Flowery Language With No Words

Petals hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Gustavo Borges
Colors: Cris Peter
Editor: Whitney Leopard
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Kaboom imprint
Price: $16.99 US/$20.99 CAN/12.99 UK

Poverty. Illness. Harsh weather. Isolation. These are all conditions that often bring out the worst in people, as fear and desperation can drive some to undertaken awful actions in the name survival. But there’s another path when faced with such hardships, and that’s the one down which writer/artist Gustavo Borges leads his readers in Petals. Published under Boom! Studios’ all-ages imprint, this American edition of a Brazilian comic will take you by surprise, but quietly. It’s an understated celebration of the human spirit, but more than that, it’s an exploration of the importance of community, of connection and of empathy.

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Flea-Market Finds: 1st Issue Special #11

Ist Issue Special #11
“Code Name: Assassin”
Writers: Gerry Conway & Steve Skeates
Pencils: Nestor Redondo & Frank Redondo
Inks: Al Milgrom
Cover artist: Mike Grell
Editors: Gerry Conway & Paul Levitz
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: 25 cents

1st Issue Special was an odd series from DC, featuring a different property — sometimes new, as was the case with this issue, and sometimes established — with every new issue. This particular issue was notably weird, as the execution is so clumsy. This vigilante anti-hero follows a lot of the archetypal elements that one finds in such characters, but this is such a watered-down version of a revenge story that it leaves the reader scratching his or her head by the end of this unfinished 1976 story. I was entertained as I read this issue, mind you, but only for the unintentional amusement of such awkward writing.

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Letter Bugs – Let’s Talk About Hex, Baby…

As I’ve noted in other recent features as of late, I’ve been delighting in deals on Bronze Age comics that have allowed me to flash back into comics history, and one thing I always check out in those decades-old back issues are the letters columns. While we still see the occasional letter-col in modern comics, those missives printed in the backs of pre-Internet publications strike me as being a little more special, given it requires greater effort and even a little expense for readers to offer feedback to comics editors.

Another reason I love perusing those old-school letter-cols is the names one finds occasionally at the bottoms of those letters. Case in point: the letter-col from Jonah Hex #63, published April 1982 (though cover dated August 1982)…

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Monster-al Cycle

Man-Eaters #1
Writer: Chelsea Cain
Artist: Kate Niemczyk
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters: Joe Caramagna
Cover artist: Lia Miternique
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Before you venture further into this review, I have to note that my lack of familiarity with the subject matter of this comic book before I read it added immensely to my enjoyment of it. While I endeavor here to steer clear of spoilers whenever possible, my comments will no doubt detract from the writer’s efforts to keep the reader in the dark for the first half of the issue, and they’ll likely offer some hints at the twist later in the story. If you wish to avoid such information, just know that this comic is recommended, and come back and read what I have to say after you’ve had a chance to enjoy the issue for yourself.

Novelist and columnist Chelsea Cain’s brief foray into comics was noteworthy for how strongly her feminist themes resonated, both with a receptive audience and with a small but vocal opposition determined to ostracize women and minorities as lead characters and creators in genre fiction. Cain’s return to comics should generate a fair bit of attention, and for good reason. She delivers a playful bit of social satire here, building on feminist themes and exposing how a male-oriented society has transformed a completely natural and necessary bit of biology into a taboo subject. Women’s periods have long been off limits in many respects, to the point that many men have been completely in the dark about menstruation (including me, truth be told, for far too long). Here, Cain treats the notion of demonizing girls’ first periods quite literally, and the concept offers great potential for social commentary and a much-needed lampooning of outdated thinking.

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Leaving Money on the Table

DC’s move to launch its own streaming service, DC Universe, is both completely logical and rather surprising at the same time. Many corporations are scrambling to catch up with Netflix and other early-out-of-the-gate services, seeking to reap the huge rewards of producing original content and making its older material available online for fees. Furthermore, there’s money to be made from selling its original content later on to other media outfits and on home video. CBS jumped on board with its own effort, CBS All Access, last year, and Disney is reportedly developing its own streaming service. Whether these newer efforts will have staying power remains to be seen.

So when viewed in that context, it’s understandable that DC would embark upon a similar venture. It has a huge library of properties adapted for TV and movies upon which it can draw, and as Hollywood has known for years, its vast array of characters offers significant potential for new programming. Furthermore, DC knows there’s an online audience for its comics, and offering that reading experience as part of DC Universe is a logical extension of the digital content effort.

What’s surprising is that it’s DC, not its parent company Time Warner, that’s taking on such a project. It’s quiet ambitious for a comparatively small branch of the media giant to undertake such an endeavor.

But here’s what’s even more surprising about DC Universe: it doesn’t want my money.

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OK, I Might Have a Problem…

My local comics retailer is having a huge sale on its non-key back issues and bundles on comics, scaling up the discounts from week to week. I started thumbing through those long boxes at 50 per cent and got some great deals, but when the discounts hit 70 and 80 per cent, I was a man on a mission. I got everything you see here at those deep discounts, which means most of those Bronze Age goodies came in at well under a buck apiece.

I joked with the manager that he’s tormenting me and that the sale was merely a ploy to shift storage from the shop to my house. But at those discounts, who could possibly resist?

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Foreign Objectives

The Punisher #1
“World War Frank, Part One”
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Szymon Kudranski
Colors: Antonio Fabela
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Cory Petit
Cover artists: Greg Smallwood (regular)/Clayton Crain, Frank Cho, Mike Zeck & Salvador Larroca (variants)
Editor: Jake Thomas
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter online about how entertaining this latest relaunch of The Punisher is, so I decided to have a look despite a general disinterest in the character. While there’s a novel idea at the heart of the plot, with two super-villains trying to advance their agendas through a facade of legitimacy by way of international politics, writer Matthew Rosenberg’s take on the title character is much like those before it: the implausible single-mindedness of a vigilante who’s impossibly impervious to harm.

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Send in the B Squad

Suicide Squad Annual #1
“For the Wicked, No Rest”
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Ronan Cliquet
Colors: Jason Wright
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover artists: Paul Pelletier & Mick Gray
Editors: Katie Kubert & Mike Cotton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US

As a longtime fan of the Suicide Squad concept that John Ostrander introduced in the late 1980s, I was absolutely elated with this self-contained story. However, this was far from a perfect Suicide Squad comic, as it was highly inaccessible and featured interpretations of characters that really didn’t stay true to the characters’ histories. I was of two minds about this annual, but ultimately, I came away pleased. I hope that DC takes the same approach with future Suicide Squad annuals, using them to introduce alternate teams and to stay true to the dangerous and fatal appeal that its title would suggest.

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Flea-Market Finds: Avengers #194

Avengers #194
“Interlude”
Writer: David Michelinie
Pencils: George Pérez
Inks: Josef Rubinstein
Colors: Ben Sean
Letters: John Costanza
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: 40 cents

My local comic shop holds the occasional back-issue sale, and lately, it’s been bumping up the discount week by week. I reaped a Bronze Age bonanza at 70 per cent off, and this 1980 Avengers comic was among the treasures I snapped up. This is the first chapter in the storyline that introduced Taskmaster to the Marvel Universe, but he’s not seen here. As the title suggests, not much happens in this issue, but it’s a great spotlight of what sets the Avengers apart from other super-hero teams in the Marvel Universe and how important the interpersonal character dynamics were to the appeal of the property then and even today. It’s a well-balanced issue from a characterization perspective. But hey, it features vintage George Pérez art as his career was just beginning to ramp up — that’s all the reason I need to shell out less than a buck for a fun back issue.

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Trump Cards

Lil’ Donnie Vol. 1 hardcover comic-strip collection
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Mike Norton
Copy editor: Sean McKeever
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US

Man, Image Comics and cartoonist Mike Norton couldn’t have had better timing. While satire and political commentary by way of cartooning is always topical these days, never was such a biting send-up of the 45th President of the United States more relevant than it is the day after two criminals from his inner circle have been deemed guilty by the criminal justice system.

I’ve been following Lil’ Donnie online since Norton launched the strip a year and a half ago, so there wasn’t any material included in this print collection of the strip that I hadn’t seen before. But man, there were a lot of them about which I’d forgotten. Remember Sean Spicer? The glowing Saudi Arabian orb? These oddities don’t face because Norton’s humor and sharp criticisms aren’t memorable, but due to the sheer volume of political and cultural insanity that’s unfolded in the United States since the cartoonist undertook this labor of loathe.

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Quick Critiques – Aug. 17, 2018


Come with me as I explore elsewheres and elsewhens, worlds unlike our own populated by fantastic characters and unbelievable customs. From kickstarting a killing to pulling a heist in a galaxy far, far away. From punked-out heroes to robots with free will trying to earn a living. Continue and find out what I thought of this quartet of first issues: Crowded, Edge of Spider-Geddon, Star Wars: Beckett and Volition.

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The Girl with the Arachnid Tattoo

Pearl #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Gaydos
Colors: Gaydos (main story)/Patricia Mulvihill (“Citizen Wayne”)
Letters: Joshua Reed (main story)/Janice Chiang (“Citizen Wayne”)
Cover artists: Gaydos (regular)/Alex Maleev (variant)
Editor: Michael McCalister
Publisher: DC Comics/Jinxworld imprint
Price: $3.99 US

To say that I was highly anticipating this latest creator-owned project from Brian Michael Bendis would be an understatement. I was thrilled to hear that Bendis’s move from Marvel Entertainment to DC Comics wouldn’t bring his creator-owned material under Marvel’s Icon imprint to an end. While I’m champing at the bit to see Scarlet resume soon, the promise of Bendis re-teaming with his Alias/Jessica Jones collaborator on a new female protagonist was exhilarating, given my fondness and appreciation for Jessica, both in comics and in streaming TV. Pearl definitely boasts the sort of relatable humanity yet riveting darkness that makes so much of Bendis’s writing so engrossing, but it was more than a confusing at times. I’m definitely intrigued, but I didn’t quite connect with this story as much as I thought I would.

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Death, Be Rather Proud…

The Death of Superman direct-to-video animated film
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Voice actors: Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Jason Mara, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Rocky Carroll, Nyambi Nyambi, Patrick Fabian & Cress Williams
Directors: Sam Liu & James Tucker
Producer: Warner Bros. Animation
Rating: 14A

In a commentary I posted here a few months ago, I questioned why DC was revisiting its classic “Death of Superman” storyline for an animated film when it had already explored that plot in the Superman: Doomsday direct-to-video animated movie in 2007. Having watched the latest installment from the DC animated movie universe, I now understand why the producers and Warner Bros. Animation chose to do so. This is a superior effort, far truer to the source material and surprisingly touching and resonant. I know how this story plays out, know what to expect from next year’s sequel, The Reign of the Supermen, and yet I found myself caught up on the emotional beats of the story. Peter J. Tomasi, a former DC editor and current teller of stories in DC comics titles, has crafted a compelling, concise and accessible script that the voice actors bring to life nicely.

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