Author Archives: Logan Dalton

Review: The Batman’s Grave #1

The Batman's Grave #1

The Batman’s Grave #1 is a wonderfully minimalist, detective procedural story from Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Kevin Nowlan, and Alex Sinclair, but it’s also a saga of man who is obsessed with death, both his parents’, those of the cases he takes, and his own. So, it’s fitting that Ellis and Hitch open the comic on a panel of the Waynes’ graves as Alfred dutifully trims the area around Thomas and Martha Wayne’s final resting spots and Bruce’s future one before going into the action/murder mystery bits. It gives the comic a somber, thoughtful tone, but Hitch and Nowlan are always there with the big splash page, kick in the teeth, or superhero action scene while Ellis is quick with a quip like a Gotham family thinking that a copyright friendly version of It is family fare. (Maybe, it is in a city where the Joker tries to poison the water supply on a weekly basis.)

My personal favorite part of The Batman’s Grave other than Nowlan’s inking giving Hitch a more explosive, cartoon-y art style than, say, his work on Ultimates is how Warren Ellis writes Alfred. He is world weary, worldly, deeply caring, and also deeply concerned about how Batman is spending his life. Ellis gives him the voice of a million socially conscious Batman fans when he says that buying Gotham City would be better than him going around to poor neighborhoods and beating up criminals like he does in the first action scene of the comic.

But Bruce Wayne: Philanthropist would make a pretty boring comic, and Ellis knows this as he lets Hitch, Nowlan, and Sinclair loose with a cape trailing, Gotham skyline-featuring double page spread very early on and then treats us to some close-ups of Batman fighting goons, who threaten a police officer’s kid. It’s more unique than your usual superhero fight scene with Nowlan adding cool details like showing the grooves on Batman’s boot when he kicks. The extra detail doesn’t take anything away from the motion and the fact that the fight scene shows that Batman beats the shit out of people to get a small measure of catharsis in his life even if it won’t heal his neverending sadness.

However, The Batman‘s Grave is more of a psychological detective comic than an action book, and Alex Sinclair’s colors add a precision to Batman’s virtual lab where he gets into the mind of a murder victim. His investigation acts as a bit of a character study too, and Ellis, Hitch, and Nowlan give us a fairly detailed story of a man, who became overwhelmed with his job in the Gotham D.A’s office and turned to Batman as a metaphor of stability and justice. These extra character details kept me connected to the case instead of nodding like it was a Law and Order SVU rerun and also expertly set up the final page cliffhanger with Hitch and Nowlan indulging their horror side just a little bit.

The Batman’s Grave #1 is a fantastic Batman detective story and character study for both super fans and those who have only kept up with the Caped Crusader via other media or the occasional trade paperback. Bryan Hitch, Kevin Nowlan, and Alex Sinclair’s are the right blend of epic and psychologically searing while Warren Ellis’ script is sharp and momentum filled. I love the humanity that he brings to Alfred and the murder victim, Vince and kind of pity Batman after reading this one. His car is still cool though.

Story: Warren Ellis Pencils: Bryan Hitch 
Inks: Kevin Nowlan Colors: Alex Sinclair Letters: Richard Starkings
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.2 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Wicked + the Divine #45

“At every occasion, I’ll be ready for the funeral.”-Band of Horses

The Wicked + the Divine #45

Like the David Bowie song, five years is all we got with The Wicked + the Divine, and writer Kieron Gillen, artist Jamie McKelvie, and colorist Matthew Wilson go out on top in WicDiv #45, which is set 40 years after the events of the previous issue. It’s a thoughtful issue in the vein of The Sandman “The Wake” and is a fantastic character study as Gillen and McKelvie show what happens when the Pantheon grows old beginning with the much guarded secret of the final cover.

The entire issue happens at Cassandra’s funeral and wake so it’s fitting that the first big reveal is that she and Laura ended up married after a relationship with Eleanor. Speaking of Eleanor, it is so strange to see Lucifer as a senior citizen, and McKelvie does a fantastic job with all the wrinkles, crow’s feet, and other accoutrements of age for a group of characters that I, at least, thought would all flame out in their twenties. But, no, they get to live and reflect on life and relationships beneath the eaves of Valhalla, which has been turned into a National Trust site. There is continuity in the earlier Daft Punk/futuristic elements of Valhalla, but Wilson uses a more muted color palette in keeping with the somber occasion.

One of the most beautiful elements of WicDiv #45 is the interweaving, naturalistic conversations about the characters’ relationships as Gillen and McKelvie do a more graceful version of “Where are they now” with a good mix of grid layouts and wider panels. We get the last word on Zahid and Valentine with the brief return of Baal’s Nathan Fairbairn colored fresco as Zahid wistfully talks about how they have never been or will be with such a force like Baal. It all comes to a climax with Cassandra giving her own eulogy hologram-style, and what, in lesser creative hands, could be a pop-joke about the exploitation of Tupac or Prince turned into a wonderful final analysis of the Pantheon from the sharp, yet loving mind of a journalist turned goddess turned mortal.

The Wicked + the Divine #45

Although there are remarks about Laura being Cassandra’s “vice”, Cass’ final speech shows that she has become a little sweeter in her old age and that the conflict and drama of the two years of the Pantheon didn’t even matter to the end. When she calls Umar, who was feeling pretty down in his dialogue and missing Cameron something fierce, the best person she had known, it resonates emotionally because she isn’t the kind of character to hand out compliments willy nilly. She even gives Eleanor, one of the people she detested the most, the kudos for basically going hard and being the best embodiment she should ever be. Luci was the catalyst for me taking a Milton seminar in undergrad and, by extension, writing about comics academically so that series of panels landed hard.

After remarks on all the remaining Pantheon members, Kieron Gillen flexes his writing muscles and Jamie McKelvie’s flexes his facial expression and gesture ones for a poignant monologue on aging, which is honestly what WicDiv #45 is all about. There was the high energy, passion, action, and fandom of the early arcs supplemented by the greater context of the specials and “Mothering Invention” finally culminating in the Pantheon realizing that they could opt out of the millennia-long cycle of death and rebirth as ordinary humans. (Except Aruna can play the fuck out of a double neck guitar.) This issue shows the product of this mortality and has some awesome group hugs as the death of Cassandra causes surviving, former Pantheon members to come to terms with their mortality.

And because of how much Gillen and McKelvie have fleshed out this cast of characters over five years, The Wicked + the Divine #45 is an easy comic to self-identity with, especially when Laura faces the reader, does a final 1-2-3-4, and there’s a fade to white. Getting old is something that both scares me and is something I’m in denial of, and seeing characters that I felt like I grew up with wrinkles, long happy marriages, and stories of the past makes it a little more palatable. For a series that had a fairly large body count and had some dark relationship dynamics, this happy ending is a delight and an ode to building relationships and craft your own destiny and story to get a little bit meta.

This is a bit obvious to those of you who have been following me on my WicDiv reading/reviewing/interviewing, and yes, living journey the past five years, but The Wicked + the Divine is my favorite comic of all time. Sure, Sandman and The Invisibles are up there, but with WicDiv, I got to go on the journey each single issue, or step, of the way and theorize, weep, celebrate, and even build friendships along the way. It’s a book that’s always been about the big ideas like life, death, the creative act, but always had time for the little things that make life great like puns, pops, literary allusions, and fantastic costume design from Jamie McKelvie.

Even though I’ve been in denial since Monday when I read the final issue, The Wicked + the Divine #45 is the perfect ending to the series with Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson’s carefully crafted words and visuals on aging, looking back, and looking to the future. This is a comic that has engaged both my head and heart. Like Ananke, and in this issue, Cassandra say, “I love you. I love you all. I’ll miss you.” This comic will always have a beloved place in my heart, and I look forward to rereading, reminiscing, and recommending it into the decades to come even as I begin to look like the characters in this issue.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie 
Colors: Matthew Wilson Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Advance Book Review: For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves

For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves

Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran’s new illustrated book of essays/biography/fan fiction For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves doesn’t come out until October, but my reading of it timed perfectly with the announcement of the fourth Matrix film and the end of filming Bill and Ted Face the Music. Keanu Reeves is the Internet’s boyfriend, has three film franchises (Matrix, Bill and Ted, John Wick), and resisted Disney/Marvel’s siren call. So, it’s the perfect time to look back at his career, see why he was loved and derided, and maybe even why he is more aspirational than any self-help guru.

Zageris and Curran structure For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves like a series of essays looking at different aspects of Keanu Reeves’ career with fun extras like trivia and a quiz about which character named “John” played by Reeves you are (I was John Constantine.). There’s also a spaghetti Western-style fan fiction about what he was up to in the two year gap between Devil’s Advocate (1997) and The Matrix (1999), and best of all, a pitch for a romantic comedy/musical spinoff of John Wick set in Paris and co-starring Charlize Theron and Winona Ryder.

The five essays cover a range of topics from how Reeves’ vulnerable approach to acting clashed with some critics and endeared fans, his identity as Asian-American/Canadian man, his hard-working approach to his acting craft, his collaborations with both actors and business partners, and finally, one about his roles that fall on the “evil” side of the spectrum. A repeated theme is how Reeves’ main goal as an actor is to create a pocket reality for audiences to project themselves on them. He does this by working tirelessly at different skills his characters have (The eight months of kung fu training for The Matrix, surfing dangerous areas in Kauai for Point Break.) and also actively listening to his scene partners and not having his performance overwhelm theirs. Zageris and Curran state that this quality is why actresses like Sandra Bullock and Winona Ryder want to work with him multiple times, and Bullock saying his kindness to her and rapport in Speed helped ease her into the world of show business.

However, what makes For Your Consideration go beyond just a blow by blow recap/analysis of Keanu Reeves’ 30+ year career is Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran using him as a vehicle to explore American society’s changing ideals of masculinity, the role of the Internet and celebrity, and how Reeves may have even paved the way for Asian-American representation in pop culture though he mainly plays white-passing roles. They discuss about how Reeves’ body is filmed like a female actor in some of his movies, and the similarities of how critics talk about his acting like assuming just because he played an airhead slacker in the Bill and Ted films that he was one and focusing on his looks and not his ability. As far as action movies, Zageris and Curran write about how Reeves’ earnest approach and emotional openness in films like Point Break and Speed set him apart from the machismo and smartassery of actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.

At times, For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves veers from being a work of cultural and film criticism with jokes to being almost a straight-up, self-help book with Keanu Reeves being held up as an example of how we should be. This goes beyond his characters’ mantras of “Be excellent” and Internet memes of calling people breathtaking and warm, vulnerable stories about how he uses Shakespeare monologues to stay calm and would rather read a book than be a celebrity.

Some of the self-help bits pop up in the chapter about collaboration that discusses how Reeves acts as if he’s in a supporting role even he is a leading man and praises his co-stars in interviews instead of talking about himself. The chapter also shows that he isn’t afraid to pursue his passions like bookmaking and motorcycle design and that his approach to these businesses mirrors his work with Chad Stahelski, who went from being his stunt double on The Matrix to directing him in all three John Wick films. There is a quote about Reeves’ dedication to learning fight choreography, gunplay, etc so that Stahelski has a full range of creative choices instead of cutting around him. (Basically, he was throwing shade on the Taken movies.)

Even if there isn’t enough space to go into detail of each and every Keanu Reeves role, Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran perform an excellent close reading of Keanu Reeves the actor and human being with funny spot illustrations like a “human evolution” chart from Theodore Logan to John Wick, bearded badass. It isn’t a total hagiography with some critiques of Reeves’ accent work and deadpan descriptions of some of his “weirder” film choices like Bad Batch and Knock Knock, which I want to track down. However, it’s an appreciation of actor, who wants to take audiences on heroic (or anti-heroic) journeys into the world with him not just as a guide, but as someone they can identify with and walk out of the theater playing air guitar, doing kung fu, killing a man with a pencil, or maybe just hugging one’s beloved pooch a little tighter.

Overall Rating: 8.0

Quirk Books provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Dreamers of the Day

Dreamers of the Day

Dreamers of the Day, the self-published graphic novel from cartoonist Beth Barnett (Hallo Spaceboy) is a strange, yet beautiful beast. It’s one part travelogue/diary comic, another part a teaser trailer for her upcoming trilogy of graphic biographies of T.E. Lawrence, and another part a look into how archival research is conducted with a focus on emotions rather than technicalities. The comic is about Barnett’s solo research trip to Oxford to learn more about T.E. Lawrence for an upcoming graphic novel and also does an excellent job of sketching the points of his life and work that she is most interested in. (Throughout this review, I will be calling the protagonist of the comic, Beth, and its creator, Barnett.)

Dreamers of the Day is a comic powered by emotion and enthusiasm, and you can see it in the heart eyes, stars, and smiles every time that Beth finds something cool about T.E. Lawrence or finds something helpful for her research. Barnett also does a good job of setting up Lawrence’s importance to history, and that he was a polymath with interests ranging from Crusader castles and nation-building to motorcycles and book design. I learned a lot about the Middle East during and after World War I from this comic like how Lawrence wanted to help establish an Arab country called the Kingdom of Hejaz, but was co-opted by French and British imperialism and later the Sauds, who annexed Saudi Arabia. Barnett does an excellent job of connecting centuries-old history to contemporary times by connecting the Sauds’ actions to Saudi Arabian human rights violations as well as her frank and beautiful discussions of Lawrence’s possible asexuality.

Dreamers of the Day

The art of Dreamers of the Day is rendered in an approachable way veering towards the iconic side of Scott McCloud’s picture plane. Barnett draws her figures like Herge, and it fits the tone of the story as Beth runs from college/library/museum to college/library/museum and follows Lawrence’s exploits from his college and childhood days in Oxford to his travels around the world, especially the archaeological dig in Carchemish, Syria. A recurring theme in the comic (Especially in the early going.) is Beth getting lost and being afraid about being late to various things like a lecture or archives consultation. These panels make the comic relatable and give it nervous energy towards the beginning. Barnett balances these scenes of extreme passion with drawings of flowers that are a reminder of Lawrence’s interest in design, beauty, and Islamic art and are the spoonful of sugar that make the exposition go down.

Dreamers of the Day

Even though she uses simple, vivid images, Oxford and its confusing geography and lack of modern signage become almost a character in the comic. I especially love the heavy inking that Barnett uses after a page of normal, boring English countryside becomes Gothic architecture, windows, and genuine bastion of learning. The early days that Beth spends in Oxford are some of my favorite parts of the comic with plenty of positive reaction shots, especially when she has to take an oath to protect the famous Bodleian Library before she does research there. Beth (and Barnett’s) passion for her topic of study is infectious, and there are many parallels between her and Lawrence, who was a lifelong learner and even started bringing artifacts to Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum as a young boy.

Barnett uses these heavy blacks any time there’s a big point she wants to drive home or is feeling especially emotional in Dreamers of the Day. For example, all the windows in TE Lawrence’s childhood home are black, not just because it’s an empty old house, but because of his sad childhood where his mother and father took him and his brothers from town to town so people would forget that they were illegitimate.

Barnett also does a lovely trick of white text on a black background for a few scenes like ones pertaining to Lawrence’s death, the death of his best friend in Carchemish, and the aforementioned Saudi Arabian human rights violations. These could have been prevented if Lawrence and the Kingdom of Hejaz is succeeded, but Barnett doesn’t spend much time on hypotheticals instead talking about how much she has to learn about the world around her and how things work.

Dreamers of the Day is an enjoyable and educational read from Beth Barnett, who by inserting herself and her own enthusiasm in the narrative as well as using a minimalist, yet heavy on the emotions art style, makes the life and work of TE Lawrence accessible and inspiring in 2019.

Story: Beth Barnett Art: Beth Barnett
Story: 8.8 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy

Beth Barnett provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Electricity is Her Element

Electricity is Her Element

Electricity is Her Element is a self-published one-shot from cartoonist Kat Crow. A group of dragons or “snakes of chaos”, live in the storms on Jupiter and its moon Io and want to return the solar system back to pure chaos. They seek to accomplish this with the help of the elements Fire, Metal, Atmosphere, Water, and Electricity. It’s an extended meditation on the ultimate fate of the universe, the struggle between order and chaos. Even though Earth and humanity doesn’t appear in the comic, it’s a reminder of how really small we are in the universe. But with cool nature-inspired dragons, personifications of elements, and a cat angel named Ker-Bop that damn near steals the entire comic.

Taking a page from Todd Klein’s work (Especially on Sandman.), Crow uses lettering to establish characters, relationships, and tone. An example is Metal who is a warlord type figure, actively disliked by the other elements. He takes the dragons’ claws in exchange for helping them unleash chaos. Metal’s letters clank around like weapons. Its word balloons are more like a machine than the naturalism of other characters. Atmosphere’s lettering involves clumps of repeated words. It’s like one is struggling to breathe poisonous fumes. The lettering demonstrates the unpredictability of her abilities and almost the sheer luck that the dragons have in mollifying her.

Instead of just being text on a page, Crow’s lettering conveys the emotions behind the words used by the characters. The lettering complements her art style for each one. Along with being integral to the plot, Ker-Bop adds a wise-ass and puckish sense of humor to the ponderous proceedings of the first act of the comic. She’s drawn almost like a classic comic strip character. This is in comparison to the intricate rendering for the dragons and elements. The fights between Water and Dust Storm, and Atmosphere and Hail Storm are illustrated in painted splash pages. That showcases the power of these elemental clashes. They hint at how heroic these characters are even if they are from Jupiter’s moon Io, and not the Big Red Planet itself.

Electricity is Her Element

Another thing that makes Electricity is Her Element is the poetic way that Kat Crow structures the comic. Until Ker-Bop shows up, the dialogue between dragons and elements is almost call and response. The dragons have a need, and the elements meet or end up in a big conflict. There’s a dark feeling of yearning in the early part of the comic. The dragons are nostalgic for a time when the universe was one big storm. They’re afraid of change and Jupiter becoming a totally smooth planet. These emotions allowed me to connect to the characters beneath their pompous and divine nature and makes the story a little bit tragic.

With a scintillating, cosmic color palette, and fluid line work to match the different styles of lettering, Electricity is Her Element is a visual treat. It made me feel shock and awe when I flipped through the first couple pages before diving into the comic. Crow adds to this strong artistic foundation and distinct character designs by giving each element or dragon a unique personality. That’s while focusing on Ker-Bop, Dust Storm, and Hail Storm in this comic and fitting it into a cosmology that seems both spontaneous and planned.

Electricity is Her Element is J.RR. Tolkien’s “Ainulindale” with a sense of humor. It’s Hesiod’s Theogony without the toxic masculinity. Character sketches and bios at the end of the comic add depth to Crow’s worldbuilding. It helps make this comic worth picking up for all lovers of beauty and truth.

Story: Kat Crow Art: Kat Crow
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.5 Overall: 8.7 Recommendation: Buy

Kat Crow provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Once and Future #1 is a Rollicking Adventure For Our Dark Times

Once and Future #1

Even before cracking the opening pages of Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, and Tamra Bonvillain‘s Once and Future #1 seemed tailor-made for my own personal interests. It’s set in the beautiful English county of Somerset where I studied Jane Austen and Edgar Wright’s Spaced for a semester and has some deep dive Arthurian lore (The Questing Beast makes an appearance!). It also seeks to interrogate and apply those legends to the current state of the U.K., namely, Brexit, Boris Johnson, and all that white nationalist nonsense.

It’s set in the beautiful English county of Somerset where I studied Jane Austen and Edgar Wright’s Spaced for a semester and has some deep dive Arthurian lore (The Questing Beast makes an appearance!). It also seeks to interrogate and apply those legends to the current state of the U.K., namely, Brexit, Boris Johnson, and all that white nationalist nonsense.

However, Once and Future isn’t a political treatise, but the latest adventure in a line of magical quests, armed knights, and killing monsters that began with the Epic of Gilgamesh and were probably best represented in 20th popular culture by the two of the four Indiana Jones films. But what sets apart Gillen and Mora’s story from this previous ones is the team-up between the constantly flustered/audience surrogate Duncan and his grandmother Bridgette, who has a dry wit and is even sharper with various gun/edged weapon and knowledge of the supernatural forces of the British Isles that are illustrated in an almost twilight palette from Bonvillain.

After a Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Nigel Farage’s wet dream MacGuffin establishing cold open, Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora use humor to establish the characters of Duncan and Bridgette and their relationship. Duncan is the handsome, kind, yet klutzy one so he gets introduced wide eyed with his hands out after accidentally splashing his date with red wine. It instantly establishes him as the equivalent of Level 1 Dungeons and Dragons character, but he’s not an utter joke as he does an okay job later on with the Questing Beast and his car is the 21st century version of him and his grandmother’s knightly steed.

In contrast, Bridgette is introduced making killer quips about breaking her fellow old folks’ home residents’ fingers when they want to change the channel from local news stories about archaeological dig thefts/murders to the more pleasant Great British Bake-Off. Gillen and Mora subvert the “crazy old lady gets lost and freaks out” trope by making her walk in the woods discover a cache of weapons. Bridgette might have lost a step, but she’s still a total badass. Honestly, her take on Arthurian lore like Excalibur’s heal-every-wound scabbard being more valuable than the sword itself and wariness about the return of Arthur is just as cool as her action scene.

Sure, Once and Future has funny lines and hilarious reactions courtesy of Gillen and Mora, but it has a noble, earnest band together against the forces evil tone that makes it super endearing. Or, at least, that’s how energetic, if a little naive Duncan sees the world. Bridgette reads between the lines, and her dialogue about the iconic hero Arthur’s return maybe not being the best thing is a classic example of reading against the grain. It also connects to white nationalists/fascists in the real world using legendary imagery like Thor’s hammer to make their hate-filled movement cooler.

Once and Future #1 modernizes and humanizes the classic Arthurian legends by making the protagonists of the story that kind of nerdy, cute guy who says smart things in the back of a college class and his tough, no-nonsense grandma that’s been through some stuff. Kieron Gillen bolsters his quest plotline and monster fights with character-based humor and sociopolitical commentary while Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain bring an infectious energy with just a touch of darkness to the visuals. To cut it down to its core, Once and Future #1 entertains as just as well as it enlightens and uses myths and legends to bring hope to a world in need of salt of the Earth heroes like Bridgette and Duncan.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Dan Mora
Colors: Tamra Bonvillain Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.8 Overall: 9.4 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Coffin Bound #1

Coffin Bound #1

Coffin Bound #1 is either utterly pretentious or utterly sleazy. Dani and Brad Simpson‘s visuals are that of the grindhouse or carsploitation film with a touch of a Western and religious rituals. I definitely could feel a Pretty Deadly vibe from this book, but it seems sleazier. Some of that might be chalked up to Dan Watters’ writing which runs the gamut from Philosophy 101 bullshitting to terse, salt of the Earth dialogue.

Beneath all the purple prose and self-flaying strippers, Watters’ plot is a straightforward one. A girl named Isabel wants to obliterate every trace of her from her fucked up post-apocalyptic world, and a gimp mask sporting psychopomp named Earth Eater (In the literal sense). So, she goes on a road trip looking for an oracle named Cassandra, who turns out to be someone she has a warm, possibly even romantic relationship with. Her road trip buddy is a vulture, which drives home the point that, yes, this is a book about primal things like death.

Coffin Bound is a comic that I liked more for the aesthetic and general visual feel than for the contents of the issue until the very end when it maybe becomes a queer love story. Dani’s cover sets the tone for the book with a raven-haired girl slumped by a loud, yellow car with bones around her disdainfully holding a gun and cigarette like she doesn’t give a fuck. This attitude extends to the opening action scene that’s filled with equal parts humor and nihilism as Isabel struggles to put her pistol together to fight off the men who are trying to kill her for Earth Eater. A brick does the job just as well too and is maybe an homage at the original cat vs mouse comic Krazy Kat, which also had idiosyncratic use of language like this book. Later, Isabel has car problems and complains to her “manager” using florid prose, and the scene made me crack a smile because even poetic, post-apocalyptic badasses’ cars break down sometimes.

Coffin Bound is a very good comic whenever Watters and Dani focus the story on Isabel and the Earth Eater, who just shows up on a couple of pages like a good classic horror monster. However, it loses some of its momentum in the strip club sequence although Dani’s heavy inks and Simpson’s sleazy color palette and focuses on the red meat of the self-flaying stripper creates a pretty fucked up atmosphere. Watters seems to be filling in the world of Coffin Bound and the relationships that Isabel has and is trying to undo, but it hurts the comic’s pacing as a chase story. It’s like if Mad Max Fury Road cut immediately from a war rig action scene to a secondary female character working the pole for one of Immortan Joe’s lieutenant. Hopefully, it works once we get the full arc, but is a weak scene in this single unit of story.

Coffin Bound #1 is a comic that looks cool and knows it thanks to Dan Watters’ dark sense of humor, Dani’s take no prisoners visuals, and Brad Simpson’s scorched Earth color palette. It suffers a little bit when it gets away from the cat and mouse game between Isabel and Earth Eater, and sometimes the dialogue is a little bit up it’s own ass. But it’s nice to see a comic that’s not afraid to get its hands dirty in an age of house art and polished sheen.

Story: Dan Watters Art: Dani Colors: Brad Simpson
Story: 7.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: House of X #2

After House of X #1’s worldbuilding and ideological treatise and Powers of X #1’s time-skipping narrative, Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, and Marte Gracia settle down into what looks to be a character study of Moira MacTaggert, long time, underrated X-Men supporting character. On a very surface/spoiler-free marketing level, House of X #2 is this. However, in actuality, this is the first issue of Hickman’s X-Men story that will be in the proverbial history books, and the changes can already be seen on Moira’s Wikipedia page.

In effect, he makes Moira MacTaggert, or X as she is known in the comic, the new center of the mutant universe taking the crown away from Xavier and Magneto, Cyclops and Wolverine, or even Apocalypse and Sinister. Her perpetual, yet unfortunately invisible connection to the X-Men ends up becoming her power. House of X #2’s main reveal is that Moira is a mutant with the ability to reincarnate, have all memories from her past life in her new one, and have her mutant nature be undetectable. Hickman and Larraz showcase this final power in a throwdown between Moira X and Destiny where they use a nine-panel grid to flex Destiny’s ability to sense when Moira reincarnates and take her out every time Edge of Tomorrow style.

At its core, House of X #2 is a wonderful speculative fiction story about how you would add differently in your life if you already knew the outcome of your decisions and relationships. Moira’s ideology and her relationship to the major X-Men universe players, including Professor X, Magneto, Apocalypse, and Sentinels, evolves throughout the issue as she plays a variety of roles from housewife to her previously canonical one as a support scientist to co-founding the X-Men with Apocalypse and being the Terminator to the Trask family.

Larraz and Gracia keep these sequences lively with an ever-shifting visual style, especially in layouts. They can go from a three-panel progression of X-Men history a la Kirby, Cockrum, and Immonen to diagonal panels to show Moira gripping with the inevitability of AI and utter darkness when she teams up with Apocalypse. But House of X #2 also has a lot of conversations, and Pepe Larraz nails the shifts in body language in the interactions between Moira and Professor X, which range from slowly building a bond to complete disdain and finally creating the world of House of X.

Moira’s lives are truly the hidden part of the metaphorical iceberg that is the world of House of X and attempt at utopia that is Krakoa. She has seen how mutant history has developed nine times, and the tenth time is the charm as she is back to Xavier’s dream, albeit, in a radically different way from a school of gifted youngsters or team of superheroes. Moira X is the container of potential and the results of ideological struggle, and the multi-page timeline at the end of House of X #2 is a fantastic representation of this and one of my favorite Hickman diagrams this side of Black Monday Murders.

House of X #2 seamlessly works at two levels. On one level, Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz are telling the life story of Moira MacTaggart, who has played a pivotal role as a bridge between humans and mutants for decades of comics, and what you think about her is all wrong. Finally, on a macro level, they craft several visions for how the relationship between humans, mutants, and machines plays out and begin to provide a reason for why the world is like it is in House of X #1 and how it ends up in Powers of X #1.

Story: Jonathan Hickman Art: Pepe Larraz Colors: Marte Gracia
Story: 9.5 Art: 9 Overall: 9.3 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Wicked + The Divine #44

The Wicked + the Divine #44

*This review contains full spoilers for The Wicked + The Divine #44*

With its skull on the first page of issue one, None More Goth visual trappings, and high body count, The Wicked + the Divine sometimes seems to be a book about death. However, it’s really about life and growing up and discovering your true identity, and stuff that sounds like self-help, hippy dippy bullshit. The Wicked + The Divine #44 is executed in a beautiful way by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson. Even though there’s one issue left of WicDiv, this The Wicked + The Divine #44 ends the series’ main plot and the tale of godlike teenagers, Ananke and Persephone, and best of all, Luci and Laura, the relationship between mad, bad, and dangerous to know and shy, innocent fangirl that hooked me on the series and evolved well beyond that.

The amazing cliffhanger of WicDiv #43 brought Luci back to the forefront of the narrative and the general limelight just before the end. Gillen has her call herself “the whole world’s dream girlfriend”, and McKelvie and Wilson oblige with some rockstar poses and a side of hellfire. Her new costume is one of my favorite McKelvie designs of the series and gives her the swagger of a person who is only herself when she’s performing in some way. She’s Lord Byron, Bowie, Jagger, and most of all, the Adversary. Luci desires to create chaos and enjoy life with her new lease on it, doesn’t want to relinquish her powers like the other Pantheon members, and would definitely rather reign in Hell.

This is where some writers would have a big punch-up, Miracleman #15 style, with Luci being full of hubris and wrecking London. However, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie definitely “zag” away from this path and do something a little more life-affirming with Luci and Laura. In a red and black, near farce of the Pantheon transformation sequence and using third-person narration, Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson sort through the pain that Laura has gone through the past two years, and how much she cared for Luci even when she was on trial for murder back in “Faust Act”.

It all culminates in one of the most touching sequences of the series (And we’re only on page 8.) where Luci simply says, “I’m Eleanor”, kisses Laura, and becomes human again. This series of pages is a wonderful inversion of the other Pantheon transformation sequences throughout the series, and the moments after are raw, filled with tears, and the formerly sharp-tongued Lucifer having almost nothing to say. It expertly combines the lofty themes of identity, godhood, and immortality with two estranged friends hugging it out as Laura demonstrates growth by choosing reconciliation over alienation.

The Wicked + the Divine #44

I could probably write this whole review about Luci and Laura, but hey, there are other characters and storylines in The Wicked + The Divine #44 all connected to the throughline of simply living even if it doesn’t mean being a god with worshipers or pop star with fans. With Luci returned to mortality, the situation with Minerva/Ananke is the last big plot thread on the table, and there’s a debate over what to do with her. Laura wants to kill her, but she’s growing as a person and defers to Cassandra’s sensible solution of using Mimir’s plot device engine one last time. (Cass’ reaction is priceless.) But Baal just wants to kill her and be the embodiment of toxic masculinity. His last interactions with Inanna are tragic and are a reminder of how great this series was at exploring queerness and gender performance.

The Wicked + the Divine #44

He’s done this throughout the series, but I would like to draw attention to how Jamie McKelvie draws panels with multiple figures in WicDiv #44. He doesn’t just focus on reader eye level, but in the spirit of the old film adage “acting is reacting”, imbues each figure with a small story of their own. A good example of this is the first reaction panel after the deaths of Baal and Minerva. Laura furrowing her brow and figuring what to do with two dead bodies and a SWAT on the way is the focus of the panel.

But McKelvie reminds us of the deep pain that Inanna feels about the death of his former lover and the empathy and friendship Dionysus has for him through his detailed work with them. All of this is with no words; just visuals. Also, Wilson uses a lot of black to give the panel and page a real funereal feel for the literal characters, Baal and Minerva as well as all of Ananke’s machinations and the concept of the Pantheon. There is also a slight glow in the background, which connects to the spotlights used by the cops throughout the issue and symbolizes that the ex-Pantheon members have to deal with the harsh light of reality as mortals from now on. (See the courthouse scene.)

With its opening words and repeated mantra “Once again we return” as well as the revelation of the eternal conflict between Ananke and her sister, WicDiv has been a study of cycles of life and death. This beautiful symmetry pays off big time in WicDiv #43 whose final page is not just an homage to the ending of its predecessor, Grant Morrison’s Invisibles, but the first page of WicDiv #1 with the visual of a living head instead of a skull. It’s also like the ending of John Milton’s Paradise Lost where Adam and Eve lost a chance of immortality in an utopia, but gained the ability to choose “their [own] place of rest”. Laura might not be a goddess any more and is still in hot water for killing Ananke, but she gets to live life as a human being untethered to any rituals or schemes.

I’ve spent the last five years living, regressing, and sometimes growing alongside these characters expertly crafted by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson so emotions definitely run high in The Wicked + The Divine #44 especially in regards to Luci and Laura and Baal and Inanna. But it is one of the most life-affirming comics I’ve ever read, and I’m glad that we (hopefully) get to see a peek of the lives of Laura and company in the final issue of the series. (That final cover reveal, y’all!!)

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie 
Colors: Matthew Wilson Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Collapser #1

Collapser #1

What if that empty feeling you have inside was a literal black hole? That’s the premise of Collapser #1, a new comic from writers Mikey Way and Shaun Simon, artist Ilias Kyriazis, and colorist Cris Peter. The book starts with a cosmic cold open before spending most of the issue in slice of life mode. It shows the life of Liam James. James works at an old folks’ home during the day. At night, he’s a DJ with a penchant for songs by Mancunian musicians like Morrissey and The Chemical Brothers. He’s also insecure and freaks out a lot. This is known thanks to Way and Simon’s internal captions. It intensifies as the book gets weirder ramping up to a fantastic final page.

Collapser #1 succeeds as a first issue because it focuses on establishing Liam as a protagonist and keeps the space stuff on the backburner for the most part. After the rush of the first few pages, Way, Simon, and Kyriazis slowly introduce more hazy cosmic jive into the story when it needs mystery or tension. Kyriazis and Peter equally excel at drawing the effects of the black hole and Liam going through his daily life. A nine-panel grid to shows the mundane nature of his day job although Liam genuinely cares for one of his patients, Mr. Edgar, and is sad that they don’t get to play chess together.

However, Collapser #1 has plenty of flash too. Peter adds some gorgeous pinks and Ben-Day dot effects when Liam kisses and interacts with his girlfriend. Her color palette intensifies when Liam’s DJ set begins. Way and Simon’s musical background shine through in this sequence. Liam is totally in his element and it’s my favorite sequence of the comic. There are no thought bubbles; just him, his headphones, his records, and a crowd that is dancing, drinking, and making out into the night.

Of course, it all goes wrong because of the whole blackhole thing. Ilias Kyriazis’ art style flips from Phonogram to a fucked-up take on Silver Surfer almost instantaneously. Time and space lose their meaning, and Liam witnesses all his worldly possessions becoming sucked away. He’s become part of something bigger. Way, Simon, and Kyriazis show this in a jarring way with powerful, horror-tinged imagery as Liam doesn’t recognize the world around him any more. However, the weirdness works on a narrative level because Way, Simon, and Kyriazis do a good job of introducing Liam and his everyday life as well as his passions and flaws.

Collapser #1 is characterization meets strong visuals and colors with a side dish of trippy worldbuilding to literally suck you into the story. Mikey Way and Shaun Simon make Liam a little bit of an asshole; he’s not the greatest towards his girlfriend and is a little insensitive at times. However, Liam’s passion for music and fear of failure are all too relatable. He makes a great POV character for this wild space odyssey of which Collapser #1 is a solid first few steps.

Story: Mikey Way, Shaun Simon Art: Ilias Kyriazis 
Colors: Cris Peter Letters: Simon Bowland
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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