Author Archives: Logan Dalton

Review: The Wicked + The Divine #38

As The Wicked + the Divine #38 begins,the cast of characters that Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson has dwindled down, and they’re mostly bad eggs. And the good ones are irreparably damaged either physically or in spirit. Like every issue of this arc, WicDiv #38 begins with a flashback to the 1940s and 1950s where British poet and classicist Robert Graves is inspired by Ananke to write his seminal work The White Goddess about how goddess worship leads to inspiration, poetry, and is the “mother of all invention”. It’s very in much in keeping with the spirit of WicDiv as Gillen and McKelvie uncover more of the inner workings of the Pantheon, Ananke, Minerva, and the world of their story. With its juxtaposition of storytelling mechanics and intense character psyche burrowing, WicDiv  #38 is a pretty strong middle issue, and the the varied color schemes by Wilson are a nice treat.

In WicDiv #38, Minerva has blossomed into a fantastic villain maneuvering plots and manipulations in a manner that would make Ananke crack a smile from beyond the grave. Despite everything going to hell in a hand basket, Woden thinks he’s still in control because he has the Norns in the jail and thinks that he can do whatever he wants. For example, he makes a video of out of context moments of WicDiv painting Urdr as a dangerous rabble rouser just like her old name’s mythological equivalent, Cassandra. But this is definitely not the case as Woden sees the graffiti heavy and disfigured heads of the Pantheon members and freaks out while McKelvie draws Minerva in another panel with a shit eating grin as she knows exactly what is going on. She hides her plans for the endgame behind surprised expressions, childlike wonder, and two face dialogue that Woden won’t get even while he repeats his new favorite word, “subtext”.

Until a foreboding final line of dialogue on the last panel, Persephone and Baphomet’s scenes in the Underground might not seem as connected to the big ur-story of goddess vs. goddess, inspiration, and ritual sacrifice even if Persephone is the Destroyer and locked in eternal combat with Ananke. However, the quiet moments the once and future likable/not likable fans-turned-deities are the most human of WicDiv #38. Baphomet has really been the emotional carotid artery of this story arc and following Morrigan’s sacrificing herself for him after killing, there is definitely arterial spray. Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson finally get to descend into the deepest darkness with a blacker than black color palette and the tragic combined logo of a crow and pentagram and the even more tragic panel of Morrigan, Gentle Annie, and Badb lifelessly levitating in their temple. Although he was resurrected, Baphomet is crippled by grief and wants to stay in the shadows and not play an active role in the plot any more.

This listlessness extends to Persephone, who is pregnant and can’t really get anyone to empathize with her. Kieron Gillen goes full navel gazing, and McKelvie brings in a six panel grid to contain her thoughts and walk back to her and Sakhmet’s old crash pad. The real emotions comes when she picks up her old cracked and cellphone and thinks about how ridiculous Laura Wilson’s dream of godhood was. Her wish isn’t for righting wrongs or redemption, but just oblivion. This whole becoming a god thing wasn’t worth it, and perhaps walking down a dark, never ending tunnel that corresponds with McKelvie and Wilson’s all black panels is her retirement from divinity. Certainly, a panel on the final page echoes that idea, but Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson keep Persephone’s fate ambiguous: a sad, juicy hook for the arc finale.

WicDiv #38, and the whole “Mothering Invention” arc by extension, has been an exercise in looking at the biggest picture possible of Pantheons, past and present, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson. They show how the world works, establish innocents as villains, kill or incapacitate various darlings, and blur the lines between inspirational power and ritual sacrifice. There are lots of flashbacks, sure, but WicDiv #38’s sequences are more straightforward and connected to immediate plot and bigger themes of the series with some room for visual play with Wilson using a faded, almost monochromatic style for the Graves scenes that is like an old photograph.

And, most of all, Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson don’t forget the characters we’ve cheered for, sneered at, and connected to a little too deeply even though it seems that everyone has lost their way. Minerva is great baddie, and in a weird fan crossover universe, is beating Young Avengers Kid Loki at his game over and over again like the eternal battle Persephone and Ananke were locked in.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Colors: Matthew Wilson
Story: 8 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.2  Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Sandman Universe #1

With a flourish of alliterative narration from Lucien the Librarian, the return to the Dreaming commences in The Sandman Universe #1, a one-shot with a story credit to original Sandman creator Neil Gaiman that sets up four separate books set in this universe. Each creative team gets an opportunity to set up their stories in this comic. Gaiman, Si Spurrier, and Bilquis Evely use the fluid and ever changing nature of The Dreaming to visit the settings of the other Sandman Universe titles in a more urban fantasy and mythology driven version of all those intriguing fake trailers shown in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse double feature. However, The Sandman Universe #1 also has an overarching narrative and final page cliffhanger and isn’t just a sampler platter.

There is Spurrier and  Evely’s The Dreaming that focuses on supporting characters of The Sandman and their hunt for Daniel, the Dream of the Endless as his realm cracks and shatters. It also acts as the framing story of Sandman Universe with Matthew the Raven traveling between physical, spiritual, and dream dimensions in his quest to find Daniel. There is also Kat Howard and Tom Fowler’s reimagining of Books of Magic featuring the boy wizard Tim Hunter and his mysterious teacher Rose, Nalo Hopkinson and Domo Stanton’s House of Whispers that introduces the New Orleans Voodoo religion to The Dreaming and has a young African-American lesbian couple as protagonists, and finally, Dan Watters, Max Fiumara, and Sebastian Fiumara‘s tortuous and twisting take on Lucifer, who must suffer to find his son and not be a absentee father like Yahweh. The framing story and three interludes have a strong narrative continuity thanks to the consistent, yet versatile colors of Mat Lopes and Simon Bowland’s Eisner-worthy letters as he takes over for the legendary Todd Klein.

Spurrier and Evely’s story that is set in The Dreaming has big ideas, humor, tragedy, and even horror as they reintroduce familiar denizens like Lucien the Librarian and Cain and Abel and introduce a new character in Dora, a female monster who can jump between dreams. Her agility is evident when Evely draws her multiple times in one panel, and Spurrier makes her a fast talker. She also has a dark side and isn’t a fan of the realm of the Dreaming because Morpheus lied to her a long time ago. The heavily inked flashback is some of Evely’s best work, gave me chills, and is the only time any members of the Endless speak in Sandman Universe. Like telling the story of a dream to a friend after the night you’ve had it, The Dreaming is all about setting chaos to order, but this seems like a tall order even though the epic quest format is pretty conventional.

After being unable to jump into the waking world via the food-laden dream of a woman with esophageal cancer, Matthew enters it via the dreams of Tim Hunter. While Bilquis Evely’s work is well-rendered and exquisite like a novel that is a masterpiece of both craft and plot, Tom Fowler’s work is messier, yet still highly detailed. Warts and all, t’s perfect for the story of an adolescent wizard, who suffers the second worst nightmare of any teen on the first day of high school. Kat Howard’s plot for this short glimpse into Hunter’s world is more Agatha Christie than JK Rowling, and it looks like Hunter will have to fend for himself for the most part even though she does give him a friend in Ellie.

Following Books of Magic, Matthew jumps into New Orleans and into a queer love story between Latoya and Maggie. However, Nalo Hopkinson and Domo Stanton immediately throw them into world of conflict between gods and goddesses, boundaries between worlds, and magical items. The Louisiana Voodoo goddess Erzulie is introduced in this story and is quite the mystery. Hopkinson and Stanton craft a true urban fantasy story as the life of a family and two young lovers intersects with forces beyond their control. There’s a lushness and beauty to Stanton’s art, and he and colorist Mat Lopes create a wonderful effect that turns the bayou into a scrying mirror.

The last story that Matthew wanders into before reaching the “end” of his quest for Daniel is Lucifer’s, and it’s told in horror tinged, nine panel grid severity by Dan Watters, Max Fiumara, and Sebastian Fiumara. The Fiumaras strip away the David Bowie Lucifer that left his kingdom to open a club in L.A. and play piano and strip him down to something more malevolent with images that evoke more contempt than sympathy for the devils like starving ravens. Lucifer is on a journey again, but it’s not a fun field trip and more of a bloody vision quest. Along the way, Watters, Fiumara, and Fiumara riff off Lucifer’s first appearance in The Sandman where Morpheus defeats him in battle using the embodiment of hope. But hope might not win this time…

With carefully crafted artwork, writing that is both intelligent and down to Earth, and stories that have a distinct feel yet are connected through the wonderful device that is the Dreaming, The Sandman Universe #1 is a fantastic return of comics’ greatest creations as its creator, Neil Gaiman, hands off the torch to other skilled creators just like Morpheus did to Daniel over two decades in the first volume of Sandman. It’s a wonderful blurring of lines between reality and fiction.

Story: Neil Gaiman, Si Spurrier, Kat Howard, Nalo Hopkinson, Dan Watters
Art: Bilquis Evely, Tom Fowler, Domo Stanton, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara
Colors: Mat Lopes Letters: Simon Bowland 

Story: 8.5 Art: 9 Overall: 8.8 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics/Vertigo provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Fantastic Four #1

After a three year absence, the book that kicked off the Marvel Universe is back sort of in Fantastic Four #1. Dan Slott, Sara Pichelli, Elisabetta D’Amico, and Marte Gracia’s first issue doesn’t have Marvel’s First Family fighting Mole Man or the Trapster just yet and creates a slow build to the reunion. However, there is plenty of sweetness, comedy, and a little of bit of familial strife along the way as Slott and Pichelli play in-universe with reader expectations about the team reuniting and the oil and water dynamic of the Human Torch and the ever loving blue eyed Thing. They do have a quite funny flashback to a “forgotten” adventure of the Fantastic Four that asks as a proof of concept that shows that Slott call pull off all the voices of the bickering, yet loving sitcom family with superpowers. In addition to this, Slott, Simone Bianchi, and Marco Russo craft a Dr. Doom backup story that is a little more traditionalist than his recent appearances in Invincible Iron Man and Marvel Two-in-One,  and there’s also a super fun and quite metafictional one page backup drawn by Skottie Young and colored by Jeremy Treece.

For her work on Fantastic Four #1, Sara Pichelli brings a looser, almost more playful art style that still shows emotions and body language in a fluid way with the help of inker Elisabetta D’Amico and colorist Marte Gracia. Even though he’s made of rocks, Pichelli’s take on The Thing is lively and utterly human. Beneath his ungainly movements, he’s a loving man, and the scene where he proposes to his long time girlfriend Alicia Masters is sentimental without being sappy. Dan Slott writes The Thing as maybe giving up on seeing Reed, Sue, Valeria, and Franklin ever again, but he still has a family in Alicia and Johnny. However, The Thing and the Human Torch aren’t always loving BFFs, and Gracia shows the subtle difference in the Torch’s flame when he’s going off in action and when he flies off the handle after Ben asks him to be his best man. This scene shows that there’s still tension in Ben and Johnny’s relationship in an organic, not drama for the sake of drama way and even builds off the way that Chip Zdarsky has written them in Marvel Two-in-One where Ben knows that Sue and Reed are lost forever while giving Johnny a false sense of hope that they’re somewhere in the multiverse.

Johnny still believes the Fantastic Four will reunite and immediately flames on to where their sign shoots off in the sky with a flare gun like in the original Fantastic Four #1. Of course, it’s just a prank, but it’s foreshadowing to a grander, earned moment all overlaid in a beautiful blue by Marte Gracia like hope in the midst of despair. And hope and family are major themes throughout Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli’s story in Fantastic Four #1. Even if Ben and Johnny don’t interact with Ben and Sue, they share plenty of moments with the “extended” Fantastic Four family, including Wyatt Wingfoot, Jennifer Walters, and the aforementioned Alicia Masters. Johnny and Wyatt take in a Mets game, and Slott engages in what is either queer subtext or queer baiting using the stadium kiss cam while Jen pops up later to flirt with Wyatt and also legally represent the Yancy Street kids who set off the false Fantastic Four flare. Slott modernizes the relationship between the Thing and what was formerly known as the Yancy Street gang making him kind of a community leader instead of the participant in an endless Itchy and Scratchy situation.

Other than the poetic ending, the best moment of Fantastic Four #1 is the flashback sequence where the Fantastic Four and supporting cast find their way back to New York City through the power of Johnny singing the Wayne Newton standard, “Danke Schoen”. It’s funny, cheesy, heartwarming, and adventurous all at once like the best Fantastic Four stories. This is thanks to some little details emphasized by Pichelli like the way Reed cranes his neck when explain the quantum science or whatever of this karaoke journey home situation and then immediately retracts when he doesn’t want to out and out say that Sue isn’t the greatest singer. There’s also time for some transcendent beauty in the midst of screwball comedy: a Marte Gracia colored cosmic flame in the deep blue night sky that even Alicia, who is blind, can see. This little adventure shows the Fantastic Four are about science as well as deep human wonder through the vessel of a family ensemble.

Slott, Simone Bianchi, and Marco Russo’s Dr. Doom backup story creates a different kind of wonder, and the baroque severeness of Bianchi’s art easily contrasts with the cosmic smoothness, yet expressive cartooning of Sara Pichelli and Elisabetta D’Amico. It’s a back to basics Doom story as one of his former subjects pays a visit to the half-abandoned Doomstadt (There’s lots of Doombots per usual.) and asks him to liberate Latveria from one of the many stop gap authoritarian regimes that have been in place since he left them to play hero/Iron Man. And the way Slott writes Doom and Bianchi draws him is the complete opposite of the “Infamous Iron Man” as his face is no longer pretty, and he’s ready to rule with an iron grip and an iron mask. Like the main story of Fantastic Four #1, the Doom backup is about hope and symbols, but it’s a dark and twisted mirror to Marvel’s First Family.

Fantastic Four #1 is nothing short of a triumphant return for Marvel’s first superhero team. Dan Slott hits a nice balance between tearing heart strings, broad humor, and the wonders of the universe in his script while also crafting an aura of mystery and terror in the Dr. Doom backup story with Simone Bianchi and Marco Russo. In the visual department, Sara Pichelli shows why she is one of Marvel’s best and versatile artists hitting all the smaller, yet very important character beats as well as the big spreads and “Flame on!” moments.

Whether you’ve been reading the title since 1961 or this is your first FF adventure, Fantastic Four #1 is definitely worth your $5.99.

Story: Dan Slott Pencils: Sara Pichelli Inks: Sara Pichelli with Elisabetta D’Amico
Colors: Marte Gracia Backup Art: Simone Bianchi, Skottie Young
Backup Colors: Simone Bianchi and Marco Russo, Jeremy Treece Letters: Joe Caramagna
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.3 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Immortal Hulk #4

Immortal Hulk (2018-) #4I’ve never been a big fan of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo’s work in the MCU and the “Planet Hulk” arc are notable exceptions.) so it’s kind of a big deal when I say that Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, and Paul Mounts’ Immortal Hulk is one of my favorite current Marvel comics. In this series, Ewing and Bennett go the old school horror movie route and have the Hulk/Bruce Banner appear rarely and tell the story from the POV of the towns and people he affects. Most of Immortal Hulk #4 is told from the POV of intrepid journalist Jackie McGee, who doesn’t just want to write about the Hulk’s destruction, but get an interview with Bruce Banner himself. And if Banner is still MIA, she is perfectly fine with interviewing his old college roommate, Walter Langkowski aka Sasquatch of Alpha Flight.

Immortal Hulk #4 is predominantly a character study of Walter Langkowski, including almost watercolor flashbacks of his origin by Bennett, Jose, and Mounts. Bennett isn’t a flashy artist, and his steady photorealism with bursts of red or green from colorist Paul Mounts works well for the interview/road trip framing story. Bennett’s take on Langkowski is genial and energetic, and he and Ewing craft a balanced portrait of the NFL player/scientist who became a monster. And in a move that is best for McGee’s story as well as book that features the Hulk as a protagonist, Langkowski provides insight into Bruce Banner for a couple pages showing his insecurity and anger around the “jock” Langkowski and then cutting to a more humorous scene that reveals the origins of the Hulk’s trademark purple pants. The interview with Walter Langkowski shows that McGee is willing to go beyond the usual suspects (Thunderbolt Ross, Betty Ross) to get close to Bruce/The Hulk and find out the reason for his rampages.

Immortal Hulk #4 reminds me a lot of the original Universal The Wolf Man from 1941. It’s a werewolf movie, but director George Waggner spends quite a bit of time letting the audience get to know Larry Talbot Jr and humanizing him before he become a monster. Ewing and Bennett do the same with Walter Langkowski while connecting it to the larger nocturnal Hulk rampage narrative instead of going down a complete sidetrack to focus on a character who only appeared at the very end of Immortal Hulk #3. The recurring theme in Langkowski’s speech and actions is control. He has the right mix of brains and brawn to be Canada’s deterrent to the Hulk, he can control his transformations into Sasquatch, he can break up a bar fight. Well, maybe not that last part. With the help of rage filled reds from Mounts, Ewing and Bennett turn on the suspense when Langkowski is stabbed and badly injured by a couple angry men and goes to the hospital. But it ends up being the bite, the inciting incident responsible for his transformation into the monstrous, slavering Sasquatch because, like the Hulk, he is more of a monster at night.

Part road story, part monster story, Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, and Paul Mounts’ Immortal Hulk  is a master class in pacing and build up fleshing out characters, like Walter Langkowski, and then turning the tables because control is a myth when there is a gamma powered monster inside you.

Story: Al Ewing Pencils: Joe Bennett Inks: Ruy Jose
Colors: Paul Mounts Letters: Cory Petit
Story: 8.6 Art: 8.2 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Seeds #1

On the surface, The Seeds #1 seems like a winner. It’s a story featuring a harried journalist looking for the truth in an age of clickbait, a wall between a technology and non-technology using area, alien sex, and is Hawkeye and Immortal Iron Fist‘s David Aja‘s return to interior art. However, Ann Nocenti’s plotting jumps all over the place from anecdotes about bees and sex and Chairman Mao to interspersed images of crows and finally, the “good part” of the comic, the story of the aforementioned journalist Astra. I like the idea that the world of The Seeds is much like our own and a little bit like Cold War Berlin with a Neo-Luddite twist. But Nocenti’s worldbuilding comes in fits and cryptic starts.

A mystery is a good thing for a first issue of a comic, but the sequences with the gas mask wearing bee-like aliens lack any real emotional connection unlike the ones with Astra. The journalism and tech-free zone stuff is cool, but the aliens are kind of boring. Maybe, that’s Nocenti’s point: that mid-level alien workers are just as boring as their human equivalent. But it doesn’t make for entertaining reading. There’s an overly labored discussion about bees and pollination as some kind of hackneyed metaphor for what the aliens are doing on Earth too that seems like an excuse to drop the book’s title. At least, Aja pulls off some interesting hive-like layouts, and his art and the character of Astra are Seeds‘ sole redeeming factors.

David Aja works in monochrome in Seeds #1 so you can really see the care in his line work and inking. He uses Benday dots when depicting the technology-free zone and little sputters of light that are like a bright fluorescent light shining down into a dirty room. Human civilization is dying, and Aja’s art nails this better than any chatter about harvesting or people taking drugs that supposedly make you see your own death. He also isn’t afraid to get intimate with his character like spending a whole page showing Astra’s post-work routine as she goes from a disappointing meeting with her boss to hitting a bar to write some puff piece about a new drug on the scene. Two pages, eighteen panels, and we get an understanding of this truth driven, sharp witted, and sometimes cynical journalist. She’s a great character, who is unfortunately stuck in a dull comic.

Even though it’s a post-apocalyptic story, Seeds #1 seems like a Cold War/retro story with references to Roswell, the whole wall thing, and even the alien designs when they pop up.  It’s like those old 2000 AD stories that riffed on the American Civil War or Reagan’s presidency, but in the distant future and trying to be smart and serious. The references to click bait pop readers back into contemporary times and then a panel of a tabloid style newspaper kicks it back to the time of the Red Scare. Along with people abandoning technology, it’s an interesting concept, but sadly Ann Nocenti just mentions it and moves onto alien worker bee harvesting or unrelated juxtaposed images of birds in an attempt to make some point about the end of the world cut-up style. (William S. Burroughs did some of his best work in the 1950s and 1960s so it fits with the whole neo-Cold War shtick.) Or it could be the twin ravens of Odin signaling Ragnarok. Theorizing about this comic was more interesting than reading it.

The Seeds #1 has some ideas with potential like the “Neo-Luddite” zone, an intriguing, if a little pompous protagonist, and the skilled storytelling pacing and economic line work of David Aja. But it has long uninteresting stretches, its world is ill-defined, and goes down too many tangents aka I wasn’t hooked to check out issue two.

Story: Ann Nocenti Art/Letters: David Aja 
Story: 5.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 5.4 Recommendation: Pass

Dark Horse/Berger Books provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: X-Men Grand Design- Second Genesis #1

X-MEN GRAND DESIGN SECOND GENESIS #1 (OF 2)Cartoonist Ed Piskor leaves the Silver Age and enters the Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne era in X-Men Grand Design: Second Genesis #1 retelling the story of the X-Men from Cyclops and Professor X’s assembly of the “All-New, All-Different” team of Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Thunderbird, and Sunfire to rescue the original X-Men from the mutant island Krakoa to the conclusion of the classic “Dark Phoenix Saga”. The comic’s biggest strength is Piskor’s meticulous attention to craft including panel layouts and lengths, color choices, and lettering. With so much material to cover, there are no wasted beats in his storytelling, no filler. This does harm its emotional resonance which pales in comparison to Claremont’s original saga that partially worked because the longform storytelling created a connection between readers and characters and developed various relationships in more depth, like Wolverine and Nightcrawler, Jean Grey and Cyclops, and Professor X and Lilandra to name a few in this time period.

However, for the most part, Second Genesis #1 is beautiful, yet streamlined take on one of the most important pop culture icons from a talented writer/artist. Even though there are appearance from various secondary foes and antagonists and even mentions of and cameos from heavy hitters like Magneto and Galactus, Piskor establishes from page one that the Hellfire Club will be the chief opponent of the X-Men in Second Genesis while continuing the larger Ur-narrative of the Phoenix that he hinted at in the first volume of X-Men Grand Design. And the force or character that these two powers rotate around is Jean Grey and later the Phoenix force taking on the appearance of Jean Grey as Piskor agilely summarizes the retcon that allowed for Jean Grey’s “ressurection” and absolving of a murder of planets in a sequence of dark panels that show her go from a powerful mutant to almost a fetus. He even shows his horror chops in his recreation of the famous scene in the “Phoenix Saga” where Jean absorbs radiation and crash lands the X-Men team after they rescue Professor X from mutant hater and experimenter Stephen Lang. A classic countdown sequence combined with some shocked facial expressions builds the suspense that culminates in a firebird rising from Jamaica Bay.

Although Second Genesis #1 is much more plot-driven, and the best X-Men stories I would argue are more character driven (And Claremont managed to cram a lot of plots in too.), Ed Piskor still takes care to flesh out the individual X-Men’s flaws, personality traits, and memorable moments. There’s a baseball game with Nightcrawler playing catcher, early in the book, Colossus and Wolverine link up in a trademark fastball special, and there’s even a panel with Storm’s claustrophobia. Piskor writes and draws Kitty Pryde as plucky and ingenious without being annoying and accidentally saving the X-Men with her phasing ability as Claremont and Byrne were trying to finish off their great epic while also introducing an actual student for the Xavier institute per editorial mandate. She adds bursts of joy and energy between the shadow and flame of Dark Phoenix and whited out psychic duels between Mastermind and Cyclops. The Phoenix and Hellfire Club predominantly take center stage while Professor X’s deal with Lilandra and Shi’ar runs off to the side, and even though some of my favorite X-Men were on this incarnation of the team, they lack a strong identity unlike the original five plus Havok and Polaris in X-Men Grand Design.

Don’t get me wrong. For all its flaws in the characterization department (For example, Piskor puts Professor X and Cyclops at a graveyard at the top of the page, and Thunderbird’s death at the bottom and barely hints at his headstrong nature.) and lack of focus on the Jean/Scott dynamic when Jean is at the center of the story, Second Genesis #1 is the rare mainstream comic created auteur style by a single creator. Ed Piskor gives the subplot heavy, soap operatic narrative of the X-Men a strong thread to follow and lets his nostalgia and love for the source material shine on every page. His art style is retro without being simplistic, and there is a kind of minimalism to his use of captions and dialogue, especially compared to the overwrought style of Claremont. In fact, his strongest emotional beats involve few words at all like Jean and Scott spending one last night in bed before the X-Men’s honor duel against the Shi’ar, and he punctuates these emotional crescendos with the use of black and white instead of the colorful costumes, spaceships, and energy bursts that permeate this book and the X-Men canon as a whole.

Even if it focuses more on singular narrative building than the growth of one of superhero comics’ greatest ensemble casts, X-Men Grand Design: Second Genesis #1 is a wonderful example of the cyclical nature of myth as Ed Piskor filters the beginning of Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men through a lean, visually striking storyteller’s lens or his childhood fantasies through a steadier, yet no less energetic hand. I’d probably rather reread the “Dark Phoenix Saga” though.

Story/Art/Letters: Ed Piskor
Story: 7.2 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.6 Recommendation: Read

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The New World #1

In their new series The New World #1, Ales Kot, Tradd Moore, and Heather Moore craft a post-nuclear apocalypse United States that has been carved into many small countries, chief among them, New California. It’s a reality not far from our own with surveillance technology, brutal police officers, partying, music, and slightly smarter home A.I’s. The most popular past time is watching a reality show called Guardians where super cops subdue criminals and the audience votes real time for them to either execute them on the spot or let them have a fair trial. Through this program, Kot crafts the logical progression of Americans’ obsessions with police procedurals, reality television (Especially with an interactive element.), and most of all, unrelenting violence.

In conjunction with cameras or a handler watching Stella Maris, New World’s protagonist and a cop who doesn’t like to kill even when the audience wants her to, Tradd Moore uses lots of full page and double page splashes and big panels to give the book a televised feel. Even his scene-to-scene transitions have a pretty big scope like a full page of a satellite in silhouette on one page zooming in back to Earth to the West Hollywood home of Kirby Miyazaki, an atheist anarchist vegan hacker, who sabotages an airing of Guardians and thanks to loads of hormones and probably moly, ends up hooking up with Stella. He’s doing just fine with his revolutionary activities and putting his war vet dad to bed after a long night of drinking, but comes off as insufferable. But weren’t we all insufferable in our early twenties? (Aka me currently). His anime protagonist good looks don’t help either and act as one big visual joke along with Kot giving the same middle name as one of the monsters in Naruto.

Like the majority of Ales Kot’s comics, New World #1 has a real activist streak, but it reads more like a coming of age romance than the chronicles of the revolution although there is a harrowing flashback showing Stella’s rebel parents being beaten down by border guards drawn by Moore from the POV of her in the back seat. New World is a YA dystopia shorn of its twee-ness and pandering to Hollywood suits. There’s banter with dads and robotic assistants about cats, and Kot and Moore soak up the daily lives of Stella and Kirby between being an action cop or subversive hacker using the extra-sized first issue to run through a literal day in their shoes. There are plenty of full face close-ups along the way to show exactly how characters are feeling with colorist Heather Moore adding intriguing touches, like a ghostly white to the features of Stella’s grandfather Herod, the governor of New California, who wants Stella to be more ruthless on TV like bulky killing machine Logan Maximus.

Even though it’s thrilling to see Kirby do his hacker thing and tell the slightly creepy person who is interviewing him for the job at Guardians how he is going to disrupt the show, New World #1 hits its peak when Kot and Moore give Kirby and Stella an opportunity to let their proverbial hair down and enjoy a rave party in Long Beach. And it’s the coolest, most energetic rave in comics since Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Dionysian one in The Wicked + the Divine #8. There’s a cascade of colors as Kirby hits the dance floor because he’s straight edge and doesn’t need booze or drugs to have a good time, and Tradd Moore draws the hell out of a crowded dance floor until two young people meet, the (not) talking leads to touching and the touching leads to sex, and you know that Rilo Kiley song. Moore’s panels flow together in a beautiful symphony of lust, and he and Kot also stick the landing when they wake up back at there separate places, but are filled with life and Janelle Monae and Billy Bragg songs. Kirby and Stella have real chemistry, and it’s all in the magic of Tradd Moore’s fluid layouts and use of body language and Heather Moore’s energetic colors.

The New World #1 is the socially responsible young people falling in love story that we deserve in summer of 2018 featuring smart world building and tongue in cheek humor from Ales Kot and jaw dropping visuals from Tradd Moore and Heather Moore. Don’t forget “ACAB” though.

Story: Ales Kot Art: Tradd Moore
Colors: Heather Moore Letters: Clayton Cowles

Story: 8.2 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.6 Recommendation: Buy 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Justice League Dark #1

Justice League Dark #1 is like the Justice League only weirder and dysfunctional, Seriously, Wonder Woman and Man-Bat are the only two team members until the Alvaro Martinez Bueno, Raul Fernandez, and Brad Anderson splash page. In the opening salvo of his series spinning out of the Justice League: No Justice, writer James Tynion IV introduces his main threat both verbally and visually: magic is dying and humanity with it. However, he gives the varied denizens of Justice League Dark humanity and humor and along with Martinez’s engrossing double page spread, keeps the book entertaining and not overwhelmed by the gravity of its stakes like its brother League book.

From the first scene where Zatanna’s simple rabbit in the hat trick turns into a B-horror movie, Tynion and Martinez set up Justice League Dark as a book about the ever shifting and chaotic nature of magic first and punching things later. These priorities are reflected in his choice of cast members, who with the notable exception of Wonder Woman aren’t the team up and fight things type although they are in all out action by the time the final page arrives. Zatanna, who is Wonder Woman’s first choice for her “magical” Justice League team, refuses at first because of complicated reasons like her father’s death and a valid belief that a superhero team isn’t the best way to investigate the dying of magic. In Justice League Dark #1’s first double page spread, Martinez and Fernandez show that Diana and Zatanna don’t have the greatest chemistry with Wonder Woman relying on brute force while Zatanna continues to fall back on her spells even as they backfire in multicolored explosions from Anderson. And the other “members” are even less conventional from Detective Chimp, who is more mopey bartender and comic relief and heavy hitter to Man-Bat,

Speaking of Man-Bat, Dr. Kirk Langstrom almost steals the entire comic of Justice League Dark #1 as he pulls off the whole villain striving for redemption as a hero with humor and quirkiness instead of the cliched brooding darkness. The inviting nature of Man-Bat as a character begins with the visual design with Alvaro Martinez Bueno and Raul Fernandez going for the totally adorable combination of bat head and lab coat and Brad Anderson choosing a more neutral grey instead of going full Goth with his palette. Until the big fight at the end when Martinez and Fernandez make Man-Bat more ferocious and less cuddly with intense line work, they and Tynion craft the character more like Beast from the X-Men and less than the horrific, nocturnal threat of Batman The Animated Series’ pilot “On Leather Wings”. He’s another hit on James Tynion’s “rogues gallery rehab” world tour that kicked off with his heroic and heartbreaking writing of Basil Karlo aka Clayface in Detective Comics.  Hopefully, these small moments of Man-Bat obsessively rattling his scientific credentials, Traci 13 jokingly turning Detective Chimp’s beer into apple juice, and heaven and Hell (Aka Lucifer and Zauriel) squaring off in basically a Goth board room setting continue throughout the series as the threat of the Otherkind ramps up.

In Justice League Dark #1, James Tynion takes one part of his tongue in cheek, yet serious exploration of magic and its consequences and complexities in his Hellblazer run, another part the family dynamic of Detective Comics, and gives the book the blockbuster sensibility of co-writing gigs with Scott Snyder and others on books like Dark Nights Metal and Justice League No Justice even going back to his work on the Batman Eternal weeklies and turns into a fairly delightful concoction. He, Alvaro Martinez Bueno, Raul Fernandez, and Brad Anderson create connections between characters before having them punch, bite, or throw tendrils of the Green at things and the philosophy makes the book shine even if the antagonists are vaguer and vague.

Plus Tynion writes Swamp Thing like Treebeard from Lord of the Rings, which is incredibly ingenious.

Story: James Tynion IV Pencils: Alvaro Martinez Bueno
Inks: Raul Fernandez Colors: Brad Anderson Letters: Rob Leigh
Story: 8.5 Art: 7.5 Overall: 8.8 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Mall #1

To put things simply, Scout Comics’ The Mall #1 is The Breakfast Club meets Goodfellas complete with three very different teenagers going not to Saturday detention, but meeting with Lenny, the brother of dead crime boss, Gino Cardini and each of their fathers. Except with some shared characters and the concept of the children of a dead crime boss running his mall mob fronts, The Mall #1 doesn’t line up plotwise with the Free Comic Book Day issue. However, writers Don Handfield and James Haick III, artist Rafael Loureiro, and colorist Dijjo Lima make a solid effort at combining the worlds of the crime saga and coming of age story with more than a little darkness along the way.

In the three protagonists Diego, Lena, and Dallas, Handfield and Haick riff off the archetypes of Brain, Rich Girl, and Jock, but The Mall #1 doesn’t fall into the lily white John Hughes movie trap and features a diverse cast of characters. Handfield and Haick also use the archetypes as a foundation to build on instead of leaning into stereotypes. For example, Lena might live in a huge mansion, but wants to have a job (Even if it’s selling hot dogs at the mall food court.) so she can build a life for her and her mother apart from her stepfather, who sexually abuses her. She is fiercely independent and has a soft spot for animals, which is why Lenny gives her the pet store to manage. The panels of her holding cute puppies are a nice relief from the violence, bullying, and racism and homophobia that pervade The Mall #1 because, hey, people are pretty terrible.

Diego is the “geek” of the unlikely trio, but has poor grades because he works at his dad’s window washing business to help ends meet, which cuts into his studying time and also causes his peers to bully him. He daydreams about a better life where kids don’t make fun of him and hurl racist slurs at him, and this causes him to lash out at his hardworking father. With a talent for music, Diego has potential, but his family doesn’t have money to send him to a more advanced school for more opportunities. This whole idea of class and opportunity is at the core of Dallas’ character, who is a football playing “jock”, but he is a backup for now and can’t afford expensive cleats without shoplifting them. He is transferring to another school to have a bigger shot at getting a college scholarship, but the kids in his neighborhood resent this and beat him up giving him bruises in a punishing sequence from Rafael Loureiro.

Don Handfield and James Haick imbue these pretty one dimensional high school movie stereotype with an awareness of class and race in The Mall #1 and then add the mob elements. Unlike the Free Comic Book Day issue, Handfield and Haick almost immediately throw Diego, Lena, and Dallas into a world of guns and rivalries as Lenny is threatened by a homophobic member of another rival gang. In some of Handfield and Haick’s harshest writing, he basically uses Reagan era AIDS rhetoric against his opponent, but before the teens can settle into setting up their mall stores, they are drawn into a fire fight. Loureiro’s panels tilt, his art is more stylized, and Dijjo Lima’s color palette is more intense to show the brave new world that these teens are in. This isn’t an after school job or scholarship program; this is war.

In The Mall #1, Handfield, Haick, and Loureiro do a good job introducing its three main characters, its high concept coming of age meets mob movie premise, and then throws everyone into the deep end after taking its time getting to the gangster stuff. It will be interesting to see each protagonist’s reaction to the violent world that they have been thrown into, and the best part of this book is the three distinct viewpoints on the world given to Diego, Lena, and Dallas. They certainly have plenty of problems, and even before the crime family angle is introduced, The Mall #1 has an ugly, harsh take on the world with cheerleaders forced to give oral sex in return for shopping sprees, friends beating up friends because they are betraying the neighborhood, and Lena getting sexually assaulted by her stepfather.

Story: Don Handfield and James Haick III Art: Rafael Loureiro
Colors: Dijjo Lima Letters: DC Hopkins
Story: 7.5 Art: 8 Overall: 7.7 Recommendation: Read

Scout Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Oh S#!t It’s Kim and Kim #1

Summer time means that it’s time for more rad bounty hunter adventures featuring Kim Q and Kim D, and they have a new (Ongoing this time.) title from Magdalene Visaggio, Eva Cabrera, and Claudia Aguirre. After the events of Kim and Kim: Love is A Battlefield, the Fighting Kims have gone corporate with all the requisite perks, including insurance, stable pay, and even a spaceship. However, they have cost their boss Kathleen a lot in collateral damage and have crazy high premiums on that insurance. In Oh S#!t It’s Kim and Kim #1, Kathleen gives the Kims a basic assignment to wear fancy dresses and watch legendary art thief, Xue Peng, while she steals a painting from Peng’s vault. But it’s never that easy, and by the time the final page rolls around, Kim Q and Kim D are on yet another wacky adventure: this time of the Belinda Carlisle variety.

Kim Q is the narrator of Oh S#!t It’s Kim and Kim, and Visaggio and Cabrera frame many of the scenes in the book from her POV while also planting the initial idea of the “Heaven Is A Place on Earth” job within a job heist into Peng’s head. However, before she starts fights with pool cues (Her trademark bass is sadly taking the issue off.) against guys with guns and cybernetic probability machines, Kim Q does get a splash of cold, hard reality.  Even though she’s in a stable bounty hunter position with an email address of all things, Kim Q still treats her life like she and Kim D are still on the van living from job to job and barely scraping by. In a kind of sad inset panel from Cabrera, Kathleen also draws attention to the bandages and bruises that Kim Q has gotten in her line of work that might not reflect best on her organization.

However, Oh S#!t It’s Kim and Kim isn’t all workplace performance reviews, and when the Fighting Kims reach the Planet Ballarat, the book is back to its looser flow with plenty of fighting, flirting, and scheming. Kim D is a little overwhelmed by the magnetic presence of Xue Peng, who definitely know she’s being tailed, and that Kim D is town for business, not pleasure. She’s like the person who goes to Vegas for the business trip part, not the high rolling and bad decisions part. Speaking of high rolling, Eva Cabrera choreographs one hell of a fight scene in the casino and  gives it a slick Casino Royale feel. It starts out with a sedate grid as Kim D starts to hash out the terms of their partnership with Xue Peng and then tilts and erupts into a shower of pinks and yellows from Claudia Aguirre as the action kicks in. It finally builds to a crescendo of a group brawl, and Xue Peng having instant chemistry with the Fighting Kims using her whip to restrain a guy, who uses a cybernetic probability machine to overtly cheat at cards.

My favorite sequence is this almost triptych of three panels of Kim Q, Kim D, and Xue Peng doing their things with a two handed pool cue beatdown, gun shot, and big time kick. Cabrera is really good at conveying motion in her panels, and Visaggio knows when to let the violence do the talking or throw in a pre or post ass kicking one liner. The big casino action scene also tells a lot about Kim Q’s character as she feels restrained by going corporate and wants to cut loose sometimes and beat up some guys while wearing a fancy dress and plan a score without a real plan. This whole responsibility thing is lost on her, but sometimes pop music recordings and personal revenge are a little more fun. However, Visaggio doesn’t introduce the whole personal angle to the heist until the last page, and it definitely complicates what was already an increasingly complex babysitting job.

Even though they’re technically corporate, Kim Q and Kim D still have big personalities and get into bigger scraps in the super fun ode to arrested development that is Oh S#!t It’s Kim and Kim #1. The classy casino setting allows Eva Cabrera and Claudia Aguirre to make some wonderful fashion choices in the midst of the carnage while Magdalene Visaggio introduces the Fighting Kims to a new character that might be a little much for even them. Xiu Peng has instant chemistry with our two leads, and I look forward to this power trio’s insurance premium increasing crimes and misdemeanors.

Story: Magdalene Visaggio Art: Eva Cabrera
Colors: Claudia Aguirre Letters: Zakk Saam

Story: 8.7 Art: 9 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy

Black Mask Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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