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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Soul Survivor

Run Wild original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: K.I. Zachopoulos
Artist/Cover artist: Vincenzo Balzano
Letters: Deron Bennett
Editor: Sierra Hahn
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Archaia imprint
Price: $24.99 US/$32.99 CAN/18.99 UK

Boom!’s decision to absorb Archaia Studios five years ago was a blessing for the comics industry and the craft of sequential storytelling, as it ensured there would be a home for unconventional graphic novels such as this one. Archaia was always a niche publisher and remains so as an imprint, but it gives life to unique projects that will connect with a limited segment of the comics-loving audience. I completely understand why Run Wild found a home there, but unlike other recent Archaia releases, this book didn’t quite work for me. Run Wild is a hauntingly (literally) beautiful book, but it’s also nebulous and perplexing. I can definitely see its appeal, though, and I think fans of the films of Hayao Miyazaki will recognize elements they’ll truly enjoy and appreciate here.

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Quoth the Raven…

The Sandman Universe #1
Writers: Neil Gaiman, Simon Spurrier, Kat Howard, Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters
Artists: Bilquis Evely, Tom Fowler, Dominike “Domo” Stanton, Max Fiumara & Sebastian Fiumara
Colors: Mat Lopes
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artists: Jae Lee, Dave McKean, Jill Thompson, Jim Lee, Sam Kieth, P. Craig Russell & David Mack
Editor: Molly Mahan
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $4.99 US

I find myself quite torn after reading this comic. I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, and I was introduced to his writing through his landmark Sandman series. And while I acknowledge there’s tremendous potential in the characters and concepts he created and adapted in that book, I’m not entirely sure we need more of this material “curated” by Gaiman and written by others. This one-shot is something of a mixed bag, with some strong storytelling and artwork along with some that just didn’t grab me. Ultimately, The Sandman Universe #1 is a promotional book, teasing readers with what are essentially previews of a new line of Vertigo titles set to debut this fall. It was successful in that regard, though, in that it piqued my curiosity about two of the four new books spotlighted here.

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Flea-Market Finds: Superboy #226

Superboy #226
“The Dazzling Debut of Dawnstar!” & “Five Against One”
Writer: Paul Levitz
Pencils: James Sherman & Mike Nasser (Michael Netzer)
Inks: Jack Abel
Colors: Liz Berube
Letters: Bill Morse
Cover artist: Mike Grell
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover price: 30 cents

My local comics retailer is blowing out its back issues and sets for half off this week, so I couldn’t resist stopping by to peruse the long boxes. I found a complete set of Peter David’s Atlantis Chronicles (which should make for an interesting read in the lead-up to the new Aquaman movie) and the first 20 or so issues of Power Pack. I also happened upon a bundle of four Legion of Super-Heroes comics from the 1970s, and among them was this gem: the first appearance of Dawnstar. I’d never read it before, so I was keen to delve into the character’s origin. To my surprise, though, writer Paul Levitz really doesn’t offer much in the way of background for her in her introduction, but more disconcerting is how he chooses to depict the better-known heroes’ reactions to her. Given the clunky nature of the plot and characterization in this main story, I’m honestly surprised Dawnstar turned to have any kind of staying power in the DC Universe.

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Quick Critiques – Aug. 4, 2018


In Metropolis, criminals try to stay hidden from an all-seeing, all-hearing hero, while at the bottom of the ocean, a reanimated but foggy assassin undertakes a recovery mission that will haunt him. In New York, champions of justice gather with thieves and killers to discuss the fate of the universe, and in a different version of New York, comrades in arms gather for a reunion that turns into a rescue mission. I examine them all in this latest collection of capsule reviews.

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The Germination Situation

The Seeds #1
“1. Before We Go”
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artist/Cover artist/Letters: David Aja
Editor: Karen Berger
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics/Berger Books
Price: $3.99 US

This dystopian, sci-fi comic reads as though it’s drawing heavily from current events, turning relevant socio-economic themes of today on their ear in a dark vision of tomorrow, but it’s entirely possible this concept predates the era of Trump and Brexit politics. If that’s the case, then writer Ann Nocenti and artist David Aja couldn’t have found a better cultural backdrop against which to release this morose exploration of society. The script isn’t just cynical. It’s dripping with cynicism, slathered in it. And as a cynic, I loved it. The book also speaks to me as a journalist, as one of the central characters struggles to balances the struggles of the business of news with the idealism that’s inherent in what I see as a calling, not just a profession.

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The Titans’ Terrible Timing

“Fuck Batman,” indeed.

DC Entertainment dropped its first trailer Thursday for Titans, a new television series from DC’s upcoming online streaming service, DC Universe, and as is often the case when it comes to the adaptation of a comics property (especially one of DC’s), reaction has been polarized. Many are taking issue with the “grimdark” tone of the new show and its harsher take on some iconic (and not-so-iconic) teen-hero characters.

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This Is No Joke

Batman: The Killing Joke direct-to-video animated film
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Voice actors: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise, Maury Sterling & Nolan North
Directors: Sam Liu
Producer: Warner Bros. Animation
Rating: R

I know I’m well behind the times in turning my attention to this 2016 video release, but a few nights ago, I found myself with some time on my hands, alone at home, and I spotted this listing on Netflix. I suppose with the recent news of a Joker flick starring Joaquin Phoenix, I was open to delving into another piece of work that touches on a possible origin for the Clown Prince of Crime. I read the original graphic novella by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland when it was released in the 1980s, during my teen years, and I remember being impressed with it. But given the evolution in culture today, I’m not sure it holds up. One thing of which I am certain, though, is that this attempt to adapt that iconic comic book is wrong-headed, given that the first act, added to pad out the story, warps a key relationship in the Batman family and adds a pointless villain to the mix.

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Flea-Market Finds: Spider-Man, Power Pack

Spider-Man, Power Pack #1
“Secrets”
Writer: Jim Salicrup
Pencils: Jim Mooney
Inks: Mike Esposito
Colors: Ken Feduniewicz
Letters: L.P. Gregory
“Runaway”
Writer: Louise Simonson
Layouts: June Brigman
Pencils: Mary Wilshire
Inks: Bob Wiacek
Colors: Glynis Wein
Letters: Joe Rosen
Cover artists: John Byrne; and June Brigman & Bob Wiacek
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Publisher: Marvel Comics

As someone who started reading comics in the late 1970s and grew into adolescence in the 1980s, I’d read about this giveaway, public-service comic, published in 1984, and I’ve always been curious about it. When I saw it at a big flea market recently, I plunked it in the growing stack of old comics I was amassing at the show. This unusual footnote in comics publishing was one of the first of those 60 comics I read, and I was struck at how earnest and direct it was about its subject matter.

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Pall in the Family

Superman #1
“The Unity Saga”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Joe Prado
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Josh Reed
Cover artists: Reis & Prado (regular)/Adam Hughes and David Mack (variants)
Editor: Michael Cotton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I was discussing Bendis’s weekly Man of Steel with the manager of my local comic shop, and we both agreed liked a lot of what the writer was bringing to Superman. However, he pointed out that Bendis had removed the hero’s family — his wife and son — from the equation, and he felt that was a step back, that it removed an interesting dynamic that had been added to the character in recent years. I had to agree that I liked the notion of Clark as a father, but I was waiting to see what Bendis had in store with the plotline. After reading this new issue of the renumbered Superman title, I’m confident the writer knows exactly what he’s doing when it comes to the protagonist’s characterization. The challenge of Superman is making him relatable, given the seemingly limitless nature of his power. Bendis has a great handle on Clark Kent, though, but I have to admit the focus on the man is so strong, I’m not nearly as interested in those elements that dwell on the “super.”

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Boy, They Really Do Like German Definite Articles

Die!Die!Die! #1
Writers: Robert Kirkman & Scott M. Gimple
Artist/Cover artist: Chris Burnham
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

Die!Die!Die! is one of the most interesting comic books in the traditional mainstream marketplace, not just this week, but this year and perhaps beyond that, but it has nothing to do with the content. It’s for the notion of a surprise comic, a token of appreciation for direct-market retailers and as an experiment in subversion of pop-culture expectations. For those reasons alone, it merits plenty of discussion, but this is a comic review, not an exploration of the culture of marketing and economics in the comic-book business. I didn’t pick up this book for its inherent collectibility or its novel release plan, but rather because I’m interested in the storytelling of Robert Kirkman, who’s achieved actual fame for The Walking Dead. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a number of his other projects, and while Die!Die!Die! doesn’t boast the engaging characterization of TWD or Outcast, it is entertaining. What’s surprising about Die!Die!Die! is that it reads very much like a Garth Ennis book, not a Kirkman comic, so it will appeal to fans of that other writer’s work.

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