J’Onzz-ing for a Fix

Justice League #1
“The Totality, Part 1”
Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Jim Cheung
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Tomeu Morey
Letters: Tom Napolitano
Cover artists: Cheung (regular)/Jim Lee & Scott Williams (variant)
Editor: Rebecca Taylor
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve been a fan of Scott Snyder’s writing, and no one can resist the attractive linework of artist Jim Cheung, so picking up this new relaunch of DC’s premier super-hero team was a no-brainer. And there’s a lot to like here. Snyder embraces a return to traditions, to moments of lightness and fun, and to a team of dark reflections of the titular heroes. He also offers some strong interplay among the Leaguers and some poignant characterization for a figure that’s been sadly overlooked in DC’s comics for years. But despite those strengths, Justice League #1 is something of an awkward read. Snyder has offered a quick succession of cosmic Justice League stories in the past year, and it’s starting to look as though cosmic fare such as this might not be in his wheelhouse.

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Enter Stellar

Stellar #1
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Bret Blevins
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

It’s been a while since I read a comic written by Joe Keatinge — his Glory revamp with Sophie Campbell was great — but what really drew me to this comic was the artist. Bret Blevins was a mainstay of super-hero comics in the 1980s and 1990s, with work on such books as New Mutants, Strange Tales and Superman Adventures. In recent years, I believe he’s been working in animation, so seeing his name on a creator-owned title grabbed my attention. Blevins has always had a more unusual style, and he uses it to great effect here with this sci-fi epic. Stellar is a genuinely mature and challenging science-fiction story that will appeal to fans of European comics fare.

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Flea-Market Finds: Gargoyle #s 1-4

Gargoyle #s 1-4
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Mark Badger
Colors: Bob Sharen
Letters: Ken Bruzenak
Cover artists: Bernie Wrightson, Jon J. Muth, Dan Green & Mark Badger
Editor: Carl Potts
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $0.75 US/$1 CAN per issue

Some comics enthusiasts and collectors scan flea markets and yard sales for treasure, for valuable comics at bargain-basement prices that they can flip for a tidy profit. I sometimes have that in mind when I peruse the tables, but more often than not, the treasures I’m looking for are forgotten stories. I definitely found one a few weeks ago when I happened upon this complete set of this 1985 limited series. Gargoyle is a rather obscure character, and I have only a passing familiarity with it from sampling a handful of Defenders issues from the Bronze Age.

The title character here is a unique one, in that he started out as a senior citizen who, in an endeavor to save his town, ends up being cursed by being cast into the form of a gargoyle. The basis of J.M. DeMatteis’s story here is to question what that gargoyle form was up to before the elderly Isaac Christians inhabited it, but as is the case with many of the writer’s works, it’s really about spirituality, the failings of the human spirit, and finding purpose through misery. As this is an earlier DeMatteis work, though, it feels a bit scattered, and ultimately, it ends up being more about a brand-new supporting character (that’s never seen again, as far as I know) than that of Isaac Christians.

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Keeping a Breast of Things

About Betty’s Boob hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Véro Cazot
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Julie Rocheleau
Letters: Deron Bennett
Translation: Edward Gauvin
Editor: Sierra Hahn
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Archaia imprint
Price: $29.99 US/$39.99 CAN/£22.50 UK

This beautifully designed hardcover volume showed up on my doorstep (literally) this week, and I hadn’t heard a thing about it. I was intrigued by the title and the look of it at first, but it sat on my desk for a few days until I realized it was slated for release in just another few days. I decided I should check it out, and I found it’s a translation of a French work originally released as Betty Boob (I wonder if American copyright on the Betty Boop character prompted the change in title, or perhaps just an effort to avoid confusion).

About Betty’s Boob is actually a more fitting title, as that covers the entirety of her journey. This is a story about surviving cancer and then dealing with the aftermath. We’ve seen this subject tackled in the sequential storytelling medium before, but not in the same way. While writer Vero Cazot’s mostly silent drama explores some of the familiar beats about a woman’s struggles in the wake of a mastectomy, she presents those conflicts and the titular character’s triumphs as a fable, aided incredibly well by the magical, flowing and fanciful artwork of Julie Rocheleau. By the end of the book, though, one realizes About Betty’s Boob isn’t a cancer-survival tale at all, but rather one about casting off conformist shackles and celebrating all of the beauty and silliness and passion that surrounds us and exists within us every day.

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A Galaxy Zaar, Zaar Away

The Man of Steel #1
“Man of Steel, Part 1”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis & Jay Fabok
Inks: Joe Prado & Jay Fabok
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Cory Petit
Editor: Michael Cotton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I recently reviewed Brian Michael Bendis’s final published work from Marvel, and it seemed only fitting to turn my attention to his DC debut. Though he had work published at DC in the last few weeks (in Action Comics #1000 and DC Nation #0), The Man of Steel #1 (evoking memories of John Byrne’s relaunch of the character with the same title more than three decades ago) is his first full issue at his new professional home. Some have described Superman, the original super-hero, as the least interesting super-hero — too powerful, too vanilla, what have you. One could argue that in the hands of the right writer, Superman is the most human of super-heroes, and Bendis is definitely equal to the task. The writer has always been talented when it comes to bringing fantastic characters down to earth, and he does so with the title character here, while at the same time, he explores the wonder of his seemingly limited powers — especially when it comes to his super-senses. The Man of Steel is exactly what I was hoping for from Bendis at DC, and I can’t wait for more.

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I’m With the Band

We Are the Danger #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Fabian Lelay
Colors: Claudia Aguirre
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Editor: Stephanie Cooke
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Price: $3.99 US

There’s been a great deal of discussion as of late in comics fandom and in the industry about diversity, about new creative voices and more inclusive interpretations of characters, both new and established. A lot of that discussion has arisen from a push back by a vocal minority who argue that diversity doesn’t sell. They argue about how properties they’ve loved all their lives have been transformed into women or have seen minorities fill those roles, as though if were actually possible the corporate owners of those characters aren’t eventually going to revert them to the status quo. I don’t get it. I don’t get why people are threatened by broadening the talent base and the array of characters to add to and expand the overall tapestry of the medium.

We Are the Danger is a comic book that brings more of that diversity to comics, that invites readers in who might not have otherwise been felt welcome decades ago. But it does so in a way that doesn’t dwell on its pro-diversity elements, and instead just focuses on engaging characters. And it’s a good bit of fun as well.

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Castling

The Last Siege #1
Writer: Landry Q. Walker
Artist: Justin Greenwood
Colors: Eric Jones
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Cover artists: Justin Greenwood (regular)/Nick Dragotta (variant)
Editor: Branwyn Bigglestone
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Medieval stories — either with sword-and-sorcery elements or now — are from a genre in which I generally don’t have a lot of interest. I haven’t watched a moment of Game of Thrones, for example, and similar fare, such as Conan stories, rarely hold my attention. Nevertheless, I decided to give The Last Siege a glance when a digital preview made its way into my little corner of the world. This story features a number of traits that normally turn me off from such material, from stilted dialogue to reflect the time to hardships and violence that make it next to impossible to relate to the characters. But there was something to the plot and script here that clicked for me. The blend of politics and crude opportunism honestly put me in mind of the political climate in western society today, and specifically in the United States.

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System Restore

Invincible Iron Man #600
“The Search for Tony Stark, Finale”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Stefano Caselli; Alex Maleev; David Marquez; Daniel Acuna; Leinil Francis Yu & Gerry Alanguilan; Jim Cheung; Mike Deodato Jr.; Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessy & Scott Hanna; and Andrea Sorrentino
Colors: Marte Gracia, Alex Maleev, Daniel Acuna, Guru-eFX, Romulo Fajardo, Marcelo Maiolo & Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Chris Sprouse & Karl Story (regular)/Alex Ross, Olivier Coipel, John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $5.99 US

This has been celebrated as a major sendoff for writer Brian Michael Bendis, as it’s the last issue he’s written that Marvel has published since he started with the company 18 years ago. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying his Iron Man stories — be it those featuring Tony Stark, Riri Williams or Victor Von Doom — and I was eager to see how Bendis would wrap up the saga. Sadly, the execution here is a far cry from the strong writing we saw from him in the years leading up to this “finale.” At times, the story here is almost unintelligible, and I honestly don’t see what the point of any of it is (other than to restore several characters to their status quos). The constant shifts in art styles doesn’t help matters either. This was a disappointing final moment in Bendis’s Marvel tenure, and really, his far more focused and resonant conclusions to Jessica Jones and Spider-Man (Miles Morales) stand out to me as his true curtain calls.

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Celestial Body Count

Avengers #1
“The Final Host”
Writer: Jason Aaron
Pencils: Ed McGuinness
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: David Curiel
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Cory Petit
Cover artists: McGuinness & Morales (regular)/Aaron Kuder, Greg Land & Jay Leisten, and Esad Ribic (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

Here we go again — another relaunched title, coming on the heels of the temporary restoration of the original numbering. I took a peek at a couple of chapters of the “No Surrender” storyline that wrapped the previous Avengers titles, and it didn’t go much for me. When I heard Marvel planned another first-issue cash grab with this latest Avengers run, I figured I’d take a hard pass, but then I saw writer Jason Aaron and penciller Ed McGuinness were involved. McGuinness’s bright, cartoony style has an appealing old-school vibe to it, and Aaron has proven himself to be skilled when it comes to playing with Marvel’s cosmic concepts. This “debut issue,” such as it is, is a lot of fun and feels a bit like a Bronze Age Avengers epic. But at the same time, there’s a certain simplicity to it as well that’s in keeping with its throwback qualities, and ultimately, it doesn’t feel terribly inventive.

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A Sketchy Character

Frank Quitely: Drawings + Sketches hardcover art book
Writer/Artist: Frank Quitely
Editor: Nicola Love
Publisher: BHP Comics
Price: $26.99 US/£18.99 UK

I’ve been reading comics for almost 40 years now, and it’s without a doubt my favorite entertainment medium. As I’ve matured, I’ve become more and more interested in the creative process, and this art book takes us into the inventive art of highly regarded comic artist Frank Quitely. He’s offered some of the more inventive and challenging comics visuals, especially in the super-hero genre, in recent memory, and this book offers insight, directly from the artist, of how those medium-expanding moments came to be. This book will be a must for any Quitely devotee, but readers should bear in mind it’s far from a comprehensive look at his career.

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Elemental, My Dear

A Girl in the Himalayas original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: David Jesus Vignolli
Editors: Cameron Chittock & Sierra Hahn
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $16.99 US

Promotional material released in advance of this book indicates this is writer/artist David Jesus Vignolli’s debut graphic novel, but I just can’t believe. This is a fully realized fable, and it’s a hauntingly beautiful and touching tale. The deceptively simple title of A Girl in the Himalayas is actually quite fitting, because while it doesn’t touch on the literal magic that imbues almost every panel of this graphic novel, it focuses the reader’s attention on the spiritual magic of innocence that represents the ultimate redemption of humanity. And yes, while there’s a larger plot that examines mankind’s penchant for self-destruction, the core strength of Vignolli’s story is how it examines the notion of family, no matter how unconventional the circumstances that brings it together.

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