When I discovered comic books in the late 1970s, I was immediately taken with DC titles. The reason might be quite simple: my favorite of my first three comics when recovering from a bad broken arm in hospital was Batman Family #19, probably because it was the thickest, offered more stories and featured more colorful characters than the other two (one of which was an issue of Amazing Spider-Man). I was squarely in the DC camp, and it would be a few years before a friend initiated me into Marvel and the House of Ideas.
I’ve been rather lax in recent weeks when it came to writing about comics, and now that I’ve gotten back to it, I found I’ve got plenty to say about stories and art being told in my favorite medium. With this set of capsule reviews, I turn my attention to four recent first issues: Marvel Knights 20th, Outer Darkness, Suicide Squad: Black Files and Zorro: Swords of Hell.
The Green Lantern #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Liam Sharp
Colors: Steve Oliff
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Cover artists: Sharp (regular)/Frank Quitely (variant)
Editor: Brian Cunningham
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US
It was just a matter of time before writer Grant Morrison turned his attention to the Green Lantern mythos. He’s left his marks on Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and even the Flash, so GL was a logical step for his next project with an icon of DC super-heroes. When the project was announced, I was pleased. While I thoroughly appreciated Geoff Johns revitalization of the property several years ago, I’d lost interest in the Green Lantern Corps more recently. I expected Morrison would offer something decided different with his take, and he does — but then again, he doesn’t. The writer’s script is an odd one, somewhat inaccessible — not in terms of plot, but language. Everything about this bit of storytelling feels alien, which may be the point, but the result is there’s little with which the reader can connect… not even its human hero.
Jook Joint #1
Writer: Tee Franklin
Artist: Alitha Martinez
Colors: Shari Chankhamma
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Cover artists: Martinez (regular)/Mike Hawthorne (variant)
Editor: Brendan Wright
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US
Tee Franklin is the real deal, folks. She has quickly emerged as a powerful and resonant voice in comics, and you’d do well to sit up and take notice of her. Her first big splash was this year’s Bingo Love, one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in 2018. And with Jook Joint, she demonstrates that fantastic debut was no fluke. Furthermore, she proves she’s a versatile writer as well, as the tone of this book is much harsher, much more intense and significantly angrier. And for good cause. The timing of Jook Joint couldn’t be better, given last week’s controversial events in American politics and justice (though some would understandably argue what occurred was far from justice). Jook Joint would have been written at least several months, well ahead of the Kavanaugh hearings and confirmation vote, but the anger in America and abroad seems perfectly reflected in this story of a horrific #MeToo movement before its time.
Rainbow Brite #1
Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Artist: Britney Williams
Colors: Valentina Pinto
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Cover artists: Paulina Ganucheau, Tony Fleecs & “Classic Art”
Editor: Kevin Ketner
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
Rainbow Brite? There’s a Rainbow Brite comic? And I’m reviewing it? Really?
Really. Writer Jeremy Whitley sent a digital review copy of this latest licensed-property adaptation, and while I had absolutely no interest or knowledge of Rainbow Brite, I decided to give it a look, based solely on the strength of the creative reputations of the writer and artist, Britney Williams. While this book definitely wasn’t crafted with a middle-aged comics enthusiast in mind, it was crafted adeptly and will appeal to younger readers. I can’t go so far as to call Rainbow Brite and all-ages comic, but it’s a perfect comic to put in the hands of young girls will an interest in reading, adventure and wonder.
Alice: From Dream to Dream original softcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Giulio Macaione
Colors: Giulia Adragna
Letters: Jim Campbell
English adaptation: Jackie Ball
Editor: Shannon Watters
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Boom! Box imprint
Price: $14.99 US/$18.99 CAN/10.99 UK
I hadn’t heard anything about this graphic novel for teen and ‘tween readers, so when it turned up on my doorstep, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Still, the art was inviting, so I started to peruse the opening pages. I was quickly captivated by Giulio Macaione’s characterization. The premise — about a girl with the ability/curse to experience people’s dreams with them when in proximity to the — is full of potential, but the real strength of the book is its down-to-earth characterization, its universal exploration of a coming of age, of the trials of adolescence and of the sense of powerlessness a teenager can feel when having no control over a life in purgatory between childhood and adulthood.
From two costumed characters coming out of hiding to two teams of impossibly empowered champions teaming up to tackle cosmic crises, this handful of capsule reviews took me from city streets to the far side of the galaxy and then across dimensions. Check out my thoughts on the first issues of Dead Rabbit, Faith: Dreamside, Justice League Odyssey and Spider-Geddon.
When comics readers envision iconic characters, their definitive versions tend to be associated with specific artists. As someone who grew up reading comics in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, my Superman is the one drawn the late Curt Swan, for example. And when it came to Batman, for a long time, it was always the late Jim Aparo’s that came to mind. But then in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, someone else came along who offered such dynamic portrayals of the Dark Knight, he joined Aparo in my estimation of the perfect Batman artist.
Norm Breyfogle died Monday in Michigan, after a few years of forced retirement following a stroke in 2014. Stalwarts of the comic-book industry have already eulogized him online, and my thoughts on Breyfogle’s work will pale in comparison. I never had the chance to meet the artist, but his unique style really stuck with me over the years.
Heroes in Crisis #1
“Part 1: I’m Just Warming Up”
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Clay Mann
Colors: Tomeu Morey
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Mann (regular)/J.G. Jones, Francesco Mattina, Mark Brooks & Ryan Sook
Editor: Jamie S. Rich
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
In a short time, I’ve come to have incredible respect and faith in the writing abilities of Tom King, but even more than that, I know that when editor Jamie S. Rich is involved in a project, it’s one that’s worthy of my attention, one that will entertain and even challenge me. Unfortunately, I fear they stumbled a bit with this opening chapter, which focuses far too much on keeping the reader guessing what’s going on rather than telling a story. It also relies heavily on the gimmick of killing off heroes — both obscure and a little better known. Mind you, while King’s script has confused me, it’s also intrigued me, and my disappointment with this disjointed first issue is tempered by my hope for clarity and inventive plotting from a proven creative team.
Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #0
Writer: Richard Dinnick
Artists: Mariano Laclaustra, Giorgio Sposito, Brian Williamson, Arianna Florean, Claudia Ianniciello, Iolanda Zanfardino, Neil Edwards, Pasquale Qualano, Rachael Stott & Fer Centurion
Colors: Color-Ice, Carlos Cabrera, Adele Matera, Dijjo Lima & Enrica Eren Angiuolini
Letters: Comicraft’s Sarah Jacobs & John Roshell
Cover artists: Claudia Ianniciello plus photo cover
Editor: Jessica Burton
Publisher: Titan Comics
Price: $7.99 US
While my favorite storytelling medium is comics, I love film and TV as well, and I’m pretty well versed in a wide array of geek culture. I’m knowledgeable in Star Trek, Star Wars and other big sci-fi/fantasy properties, as well as some lesser-known ones, but one thing I know next to nothing about is Doctor Who. You’d think as a resident of the Commonwealth, such British science-fiction fare would have been prevalent on Canadian airwaves over the decades, but it wasn’t. It’s been available in recent years, as its profile in America has risen, but I’ve never actually watched an episode. My exposure was limited to commercials and merchandise in comic shops. So I thought Titan’s release of this zero issue bringing the latest incarnation of the Doctor to comics might offer a primer of sorts for someone like me who’s new to Who. The comic is subtitled “The Many Lives of Doctor Who,” after all. But while this oversized comic delivers an overview of the many iterations of the sci-fi icon, it’s not as accessible as I’d hoped. I was left with many more questions than answers, though I’m starting to see the appeal of the franchise.
Writer: Sam Humphries
Artist: Jen Bartel
Layouts: Paul Reinwand
Colors: Nayoung Wilson & Jen Bartel
Letters: Jodi Wynne
Cover artists: Bartel (regular)/Fiona Staples (variant)
Editor: Jim Gibbons
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US
Adolescence and early adulthood are trying experiences in the best of circumstances. Sure, a lot of us have debaucherous fun as we test our personal limits and society’s during that time, but it’s also a time of perpetual identity crisis. Now imagine going through that in the face of personal tragedy and family dysfunction; it would test even the most hardy of souls. Now imagine you’re attuned to something mysterious and magical, an unseen world of which you’ve caught only a glimpse, and rather than believe you, everyone around you thinks you’re crazy. Writer Sam Humphries explores the challenge of maturity and identity in the context of an urban fantasy world, and it’s brought to life beautifully by artist Jen Bartel. I didn’t know what to expect from this comic at all, and I was not only taken by surprise, but was completely captivated by the balance between grounded characterization and the wonder of the impossible.
I had no idea writer Chelsea Cain was on the cusp of a comeback at Marvel Entertainment. I would imagine many others were likewise in the dark about it. Apparently, her Vision title was announced at Comic-Con International San Diego this summer, but I hadn’t heard about it. Of course, there’s such a deluge of pop-culture news and gossip that emerges from the annual event, I’m not surprised I missed it.
That Marvel was tapping Cain (and her husband, Marc Mohan, as co-writer) once again to craft a story featuring one of its characters was a smart move for the publisher, in light of the controversy that arose over her Mockingbird series a couple of years ago. A disgusting backlash of toxic masculinity and a gatekeeper mentality directed at a woman whom Marvel dared to hire and over a feminist message became emblematic of a culture clash within comics. We’re still dealing with it today in the form of the “Comicsgate” crowd, railing against diversity in characters, storytelling and talent.
Batman: Damned #1
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Lee Bermejo
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover artists: Bermejo (regular)/Jim Lee (variant)
Editor: Mark Doyle
Publisher: DC Comics/DC Black Label imprint
Price: $6.99 US
DC announced new imprints and publishing initiatives earlier this year that would bring different formats and content to its readers, and its Black Label branding appears to be a home for more mature super-hero genre storytelling. Basically, we get a strong Batman story from accomplished writer and DC mainstay Brian Azzarello and meticulous crafted, realistic artwork from Bermejo, whose career highlights have also been at DC. Honestly, this new imprint wasn’t all that necessary for the mature-readers content, but it does serve a purpose: to isolate this story from regular DC continuity. Azzarello plays around with some other characters from DC’s supernatural stable, and some of the new spins on these familiar figures were as intriguing as the plot of a Batman broken by his past and his forgotten sins.
Archie: 1941 #1
Writers: Mark Waid & Brian Augustyn
Artist: Peter Krause
Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letters: Jack Morelli
Cover artists: Krause (regular)/Sanya Anwar, Francesco Francavilla, Dave Johnson & Aaron Lopresti (variants)
Editors: Mike Pellerito & Victor Gorelick
Publisher: Archie Comics
Price: $3.99 US
I was thrilled to see both Mark Waid’s and Brian Augustyn’s names in the credits for this new limited series, the latest in Archie’s efforts to offer new and more thoughtful spins on its iconic teen characters. Waid and Augustyn have always worked well together; Augustyn was Waid’s editor on the Flash run that initially cemented the writer’s reputation in the medium, and they’ve paired in the past as co-writers, to great effect. Augustyn has been largely invisible in the industry in recent years, so it’s a pleasure to see him back. He and Waid bring the same strength to this latest collaboration as they have in the past. Their more realistic examination of Archie Andrews on the cusp of adulthood during a tumultuous and uncertain time in American history really resonates, but while the characterization work here is impeccable, I nevertheless felt a little uncomfortable with it. A truly melancholy and lost Archie just didn’t feel quite right, as the writers face the burden the character’s long history and ingrained presence in pop-culture consciousness.