Batman #36 (DC Comics)
by Tom King, Clay Mann & Seth Mann
I remember when I was a kid buying World’s Finest #271, one of DC’s many oversized dollar titles, and that issue promised a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Superman/Batman team. It explored the history of the characters’ connection (and I believed it opened to my eyes to DC’s multiple-earths concepts, which I loved). That purchase was made 36 years ago, so it’s safe to say I’ve read a lot of Superman/Batman team-up stories. With this newly released story, Tom King may have delivered the best Superman/Batman story to date. The villain in this opening chapter of the “Superfriends” story arc is deliciously deep cut, but what makes this such a memorable and touching piece of pop culture is King’s focus on who Bruce and Clark are and they view one another. The pacing and scripting are meticulous. I love how every moment, every word parallels another. I can’t begin to express how happy this comic book made me. My awe at the writing gave way to a real warmth inside. Thanks, Mr. King, for snatching a relatively simple notion out of the ether — the heroes’ unspoken awe and respect for one another — and shaping a wonderfully grounded tale that still builds on the ongoing engagement story.
I loved Clay Mann’s work throughout this issue. It boasted a strong Olivier Coipel vibe (apropos, since Coipel contributed a variant cover for this issue), but what was most striking was the painted-like look the linework and Jordie Bellaire’s colors achieve for the energy form of the obscure antagonist. The only real issue with the art was the unnecessary oversexualization of Catwoman. The cat-like poses I get, but emphasis on her butt and cleavage is something I wish many artists could evolve beyond. 9/10
Dan Dare #3 (Titan Comics)
by Peter Milligan & Alberto Foche
Artist Alberto Foche does an excellent job of conveying the classic, sci-fi pulp qualities of Dan Dare while also adding a touch of contemporary genre-fiction flair at the same time, mainly in the form of the alien warrior princess with whom the title character has teamed against a mysterious foe. Foche’s style reminded me of that of Daniel Acuna, in part because of the thick linework and how well it lends itself to the bright colors, adeptly instilled by colorist Jordi Escuin Llorach. Where the art goes awry is in its failure to convey the fourth-dimensional, confusing alien landscape that the protagonists report from inside the enemy ship. The scene called for an inventive backdrop, but Foche’s techscape didn’t even reach Escher-like levels of weirdness.
Peter Milligan delivers a thoroughly accessible story here. My familiarity with Dan Dare lore could be generously described as superficial at best, but the script provided me with enough exposition to appreciate both recent and historical plot points here. Milligan also conveys a classic sci-fi riff throughout this issue, and there’s definitely an appeal here for fans of such things as Star Trek and even Silver Age DC adventure books such as the original Suicide Squad. The story was a nice little diversion, but ultimately, I felt I hadn’t read anything particularly new. The tropes of this story are fairly familiar. It’s entertaining, but there wasn’t anything here that really hooked me, that had the potential to turn me into a Dan Dare devotee. Existing fans will no doubt love what they find here, but something a bit more inventive and unexpected is likely needed to draw in new readers. 6/10
Sleepless #1 (Image Comics)
by Sarah Vaughn & Leila Del Duca
As soon as I saw the cover for this new title, I was immediately struck by how unique it looked, and that feeling continued as I made my way through the pages. Leila Del Duca’s artwork strikes me as a cross between the styles of Becky Cloonan and Colleen Doran. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the linework is the expansive and detailed nature of the castle in which the story unfolds. I was also impressive with the deep, textured colors offered up by Alissa Sallah, who brings of the fabrics of the characters’ clothing to life with patterns as opposed to simple tones. I also loved the inky design for the assassin who turns up later in the issue.
Sarah Vaughn has clearly thought through the history and politics of this medieval fantasy land quite thoroughly. There’s a real sense of culture here; I’m impressed with the writer’s efforts toward world-building. Also convincing the incredibly earnest nature of the two protagonists, Poppy and Cyrenic. There’s a sense of purity to the characters that makes it easy to buy into the connection between them. That being said, I found it incredibly difficult to connect with Sleepless. There’s nothing grounded, nothing everyday about this place, plot or people that allows the audience to relate to what’s going on. I find the stilted dialogue, fitting to the backdrop, hides the characters’ humanity from the reader. It’s less a criticism of the creators’ craft and more of an expression of a personal preference, really. It’s the same reason I was unable to enjoy comics such as Silver Age Thor yarns for a long time. 6/10
Walking Dead #174 (Image Comics)
by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard & Stephano Gaudiano
This is easily one of the more compelling and unique issues of the series in quite some time, and the reason is its focus and accessibility. Unlike other recent chapters in this long-running saga, this episode focuses only on Negan and his effort to find a new place and purpose for himself now that he’s been freed from captivity. On the surface, the story is about his struggle and his redemption, but by the end of the issue, it becomes clearer that it really isn’t. Kirkman explores the self-loathing in which the one-time antagonist turned anti-hero finds himself. When speaking with someone he’s wronged, he speaks of his guilt over the things he’s done to others, but it’s in his solitary moments that he really reveals himself. His guilt isn’t over what he’s done to survive, per se, but rather what he allowed himself to become in the wake of his wife’s death. He’s ashamed for having failed her, and for having replaced his spouse with something inanimate and ugly. One could also see this story as being about addiction, and how Negan is drawn back to a symbol of the violent excesses in which he used to revel.
Adlard’s gritty but simple style is served Walking Dead incredibly well over the years, and his ability to maintain a more-than-monthly schedule has been vital in allowing the book to maintain its momentum and to feed an ever-growing audience always hungry for new material. His storytelling is as strong as ever here, not surprisingly, though I like I would have enjoyed seeing more detail in began’s face to convey the nuances of the emotions he experiences throughout this issue (though I acknowledge he isn’t a character with which many would associate nuance). What impressed me most visually in this issue was how Adlard instills such power in Maggie. Thanks to the worm’s eye view, she appears larger than life here, an imposing figure who dominates someone who was once the Bogeyman of this post-apocalyptic world. 8/10