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.

Don’t Forget to 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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Hare Tactics

Iron: Or the War After original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: S.M. Vidaurri
Editor: Rebecca Taylor
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Archaia imprint
Price: $19.99 US

I’ve found that over the many years I’ve been reviewing comics, one of the benefits has been the opportunity to sample storytelling that might not have otherwise come to my attention. As of late, whenever I experience something surprising, unconventional and decidedly different from the usual fare offered in mainstream comics, the source is often a graphic novel published by Boom! Studios. Iron: Or the War After is another such instance. Taking a page from such cartoonists as Art (Maus) Spiegelman, creator S.M. Vidaurri uses anthropomorphic animal characters to bring a poignant and touching story of socio-political and cultural relevance to life. This graphic novel is challenging; Vidaurri doesn’t provide all of the pieces of the puzzle at first, making the ultimate images that appear by the end of the book something of a mystery at first. But it’s an engaging journey, as the melancholy mood that permeates the book envelops the reader.

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Specs in the City

Man and Superman 100-Page Super-Spectacular #1
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist/Cover artist: Claudio Castellini
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Editors: Brian Cunningham, Peter Tomasi & Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $9.99 US

This is another one of those instances for which I’m thankful that I have a savvy comics retailer from whom I buy my comics, because he brought this book to my attention. I hadn’t heard about it at all, when I looked at it on the shop shelf last week, I hesitated at dropping 10 bucks on it. But the manager at the shop said writer Marv Wolfman had proclaimed it to be his best Superman story, and that the collection of the previously unpublished four-part story was already sold out at the distributor level. So I decided to take a chance on it, despite the fact that I already have far too many comics and graphic novels – both read and unread – cluttering my house.

I’m pleased I did. Wolfman – who had a solid run on Adventures of Superman in the late 1980s – wasn’t exaggerating when he dubbed this his best Super-story, and that’s because it’s not a tale about the Man of Steel. It’s about Clark Kent, and it’s powerfully resonant and relatable. The only aspects of the writing that kept this from being perhaps Wolfman’s greatest oeuvre was the thinness of the conspiracy plot and the depiction of journalism. But those weaknesses were minor as compared to the strength of the characterization and universal tone of the rest of the book.

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A Xerox on Your Houses

Forgeries of comic art, and especially unpublished sketches, are a growing problem in the original comic art market, but I encountered a different spin on a scam.

Comics inker Mark McKenna brought a particular eBay listing to the attention of his Facebook friends and followers this week. The item was billed as “John Romita Jr. original art,” and it appeared to be a Daredevil drawing, the sort of quickie head sketch one might get from an artist at a convention.

But here’s the kicker… at the bottom of the listing description, it notes the following: “Note this is a copy of the original.”

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Poor Reception

Cellies Volume One trade paperback
Writers: Joe Flood & David Scheidt
Artist: Joe Flood
Editors: Amanda Meadows & Andrea Colvin
Publisher: The Lion Forge
Price: $14.99 US/$19.99 CAN

This book caught my eye because of its promise of a workplace comedy, and I thought the title’s play on words — incorporating a term meant to represent a cellphone store and inmates bunking together — was cute and succinct. But when I delved into the story itself, I found it populated by an array of people almost devoid of redeeming qualities. I wouldn’t want to spend any real amount of time with these characters in the real world, and that means I didn’t much care for spending time reading about them either. I think there’s great potential in the concept behind Cellies, but just about every conflict arises from the characters’ selfishness. Furthermore, the premise is rife with comedic potential, but it’s never all that funny. Cellies is a missed opportunity.

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