Water World

Actors: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Dolph Lundgren, Randall Park & Graham McTavish
Directors: James Wan
Writers: Geoff Johns, James Wan, Will Beall & David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rating: PG-13

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (yes, this is an Aquaman review, stick with me) has been heralded for its innovative approach to animation, and justifiably so. The creative forces behind that animated piece of wonder have truly captured the color, dynamics and unrestrained energy of a comic book. While Spider-Verse felt novel and new, Aquaman, its comic-book-inspired brother and competitor at the theatre, feels thoroughly conventional — but in the best possible ways. This latest installment in the DC Cinematic Universe dazzles the eye with wondrous imagery and tickles the brain with its celebration of various fantastic genres. What the movie lacks is a sense of suspense — we know from the very start how the story will turn out — but surprisingly, the flick is strong enough to distract its audience from that. And at the foundation of the fun is a charismatic, everyman performance from Jason Momoa.

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Say Uncle

Freedom Fighters #1
“Chapter One: Death of a Nation”
Writer: Robert Venditti
Pencils: Eddy Barrows
Inks: Eber Ferreira
Colors: Adriano Lucas
Letters: Deron Bennett
Cover artists: Barrows (regular)/Ben Oliver (variant)
Editor: Paul Kaminski
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve been obsessed with DC’s Golden Age characters, as well as others from the era it acquired from other, now-defunct publishers over the years, such as the Quality characters, such as Uncle Sam, the Human Bomb and the rest of the lineup that DC rebranded as the Freedom Fighters in the 1970s. When DC reintroduced the characters in one of its annual JLA/JSA crossovers of the time, they were on Earth-X, fighting against the Nazis, who’d won the Second World War. After DC did away with its multiverse with Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, the Freedom Fighters just became another group of WWII-eras, taking away that unique mission. With a one-shot during the Multiversity not long ago and now with this new limited series, DC has clearly seen that the characters work better in that alternate-universe setting. Despite my interest in Golden Age super-heroes, what drew me to this comic was news that it featured another hero, a different kind a hero: a real-life one whom writer Robert Venditti had incorporated into a tale of resistance and horror that made a lot of sense. Though I’m a little late to the game, I’m realizing that Venditti is a skilled and powerful creative force in DC’s stable, and I’m definitely going to be paying closer attention for his name on future projects as well.

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Blurred on a ‘Wire

Livewire #1
Writer: Vita Ayala
Artists: Raúl Allén & Patricia Martín
Letters: Saida Temofonte
Cover artists: Adam Pollina, Harvey Tolibao, Paulina Ganucheau & Doug Braithwaite
Editor: David Menchel & Joseph Illidge
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve never had much of an attachment to the Valiant brand. I’ve read and enjoyed a few Valiant titles — from the 1990s to today — but not that many, so I’m not well versed on the publisher’s continuity or lore. However, when I heard writer Vita Ayala was helming this new title, my interest was piqued immediately. She’s a powerful new voice in comics, and her star is rising rapidly in the industry for good reason. Furthermore, it seemed to me as though she was crafting a new character, a new property for the Valiant line. Boy, was I wrong. As I made my way through these pages, I was more than a little confused, and I quickly discovered Livewire is far from a new character. I soon learned she’s been around for a quarter century, and that history definitely plays a role in this new title. Livewire appears to have been fashioned specifically for the Valiant devotee, and that leaves readers such as myself out in the cold. That inaccessibility is a shame, as there’s some strong characterization serving as the foundation for this story.

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Anything You Can’t Do, I Can Do Better

Prodigy #1
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Colors: Marcelo Maiolo
Letters: Peter Doherty
Cover artists: Albuquerque (regular)/Frank Quitely (variant)
Editor: Rachael Fulton
Publisher: Image Comics/Millarworld/Netflix
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve got a standing order at my comic shop for all new Millarworld titles; I don’t always stick with them (I lost interest in Kick-Ass a long time ago, for example), but Millar is an Idea Machine that rarely disappoints. This new project slipped under my radar, though, so I was about a week behind in discovering its release. The concept isn’t particularly innovative, but it’s executed well, and Millar has managed to maintain my interest despite the protagonist’s arrogance. What struck me the most about this new project is how much it seemed like an edgier take on DC’s Mr. Terrific, so much so that I wonder if this wasn’t originally envisioned as a Terrific pitch before being remoulded to exist outside of a shared-continuity universe.

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Caught En Garde

Fence Vol. 1 trade paperback
Writer: C.S. Pacat
Artist: Johanna the Mad
Colors: Joana Lafuente
Letters: Jim Campbell
Cover artist: Shanen Pae (regular and variant)
Editor: Shannon Watters
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $9.99 US

Boom! Studios has a knack for finding and promoting offbeat and fun new properties that appeal to a wide variety of readers, and a comic book about fencing seemed intriguing to me. Unfortunately, writer C.S. Pacat has constructed a mini-world that represents just about everything I detest about sports. Fence takes us to a place where abuse and betrayal are commonplace, where hardly anyone thinks about someone other than themselves and where one’s skill at an antiquated contest determines one’s worth rather than one’s character. To make matters worse, this first collected volume of the series doesn’t even come close to offering a complete story arc of any kind.

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Artful Obsessions: Grummett Summit

I think the first time I saw (or at least took note of) Tom Grummett’s art was on his run on Adventures of Superman, specifically during the “Reign of the Supermen” arc in the wake of the November 1992 “Death of Superman.” He and writer Karl Kesel crafted an interesting and lasting character in the cloned version of Superboy. I’m pleased to see the character design is about to make a comeback in the relaunched Young Justice comic from DC in the months ahead.

That work, and Grummett’s tenure on the subsequent Superboy spinoff series, really cemented Grummett’s reputation in the comics industry, not to mention some wonderful work on Robin. He offered some memorable visuals on the DC/Marvel Amalgam book Challengers of the Fantastic in the late 1990s, and perhaps the strongest evidence of the height of his “star power” in the mainstream comics industry was his participation in the striking but short-lived Gorilla Comics imprint at Image, through which he and a throng of top-tier talent — Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Stuart Immonen, Kesel and many more — delivered some strong creator-owned genre titles.

Grummett’s prominence seemed to wane in the wake of that endeavor, though he’s remained a constant presence in comics, notably contributing to many Marvel titles in recent years. Perhaps the brighter tone of his style fell out of vogue, but it’s a shame, because he always brings a great energy and sense of fun to his work. As demonstrated with his work on Superboy and Robin, he’s adept at instilling a convincing youthfulness in his characters, and he’s shined time and time again when playing with the creations of the late, great Jack Kirby. I’ve always enjoyed Grummett’s style, so when I got a chance to acquire a couple of pieces of original comic art on which he worked at prices that worked well within my budget, I jumped at it.

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Good Cop, Green Cop

Martian Manhunter #1
“A Prisoner”
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Colors: Ivan Plascencia
Letters: Deron Bennett
Cover artists: Rossmo (regular)/Joshua Middleton (variant)
Editor: Chris Conroy
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

DC has clearly decided to embrace the title character once again, not only placing him in the spotlight in its new Justice League but giving him another shot at an ongoing title. What drew me to this was Riley Rossmo’s art, and his weirder, more exaggerated style suits the alien, shape-shifting nature of J’Onn J’Onzz nicely. I didn’t know what to expect from Steve Orlando’s plot; he’s been a hit-and-miss writer for me. He definitely took me off-guard with his take on the character, exploring him as a much darker, broken figure than we’ve seen before. This isn’t the pure-of-heart vision of the Martian Manhunter with which long-time genre readers would be familiar. Instead, this is the story of a man seeking redemption for past sins. It’s intriguing and challenging, but the creative team might have been a little too successful when it came to capturing and conveying alien culture, physiology and perceptions.

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Ragnarockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

DC Nuclear Winter Special #1
Writers: Mark Russell, Collin Kelley & Jackson Lanzing, Steve Orlando, Jeff Loveness, Tom Taylor, Mairghread Scott, Paul Dini, Phil Hester, Cecil Castellucci and Dave Wielgosz
Pencils: Mike Norton, Giuseppe Camuncoli & Cam Smith, Brad Walker & Drew Hennessy, Christian Duce, Tom Derenick & Yasmine Putri, Dexter Soy, Jerry Ordway, Phil Hester & Ande Parks, Amancay Nahuelpan and Scott Kolins
Colors: Hi-Fi, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Nathan Fairbairn, Luis Guerrero, Yasmine Putri, Veronica Gandini, Dave McCaig, Trish Mulvihill, Brian Buccellato and John Kalisz
Letters: Deron Bennett, Clayton Cowles, Tom Napolitano, Steve Wands, Dave Sharpe and Josh Reed
Cover artist: Yanick Paquette
Editors: Alex Antone & Dave Wielgosz
Price: $9.99 US

DC certainly made this year’s holiday special stand apart from previous ones with a post-apocalyptic theme. It’s an odd choice, but for longtime DC readers, it’s a fun and interesting divergence from the norm. However, newer readers or those with only a passing familiarity with DC lore, this could make for some confusion, as there are some deep cuts that might leave the uninitiated scratching their heads. Ultimately, this is as diverting and entertaining as most super-hero holiday specials have been in the past, but not particularly memorable either.

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Romeo Echo Victor India Echo Whiskey

The Warning #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Edward Laroche
Colors: Brad Simpson
Letters: Jaymes Reed
Editor: Donald Hodges
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Writer/artist Edward Laroche offers a lot of elements in this opening issue that appeal to me as a reader. A realistic representation of a military operation, cynicism, flawed characters and artwork that blends an interesting mix of realism and style. That being said, I didn’t enjoy this story because Laroche essentially leaves out the most important element: that being an actual story. Everything about the first chapter of The Warning is designed to be mysterious, secretive, and on that level, it succeeds, but too well. The script is so nebulous, so drenched in vagueness, that by the end of the issue, I’d lost interest in the approaching conflict and the critical actions of the intense characters.

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Q Factor

Quincredible #1
“Love Jones and Headphones”
Writer: Rodney Barnes
Artist: Selina Espiritu
Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letters: Tom Napolitano
Cover artist: Michelle Wong
Editor: Jasmine Amiri
Publisher: Lion Forge
Price: $3.99 US

In some ways, Lion Forge reminds me of Valiant of the 1990s when it comes to comics publishing. It’s building a shared super-hero universe and offering something a bit different from its better-known brethren, Marvel and DC. As such, I’m always a bit curious when it launches a new title, so I decided to peruse the pages of Quincredible. Writer Rodney Barnes offers up a different perspective on America than we’re accustomed to in mainstream super-hero comics, and that interests me significantly. Unfortunately, the genre elements introduced here are derivative at best and rather uninteresting at worst.

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Flea-Market Finds: Shoplifter

Shoplifter original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist//Colors/Letters/Cover artist: Michael Cho
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Price: $19.99 US/$23.99 CAN

Michael Cho has probably best known in mainstream comics in the past couple of years as the talent behind some striking variant covers on super-hero titles from both DC and Marvel. Sadly, I was well out of the loop and didn’t realize that his skills are far more profound and striking than I originally thought, and I have a recent purchase from my local comic shop’s discounted graphic-novel rack. I sped through this 2014 book, not because it’s superficial in any way, but because it’s so powerfully but quietly compelling. Cho offers a thoroughly relatable vignette of life in one’s 20s, and it’s illustrated in a simple style that nevertheless conveys a depth and realism that brings Corrina’s corner of the world to life vividly.

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‘Heart Aches

Ironheart #1
Writer: Eve L. Ewing
Artists: Kevin Libranda & Luciano Vecchio
Colors: Matt Milla
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Amy Reeder (regular)/Jen Bartel, Stephanie Hans, Jamal Campbell, Humberto Ramos, Luciano Vecchio and Skottie Young (variants)
Editors: Alanna Smith & Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

I thoroughly enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ work on the various Iron Man titles toward the end of his tenure at Marvel Entertainment, and Riri Williams was one of the more interesting characters to arise in the course of that run. At first, it felt a bit like Eve L. Ewing, a writer and academic who’s new to the medium of comics as far as I can ascertain, didn’t quite have a strong a sense of the beats and pacing necessary to hold my attention as well as Bendis (who, in all fairness, has been at this comics game a long time). But in the third act of this issue, everything came into focus. Ewing’s sense of who Riri is, what drives and what’s missing from her life all made for a compelling, relatable read. And the twist revealed at the end was something I should have seen coming, but didn’t — and I loved it.

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