Teed Off

Taskmaster #1
“The Rubicon Trigger, Part One”
Writer: Jed MacKay
Artist: Alessandro Vitti
Colors: Guru e-FX
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Joe Caramagna
Cover artists: Valerio Giangiordano (regular)/Nick Bradshaw and Mike Henderson
Editor: Chris Robinson
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve always appreciated Taskmaster as a villain, as his “photographic reflexes” abilities have always proven to be clever in the hands of skilled writers. That proves to be the case with Jed MacKay’s take on the mercenary as well, so what we get is a fun, action-oriented romp that celebrates the connections throughout the Marvel Universe. I think the book, unfortunately, is hampered by a couple of factors that seem beyond the creative team’s control: bad timing, obviously, and a disconnect between the tone of this story and how it’s being marketed to its potential readership.

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Scar Issue

Batman: Three Jokers #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist/Cover artist: Jason Fabok
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Mark Doyle
Publisher: DC Comics/DC Black Label imprint
Price: $6.99 US

It comes as no surprise that DC is inundating its readership with so many Joker-related comics over the past year. Given the financial and critical success of the Joker film starring Joaquin Phoenix, it stands to reason the publisher wouldn want to capitalize on that boosted profile. While I haven’t delved into the “Joker War” event in the main Batman titles or some of the other Black Label books featuring the Clown Prince of Crime, I was anticipating this limited series. I was thoroughly impressed with Geoff Johns’s work on Doomsday Clock, as it represented a huge leap forward in the complexity of his plotting and maturity of his characters, and as such, I was hoping for more of the same from Three Jokers. Sadly, this book doesn’t boast the same kind of strength. It has its cool moments, but it feels rushed.

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Of Gods and Monsters

Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Tom Scioli
Publisher: Random House/Ten Speed Press imprint
Price: $28.99 US/$38.99 CAN

My introduction to comics came in the late 1970s, and I was a DC kid from the start. As such, my first exposure to the work of Jack Kirby probably didn’t come until I saw his covers on the Super Powers comics tying into the toy line featuring DC heroes in the mid 1980s. I wasn’t impressed with Kirby’s style, as I was far more enamored of the work of such artists as George Perez and Jim Aparo. It was only later in life that I came to understand the depth of Kirby’s influence on American comics as a whole, and today, I can clearly see that influence at play in Perez’s dynamic and bombastic action scenes, for example.

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Genre Splicing

Pulp original graphic novel
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist/Cover artist: Sean Phillips
Colors: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $16.99 US

At first glance, this book seems as though it’s Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ foray into the Western genre, and to a limited extent, it is. But it’s most definitely not limited to that. The title refers to the broader umbrella of genres that were featured in the pulp fiction of 1930s America, just before the emergence and rise of comics. The creators bring together a Western outlaw and the urban anti-hero that would arise decades later and combine them into a compelling protagonist. While the plot and characterization are engrossing, the title and the two-pronged approach to the story belie the fact that this is an experiment in and commentary on the notion of genre in general.

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A Mouthful of Dollars

Chu #1
“The First Course, Part 1 of 5”
Writer: John Layman
Artist/Colors: Dan Boultwood
Letters: Comicraft
Cover artists: Boultwood (regular)/Rob Guillory and Boultwood (variants)
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I was a big fan of Chew when it debuted several years ago, and I wasn’t surprised at its success, given the novel nature of the central concept. I have the entire run in my collection — but truth be told, I haven’t read them all. One of the drawbacks of being a rabid comics fan is that one tends to acquire more than one can read in the span of a week, so the latter part of Chew is waiting for my perusal. So since it had been some time since I ventured into this weird world of police procedures and peckishness, I was concerned this followup, spinoff book might prove to be somewhat inaccessible.

I needn’t be worried. Layman delivers a delightfully welcoming read. It will please fans of Chew while also entertaining those who are new to the premise. And the art from Dan Boultwood is wonderfully consistent with that of original Chew artist Rob Guillory while also boasting its own distinct look.

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Striking the Wrong Chord

Dark Nights: Death Metal #1
“Death Metal – An Anti-Crisis, Part 1: It All Matters”
Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Greg Capullo
Inks: Jonathan Glapion
Colors: FCO Plascencia
Letters: Tom Napolitano
Cover artists: Capullo & Glapion (regular)/David Finch, Francesco Mattina, Stanley “Artgerm” Lau, Doug Mahnke and Capullo & Glapion
Editor: Marie Javins
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US

Given the success of a key villain introduced during the Dark Nights: Metal event, it wasn’t surprising when DC announced this sequel. There were elements from the first limited series I thoroughly enjoyed, but the execution was scattered, and the cosmic aspects of the plot weren’t clearly delineated. While the story looked and seemed cool, it was a cluttered, confusing capsule of chaos. It should come as no surprise that this followup project falls into the same pattern, and honestly, I can’t fault DC or the creators for it. The first was a resounding success; why would they shift gears with the sequel? Like the first Metal event book, Snyder and Capullo populate this title with novel concepts and new takes on familiar characters, and on that level, it’s a bit of fun. But it fails to establish any real suspense. Dark Nights: Metal really changed nothing about the DC Universe, save to inject a new, popular villain into the mix. The various spinoff titles fell flat. The main purpose here seems to be to offer a multitude of variant covers re-imagining icons of the super-hero genre as members of a metal band.

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Extra! Extra! Bleed All About It!

Bury the Lede original graphic novel
Writer: Gaby Dunn
Artist/Cover artist: Claire Roe
Colors: Miquel Muerto
Letters: Mike Fiorentino
Editor: Dafna Pleban
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $19.99 US

I was keen to read this book, as its focus on journalism – and specifically crime reporting – is of great interest to me personally and professionally. This is my first exposure to the work of writer Gaby Dunn, and there’s an undeniable edge to her plotting and characterization. Unfortunately, there’s also a profound lack of logic to it as well, robbing the story of plausibility and credibility. While the noir atmosphere, both in the story and art, is palpable and entertaining, I just couldn’t buy into the protagonist’s journey here. Her dumb luck, her implausible access, her determined destruction of every relationship in her life — little of it worked for me. There’s a powerful and engrossing yarn to be told here, but it’s one that calls for a more complex and finessed execution, as opposed to the ham-fisted hammering it gets here.

Creepy Crawlers

Giant-Size X-Men: Nightcrawler #1
“Haunted Mansion”
Writers: Jonathan Hickman & Alan Davis
Artist: Alan Davis
Colors: Carlos Lopez
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Davis (regular)/Ben Caldwell (variant)
Editor: Jordan D. White
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

I was blown away by Jonathan Hickman’s retooling of the X-Men franchise with House of X and Powers of X, with the injection of world-building, politics and sociology. But when I checked out the first issue of the relaunched X-Men series, I didn’t find the same level of inventiveness and complexity. As such, I decided not to delve into the various new X-related titles coming fast and furiously from Marvel. But when I saw that Alan Davis was contributing to this related one-shot, my interest was re-engaged. Davis’ art is stunning, of course, but I was also keen to see him reconnect with Nightcrawler, a character with whom he was closely associated from his run on Excalibur years ago. Unfortunately, this one-shot really never rises above the level of hum-drum, and at this price point and with these normally spectacular talents involved, I expected a lot more.

It’s a Nice Day for a Weird Wedding

The Ludacrats #1
“I. The Fine and Ludicrous Institution of Matrimony. Also. Murder.”
Writers: Kieron Gillen & Jim Rossignol
Artist: Jeff Stokely
Colors: Tamra Bonvillain
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Editor: Chrissy Williams
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

After I began to draft this review, providing an advance look at this new title from Image Comics, Diamond Comic Distributors announced it was halting shipments of new comics to stores following this week. That means it’ll be well beyond April 1 before many will get a chance to see it (a shame, as April Fool’s Day would have been perfect timing for this title’s release). Though it may be some time before comics enthusiasts can get their hands on this book, they’d do well to remember the title. This stands out as incredibly unique, an exuberant belch of creativity and a celebration of taboos and poor taste, all dressed up for a murderous prom.

Kid’s Critique: Hex Vet: The Flying Surgery

Editor’s note: It’s been two years since my son, Callum, has posted a review on this site, but in this time of self-isolation and cancelled, we decided it was a great time to do some writing. Feedback and comments are welcome.

Hex Vet: The Flying Surgery original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Sam Davies
Editor: Bryce Carlson
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Kaboom imprint
Price: $9.99 US/$11.99 CAN

I think that this book is a nice mix of magic and veterinary medicine. The story elements go together very nicely. I also think I will read it again because it is so original; it’s almost like a whole new genre! If it were in the real world, it would be pretty cool. I like to think of it as an explosion of themes. And I liked how the characters said things; it was pretty good too. 

Ready, Fett, Go!

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #1
Galaxy’s Deadliest, Part 1: Ghosts of Corellia”
Writer: Ethan Sacks
Artist: Paolo Villanelli
Colors: Arif Prianto
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Travis Lanham
Cover artists: Lee Bermejo (regular)/Dave Johnson, Kaare Andrews and Michael Golden (variants)
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

Given the popularity of The Mandolorian as part of the Disney+ streaming service’s launch last fall, it should come as no surprise that Marvel is releasing a bounty-hunter title set in the Star Wars universe. And while I don’t follow Star Wars comics much, my interest was piqued thanks to appreciation of The Mandolorian. Now, this title doesn’t feature that character, but rather Boba Fett and Bossk, a couple of bounty hunters from the original trilogy, but I decided to give this comic a go anyway. Unfortunately, I found little here to hold my attention. The plot – about a bunch of nefarious characters looking to get even with a former ally – feels hackneyed, and the art seems more focused on cool poses and pinup moments rather than telling a clear story. This is a wholly forgettable story that will likely appeal only to the most dedicated Star Wars fans and completists.

Frail, the Conquering Hero

Strange Adventures #1
“Chapter 1: They floated above the ground”
Writer: Tom King
Artists/Colors/Cover artists: Mitch Gerads & Evan “Doc” Shaner
Letters: Clayton Cowles 
Editor: Jamie S. Rich
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US

When people find out I’m into comics, they inevitably ask me who my favorite super-hero is. After I note that I’m into all sorts of genres in the medium, I add that I don’t really follow characters anymore, but creators. One of the creators whose work I follow intently these days is writer Tom King. I’m inclined to say he can do no wrong in my eyes, but that’s not entirely true (Heroes in Crisis, while rife with potential, was awkwardly executed). Nevertheless, after the thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking Mr. Miracle series, I was eager to see what King would do with another second-tier DC character. His take on Adam Strange boasts a lot of the qualities that made Mr. Miracle so compelling… in fact, it almost features too much of what made that prior project so good. The beats, plot and structure here elicit far-too-easy comparisons, and while King offers a novel interpretation of Strange, it doesn’t feel all that distinct from his exploration of Scott Free.

Coming Clean

Superman #18
“Truth”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Joe Prado
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover artists: Reis & Prado (regular)/Bryan Hitch (variant)
Editor: Mike Cotton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I had a keen interest in this issue, as it brings together to major interests and influences in my life: the super-hero genre and journalism. The latter element isn’t as examined as prominently as I’d hoped in this issue, but it’s felt nevertheless as part of Clark Kent’s identity. Ultimately, this is the sort of story I was hoping we’d see when it was announced Bendis would take the reins of DC’s Superman titles. The focus here is on character above all else, as he shakes up the status quo of an iconic character’s existence. There’s an inspirational, hopeful tone to Superman’s confession to the world here, and it made for an enjoyable reading experience. But there are other questions to be explored – ethical failings and potential fallout that I hope Bendis examines in coming issues.

Land of the Freaks, Home of the Strange

Undiscovered Country #1
Writers: Scott Snyder & Charles Soule
Pencils/Cover artist: Guiseppe Camuncoli
Inks: Daniele Orlandini
Colors: Matt Wilson
Letters: Crank!
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I picked this new title up for two main reasons: I’ve enjoyed the writing of Scott Snyder in recent years, and the comic seemed to offer the promise of some interesting political discourse in the context of genre fiction. The latter proved to be true, but unfortunately, it was only in small measure. Otherwise, what we get is what reads like a fairly typical post-apocalyptic thriller. If I had to sum the book up for someone who hadn’t read it, I’d say it was like Jurassic Park meets Mad Max — at least, that’s what it seems like so far. Undiscovered Country offers a nice little diversion, but at this early juncture, it feels a little too familiar. I was looking for a stronger commentary on the state of America at the moment, but thus far, all Snyder and Soule deliver is a fleeting one lacking in any depth or nuance.

Biorhythms

Martin Peters original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Patrick Allaby
Publisher: Conundrum Press
Price: $15 US/CAN

This independent graphic novel from a young cartoonist came to my attention because he grew up in the city in which I now live, and he was doing a signing at a local comic shop. I’m always happy to support locally produced comics and talent, and I’ve had the fortune of discovering some truly great slice-of-life comics from the indie scene over the years. As I delved into this book, it wasn’t quite what I expected, and it definitely could have benefitted from some strong editorial guidance. But I have to admit, despite the flaws I found, I was fascinated by the book — not so much in terms of the story, but in witnessing the stylistic and plotting choices its creator made in its development. Patrick Allaby’s inexperience shows through here, but so does the potential for him to grow as a storyteller in future endeavors.