Think Pink

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1
Writer: Mark Russell
Pencils: Mike Feehan
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover artists: Ben Caldwell (regular)/Evan “Doc” Shaner (variant)
Editor: Marie Javins
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

As many comics critics are still offering up their Best of 2017 lists, we’re faced with what may be the front runner for 2018’s finest right off the bat. I knew The Snagglepuss Chronicles would be great, given that it’s the brainchild of Mark Russell, the writer behind the surprising and relevant take on The Flintstones. Furthermore, we got a taste of his unconventional and innovative interpretation of Snagglepuss in last year’s Suicide Squad/Banana Splits Special last year. But even that sneak peek in that short backup story didn’t prepare me for the strength of his social commentary in this new title. This comic book is a fascinating piece of historical fiction that has the potential to spark an interest in 1950s creative culture, and at the same time, the writer offers a powerful perspective on the realities of 21st century America.

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Spidey on Trump’s Threads

It doesn’t matter where you are, what you’re doing or with whom you’re speaking — it’s next to impossible to avoid references to Donald Trump these days. From social media to social situations, from televised fiction to telephone conversations, Trump is everywhere. Of course, comics — and especially the super-hero genre — have always served as an escape for the masses.

An even safer bet for refuge in comics are back issues. I’ve been poring over dozens of older comics — dating back a couple of years to a couple of decades — as of late, finding some charming storytelling, some impressive work and some clunkers as well. I’ve been making my way through a stack of old Spectacular Spider-Man issues the last couple of days, enjoying the artistry of Sal Buscema.

And then I hit Page 6 of Spectacular Spider-Man #171, published in late 1990, and I was jolted from my escapist reverie.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Justice

With an adult comics enthusiast (me, for the record) and a seven-year-old in the house, comics and their representations in other media often factor into the holidays in our homestead. This year was no exception, with Santa dropping off a super-hero video game for the boy, among other items.

My wife — aware our son has been learning how to play chess at his after-school program and that my father, brothers and I often played chess during my youth — picked up this little number when she spotted it at a discount dollar store in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

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Flea Market Finds: Big Moose, One-Shot

Big Moose, One-Shot
Writers: Sean Ryan, Ryan Cady & Gorf
Artists: Cory Smith, Thomas Pitilli & Ryan Jampole
Colors: Matt Herms, Glenn Whitmore & Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letters: Jack Morelli
Cover artists: Thomas Pitilli, Cory Smith & Wilfredo Torres
Editors: Mike Pellerito & Jamie Lee Rotante
Publisher: Archie Comics
Price: $4.99 US

I realize this one-shot was released just in April of this year, and I didn’t actually get it at a flea market. No, I got this for a song at my local comic shop, because like many businesses at this time of year, it’s blowing out a lot of stock at deep discounts. And I’m pleased it did, as the $5 price point for an anthology comic featuring a previously one-dimensional supporting character is definitely a deterrent. That’s too bad, because of the three short stories offered here, one is particularly strong and another is heartening and positive in its messaging. Unfortunately, none of this fare struck me as meriting publication in an expensive one-shot. I was left wondering if this material was originally intended for use as backup stories in some of the other revamped Archie titles. Regardless, I’m glad I got a chance to read these stories, but I’m relieved I didn’t have to plunk down the big bucks to do so.

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Failing to Live up to Its Title

Superb Volume 1 trade paperback
“Life After the Fallout”
Writers: David F. Walker & Sheena C. Howard
Pencils: Ray-Anthony Height, Alitha Martinez & Eric Battle
Inks: Lebeau L. Underwood, Alitha Martinez, Eric Battle, Robin Riggs & Ray-Anthony Height
Colors: Chris Sotomayor & Veronica Gandini
“The Event”
Writers: Priest & Joseph Illidge
Artists: Marco Turini & Will Rosado
Colors: Jessica Kholinne
Letters: Andworld Design
Cover artist: Ray-Anthony Height
Editor: Joseph Illidge
Publisher: Lion Forge
Price: $14.99 US

I rather enjoyed the first Lion Forge book I sampled — Noble Vol. 1 — so I looked forward to delving into another collection of the relatively new publisher’s offerings. I didn’t do any reading about Superb before perusing its pages, which is too bad, as I might have enjoyed it a little more. As I made my way through the book, I thought I was getting some fairly typical super-hero genre fare. I was reminded of X-Men elements as well as some New Universe comics from the 1980s. I didn’t get a sense that I was finding anything new here at all. I was well into the book when I realized one of the main protagonists was unlike other super-powered teen heroes. Some missteps — from a script that was too subtle to exaggerated artwork that hid the hero’s disability — made this book seem ordinary when it could have stood out as something more. Ultimately, the inclusive and sensitive message at the heart of this book lives up to the book’s title, but the execution does not.

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Flea Market Finds: M.O.D.O.K. Assassin

M.O.D.O.K. Assassin #s 1 & 2
Writer: Christopher Yost
Pencils: Amilcar Pinna
Inks: Amilcar Pinna, Terry Pallot & Ed Tadeo
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Travis Lanham
Cover artists: David Lafuente (regular)/Gabriel Hernandez Walta & Christian Wars (variants)
Editor: Daniel Ketchum
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US each

My latest perusal of a deep-discount bundle from my local comic shop takes us back again to the 2015 “Secret Wars” event, in which Marvel offered up a litany of alt-reality worlds and interpretations of its characters. M.O.D.O.K., thanks to his unusual and striking design, is a popular Marvel villain among many fans, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise that one of these limited series might focus on him. I really wasn’t expecting much from these two comics; after all, comics spotlighting villains can be a challenge, as the reader rarely has someone for whom s/he can cheer. But writer Christopher Yost, best known for his animation scripts but no stranger to comics, delivers a wonderfully fun concept that makes the most of the temporary, anything-can-happen premise of the patchwork Battleworld that serves as the backdrop for all of these “Secret Wars” spinoff titles. The bargain bundle that contained these comics only included the first two issues of the run. I was surprised to find there are three more episodes to the title (the story seems like a four-partner would have been plenty), but I’ll be keeping an eye out for those other chapters, given how entertaining the first was.

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Quick Critiques – Dec. 24, 2017


Curse Words Holiday Special #1 (Image Comics)
by Charles Soule & Mike Norton

After the fun I had reading Hellboy: Krampusnacht, I thought I’d delve into another holiday-themed comic for amusement, and the Curse Words Holiday Special popped up on my radar. Now, while I haven’t read any issues from the regular series, I figured this would be an accessible gateway into the property. It turns out it was and it wasn’t. While the premise here is clear enough — a dark, fantasy future is ruled over by a powerful magical entity and his wizard minions — this one-shot doesn’t give one a sense of what the regular title is all about. As such, this comic is low on plot and therefore has to focus on the oddball, villainous characters that populate this psychedelic future. Soule succeeds in conveying the characters’ corrupt and twisted nature — which means there’s really no figure in this book for which the reader can cheer. Everyone is so… off-putting. It’s like the book is is a DayGlo, candy-coated convention of ugliness. Soule’s distortions of holiday traditions for this weird world are creative and colorful, but several of them are rather… well, gross. And that’s the point, I know; it just wasn’t my thing.

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O Unholy Night

Hellboy: Krampusnacht one-shot
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist/Colors: Adam Hughes
Letters: Clem Robins
Cover artists: Adam Hughes (regular)/Mike Mignola (variant)
Editors: Scott Allie & Kath O’Brien
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I’m a bit of a “bah, humbug” kind of guy at this time of year. It’s not that I want to be, but I find the holidays brings so much pressure into everyone’s lives, the notion of an actual holiday seems to be the first thing that’s sacrificed. Of course, I’ve been a dad for a few years now, so my heart occasionally grows three sizes, usually just in time for Christmas morning. Despite my Scrooge-like demeanor at times (or perhaps because of it), this Christmas-themed Hellboy one-shot grabbed my eye on my local comic shop’s shelves this week, and I had to have it. The immersion of holiday tradition and spirit in the horror genre played right into my cynical perspective on the yuletide. The story is just the kind of perfect gothic and monstrous yarn we’ve come to expect from Mike Mignola, but what’s unique about this story is the illustration. Adam Hughes is a beloved figure in mainstream comics, but he delivers an unexpected twist on his usual style.

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Klang, Klang, Klang, Went the Folly

Quantum and Woody! v.3 #1
Writer: Daniel Kibblesmith
Artist/Colors: Kano
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover artists: Julian Totino Tedesco (regular)/Geoff Shaw, Neal Adams, Clayton Henry & Nick Pitarra (variants)
Editor: Danny Khazem
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I was a big supporter and fan of Quantum and Woody going back to when Priest and “Doc” bright first launched the book under the Acclaim/Valiant banner… 20 years ago?!? Jesus! Has it been that long? It’s a testament to the unique nature of the property those creators crafted two decades ago that Valiant delivers a revival now. This one succeeds in recreating the non-linear approach for which Priest is so well known, but as for the look of the book, artist Kano offers something quite different. The unconventional panel layouts matches the unconventional plotting and pacing. That means Quantum and Woody! (new and improved, I suppose, because now the title boasts an exclamation point) isn’t an easy or accessible comic book. It’s a good one, though, and if the reader is up to the challenge, s/he’ll find the experience a rewarding and amusing one.

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One Plus One Equals Four

Marvel Two-in-One v.2 #1
“Fast Burn”
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Pencils: Jim Cheung
Inks: John Dell & Walden Wong
Colors: Frank Martin
Editor: Tom Brevoort

FF origin backup
Writer: Robbie Thompson
Pencils: Greg Land
Inks: Jay Leisten
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Editor: Darren Shan

Letters: Joe Caramagna
Cover artists: Jim Cheung (regular)/Alex Ross, Arthur Adams, Mike McKone, John Byrne, Jon Malin, Jack Kirby & John Tyler Christopher (variants)
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

One of the first trade-paperback collections of comics I ever acquired was Marvel Two-in-One: Project Pegasus book; this would have been back in the very early days of book-sized reprints of comics in the 1980s. I still have that trade paperback; it’s worn to hell, but I absolutely love it. I got on board with the team-up title trend with DC Comics Presents in late 1979 or early 1980. I was mesmerized by the logos for two heroes on the cover of each issue. I quickly gravitated to The Brave and the Bold, and after taking the plunge into the Marvel Universe in the mid-1980s, I eagerly sought out issues of Marvel Team-Up and, of course, Marvel Two-In-One. The 1980s were the heyday of those team-up titles. Attempts at revivals never had the same staying power as those original books.

I’m hoping the same can’t be said of this relaunch, which offers strong traditional super-hero storytelling tempered with a more modern sensibility toward characterization. And should the publisher keep top-tier talent such as Jim Cheung on the book, I’d say there’s a strong chance it could make a nice, long go of it.

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Flea Market Finds: Outsiders: Five of a Kind

When this weekly series was released 10 years, I was terribly curious about it. There was a lot about the premise that piqued my interest. Each of the five issues offered a team-up between two unlikely characters, and I’m always been a sucker for team-up titles. Furthermore, I was a fan of the original Batman and the Outsiders title from the 1980s and had lost track of the 21st century revival. I also appreciate a comic on a weekly schedule, and several of the creative contributors on the series were of interest to me. Nevertheless, I ended up passing on it. I was probably bogged down with too many other comics to read anyway. I recently got the chance to pick these comics up at a fraction of the original price (cheaper than the cost of a single issue), and now I’m wondering if maybe I sensed something less than satisfying about these books when they originally hit the stands.

Just about everything in these comics is wrong-headed. The plots are unconnected and the effort to force such a connection falls flat. Some of the plots are outlandish and defy a reader’s ability to suspend disbelief, and the various storylines are linked to a handful of other event-driven titles. DC also committed that typical cardinal sin of making all five of these comics “first issues,” even though they’re meant to be a series of five linked one-shots. And worst of all, while Five of a Kind endeavors to establish a new Outsiders lineup, it fails horribly when it comes to introducing these disparate characters and team concept to new readers.

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‘Raq and Roll

Rumble v.2 #1
Writer: John Arcudi
Artist: David Rubin
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Joe Sabino
Cover artists: David Rubin & Mike Mignola
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I came in this comic book cold, drawn only by John Arcudi’s name on the cover. I didn’t know what to expect. In fact, I had no idea when I read this issue that it was the launch of the second volume of the series, with a previous 15-issue run published from 2014-16. One might assume I was in over my head, bound to be confused, put off and/or disappointed.

But I wasn’t. While I’m still in the dark as to what unfolded in the first volume of the series, what I found here was an accessible and thoroughly intriguing myth tempered by populating it with regular people and irregular monsters that talk like regular people. The script is challenging but draws the reader in with its increasingly quirky characters and concepts. And if that weren’t enough, David Rubin’s exaggerated and unique artwork dazzles with his designs and unconventional panel layouts and perspectives.

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Take It to the Bank

4 Kids Walk into a Bank trade paperback
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Tyler Boss
Flats: Clare Dezutti
Letters: Thomas Mauer
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Price: $14.99 US

Goddamnit. The title for this book caught my eye when it was originally being released as a five-issue comic-book series, and I thought about checking it out. But there are always so many such comics that pique my interest, there’s no way for me to purchase and read them all. On the bright side, there’s such a thing as delayed gratification.

4 Kids Walk into a Bank is really unlike most comics or graphic novels with which many are familiar. It’s billed on the back as a “crime/humor” book, and I can see how some might describe it as such. Personally, finding even an amalgam of genres in which to slot this book is next to impossible. While it’s incredibly funny, I don’t really see 4 Kids as a comedy or humor book. One could try to label it a crime/coming-of-age story, but in some ways, its main protagonist, an 11-year-old girl, is the most realistic and mature player in the drama. I can describe accurately in this manner: it’s superb and should be on any mature comics reader’s must-read list for 2017.

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Quick Critiques – Dec. 11, 2017


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.

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Flea Market Finds: Runaways (Battleworld)

Runaways v.4 #s 1-4
Writer: Noelle Stevenson
Artists: Sanford Greene & Noelle Stevenson
Colors: John Rauch
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover artist: Greene (regular)/Phil Noto & Stevenson (variants for #s 1 & 2)
Editor: Wil Moss
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US per issue

With the new Runaways TV series well underway now, I figured it would be a good time to delve into a set of comics of the same title from 2015 that I picked up for a song a couple of months ago. During its Secret Wars crossover series from that year, Marvel published a diverse array of limited series set in the weird, patchwork landscape of the World That Doom Built. Runaways (which carried “Secret Wars” and “Battleworld” branding on the covers) focused on various teen heroes. Writer Noelle Stevenson manages to achieve a nice balance between a dire, deadly tone to the story and a more irreverent side that’s in keeping with the youthful, oddball qualities of the characters. Unfortunately, the book was hindered by a couple of things. Firstly, like all of these “Secret Wars” spinoffs, there was a sense of the impermanent and inconsequential nature inherent in the alt-universe premise of the larger crossover, and secondly, I was constantly distracted by the fact that only one of the characters from the original title from which this spinoff derived its title was included in the cast of characters.

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