Psychia-tryst

Harleen #1
Writer/Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Stjepan Šejić
Letters: Gabriela Downie
Editor: Andy Khouri
Publisher: DC Comics/DC Black Label imprint
Price: $7.99 US

Black Label, DC’s darker, mature-readers imprint, has been hit and miss for me since it launched, and despite the character’s popularity in recent years, I’m not exactly a Harley Quinn fanatic. However, I have enjoyed the artwork of Stjepan Šejić as of late, and it was interesting to see that the artist was given his own out-of-continuity project to write and illustrate. I think DC’s going a little overboard with the Harley projects – on top of in-continuity stories, we’ve also seen a young-readers graphic novel in recent weeks, and the upcoming Criminal Sanity – but I thought this might be worth a glance. As expected, the artwork is quite sharp, and to my surprise and pleasure, Šejić doesn’t take an overly sexualized approach to depicting the title character. But his inexperience as a writer shows through in the script, which is repetitive and predictable.

Snowfall

Snow, Glass, Apples original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist/Cover artist: Colleen Doran
Editor: Daniel Chabon
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $17.99 US/$23.99 CAN

I first discovered Neil Gaiman’s writing almost three decades ago when a copy of The Sandman: The Doll’s House in my hands, and I’ve sought out his writing ever since. Of course, he’s been so prolific, I haven’t been able to keep up with all of his works in various media, and some of his projects have managed to slip by me. This one was almost among them, but I happened to catch a reference to it online a couple of weeks ago, leading me to ask about it at my local comic shop when it was released. I’m pleased I did, as the writer turns a classic children’s story on its ear, approaching it from the perspective of a character typically viewed as the villain. It makes for a fresh take on the Snow White tale, but honestly, what’s most engaging about this book is Colleen Doran’s smooth, soothing yet haunting artwork. She brings a mythic and antiquated look to the work that makes it clear why she’s had such a steady presence in the industry over the years and such a stellar reputation.

The Warriors Three

The White Trees: A Blacksand Tale #1
“Part One: This Is Death”
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist/Cover artist: Kris Anka
Colors: Matt Wilson
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $4.99 US

Judging from the chatter on my comics-related social media feeds, everyone’s mind is turned to the supposedly big twist in this week’s Batman #77 (which I suspect is the beginnings of a bait-and-switch, but time will tell). Personally, my mind’s still blown by a comic that was released the week before. The White Trees #1 is the first of just a two-issue limited series, but it’s a stunning piece of fantasy writing. I’m not usually one for the sword-and-sorcery genre, but this is a truly beautiful story, both literally and conceptually. If you’re a fan of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga, which is on hiatus at the moment, then this is the comic that will definitely scratch that particular itch.

Scoop

Lois Lane #1
“Enemy of the People, Part One”
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Mike Perkins
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artists: Perkins (regular)/Jenny Frison (variant)
Editor: Mike Cotton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Of this week’s new releases, the first I read was The Walking Dead #193, given the buzz about it being the final issue of the series. It impressed, and I figured it would be the best new book I’d read this week. And then I turned my attention to the DC titles in my pile. I was even more impressed with Superman: Up In the Sky #1 and pleased I finally got a chance to read one of the Wal-Mart exclusives that have only been available in the United States up to this point. 

And then I read Lois Lane #1.

It’s powerful, resonant and relevant. It’s incredibly grounded in our reality, but at the same time, it’s a delightful fantasy for those with a passion for journalism. It’s one of the better takes on the profession I’ve seen in comics, and the only thing about it that disappointed me was the realization that it’ll only run for 12 issues. Greg Rucka not only delves into the importance of the news media here, but also offers a touching and novel examination of Lois and Clark’s relationship.

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Grimes and Punishment

The Walking Dead #193
“The Farm House”
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist/Cover artist: Charlie Adlard
Gray tones: Cliff Rathburn
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

That Robert Kirkman opted to end this landmark series now is surprising. It’s such a cash cow, for Kirkman and the other creators on the book personally, and for Image Comics corporately, one would expected things to continue for as long as it was commercially viable. That Kirkman ended it ahead of that point indicates that storytelling is what truly drove that decision. It’s also surprising it’s ended so close to the 200-issue milestone, but undoubtedly, it would have been less of a surprise at #200 than #193. And I think Kirkman really did want to take his audience off guard. After all, that’s been one of the keys to the book’s success over the years.

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A Walk in the Clark

Superman Year One #1
Writer: Frank Miller
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: John Workman
Cover artists: Romita & Miki (regular)/Miller (variant)
Editor: Mark Doyle
Publisher: DC Comics/DC Black Label imprint
Price: $7.99 US

Frank Miller’s importance to comics can never be ignored or forgotten. The only influence from the 1980s that equals his is like Alan Moore’s. However, I think it’s safe to say that Miller’s work in more recent years pales in comparison with his groundbreaking efforts from three decades ago. Still, I couldn’t help but be curious about this latest project, so I decided to peruse its pages. The good news is that this is much better than Holy Terror; there’s no sign of the twisted perspectives that marred that graphic novel. To my surprise, the biggest liability of Superman Year One is that it’s just so… standard. We’ve seen material like this time and time again with retellings of Superman’s early years, and I just didn’t find anything novel in this book. Thirty years ago, this would have been heralded as a poignant interpretation of the kid who would become the Man of Steel, but so many other creators have already told stories such as this one — and they’ve done it a little better, more often than not.

Multiply the Quantum Vector by Pie

Jughead’s Time Police #1
Writer: Sina Grace
Artist: Derek Charm
Colors: Matt Herms
Letters: Jack Morelli
Cover artists: Derek Charm (regular)/Tyler Boss, Francesco Francavilla, Robert Hack and Tracy Yardley (variants)
Editors: Alex Segura & Vincent Lovallo
Publisher: Archie Comics
Price: $3.99 US

There’s something universal about Archie comics. It seems like it’s a cultural baseline for western society (or at least North American society), the sort of thing with which everyone has some degree of familiarity, connection and nostalgia. As such, I like to revisit these characters from time to time, and the oddity of a time-travel title featuring the original slacker caught my eye. To my surprise, as I prepared to write this review, I discovered this is a revival of a concept Archie Comics published almost three decades ago. It doesn’t appear to have taken off back then, but writer Sina Grace delivers a solid sci-fi comedy here that should appeal to younger readers, though the time-travel tropes here won’t likely grab an older audience — though it does serve as a slightly amusing diversion.

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Black and Blue

Silver Surfer Black #1
“Black, One of Five”
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Tradd Moore
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Tradd Moore (regular)/Nick Bradshaw, Gerald Parel, Ron lim and Mike Zeck (variants)
Editor: Darren Shan
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I haven’t been following Donny Cates’ work at Marvel in the last couple of years, but he’s certainly generated a buzz. So when my local comics retailer urged me to check it out, touting the weirdness and wonder of the book, I decided to take the plunge. Visually, the book doesn’t disappoint. The colors are vibrant, and the fluidity of the linework and designs are dazzling. The story reminds me of the sort of philosophical tone one finds in the scripts of J.M. DeMatteis, and Cates challenges his audience. Unfortunately, everything about the plot — the struggles, both internal and external — is so utterly alien, I found it difficult to connect with the subject matter. I applaud Marvel for taking a chance on something so unconventional for the super-hero genre, but for me, the story didn’t quite stick the landing.

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Flea-Market Finds: Denver

Denver original graphic novel
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist: Pier Brito
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Cover artists: Pier Brito (regular)/Amanda Conner (variant)
Editor: Joanne Starer
Publisher: Paperfilms
Price: $19.99 US

Jimmy Palmiotti and company’s independent ventures are typically published under the branding of “PaperFilms,” and it’s an apt designation. This graphic novel reads very movie like something designed as a cinematic experience, and it works as a movie pitch, honestly. I know I’d watch this flick, as I enjoyed and appreciated the premise here. There’s just one problem, but it’s a big one: the creators like gratuitous sexuality get in the way of a fire and powerfully relevant plot. I enjoy sex and provocative imagery as much as the next guy, but Denver isn’t a sexy story, and the creators’ effort to inject sex into the book feels forced and distracting. Once you lift those elements out, though, Denver is a novel piece of speculative fiction that nails the sociopolitical, geological and social effects that climate change will undoubtedly have on the world in the coming decades.

Reading, Writing, Revolution

Ignited #1
Writers: Mark Waid & Kwanza Osajyefo
Artist: Phil Briones
Colors: Andrew Crossley
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artists: Mike McKone (regular)/John Cassaday (variant)
Publisher: Humanoids Publishing/H1 imprint
Price: $3.99 US

After the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last year, Emma Gonzales, David Hogg and many of their classmates took it upon themselves to do something about the issue of gun violence in America, especially in schools. They spoke out, advocated, pushed back in the absence of action by the adults tasked with their protection. Their grief and frustration empowered them, and they became an undeniable voice in an international discussion about gun violence. In Ignited, writers Mark Waid and Kwanza Osajyefo explore what might happen is such kids were literally empowered. The result is engrossing and important and viable as an addendum to the larger conversation about these real-world issues. This comic book might have flown under many readers’ radar, since it was released from a smaller publisher, but it’s well worth the effort to seek it out.

Mystery Meet

Clue: Candlestick #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Dash Shaw
Editor: David Hedgecock
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $4.99 US

Clue is something of a dichotomous piece of our pop culture history. Though certainly not as well known a board game as, say, Monopoly, there’s something about it that has allowed it to insinuate itself, almost subtly, into the collective consciousness. Its success strikes me as odd, since it’s a child’s game about murder, but it’s definitely stood the test of time. It’s both obscure and familiar all at once, and even inspired a film years ago. Nevertheless, I was surprised to see this comic-book adaptation of the game property, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’m pleased I perused its pages, though, as cartoonist Dash Shaw offers a surreal examination of human intellect, obsession and emotion. This comic book embraces the classic elements of its inspiration even as it deconstructs and satirizes them, while also challenging the reader with its experimental approach to the comics medium and human nature.

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“Fixed… With Tape”

When I was a lot younger, before there was a comic shop in my hometown, my main source of comics was a convenience store. My weekly visit to the spinner rack was like a chance to worship, and I’d brave any weather to get there. (And remember, I live in Canada.) But there were secondary sources for comics during my childhood – namely, used book stores and flea markets. They were wonderful and affordable means for me to add to my collection and expand the size of the fantastic universes I loved to visit.

These days, the entire world can be a flea market, thanks to the internet. And while I love the hunt for a bargain, online or in person, I also keep running into people looking to capitalize on the popularity of comics today, regardless of any knowledge about the medium and marketplace. I find these instances infuriating.

Case in point: an example of rampant greed and cluelessness on Kijiji.

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Hungry, Hungry Heroes

DCeased #1
“Going Viral”
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artists: Trevor Hairsine, Stefano Gaudiano & James Harren
Colors: Rain Beredo
Letters: Saida Temofonte
Cover artists: Greg Capullo (regular)/Francesco Mattina and Yasmine Putri (variants)
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

(Note: I started writing this review the week the comic was released, but I got significantly sidetracked. I figured I’d begun, I might as well finish.)

DC seems a little late getting into the 21st century zombie craze, and by “a little late,” I mean ridiculously late. I honestly wasn’t going to delve into this latest event book, but one thing changed my mind: two proper nouns on the cover. Tom Taylor has impressed repeatedly with his super-hero genre work. I was thoroughly impressed with X-Men Red, and I’m really enjoying Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man now. But the clumsily titled DCeased just doesn’t scratch the same itch, as it’s pretty much devoid of the charm, relevance and strong characterization that one normally finds in the writer’s work.

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Avengers… Disassemble Those Guys

Savage Avengers #1
“Chapter One: Once Upon a Time in the City of Sickles”
Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Colors: Frank Martin
Letters: VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover artists: David Finch (regular)/Simone Bianchi, Deodato, Moebius, Skottie Young and Leinil Francis Yu
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

Marvel has the licence for Conan comics back in hand, and it’s clearly looking to capitalize on it. And when I say “capitalize,” I mean financially, not creatively. Teaming Conan with a group of the Marvel Universe’s iconic anti-heroes seems like a fun notion at first, but it also seems like fodder from hack fan fiction. Aside from cashing in on the 1990s Kewl factor that serves as the foundation of this concept, I don’t see the point at all. There’s no suspense here, nothing on the line. These characters aren’t going to grow, and they’re not going to lose. So aside from the novelty of Conan’s fish-out-of-water story, Savage Avengers doesn’t have a lot going for it.

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Artful Obsessions: Paper Chase

Though he’s far better known for his more inventive work on such titles as Promethea, Batwoman and Sandman Overture, it was from his work as the regular artist on the short-lived but beloved series Chase in the late 1990s that I became a fan of the art of J.H. Williams III. While the prices being asked for pages from the aforementioned titles are out of reach for me, Williams’ work from Chase is more affordable, and I decided to pick up a couple of boards from a dealer through an online transaction recently.

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