This time around, I offer up capsule reviews of Atlas & Axis #1, Batman: Creature of the Night #2, Ghost Stories and Suicide Squad #33.
Atlas & Axis #1 (Titan Comics/Statix Press)
I’ve not heard of Spanish cartoonish Pau before, and judging from the tone of the storytelling in this comic book, this isn’t the first story to feature these title characters. But I can tell you this: I’ll be watching for Pau’s name and those of his characters from now on. This medieval adventure featuring anthropomorphic characters reminds me a great deal of the humor and drama one can find in the storytelling of Jeff (Bone, Tuki) Smith. This issue sets the stage for a pair of canine friends setting out to find lost family and friends, spirited away by raiders that decimated their village while they were away. The tone here shifts quickly back and forth between the irreverent to the dire, and there’s even a touching love-at-first-sight romance plotline. What’s easily the most amusing and interesting aspect of the book is how the canine characters, though intelligent and capable of human-like behavior, still exhibit traditional dog habits, like sniffing behinds and using their excretions to mark territory. Pau offers a bizarre but charming blend of human and animal behavior in his characters.
His cartooning style is also reminiscent of Smith’s, but I was also reminded of the styles of Walt (Pogo) Kelly and Antonio (Mad’s “Spy Versus Spy”) Prohías. There’s a terrific energy and sense of movement in Pau’s cartoony characters. The pastoral backgrounds remind me of the settings we’ve seen in such classic Euro-comics as The Smurfs and Asterix. I became a Pau fan within just a couple of pages, and I’m confident others who take a look at this relatively unknown title will too. 9/10
Batman: Creature of the Night #2 (DC Comics)
by Kurt Busiek & John Paul Leon
While I enjoyed the first issue of this limited series, I felt it lacked the power of its sister title from years ago, Superman: Secret Identity. Well, that’s no longer the case, as the further removed Bruce Wainwright gets from his tragic childhood, the more interesting and realistic the story is becoming, despite the supernatural element that’s a driving force here. This orphaned image of Bruce is a much more grounded person, someone who finds contentment in his accomplishments. He’s driven but not completely obsessed, and he’s a much more relatable and convincing figure. I particularly enjoyed how Busiek presents Bruce as an accepting figure and force for social change in his small corner of the world, be it his uncle’s sexuality or his sense that race shouldn’t be an impediment to success. The twist that reveals itself at the end of the issue didn’t come as a huge surprise, but I’m intrigued by how Bruce’s wish fulfillment is now a crisis of conscience. The subplot about Uncle Alfred’s secret resolves quietly and satisfactorily, and I’m really enjoying getting to know the man Bruce Wainwright is becoming.
In my comments about the first issue, I expressed my appreciation for John Paul Leon’s artwork but also concern his noir style might not work for the real-world backdrop that’s integra to the premise. But again, this second issue dispelled that concern. The everyday elements are thoroughly convincing and believable, especially the backdrops, but the noir leanings of the artist’s approach are perfect for the Batman ghoul that carries out Bruce’s will. I love Todd Klein’s lettering, of course, but I still find the cursive font used to convey Alfred’s narrative voice to be difficult to read. 8/10
Ghost Stories (Rosarium Publishing)
by Whit Taylor
This graphic novel is actually an anthology of three short stories, all by the same writer/artist. It’s loosely tied together by the theme of ghosts, but that’s generally a figurative motif rather than a literal one. The first piece is the weakest of the lot, as the creator/narrator interacts with significant figures from intellectual history who are long deceased. The whole thing seems a bit indulgent and isn’t all that interesting. The only figure with which I had any real familiarity is Charles Darwin, and Taylor fails to make him really breathe as a character. The second story isn’t a piece of comics craft at all, but rather a series of vignettes of a character’s life (presumably the author’s) that tells a family’s story through snippets of decor that are to be removed, admired or added to their surroundings. It’s an interesting approach, and there’s an almost poetic approach to the vague descriptions, but the lack of clarity and constant shifts in focus made it difficult to connect with the material. That we never see a person in this piece also disconnects the reader from the subject matter.
The third and final of Taylor’s “Ghost Stories” was the most resonant, as it had a much better sense of characterization and a universal tone. The ghost in question eventually becomes the lead character’s childhood friendship. Her exploration of how people so close can drift apart so easily due to circumstance is wholly relatable, and Taylor’s examination of the dysfunction from which Hope, the friend, originates is saddening and touching. That stronger finish isn’t enough to really redeem the book completely for me, though, because the crudeness of the art is off-putting. Taylor has talent as a writer, but she doesn’t have the matching skill level as a cartoonist. The art on the first and third stories is incredibly childlike, too simple and ineffective at conveying meaning. Her lettering is amateurish and difficult to read as well. Taylor has an interesting voice, but she’d have more success in seeking out collaboration to convey her messages. 4/10
Suicide Squad #33 (DC Comics)
by Si Spurrier, Fernando Pasarin & Oclair Albert
Given the fantastic homage cover to the original Suicide Squad #1 from 1987, I was anticipating a thoroughly entertaining new issue of this series, but what I found is the weakest episode of this incarnation of the title. Writer Si Spurrier’s non-linear storytelling is thoroughly confusing and overly dense for the first two thirds of the issue. I get the concept he’s going for, but for too long, the reader doesn’t get a chance to get a grounded moment from which to appreciate the plot. And by the time the story does reveal itself, the audience has learned that despite past Squad stories, there’s nothing noble to be found among any of these characters. Waller’s use of a nobody metahuman named Juan Soria is reprehensible, and none of the more “heroic” members of the Squad do anything to bring a sense of right to the plot. Everything about the story is ugly, way too ugly, and it becomes impossible to see the members of Task Force X even as anti-heroes. It’s one thing for Waller to use thoroughly corrupt villains or willing soldiers as cannon fodder, but regular, terrified men and women? The notion is far too off-putting. Furthermore, Spurrier’s use of Soria’s knowledge of how storytelling works and his perspective that he’s just a disposable bit player in a larger story gets old quickly, and it strains the credibility of the plot. I get that Spurrier was going for something off-beat, trying to incorporate an element of normalcy in the insanity of the Suicide Squad, but the execution just didn’t work.
The density of the script and the crowd of figures that factor into this plot make for some thoroughly cluttered visuals. Penciller Fernando Pasarin (whose name is misspelled in the credits of this comic) endeavors to keep up with the demands of the script, but it’s to no avail. Some of the detail is impressive, but it detracts rather than adds to the storytelling, such as it is. It’s often difficult to discern what’s going on; we never get a good look at the alien threats or the red-clad sacrificial lambs accompanying the more recognizable members of the Suicide Squad. Overall, this issue was a definite misstep for a series that otherwise is a solid guilty pleasure. 2/10