Better Red Than Dead

Shanghai Red #1
“Chapter One: Life Among the Rats”
Writer: Christopher Sebela
Artist/Colors: Joshua Hixson
Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Cover artists: Hixson (regular)/Tyle Boss (variant)
Editor: Andrea Shockling
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to look at a preview copy of this comic book for review purposes. Here’s how good it is: upon its release, I bought the first issue at my local comic shop and added it immediately to my pull list. Shanghai Red (a reference to the main protagonist) is a dark and grisly piece of historical fiction, but it’s absolutely riveting. It reads a little like what might arise if director Quentin Tarantino were asked to deliver a spin on Pirates of the Caribbean. Mind you, there are no pirates here, only sailors and slave labour, and the inherent conflict that would arise from such circumstances. This may very well be the best comic book I’ve read in weeks, and what’s truly surprising is that it flows from the talent of creators who are completely unknown to be.

Continue reading… →

The True Origin of Black Lightning

As those with an interest in comics history (and specifically when it comes to the super-hero genre) know, Black Lightning is an African-American super-hero created by writer Tony Isabella with artist Trevor Von Eeden for his own short-lived title under the DC Comics banner back in 1977. While it was one of many casualties of the DC Implosion, which saw the cancellation of a slew of titles, the character has lived on through the decades, both under Isabella’s guidance (sporadically, due to conflicts with the publisher over the years) and in stories penned by other writers.

Recently, the character’s profile in the broader pop-culture consciousness has seen a huge bump with the success of the first season of the Black Lightning television series on the CW.

But when perusing a back issue of another DC title recently, I discovered Black Lightning debuted long before 1977. In fact, the name showed up in a DC comic three years before Isabella was even born.

Continue reading… →

Winged History

Hawkman #1
“Awakening, Part One: What’s Past Is Prologue”
Writer: Robert Venditti
Pencils: Bryan Hitch
Inks: Andrew Currie & Bryan Hitch
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Cover artists: Hitch (regular)/Stjepan Sejic (variant)
Editor: Marie Javins
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I honestly had no idea what I expect from this latest effort to relaunch DC’s Winged Warrior and to connect with an audience. I’ve enjoyed past takes on the character – notably Geoff Johns’s tenure on the character from the early 2000s – but ultimately, his history in the wake of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths has been a convoluted mess. The attempt to merge the Golden Age Hawkman with the Silver Age counterpart just never worked properly, and the problem wasn’t just continuity, but clarity in storytelling. Writer Robert Venditti has promised this new vision of Hawkman will be simpler and more accessible, but the script for this first issue doesn’t necessarily bear that out. Nevertheless, I am intrigued. It appears that instead of trying to ignore the many conflicting and diverse takes on Hawkman, the writer will embrace that oddity. My hope is that he’ll arrive at something more focused and new. Meanwhile, the real reason I picked up this comic book didn’t disappoint, and that’s the richly detailed and realistic artwork of Bryan Hitch.

Continue reading… →

Hammer Time

Thor #1
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Mike Del Mundo & Christian Ward
Colors: Mike Del Mundo, Marco D’Alfonso & Christian Ward
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Joe Sabino
Cover artists: Del Mundo (regular)/Kaare Andrews; Russell Dauterman; James Harren; Jack Kirby & Vince Colletta; Esad Ribic; and Christian Ward (variants)
Editor: Wil Moss
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

I’ve been reading Jason Aaron’s tenure on the adventures of Marvel’s God of Thunder for several years now, and it remains as entertaining as ever. He takes a slightly different tack with the main story here, approaching the Norse hero from a sillier perspective at first, and it’s a lot of fun. The backup story also features his ongoing exploration of King Thor of the far-flung future and his granddaughters. Where this comic book goes awry is in regard to something that’s out of the hands of the creative contributors. The marketing and publishing strategy here is all wrong, focused solely on a short-term gain but not on building the readership. This doesn’t work as a first issue in any way. It’s built completely on Thor stories (featuring the Odinson and Jane Foster incarnations) that have come before in recent years. This isn’t an accessible gateway into Thor’s world at present, and any casual fans of the character, especially those driven to this book by a love of the Marvel movies, will be at a loss. Scrawling the legacy numbering (#707) in a little corner of the cover doesn’t rectify the problem.

Continue reading… →

Witch Hunt

Witchblade #6
Writer: Caitlin Kittredge
Artist/Cover artist: Roberta Ingranata
Colors: Bryan Valenza
Letters: Troy Peteri
Editor: Eric Stephenson
Publisher: Image Comics/Top Cow Productions
Price: $3.99 US

While not the first comic to come from Image founder Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Productions, Witchblade was its most successful property. It spawned its own little corner of the Image universe and even had its own short-lived, live-action television series. I was never a fan, though, as Witchblade seemed emblematic of the “Kewl” 1990s super-hero comic: superficially edgy fare the real purpose of which always seemed to be the prominent presentation of tits and asses. Objectification was job No. 1 with Witchblade comics in the past, so when a relaunch debuted this year, I was curious to see if Top Cow would stick with that sexist cachet or try to evolve. The good news is that the latter proved to be the case, but unfortunately, the plotting is rather clichéd, offering some loose-cannon-cop tropes dressed up with super-hero and supernatural elements.

Continue reading… →

J’Onzz-ing for a Fix

Justice League #1
“The Totality, Part 1”
Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Jim Cheung
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Tomeu Morey
Letters: Tom Napolitano
Cover artists: Cheung (regular)/Jim Lee & Scott Williams (variant)
Editor: Rebecca Taylor
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve been a fan of Scott Snyder’s writing, and no one can resist the attractive linework of artist Jim Cheung, so picking up this new relaunch of DC’s premier super-hero team was a no-brainer. And there’s a lot to like here. Snyder embraces a return to traditions, to moments of lightness and fun, and to a team of dark reflections of the titular heroes. He also offers some strong interplay among the Leaguers and some poignant characterization for a figure that’s been sadly overlooked in DC’s comics for years. But despite those strengths, Justice League #1 is something of an awkward read. Snyder has offered a quick succession of cosmic Justice League stories in the past year, and it’s starting to look as though cosmic fare such as this might not be in his wheelhouse.

Continue reading… →

Enter Stellar

Stellar #1
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Bret Blevins
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

It’s been a while since I read a comic written by Joe Keatinge — his Glory revamp with Sophie Campbell was great — but what really drew me to this comic was the artist. Bret Blevins was a mainstay of super-hero comics in the 1980s and 1990s, with work on such books as New Mutants, Strange Tales and Superman Adventures. In recent years, I believe he’s been working in animation, so seeing his name on a creator-owned title grabbed my attention. Blevins has always had a more unusual style, and he uses it to great effect here with this sci-fi epic. Stellar is a genuinely mature and challenging science-fiction story that will appeal to fans of European comics fare.

Continue reading… →

Flea-Market Finds: Gargoyle #s 1-4

Gargoyle #s 1-4
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Mark Badger
Colors: Bob Sharen
Letters: Ken Bruzenak
Cover artists: Bernie Wrightson, Jon J. Muth, Dan Green & Mark Badger
Editor: Carl Potts
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $0.75 US/$1 CAN per issue

Some comics enthusiasts and collectors scan flea markets and yard sales for treasure, for valuable comics at bargain-basement prices that they can flip for a tidy profit. I sometimes have that in mind when I peruse the tables, but more often than not, the treasures I’m looking for are forgotten stories. I definitely found one a few weeks ago when I happened upon this complete set of this 1985 limited series. Gargoyle is a rather obscure character, and I have only a passing familiarity with it from sampling a handful of Defenders issues from the Bronze Age.

The title character here is a unique one, in that he started out as a senior citizen who, in an endeavor to save his town, ends up being cursed by being cast into the form of a gargoyle. The basis of J.M. DeMatteis’s story here is to question what that gargoyle form was up to before the elderly Isaac Christians inhabited it, but as is the case with many of the writer’s works, it’s really about spirituality, the failings of the human spirit, and finding purpose through misery. As this is an earlier DeMatteis work, though, it feels a bit scattered, and ultimately, it ends up being more about a brand-new supporting character (that’s never seen again, as far as I know) than that of Isaac Christians.

Continue reading… →

Keeping a Breast of Things

About Betty’s Boob hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Véro Cazot
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Julie Rocheleau
Letters: Deron Bennett
Translation: Edward Gauvin
Editor: Sierra Hahn
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Archaia imprint
Price: $29.99 US/$39.99 CAN/£22.50 UK

This beautifully designed hardcover volume showed up on my doorstep (literally) this week, and I hadn’t heard a thing about it. I was intrigued by the title and the look of it at first, but it sat on my desk for a few days until I realized it was slated for release in just another few days. I decided I should check it out, and I found it’s a translation of a French work originally released as Betty Boob (I wonder if American copyright on the Betty Boop character prompted the change in title, or perhaps just an effort to avoid confusion).

About Betty’s Boob is actually a more fitting title, as that covers the entirety of her journey. This is a story about surviving cancer and then dealing with the aftermath. We’ve seen this subject tackled in the sequential storytelling medium before, but not in the same way. While writer Vero Cazot’s mostly silent drama explores some of the familiar beats about a woman’s struggles in the wake of a mastectomy, she presents those conflicts and the titular character’s triumphs as a fable, aided incredibly well by the magical, flowing and fanciful artwork of Julie Rocheleau. By the end of the book, though, one realizes About Betty’s Boob isn’t a cancer-survival tale at all, but rather one about casting off conformist shackles and celebrating all of the beauty and silliness and passion that surrounds us and exists within us every day.

Continue reading… →

A Galaxy Zaar, Zaar Away

The Man of Steel #1
“Man of Steel, Part 1”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis & Jay Fabok
Inks: Joe Prado & Jay Fabok
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Cory Petit
Editor: Michael Cotton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I recently reviewed Brian Michael Bendis’s final published work from Marvel, and it seemed only fitting to turn my attention to his DC debut. Though he had work published at DC in the last few weeks (in Action Comics #1000 and DC Nation #0), The Man of Steel #1 (evoking memories of John Byrne’s relaunch of the character with the same title more than three decades ago) is his first full issue at his new professional home. Some have described Superman, the original super-hero, as the least interesting super-hero — too powerful, too vanilla, what have you. One could argue that in the hands of the right writer, Superman is the most human of super-heroes, and Bendis is definitely equal to the task. The writer has always been talented when it comes to bringing fantastic characters down to earth, and he does so with the title character here, while at the same time, he explores the wonder of his seemingly limited powers — especially when it comes to his super-senses. The Man of Steel is exactly what I was hoping for from Bendis at DC, and I can’t wait for more.

Continue reading… →

I’m With the Band

We Are the Danger #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Fabian Lelay
Colors: Claudia Aguirre
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Editor: Stephanie Cooke
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Price: $3.99 US

There’s been a great deal of discussion as of late in comics fandom and in the industry about diversity, about new creative voices and more inclusive interpretations of characters, both new and established. A lot of that discussion has arisen from a push back by a vocal minority who argue that diversity doesn’t sell. They argue about how properties they’ve loved all their lives have been transformed into women or have seen minorities fill those roles, as though if were actually possible the corporate owners of those characters aren’t eventually going to revert them to the status quo. I don’t get it. I don’t get why people are threatened by broadening the talent base and the array of characters to add to and expand the overall tapestry of the medium.

We Are the Danger is a comic book that brings more of that diversity to comics, that invites readers in who might not have otherwise been felt welcome decades ago. But it does so in a way that doesn’t dwell on its pro-diversity elements, and instead just focuses on engaging characters. And it’s a good bit of fun as well.

Continue reading… →

Castling

The Last Siege #1
Writer: Landry Q. Walker
Artist: Justin Greenwood
Colors: Eric Jones
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Cover artists: Justin Greenwood (regular)/Nick Dragotta (variant)
Editor: Branwyn Bigglestone
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Medieval stories — either with sword-and-sorcery elements or now — are from a genre in which I generally don’t have a lot of interest. I haven’t watched a moment of Game of Thrones, for example, and similar fare, such as Conan stories, rarely hold my attention. Nevertheless, I decided to give The Last Siege a glance when a digital preview made its way into my little corner of the world. This story features a number of traits that normally turn me off from such material, from stilted dialogue to reflect the time to hardships and violence that make it next to impossible to relate to the characters. But there was something to the plot and script here that clicked for me. The blend of politics and crude opportunism honestly put me in mind of the political climate in western society today, and specifically in the United States.

Continue reading… →