrne / Leonard O'Grady / Robbie Robbins; IDW)
Okay, time for a “nerd confession” (sorry Meyers and Shockling, I should have called this in to Comics Therapy), but I would not be reading or reviewing comics at all if it were not for John Byrne, and I'm sure I'm not alone on this one.
When I was growing up, I liked comics well enough, but they were just distractions, fluff, tools to add to the epic stories I was already creating in my imagination. It wasn't until 1979 and, somehow, The Uncanny X-Men #125 “There's Something Awful on Muir Island” dropped into my lap that all that changed. Suddenly comics mattered; Claremont and Byrne brought me a story with which I connected. I was engaged in what I was reading – the characters, the mythos, the pathos, the confusion, the excitement, the adventure – all of this coalesced into a desire to know more because for some reason I saw a part of myself in the story and the story-telling. It wasn't just Claremont's words at work here either, something about Byrne's art made all the difference. His character design, his panel layouts, the very humanness of the emotions he captured – damnit, I was hooked.
And thus, I became the man I am today.
Time has passed and my tastes in entertainment have changed. My appreciation for comics have evolved as well. Nowadays superhero comics don't hold the pull for me they once did, but when the opportunity came to review Byrne's new book from IDW, Triple Helix #1, the nostalgic draw overwhelmed my nascent comics snobbery and I leapt at the chance to check it out.
When I landed I found that I had read a pretty solid superhero book.
Which is kind of a complicated thing.
Byrne's got tightly dressed characters flying and jumping and punching and musing all over the place. It's fun, moves quickly, and it pretty much keeps you from thinking about anything of substance or depth as long as you stay immersed in the book. It is a nice example of what one of my old High School English teachers used to call, “Fritos for the mind.” And there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes Fritos are just what you are craving. Salty, crunchy, pleasant enough – although sometimes if you eat too many, you feel kinda sick, don't you? They certainly ain't no sandwiches.
See what I mean by complicated?
Anyway, apparently Triple Helix #1 takes place after the events of some of Byrne's other books, so we are pretty much dropped into a story in which much of the exposition has already occurred, but, as there's not a lot of depth to this tale, connecting to the action is pretty easy. And since Byrne cuts his characters out of broad and familiar cloth, figuring out who is who is just about as easy as knowing that a red tie looks good with a blue shirt.
Is this the kinda comic that will create a life-long lover of the medium because of its complexity of narrative and intricacy of character? Is this the Byrne book that will be the torch to lead a young reader along the journey to comic book discovery? Will someone say some thirty or so years later that it all started for them with Triple Helix #1?
These may be rhetorical questions.
But you know what – John Byrne can still whip up some tasty, salty corn chips, and occasionally they make a nice side dish to that healthy and delicious sandwich you should probably be eating for lunch.
A little crunch, a little texture, a little Byrne's Triple Helix.
- Daniel Elkin
Creepy Comics #14
It's refreshing to read a comic that laughs at itself, yet still respects the reader (and the form) in its delivery. Creepy has established itself as a scary playground for serious talent, and "Black Feathers”, scripted by Ray Fawkes and illustrated by Tomm Coker, pushes the swings skyward. Fawkes is far better than his New 52 duties suggest (check his contribution to the American Vampire anthology, or his creator-owned works, for proof) the Spartan simplicity of this Gran Torino meets The Birds yarn purpose-built for Coker's photorealistic precision. Capped off with Nate Piekos's Blambot lettering (in particular, delivering a closing sound effect that will make you wince) "Black Feathers” is a prime horror short.
But true satisfaction demands more than successful execution of the genre program. We want transcendence. After another Braun/Bagge palate cleanser, Matthew Southworth's "Blind Contour” taps a deeper source of horror, that of human mortality, to deliver it in shades of loss, desire, vulnerability, and utter isolation. Superficially a story about a courtroom artist losing his sight, Southworth progressively loosens and tilts his layouts, drawing discomfited readers ever downward into manifold darkness. Though the story will satisfy on first reading, the climactic spread alone a poignant articulation of existential horror, multiple visits reveal on just how many levels (point of view, motifs, use of heavy blacks, diagonal directions of the eye) Southworth's elegant prose is made visually manifest. This is words and images in harmony, comics fulfilled.
There is of course a final strip (from Bill Parente and Ernie Colon) which will please nostalgists and genre junkies, even a real letters page and a Braun/Bagge rear cover, but Creepy #14 malingers because of Matthew Southworth. It's worth recognising, however, that without Dark Horse's commitment to craft over basic genre box-ticking, "Blind Contour” might have been buried in a shallow grave of humourless horror tropes.
Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast # 21
(Brian Wood / Paul Azaceta / Dave Stewart / Richard Starkings / Massimo Carnevale; Dark Horse Comics)
This issue concludes the "Black Stones" story arc for Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast, and is the last arc before the grand finale of Wood's run, Song of Belit. Black Stones has been a bizarre story arc for Conan, mainly because it is so… normal. For most of Wood's run, he has been purposefully playing against type, trying to give a "different" Conan—a take that has pleased some readers and enraged others. His Conan is focused more on inner tensions than outer ones, and his stories are anything but typical.
But here in the final arc Wood reminds us that he is the writer of Northlanders -- that he can deliver cool sword-and-sorcery action with the best of them.
"Black Stones" is great, and this final issue is great. This is the kind of story I wish Wood had written for his entire 24-issue run. It has a delicious combination of Howard's action-heavy style, of his magic-versus-steel (and by proxy, civilization versus barbarianism) storytelling that can rise to the very term "sword-and-sorcery," along with Woods own more emotional-flavored writing. The Elder of the Black Stones patiently awaiting her promised beloved. Belit's transfiguration by magic, and Conan's dark secret in the final pages. Conan in the wolf's den.—all of that was just brilliant. And it goes to show that the criticism against Wood's series isn't that he tried to layer emotional depth into Conan, it's that he didn't do a very good job at it. But he does a great job here.
Art-wise, I loved this issue even more than the preceding issues. Artist Paul Azaceta really seemed to grow into Conan's world from his first issue, and by this third and final issue he is nailing it. He is up there with Becky Cloonan and Mirko Colak as my favorite artists for the series. His Belit his beautiful, but the real star of Azaceta's show is the Elder of the Black Pearls, and her face-switching from serene beauty to vicious demon along with her moods. If I had a complaint against Azaceta's work, it would be that he draws his male characters with lips that are a little… full and pouting. It's an odd look; not bad, but takes some getting used to.
The King of Colors Dave Stewart is on fire with this issue (har har har … that's a little joke. Because there is a big fire this issue…) He has found his match with Azaceta's art as well. The first issue they did together was a little muddy, but by this third issue they are in stride and Stewart is using his magic pen to pull the drama out of Azaceta's art.
I don't know why the Black Stones is so different from the rest of the story arcs Wood had done, but I am sure enjoying it. This issue is an upswing on the roller coaster ride that is Conan the Barbarian: Queen of the Black Coast.
- Zack Davisson
Rocket Girl #1
(Amy Reeder / Brandon Montclare; Image)
Amy Reeder makes Rocket Girl #1 go. Her composition is magnificent, her layouts majestic and her colors sumptuous. Never has a video game arcade had so much showroom shine or looked so clean. And yet for all Reeder's first-class art, Rocket Girl's story is stuck in coach.
The pitch for Rocket Girl is genius: Dayoung Johansson is a fifteen-year-old female detective in the New York City Teen Police Department in 2013. Totally radical. She travels across space and time to 1986 to, as she says, ''investigate crimes against time'' and ''save the world.'' Bad. Time traveling law enforcement officials are nothing new in comics, but few can cop to a jet pack as SOP. Bitchin'.
Anyone with basic cable understands how time travel is fraught with confluences, conundrums and complications. Writer Brandon Montclare makes a smart choice to damn the conventions and let Reeder's art propel the story. It's smart because there is time (nudge nudge) to explain how young Johansson's efforts will impact her future and again, Montclare and Rocket Girl have Amy Reeder.
Where Montclare's script gets gnarly is how it establishes stakes. Detective Johansson tasks herself with investigating Quintum Mechanics for ''cooking the history books -- going back and playing in the time stream.'' O.K., if the future is so ethically bankrupt, so time-corrupt it's the least dystopian future in history, except, according to the story's timeline, 2013 is the past. What? This 'past as prologue' is a time and place (NYC) the police commissioner, who rocks ruby red Jubilee shades, sez, ''Quintum Mechanics brought back from the brink.''
And the mustache twirlers from '86 Dayoung is so fit not to acquit are nowhere near nefarious enough in their high waisted slacks, hoop earrings and bustiers, set aside the taste shown in the comic books kept in their apartments. Perhaps that's the point. Perhaps knowing the beginning of the end is brought on by the cast of St. Elmo's Fire makes the future (or the past) more reprehensible.
I have a lot of respect for Montclare. I backed his previous effort with Reeder, Halloween Eve, when it was a Kickstarter and did likewise when the duo first launched Rocket Girl in the same fashion. I will continue to support their efforts because the work holds major potential. If Montclare muscles up to the heights Reeder consistently achieves than Rocket Girl will fly. And so: Godspeed, Rocket Girl.
- Keith Silva
Death Sentence #1
(Monty Nero / Mike Dowling; Titan Comics)
(Kieron Gillen / Ryan Kelly / Jordie Bellaire; Image Comics)
Cryptozoic Man #1
(Brian Johnson / Walter Flanagan / Chris Ivy; Dynamite)