Join me as I delve into various recent comics: Ice Cream Man #1, Jupiter Jet #2, Superman #39 and X-Men Grand Design #1.
Ice Cream Man #1 (Image Comics)
by W. Maxwell Prince & Martin Morazzo
This limited series purports to be a horror anthology of sorts, a kind of Twilight Zone in comic-book form, but instead of Rod Serling, we’ve got the Ice Cream Man, beloved in the community for his ability to brighten a day with the perfect scoop in the perfect flavor. He’s much more than a narrator here, though, and that’s one way in which this unconventional comic sets itself apart. W. Maxwell Prince’s multi-faceted plotting and how seemingly disconnected notions converge in unexpected ways are thoroughly entertaining. The motif appears to be a distortion of innocence. Be it the notion of a supernatural ice-cream guy or the perversion of a kid’s beloved (but deadly) pet, the writer seems to focus on twisting the sacred cows of childhood. It’s an effective approach.
Martin Morazzo’s linework looks a bit like a cross between the styles of Jon Davis (The Wild Storm, Clean Room) Hunt and Frank (Jupiter’s Circle, All-Star Superman) Quitely. His highly detailed approach and the slightly elongated and gangly figures suits the unsettling tone of the plotlines nicely. Colorist Chris O’Halloran juxtaposes cool tones in the foregrounds with warmer hues in the backdrops, and that adds to the unnatural atmosphere. 8/10
Jupiter Jet #2 (Action Lab Entertainment)
by Jason Inman, Ashley V. Robinson, Ben Matsuya & Jorge Corona
The best compliment I can pay to Jupiter Jet is this: it’s the only comic book that my 11-year-old niece and I are both reading at the moment. She’s just getting into comics and drawing, and the first issue captivated her. I’m sure the second will be just as riveting, if not moreso. Jacky and Chucky Johnson’s adventures in engineering and what is essentially old-school social justice is perhaps even more entertaining with this second chapter, perhaps because we’ve gotten to know them and their world a little better. We also learn more about the villain of the story, and there’s certain a little more to him that I thought. Apparently, Praetor Pluto is just one of many influential and dark figures in Olympic Heights, and I’m eager to learn more about his links to the Johnsons’ later father and the power sources they’re playing with. Most notable in this issue is the writers’ decision to make Jacky a little more human and relatable. The notion of a girl soaring through the city with a jetpack is pretty over-the-top, making her seem larger than life, but their inclusion of her greatest fear — a common one that many can appreciate — makes her seem more of a person than a heroic idol in the making. The backup story’s exploration of the origin of the jetpack also brings a new character in the mix: Jacky and Chuck’s mom, and her pluck makes it easy to see from where the kids get their bravery and determination.
My favorite visual sequence in the book is Jacky’s uncontrolled flight toward a ship at sea. Matsuya sells the speed and frenzy of a jetpack amok through several effects — smoke trails, water displacement, little explosions — but what really makes it work is the shape of the heroine’s face, shoved back by wind resistance as she desperately tries to figure out what to do. I continue to enjoy Jorge Corona’s elongated figures in the backup story, and I love how they’re offset by the squat vehicles the brothers test out. Furthermore, I can’t get over how much storytelling the writers and Corona jam into these two-page backups. 7/10
Superman #39 (DC Comics)
by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Barry Kitson & Scott Hanna
The contents of this issue are just as sweet as the regular cover art by Chris Burnham suggests (and to a lesser extent, the variant cover by Jonboy Meyers). This is a standalone issue, and by that, I don’t mean it’s separate from any other story arc. I mean anyone — regardless of familiarity with the DC Universe — can enjoy this comic book. The story is simple, all about how Superman and his friends in the Justice League spend a day giving a number of sick children from a Metropolis hospital the day of their lives. Have you ever seen those viral stories about Gal Gadot befriending a little girl who loves Wonder Woman or Chris Pratt showing up at a pediatric ward in his Star-Lord getup? This is the comic-book equivalent of those heart-warming stories. This is what those calling for fun and bright super-hero comics have been asking for, and the creators deliver. Also a longtime comics reader, I also loved the deep cut writers Tomasi and Gleason make with the inclusion of a D-list group of villains from the Len Wein/Dave Gibbons run on Green Lantern in the 1980s.
Barry Kitson demonstrates just how versatile his tight, clean style can be. While he can convey a maturity and intensity as he did in Empire some years ago, here, there’s a softness and lightness to his art. All the while, his highly recognizable, trademark style comes shining through. Though this issue is cluttered with numerous characters — including the Justice League, a throng of kids and a handful of bad guys (briefly) — the art is clear. Sure, it’s a bit chaotic, but hosting that many kids for a fun day would be the epitome of chaos. Kitson conveys the joy of the children and the kindness of the heroes adeptly. Now, this is far from the subtlest super-hero comic you’ll read, but it’s an effectively heartening one that one can share with readers of all ages. 7/10
X-Men: Grand Design #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Ed Piskor
I know I’m quite late to the game when it comes to this creative retrospective project focusing on Marvel’s mutant heroes, but after so many recommendations – not the least of which came from the staff of my local comic shop – I decided to bite the bullet and check out this $6 comic. There’s a lot to appreciate here, including the paper quality, the unconventional coloring and the sheer ambition of trying to cover so many decades of disparate comic-book yarns. But ultimately, I was kind of bored as I read this comic. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been a diehard X-Men fan of the years, following various X-titles only sporadically from time to time. However, I think the real real for my disinterest stems from the sheer nature of the book as a recap. The plotlines and characters come so fast and furiously, there’s never a chance for any kind of drama or tension to really build.
While I was aware of alternative cartoonist Ed Piskor’s best known project, Hip Hop Family Tree, I’d never checked out that book. It wasn’t due to any aversion of Piskor’s work, but rather than a general disinterest in hip hop. I love that his approach on this Marvel comic still boasts an alternative vibe; given the Silver Age roots of much of the material here, it felt like an X-Men comic crafted by the great underground American cartoonists of the 1960s. I was also reminded of the unconventional storytelling Tom Scioli has offered in Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye with his “Super Powers” backup stories. 5/10