Caught En Garde

Fence Vol. 1 trade paperback
Writer: C.S. Pacat
Artist: Johanna the Mad
Colors: Joana Lafuente
Letters: Jim Campbell
Cover artist: Shanen Pae (regular and variant)
Editor: Shannon Watters
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $9.99 US

Boom! Studios has a knack for finding and promoting offbeat and fun new properties that appeal to a wide variety of readers, and a comic book about fencing seemed intriguing to me. Unfortunately, writer C.S. Pacat has constructed a mini-world that represents just about everything I detest about sports. Fence takes us to a place where abuse and betrayal are commonplace, where hardly anyone thinks about someone other than themselves and where one’s skill at an antiquated contest determines one’s worth rather than one’s character. To make matters worse, this first collected volume of the series doesn’t even come close to offering a complete story arc of any kind.

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Artful Obsessions: Grummett Summit

I think the first time I saw (or at least took note of) Tom Grummett’s art was on his run on Adventures of Superman, specifically during the “Reign of the Supermen” arc in the wake of the November 1992 “Death of Superman.” He and writer Karl Kesel crafted an interesting and lasting character in the cloned version of Superboy. I’m pleased to see the character design is about to make a comeback in the relaunched Young Justice comic from DC in the months ahead.

That work, and Grummett’s tenure on the subsequent Superboy spinoff series, really cemented Grummett’s reputation in the comics industry, not to mention some wonderful work on Robin. He offered some memorable visuals on the DC/Marvel Amalgam book Challengers of the Fantastic in the late 1990s, and perhaps the strongest evidence of the height of his “star power” in the mainstream comics industry was his participation in the striking but short-lived Gorilla Comics imprint at Image, through which he and a throng of top-tier talent — Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Stuart Immonen, Kesel and many more — delivered some strong creator-owned genre titles.

Grummett’s prominence seemed to wane in the wake of that endeavor, though he’s remained a constant presence in comics, notably contributing to many Marvel titles in recent years. Perhaps the brighter tone of his style fell out of vogue, but it’s a shame, because he always brings a great energy and sense of fun to his work. As demonstrated with his work on Superboy and Robin, he’s adept at instilling a convincing youthfulness in his characters, and he’s shined time and time again when playing with the creations of the late, great Jack Kirby. I’ve always enjoyed Grummett’s style, so when I got a chance to acquire a couple of pieces of original comic art on which he worked at prices that worked well within my budget, I jumped at it.

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Good Cop, Green Cop

Martian Manhunter #1
“A Prisoner”
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Colors: Ivan Plascencia
Letters: Deron Bennett
Cover artists: Rossmo (regular)/Joshua Middleton (variant)
Editor: Chris Conroy
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

DC has clearly decided to embrace the title character once again, not only placing him in the spotlight in its new Justice League but giving him another shot at an ongoing title. What drew me to this was Riley Rossmo’s art, and his weirder, more exaggerated style suits the alien, shape-shifting nature of J’Onn J’Onzz nicely. I didn’t know what to expect from Steve Orlando’s plot; he’s been a hit-and-miss writer for me. He definitely took me off-guard with his take on the character, exploring him as a much darker, broken figure than we’ve seen before. This isn’t the pure-of-heart vision of the Martian Manhunter with which long-time genre readers would be familiar. Instead, this is the story of a man seeking redemption for past sins. It’s intriguing and challenging, but the creative team might have been a little too successful when it came to capturing and conveying alien culture, physiology and perceptions.

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Ragnarockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

DC Nuclear Winter Special #1
Writers: Mark Russell, Collin Kelley & Jackson Lanzing, Steve Orlando, Jeff Loveness, Tom Taylor, Mairghread Scott, Paul Dini, Phil Hester, Cecil Castellucci and Dave Wielgosz
Pencils: Mike Norton, Giuseppe Camuncoli & Cam Smith, Brad Walker & Drew Hennessy, Christian Duce, Tom Derenick & Yasmine Putri, Dexter Soy, Jerry Ordway, Phil Hester & Ande Parks, Amancay Nahuelpan and Scott Kolins
Colors: Hi-Fi, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Nathan Fairbairn, Luis Guerrero, Yasmine Putri, Veronica Gandini, Dave McCaig, Trish Mulvihill, Brian Buccellato and John Kalisz
Letters: Deron Bennett, Clayton Cowles, Tom Napolitano, Steve Wands, Dave Sharpe and Josh Reed
Cover artist: Yanick Paquette
Editors: Alex Antone & Dave Wielgosz
Price: $9.99 US

DC certainly made this year’s holiday special stand apart from previous ones with a post-apocalyptic theme. It’s an odd choice, but for longtime DC readers, it’s a fun and interesting divergence from the norm. However, newer readers or those with only a passing familiarity with DC lore, this could make for some confusion, as there are some deep cuts that might leave the uninitiated scratching their heads. Ultimately, this is as diverting and entertaining as most super-hero holiday specials have been in the past, but not particularly memorable either.

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Romeo Echo Victor India Echo Whiskey

The Warning #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Edward Laroche
Colors: Brad Simpson
Letters: Jaymes Reed
Editor: Donald Hodges
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Writer/artist Edward Laroche offers a lot of elements in this opening issue that appeal to me as a reader. A realistic representation of a military operation, cynicism, flawed characters and artwork that blends an interesting mix of realism and style. That being said, I didn’t enjoy this story because Laroche essentially leaves out the most important element: that being an actual story. Everything about the first chapter of The Warning is designed to be mysterious, secretive, and on that level, it succeeds, but too well. The script is so nebulous, so drenched in vagueness, that by the end of the issue, I’d lost interest in the approaching conflict and the critical actions of the intense characters.

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Q Factor

Quincredible #1
“Love Jones and Headphones”
Writer: Rodney Barnes
Artist: Selina Espiritu
Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letters: Tom Napolitano
Cover artist: Michelle Wong
Editor: Jasmine Amiri
Publisher: Lion Forge
Price: $3.99 US

In some ways, Lion Forge reminds me of Valiant of the 1990s when it comes to comics publishing. It’s building a shared super-hero universe and offering something a bit different from its better-known brethren, Marvel and DC. As such, I’m always a bit curious when it launches a new title, so I decided to peruse the pages of Quincredible. Writer Rodney Barnes offers up a different perspective on America than we’re accustomed to in mainstream super-hero comics, and that interests me significantly. Unfortunately, the genre elements introduced here are derivative at best and rather uninteresting at worst.

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Flea-Market Finds: Shoplifter

Shoplifter original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist//Colors/Letters/Cover artist: Michael Cho
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Price: $19.99 US/$23.99 CAN

Michael Cho has probably best known in mainstream comics in the past couple of years as the talent behind some striking variant covers on super-hero titles from both DC and Marvel. Sadly, I was well out of the loop and didn’t realize that his skills are far more profound and striking than I originally thought, and I have a recent purchase from my local comic shop’s discounted graphic-novel rack. I sped through this 2014 book, not because it’s superficial in any way, but because it’s so powerfully but quietly compelling. Cho offers a thoroughly relatable vignette of life in one’s 20s, and it’s illustrated in a simple style that nevertheless conveys a depth and realism that brings Corrina’s corner of the world to life vividly.

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‘Heart Aches

Ironheart #1
Writer: Eve L. Ewing
Artists: Kevin Libranda & Luciano Vecchio
Colors: Matt Milla
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Amy Reeder (regular)/Jen Bartel, Stephanie Hans, Jamal Campbell, Humberto Ramos, Luciano Vecchio and Skottie Young (variants)
Editors: Alanna Smith & Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

I thoroughly enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ work on the various Iron Man titles toward the end of his tenure at Marvel Entertainment, and Riri Williams was one of the more interesting characters to arise in the course of that run. At first, it felt a bit like Eve L. Ewing, a writer and academic who’s new to the medium of comics as far as I can ascertain, didn’t quite have a strong a sense of the beats and pacing necessary to hold my attention as well as Bendis (who, in all fairness, has been at this comics game a long time). But in the third act of this issue, everything came into focus. Ewing’s sense of who Riri is, what drives and what’s missing from her life all made for a compelling, relatable read. And the twist revealed at the end was something I should have seen coming, but didn’t — and I loved it.

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Artful Obsessions: Stretch Goal

When it comes to stretchable heroes in mainstream comics, my favorite has always been the Elongated Man. This is no doubt due in part to the fact that he was the first of the elastic heroes I encountered when I started reading comics as a kid, but I think there’s a little more to it that just being first out of the gate in my world. Plastic Man was goofier, yes, and Mr. Fantastic was smarter. But Ralph Dibny was always the most human, a regular guy. I’ve been loving Hartley Sawyer’s turn as the character seasons 4 and 5 of The Flash on TV.

Despite my appreciation of the character, my collection of original comic art was always devoid of an E-Man appearance… until now. But even better than Ralph’s addition to my collection is the fact that I’ve now got a board featuring the bright and attractive linework of artist Chuck Patton.

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Problem, Child

Elisabeth Dumn Against the Devils in Suits original graphic novella
Writer/Artist: Arabson
Adaptation: James Robinson
Colors: Anderson Cabral
Editor: Klebs Junior
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US

This U.S., translated edition of a Brazilian work immediately grabbed my eye when I saw it on the new-releases shelf at my local comic shop recently. The slightly larger format stands out, but not nearly as much as the striking, simple and effective cover. The title was enticing as well, and when I got the book home, it didn’t disappoint. In many ways, Arabson’s story of familial betrayal and a battle with pure evil is rather conventional, hitting on a number tropes we’ve seen before. But the exaggerated, bombastic quality of the art and the palpable personality emanating from the titular character makes for a thoroughly entertaining read. Writer James Robinson has also done a solid job of making this story accessible to a North American audience without losing the flavor of the South American culture.

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Making a Mountain Out of a Maher, Bill

Professional curmudgeon and Real Time host Bill Maher enraged vast swaths of the comics community Saturday with a blog post that referenced the death of Stan Lee, arguing briefly that his cultural importance is over-inflated given the entertainment icon’s origins in a medium the comedian essentially deemed infantile. I suppose the kneejerk vitriol on social media spouted over Maher’s repudiation of a beloved, famed figure still being mourned and an entire entertainment medium is to be expected, but my reaction was thus:

So what?

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I’ll Take Self-Discovery for $800, Alex

Form of a Question original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Andrew J. Rostan
Pencils/Cover artist: Kate Kasenow
Inks: Jenna Ayoub & Ilaria Catalani
Colors: Laura Langston
Letters: Deron Bennett
Editors: Sierra Hahn & Rebecca Taylor
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Archaia imprint
Price:$17.99 US/$22.99 CAN/13.50 UK

I’d never even heard tell of this graphic novel before it literally turned up on my doorstep, but as soon as I saw the review copy of this hardcover book, I was immediately taken with it. Who doesn’t love Jeopardy!? Andrew Rostan, a real-life champion from the show more than a decade ago, has crafted a compelling autobio comic here, framing his own development and psyche around his obsession with the game show. It’s certainly a good graphic novel, and it had the potential to be a great one. I found the stream-of-consciousness approach to the plotting and a vague, amorphous quality in Kate Kasenow’s artwork combined to make the book a little inaccessible at times, and there’s a suggestion about how and why Rostan’s tenure on the quiz show ended that I found disappointing and irksome. But overall, Form of a Question is an unconventional, engaging and challenging bit of storytelling that takes us into the mind of someone associated with an iconic bit of Americana, delving into the awkward, confused soul of someone who discovers that fulfilling a lifelong dream wasn’t the path to contentment he’d expected.

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Stan Lee, 1922-2018

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.

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