Who’s Who?

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.

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A Coming of Mage Story

Blackbird #1
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.

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Blurred Vision

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.

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The Joke Killing

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.

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Riverdale Blues

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.

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Artful Obsessions: Dollar Dazed

Comics writer and Astro City creator Kurt Busiek recently wrote in a Twitter thread that often, younger readers discovering comics typically choose a thicker one as their first foray into the medium. “Young readers may not know the characters well, or care about creators, but they understand ‘more,’” Busiek posted.

He’s absolutely right. My introduction to comics came in a hospital room, as I recovered from a broken arm as a kid. My brother and friends from across the street visited me and gave me three comics. The one that grabbed my attention was Batman Family #19. It offered more content, more characters, more stories, and I couldn’t get enough of these colorful crusaders and criminals. After that, when my mom would take me to corner stores to buy new comics, I gravitated toward DC titles to its Dollar Comics in particular.

It’s with that context in mind that I reveal a couple of the latest acquisitions in my original comic art collection.

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If This Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right

The Wrong Earth #1
Writers: Tom Peyer, Paul Constant & Grant Morrison
Artists: Jamal Igle & Juan Castro, Frank Cammuso and Rob Steen
Colors: Andy Troy and Frank Cammuso
Letters: Rob Steen and Frank Cammuso
Cover artist: Jamal Igle
Editor: Tom Peyer
Publisher: Ahoy Comics
Price: $3.99 US

When I was a kid first discovering comics through DC titles, I was mesmerized by the parallel earths concept. I couldn’t get enough of it, so much so it should really come as no surprise that Crisis on Infinite Earths is one of my favorite comics stories. With this new title, writer/editor Tom Peyer plays around with the idea of super-heroes and parallel worlds, and he does so to great effect. This isn’t the first time a lighter incarnation of am characters ventures into a darker world and vice versa, but Peyer’s effective collaboration with penciller Jamal Igle packs a particularly strong punch. Their commentary on disparate but iconic visions of the super-hero genre both pays tribute to the source material and takes them to task for their excesses. This is a great debut from a new publisher wise enough to tap experienced talent.

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Flowery Language With No Words

Petals hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Gustavo Borges
Colors: Cris Peter
Editor: Whitney Leopard
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Kaboom imprint
Price: $16.99 US/$20.99 CAN/12.99 UK

Poverty. Illness. Harsh weather. Isolation. These are all conditions that often bring out the worst in people, as fear and desperation can drive some to undertaken awful actions in the name survival. But there’s another path when faced with such hardships, and that’s the one down which writer/artist Gustavo Borges leads his readers in Petals. Published under Boom! Studios’ all-ages imprint, this American edition of a Brazilian comic will take you by surprise, but quietly. It’s an understated celebration of the human spirit, but more than that, it’s an exploration of the importance of community, of connection and of empathy.

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Flea-Market Finds: 1st Issue Special #11

Ist Issue Special #11
“Code Name: Assassin”
Writers: Gerry Conway & Steve Skeates
Pencils: Nestor Redondo & Frank Redondo
Inks: Al Milgrom
Cover artist: Mike Grell
Editors: Gerry Conway & Paul Levitz
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: 25 cents

1st Issue Special was an odd series from DC, featuring a different property — sometimes new, as was the case with this issue, and sometimes established — with every new issue. This particular issue was notably weird, as the execution is so clumsy. This vigilante anti-hero follows a lot of the archetypal elements that one finds in such characters, but this is such a watered-down version of a revenge story that it leaves the reader scratching his or her head by the end of this unfinished 1976 story. I was entertained as I read this issue, mind you, but only for the unintentional amusement of such awkward writing.

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Letter Bugs – Let’s Talk About Hex, Baby…

As I’ve noted in other recent features as of late, I’ve been delighting in deals on Bronze Age comics that have allowed me to flash back into comics history, and one thing I always check out in those decades-old back issues are the letters columns. While we still see the occasional letter-col in modern comics, those missives printed in the backs of pre-Internet publications strike me as being a little more special, given it requires greater effort and even a little expense for readers to offer feedback to comics editors.

Another reason I love perusing those old-school letter-cols is the names one finds occasionally at the bottoms of those letters. Case in point: the letter-col from Jonah Hex #63, published April 1982 (though cover dated August 1982)…

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Monster-al Cycle

Man-Eaters #1
Writer: Chelsea Cain
Artist: Kate Niemczyk
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters: Joe Caramagna
Cover artist: Lia Miternique
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Before you venture further into this review, I have to note that my lack of familiarity with the subject matter of this comic book before I read it added immensely to my enjoyment of it. While I endeavor here to steer clear of spoilers whenever possible, my comments will no doubt detract from the writer’s efforts to keep the reader in the dark for the first half of the issue, and they’ll likely offer some hints at the twist later in the story. If you wish to avoid such information, just know that this comic is recommended, and come back and read what I have to say after you’ve had a chance to enjoy the issue for yourself.

Novelist and columnist Chelsea Cain’s brief foray into comics was noteworthy for how strongly her feminist themes resonated, both with a receptive audience and with a small but vocal opposition determined to ostracize women and minorities as lead characters and creators in genre fiction. Cain’s return to comics should generate a fair bit of attention, and for good reason. She delivers a playful bit of social satire here, building on feminist themes and exposing how a male-oriented society has transformed a completely natural and necessary bit of biology into a taboo subject. Women’s periods have long been off limits in many respects, to the point that many men have been completely in the dark about menstruation (including me, truth be told, for far too long). Here, Cain treats the notion of demonizing girls’ first periods quite literally, and the concept offers great potential for social commentary and a much-needed lampooning of outdated thinking.

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Leaving Money on the Table

DC’s move to launch its own streaming service, DC Universe, is both completely logical and rather surprising at the same time. Many corporations are scrambling to catch up with Netflix and other early-out-of-the-gate services, seeking to reap the huge rewards of producing original content and making its older material available online for fees. Furthermore, there’s money to be made from selling its original content later on to other media outfits and on home video. CBS jumped on board with its own effort, CBS All Access, last year, and Disney is reportedly developing its own streaming service. Whether these newer efforts will have staying power remains to be seen.

So when viewed in that context, it’s understandable that DC would embark upon a similar venture. It has a huge library of properties adapted for TV and movies upon which it can draw, and as Hollywood has known for years, its vast array of characters offers significant potential for new programming. Furthermore, DC knows there’s an online audience for its comics, and offering that reading experience as part of DC Universe is a logical extension of the digital content effort.

What’s surprising is that it’s DC, not its parent company Time Warner, that’s taking on such a project. It’s quiet ambitious for a comparatively small branch of the media giant to undertake such an endeavor.

But here’s what’s even more surprising about DC Universe: it doesn’t want my money.

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