Author Archives: Logan Dalton

Review: Second Coming #6

Second Coming #6

Second Coming #6 channels The Last Temptation of Christ and Superfriends and is a solid season finale despite the occasional whiplash in tone from funny and satirical to earnest to maybe serious. Mark Russell, Richard Pace, Leonard Kirk, and Andy Troy spin the story of Sunstar’s wedding and Jesus’ final showdown with Satan that may have some people of faith have similar reactions as some Superman fans did to the ending of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.

The best part of this comic and probably of the whole miniseries is how Russell and Pace riff on how Jesus, God the Father, and Satan are portrayed in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. (My favorite one is Jesus’ reaction to the writings of St. Paul.) With callbacks to changing water to wine, the Last Supper, and even Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, the interrogate the nature of faith as well as the temptations of money and power that Jesus rejected according to the New Testament narrative. Pace’s scratchy inks and sepia color palette versus the cleaner lines, bright colors, and classical proportions of Kirk and Troy’s art in the Sunstar scenes create tension and doubt in these flashbacks.

Russell sometimes undercuts this by going for the easy, obvious joke (i.e. his description of circumcision), but from his work on the page and in the letters column, he seems to have a desire to grapple with the relationship between faith and religion, Instead of going the route of Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and seeing Abraham as a “knight of faith”, Russell and Pace point out the absurdity of his actions and especially the naivete of Isaac, who despite being a teenager, lets his father kill because God “said so”.

However, there is a positive side to this dig as Jesus shares with his new “followers” that they need to think carefully about what they choose to trust and believe and not just blindly do something or follow someone because they think a higher power told them to. Pace is great at showing the quick reactions to these ideas from Jesus’ new followers, who have a knee jerk reaction instead of listening and asking questions. Then, Leonard Kirk and Andy Troy jump back in when Sunstar comes to save the day to show the futility of the outwardly heroic, yet inwardly flawed superhero to bail him out. Jesus has to make a sacrifice, and in Second Coming, he makes an ideological one that raised the stakes higher than any crucifixion/resurrection redux or superhero slugfest.

Speaking of superheroes, these elements are the weakest in Second Coming, and the conspiracy theorist in me thinks that they were inserted to make the pitch more initially palatable to DC Comics/Vertigo. The superhero genre is so well-trodden, and Russell, Pace, Kirk, and Troy don’t really break new ground with Sunstar’s struggle to balance relationships with crime fighting. However, earlier issues created a nice contrast between Jesus’ pacifism and Sunstar’s violence. Russell and Pace unfortunately don’t have Jesus and Sunstar after Jesus gives into violence in the conclusion of Second Coming and just have him and Sheila be Jesus and God’s bowling partners. It’s a fun joke, but shows that the superhero part of Second Coming was just kind of there and didn’t really enhance the narrative except for the aforementioned visual contrast or a joke or two.

The final sequence of Second Coming #6 is both profound and banal. There are a few more fun jokes like God sucking at bowling and the “+” of the pregnancy looking like a cross. Russell and Pace are also trying to create some kind of meaning out of Jesus choosing to be a killer and not a martyr and land on “You messed up. There will be a fresh start next day/bowling frame.” There is a dark layer of irony to these statements because they’re delivered by God, who basically took this approach to the Earth and its inhabitants during Noah’s flood and was about to destroy the world again if Jesus was killed by modern humans. There’s a whole “I’m all powerful. I don’t give a shit.” attitude air to the gestures and body language that Richard Pace gives whereas Jesus is much more tense, angsty, and heavily inked. Life goes on, and there are no consequences. Oh, and look, here’s a miracle baby for the “faithful” Sheila and Sunstar because that’s something I’ve done in the past.

Second Coming #6 is a comic that is both entertaining and attempts at wrestling with the big questions in life, and Mark Russell, Richard Pace, Leonard Kirk, and Andy Troy succeed at the first part more than the second one. However, there’s also a level of humility to not trying to wrap up a tale of gods and humans, faith and doubt in an easily packaged takeaway. Just like God’s bowling game and metaphor, humans are flawed and messed up, but we have our moments and can find friendship and community like Jesus did with his superhero roommate in Second Coming.

Story: Mark Russell Art: Richard Pace with Leonard Kirk
Colors: Andy Troy Letters: Rob Steen
Story: 7.0 Art: 8.5 Overall: 7.3 Recommendation: Read

Ahoy Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #2

The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #2

Jeff Lemire, Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Chris Sotomayor explore yet another “life” of The Question in The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #2. The issue is mainly set in Hub City during the 1880s aka the Wild West. However, this isn’t some John Wayne redux. It probes deep into the racial violence that characterized this time period in the United States. The protagonist, Charlie (who later becomes the Western version of the Question) deals with the guilt of his actions during the Comanche War.

Sotomayor uses plenty of reds and blacks in his palette to contribute to the book’s bleak tone. It complements Sienkiewicz’s scratchy inks. I went back and glanced at The Question #1, and Cowan’s art style is utterly different. Empty spaces, bursts of violence, and shamanistic quests for meaning contrast with non-stop media commentary in the previous issue. Cowan still uses plenty of grids in the comic. However, their purpose seems to be to slow down and focus on pivotal moments in the story. An example is Charlie talking to some witch figure about a primal conflict between good and evil or his friend, Booker, about to be hung in a racially motivated, kangaroo court and not to simulate TV or smartphone screens. Cowan’s storytelling is impeccable. It’s easy to follow the action on the page while mentally trying to pull together Lemire’s reincarnation-driven plot.

The themes of rigid, Randian objectivism versus a more fluid zen Buddhist ideology continue in The Question #2. Lemire and Cowan have traded out philosophizing for gunslinging. (Lemire writes Charlie as super-reflective though.) For all its hallucinations and “deep” observations, the plot of the comic is about a man, who has done bad, making up for it by doing some good. It’s a white hat shooting a black hat, someone more tolerantly minded pitted against a racist.

The traditional Western with a bit of political commentary baked-in part of The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #2 resonated with me stronger than the part of the story where he’s seen as more of an archetypal figure. Yes, it’s a great plot device on Jeff Lemire’s part. It allows Cowan, Sienkiewicz, and Sotomayor depict the Question and his ideology in different eras. However, it’s not as memorable as Charlie riding back to his old town in the twilight reminiscing on his genocidal past and how he is going to avenge a good man and his wife. The process page in the back of the comic shows how much black spot inking Sienkiewicz added to Cowan’s pencils. Chris Sotomayor’s rusty palette show that Charlie’s return isn’t triumphant, but a reckoning. He wants to kill the devil and find peace.

Jeff Lemire, Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Chris Sotomayor use the creative freedom of the Black Label imprint to tell what is a damn fine dark Western with some mystical elements. They show how shitty the 1880s were with a loose, gruesome approach to the violence instead of something more stylized. In the bigger picture of the miniseries, it digs into Charlie/Vic/The Question’s identity a little bit more setting upcoming ideas and revelations as Lemire and Cowan continues to jump eras in both plot and visuals.

Story: Jeff Lemire Pencils: Denys Cowan  Inks: Bill Sienkiewicz
Colors: Chris Sotomayor Letters: Willie Schubert
Story: 7.8 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Buy

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

Review: Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, Moonage Daydreams

Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred’s graphic biography Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams is a love letter to musical legend and bisexual chameleon, David Bowie. The book mainly focuses on his Ziggy Stardust period with the Allreds beautifully illustrating a montage of live shows as Bowie’s creation and the Spiders from Mars come to vivid life in Europe, North America, and Asia. Horton and Allred use the Spiders’ final gig at London’s Hammersmith Odeon as a framing narrative. Because Bowie had a six-decade recording career, this narrative strategy is effective and also turns the comic into a history of a certain period of pop music when peace beads and flower headdresses were replaced with elaborate makeup, big guitars, and all things glam.

Although the ever-shifting image of David Bowie himself is always at the center of Bowie, Horton and Allred tell their story in what is basically a series of montages. There will be a beautiful dream sequence with a trippy color palette from Laura Allred that visually shows the inspiration of hit songs like “Space Oddity”, “Life on Mars”, or “Rock n Roll Suicide” to name a few, and then we’ll get a list of various celebrities at a Ziggy Stardust show or a check-in on what’s happening with his contemporaries like T. Rex’s Marc Bolan or Lou Reed.

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams

For the most part, Horton uses minimal captions and lets Mike Allred’s art and Laura Allred’s tell the story. But when the comic calls for it, he can inject moments of humor like Bowie’s reaction to his son Zowie (Now director Duncan Jones) destroying his record collection or poignancy when Bowie reflects on his family’s history of mental illness or begins to articulate the idea of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to his band. Horton and Allred draw parallels between both Ziggy and Bowie’s hubris as he turns a blind eye when his corrupt lawyer is paying long term band members three times less than relatively new keyboard player, Mike Garson. Although they’re iconic images, there is an air of ego to Bowie’s famous Aladdin Sane photo shoot with Allred’s use of negative space crowding the Spiders from Mars out of the frame even though guitarist Mick Ronson was a vital part of his music and helped keep him focus when he was too busy flirting with his lover-turned-wife, Angie.

However, what will stay with me most from Bowie are the Allreds’ ability to capture the energy of live music while still doing spot-on likenesses of historical figures performing. When Mick Ronson and Bowie harmonize on “Starman” or (controversially) embrace on a Top of the Pops performance, there is a camaraderie and almost sexual chemistry between the two men that makes the later “breakup” scene emotionally resonant. Although Allred mainly puts Bowie at the center of the frame, he makes sure to cut to the audience and their hands as they are inspired and reaffirmed that it’s okay to be a little strange or non-heterosexual by this benevolent, iconic alien before them. The Allreds add some flourishes like Kirby Krackle every time Bowie does something that is especially extraterrestrial like floating in space in an early film that was a companion to “Space Oddity”.

Underneath the heavily researched and striking fashions and celebrity cameos, Bowie is about creating an identity out of the things one is passionate about. For example, Bowie and his band mates saw A Clockwork Orange when it was first release, and it immediately impacted the costuming, visual design, and even the intro of the Ziggy Stardust live show. Basically, he was a huge nerd for pop and folk music, high fashion, literature, and film, and it shown out in both his art and the way he approached the world. Bowie is filled with moments where Horton and Allred (And by extension, David Bowie) respects their fellow artists like a full page splash homage to Bob Dylan and Elvis, bringing up Lou Reed on stage, running around Detroit with Iggy Pop, and inspiring the young Morrissey and Bruce Springsteen during his concerts. It shows that art can lead to friendship, lifelong influences, and sometimes tragedy like the aforementioned tension between Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams is a highly stylized, yet infinitely human look at an important period in David Bowie’s career from Mike Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred. The graphic biography captures the feeling of the music of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane through dreamlike visuals as well as adding historical context to these songs and albums and personal anecdotes that add both vulnerable and mystique to Bowie’s story. Its epilogue also kind of made me want a sequel featuring the Thin White Duke and some of Bowie’s later personas. This book truly feels like a passion project and transported me to a bittersweet day six years when a closeted, sad teenager listened to the CD of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stars and the Spiders from Mars and felt “not alone”. It’s a must read for any Bowie fan, especially those who love his early-1970s work the best.

Story: Steve Horton and Michael Allred
Art: Michael Allred Colors: Laura Allred
Story: 7.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Insight Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Logan’s Favorite Comics of 2019

2019 was an interesting year for me comics-wise as I did not get to read as widely or deeply as I liked because of a variety of factors, including my final two semesters of graduate school, working two library jobs (Where ordering and promoting comics were part of my duties.), and an impending move. Also, I decided to catch up on some “classic” comics like Miracleman, Ghost in the Shell, Junji Ito‘s Tomie, and most of Brian Michael Bendis‘ and Michael Oeming‘s Powers, and Gail Simone‘s run on Secret Six.

However, I did have the opportunity to read some fantastic comics in 2019 as two of my favorite series of all time reached their conclusion. I also branched out a little bit, and this is the first time my year-end list has featured books from Ahoy and Harper Collins as well as a self-published comic.

Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion

10. Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion (Dark Horse)

Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá, and Nick Filardi‘s Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion is as wild and anarchic as the Netflix show was tame and Muggle-friendly. Hotel Oblivion is a love letter to Silver Age supervillains while actually taking time to deal with the relationships between the Hargreaves siblings. Bá and Filardi’s visuals are a chaos magic-shaped bullet to the head and especially sings in the world and city-rending set pieces towards the end of the miniseries that I read in trade paperback format.

Dreamers of the Day

9. Dreamers of the Day (Self-published)

Beth Barnett‘s self-published graphic memoir-meets-historical biography Dreamers of the Day is one of the most unique comics I’ve read in recent years. It chronicles the author’s trip to England as she conducts research on a graphic biography about T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia and is educational while being emotionally compelling. If there’s one word to describe this comic, it is “enthusiastic” as Barnett’s passion for making art, studying history, and making it relevant to contemporary readers shines through in her iconic, Herge-esque art style and accessible prose.

Winter Soldier

8. Winter Soldier #2-5 (Marvel)

Kyle Higgins and Rod Reis create a redemptive narrative for the sidekick-turned assassin-turned superhero and occasional black ops agent, Bucky Barnes in their Winter Soldier miniseries. The comic’s beating heart is the flawed relationship between Bucky and RJ, a child assassin, that Bucky sees a lot of himself in. There is both humor and tragedy in their interactions. Reis’ lush pencils to color art style works for both the emotional breakdowns and action beatdowns.

Steeple

7. Steeple #1-4 (Dark Horse)

The fantastic John Allison (Giant Days) both writes and draws this miniseries about an Anglican priest in training named Billie, who is assigned to a parish in the kooky village of Tredregyn, Cornwall. Steeple has an “anything but the kitchen sink” tone as its plots include fights against sea monsters, a charismatic Christian cult connected to windmills, and an ongoing conflict against the Church of Satan. (Billie also strikes up an unlikely friendship with the Satanic priestess, Maggie.) Allison mines a lot of humor out of the idiosyncrasies of different religions and small town life as well as the melodrama of good versus evil, and his art is expressive as always with the help of colorist Sarah Stern.

Second Coming

6. Second Coming #1-5 (Ahoy)

Speaking of religious satire, Mark Russell, Richard Pace, Leonard Kirk, and Andy Troy do an excellent job of showing how the historical figure Jesus would be received in the modern world with the twist of having an “edgy” superhero named Sunstar as a roommate. Beginning with a retelling of the creation of the world, Russell and Pace walk a tightrope between reverence and irreverence touching on a variety of issues, including megachurches, homophobia, and Pauline theology. Another enjoyable part of Second Coming is Leonard Kirk’s inking when the story decides to be a traditional superhero comic for a second, or there’s a flashback to Satan tempting Jesus as he plays a complex role in the narrative.

Once and Future

5. Once and Future #1-5 (BOOM! Studios)

I knew Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, and Tamra Bonvillain‘s Once and Future would be my cup of tea when it featured Arthurian legends and the town of Bath where I studied abroad in summer 2014 as plot points as well as having a complicated relationship between a grandmother and grandson at its core. Once and Future is action-packed read steeped in Arthurian lore with dynamic art from Mora and a mystical color palette from Bonvillain. It’s a straightforward adventure/dysfunctional family/romance comic that also plays with the symbols (Excalibur, Holy Grail etc.) and tropes of these kinds of stories, and I’m glad that it’s an ongoing and not just a mini.

Giant Days

4. Giant Days #46-54, As Time Goes By (BOOM! Studios)

Esther, Daisy, and Susan finally go their separate ways in the final issues of John Allison, Max Sarin, and Whitney Cogar‘s Giant Days plus a reunion one-shot where Daisy and Susan tag-team and rescue Esther from the clutches of Type A London publishing types. The final year of Giant Days had a lot of pathos to go with its usual comedy with several issues focusing on the strained relationship between Susan’s boyfriend McGraw and his father and his reaction to his sudden death. There is also all the usual college shenanigans with moments of reflection to show that these women have come a long way from randomly sharing a room back in far off 2015.

House of X and Powers of X

3. House of X #1-6, Powers of X #1-6 (Marvel)

In their ambitious twelve-issue House of X/Powers of X “event”, Jonathan Hickman, R.B. Silva, and Pepe Larraz made the X-Men relevant again thanks to a heavy dose of speculative fiction, geopolitics, and good old fashioned superhero soap opera. Hickman gave B-list characters like Goldballs, Doug Ramsey, and of course, Moira MacTaggert and the sentient island of Krakoa pivotal roles in his story of a rise of a mutant nation as well as the usual suspects like Magneto, Professor X, the Summers family, Jean Grey, and Emma Frost. He created a fantastic sandbox for these fan-favorite characters to play in as well as leaving some intrigue open for the spinoff stories. (The whole Moira X thing, Kitty Pryde being unable to enter Krakoa, Apocalypse and Sinister’s intentions.) I haven’t been this excited to read the X-Books as a line since Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen were writing Wolverine and the X-Men and Uncanny X-Men respectively. Plus the Hickman designed diagrams add great depth to the story and area visual treat.

New Kid

2. New Kid (HarperCollins)

New Kid is a middle-grade graphic novel by cartoonist Jerry Craft that was recommended to me by my supervisor at the public library I worked at. Itis about an African-American teenager named Jordan, who transfers from a diverse public middle school to a less diverse private one. Over the course of the book, Craft fleshes out Jordan and his relationships with his old friends from his neighborhood to his new ones at the private school as he navigates playing soccer, racial microaggressions, crushes, and bonding over art and video games. The comic deftly navigates race and class issues while being an enjoyable slice of life story with Craft adding some fun visual flourishes like making the title page of each chapter a pop culture homage. New Kid‘s clear storytelling and a relatable storyline about not fitting in at a new school make it a book that I would recommend to kids and adults, comics and non-comics readers.

The Wicked + The Divine

1. The Wicked + the Divine #41-45 (Image)

Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson really stuck the landing in the final arc of The Wicked + the Divine, which was titled “Okay” and followed the surviving Pantheon members as they gave up divinity and lived normal lives. Basically, they grew up, and so did I. The last issues of WicDiv are peppered with powerful moments as Gillen and McKelvie connect flashbacks of the millennia past to the Pantheon’s reality and let Ananke/Minerva be a manipulator, Luci be wicked, Baal be a protector, and Laura be human one last time. The final issue is an epilogue set in the future and filled with love and emotion with McKelvie and Wilson nailing the look of the elderly, former Pantheon members. It’s sad to see WicDiv go, but it had a beautiful ending and was my favorite comic, both of 2019 and of the decade as a whole.

Review: The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #1

The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #1

DC Black Label branches out from Batman, the Joker, and Harley Quinn in the gritty and trippy The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #1. With a dedication to both Question’s original creator Steve Ditko and his finest writer (Up to now) Dennis O’Neil, writer Jeff Lemire, artists Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz, and colorist Chris Sotomayor attempt to bridge the character’s portrayals as an Objectivist, who views the world in strict black and white terms and as an Eastern philosophy-influenced fighter of systemic evils, who donned the Question mask to right wrongs that newscaster Vic Sage couldn’t. They also craft the first chapter in one hell of a mystery. It features an art style that is far from the usual capes and tights.

Bringing back artists Cowan and Sienkiewicz from The Question’s original DC Comics series was a stroke of genius. It’s what initially got me interested in this series. Sienkiewicz’s scratchy inks and Cowan’s almost journalistic portrayal of human nature roots the first half of Question in the violent, yet ripped from the headlines crime stories that characterized the original run.

The comic opens up with Question muttering something straight out of a Mr. A strip or an Ayn Rand novel and catching a Hub City councilman in a brothel with underage girls. He knocks the creep about a little bit but is mostly concerned with recording footage for Vic Sage to play on the evening news where he openly accuses Hub City mayor Wesley Fermin of being connected to organized crime that leads to a lawsuit and more trouble. The sequence sets up Sage’s very public persona and role as the gadly, or voice of truth, in Hub City. That makes it necessary for him to wear face-warping masks courtesy of his old chemistry professor, Aristotle “Tot” Rodor.

However, this dual identity isn’t so simple. Lemire and Cowan play with the different sides of Question and Vic Sage’s personalities. They show that Question’s single-minded quest for justice sometimes makes him lose the big picture. An example is the police shooting of an unarmed man while he’s following a lead about a ring that was on both the councilman’s finger and the mayor’s lawyer’s. The Question is a skilled detective but his conspiracy-driven nature can blind him to the everyday issues of his city. Cowan, Sienkiewicz, and Sotomayor show this visually through a wavy line, lots of black ink, and a darker color palette. It culminates in Question’s discovery of a literal abyss and some surreal imagery where you can really see the Sienkiewicz influence shine through.

Thankfully, in the second half of The Question #1, Lemire and Cowan create the context for these images. It’s a departure from the crime fiction of the comic’s first act to something more mystical. Hence, Richard Dragon shows up with insight and potty mouth one-liners. (Think the Bride’s sensei in Kill Bill sans the misogyny and xenophobia.) From a big picture perspective, the conversation between Dragon and Sage also seems like a conversation between O’Neil and Ditko. The former taking Question into more of a zen Buddhism direction while Ditko used him as the avatar of his black and white view of the world. That was passed onto his creation Mr. A and Question’s spiritual offspring, Rorschach. (The nine panel grids and the use of “Hrrm” are a nod to that fellow.)

Richard Dragon believes that souls can travel between bodies while Question just wanted to learn martial arts to kick ass and is talking to his old teacher to solve a mystery steeped in symbolism, but connected to Hub City and its corruption. To take a page out of the German philosopher Hegel‘s book, Dragon is thesis, Question is antithesis, and they are a long way from synthesis. The last few pages introduce another wrinkle in the status quo in a natural non “Oh shit, we need a cliffhanger” way. Cowan makes fantastic use of recurring metronome motif to slip readers into another world. It’s like seeing a hypnotherapist as the story shifts in genre. His solid storytelling and well-placed use of six and nine-panel grids, as well as larger layouts, doesn’t waver.

The debut is steeped in the classic O’Neil and Cowan run as well as the ideology of Ditko. Lemire, Cowan, Sienkiewicz, and Sotomayor make sure The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #1 isn’t a nostalgia-driven retread. In a current era where political corruption runs rampant, and the said corrupt don’t even try to sweep it under a rug, a character who isn’t afraid to speak truth to power is incredibly relevant. However, the Question also engages in Randian purity policing and has a primal, childish view of the world. He’s far from an inspirational figure. This is why Cowan and Sienkiewicz’s naturalistic, almost dirty art style is a good fit for the book. They and Lemire also aren’t afraid to get a little weird. I’m interested to see how they synthesize the various versions of the Question in both the spiritual and physical realms.

Story: Jeff Lemire Pencils: Denys Cowan  Inks: Bill Sienkiewicz
Colors: Chris Sotomayor Letters: Willie Schubert
Story: 8.9 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.2 Recommendation: Buy

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

Review: Fantastic Four Grand Design #1 is Sometimes Overwhelming, Sometimes Fun

Fantastic Four Grand Design #1

Tom Scioli is a cartoonist whose works owes almost everything to legendary creator, Jack Kirby, and he gets to pay homage to one of his and Stan Lee’s finest creations in Fantastic Four Grand Design #1. The Fantastic Four don’t even show up as a team (Time travel be damned) until page 14 of the book. Scioli spends the first portion of this extended length comic trying to create a grand cosmic narrative for the Marvel Universe featuring the Krees, Skrulls, Deviants, Eternals, Inhumans, and cities of Attilan, Lemuria, and Atlantis with a side of secret societies and Uatu the Watcher as a POV character in a similar manner to Ed Piskor’s X-Men Grand Design. This prelude is just a foretaste of the overwhelming as a narrative, yet satisfying on a style and individual panel level that this comic is.

Scioli definitely has some storytelling chops and cleverness up his sleeve. He doesn’t start with Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm stealing a rocket to “beat the Reds into space”, but by paralleling the Fantastic Four with the four Celestials that helped accelerate evolution on Earth with a nifty pink, green, yellow, and red color palette. Uatu the Watcher saving Taa (Later Galactus) from the destruction of his planet as his body dissolves and changes form is clearly inspired by the Thing changing from human to monster and is a beautiful meditation on divine intervention. In the early going, the comic also has a nice structure with one page, almost Sunday comic strips introducing major cast members like the Fantastic Four as well as supporting cast members like the Inhumans, Namor, Dr. Doom, and even Black Panther.

However, after these character introductions, the FF’s origin, and some strong storytelling showing how Fantastic Four went from a monster to a superhero comic (It’s all about the branding.), Fantastic Four Grand Design #1 becomes an episodic, 20+ panels on a page mess. Tom Scioli has the cram 46 issues of comics into 21 pages, and he includes each and every villain battle and plot development before ending the first issue on the great, logical cliffhanger of right before the Galactus Trilogy. (The little appearances of Silver Surfer are majestic so far, and I can’t wait to see Scioli’s take on Kirby krackle and the way he moves through the cosmos.)

Tom Scioli does nail the dysfunctional family dynamic, and his Invisible Girl and Namor have some searing chemistry, but the lack of transitions once he hits the “Fantastic Four go on adventures” part is overwhelming. For example, Daredevil shows up in the middle of a battle, and he is neither introduced or commented on as he just disappears once the brawl is over. Scioli pummels readers with plot summaries from the past, but with a fun art style and better one-liners than Stan Lee. His Thing is sassy as hell when he’s not being used as a plot device. In general, Scioli’s characterization is up and down as he joins the long list of creators to fail at making the Inhumans likable with the exception of Crystal’s West Side Story type relationship with Johnny Storm plus Lockjaw being his adorable self.

Tom Scioli shows his clear reverence for Marvel’s Silver Age comics, especially the work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, in Fantastic Four Grand Design #1 with his powerful figure work, far out colors, and soap opera on speed plotting. He uses the beginning of the comic to try to place the Fantastic Four in an, er, grander cosmic narrative, but it all falls apart by the end. With its 20+ panel pages coupled with high attention to detail on each panel, Fantastic Four Grand Design is more hyper-caffeinated history level than an enjoyable comic, and honestly, would have worked better as a page a day webcomic in the vein of Scioli’s previous creator-owned work than a traditional floppy.

Story: Tom Scioli Art: Tom Scioli
Story: 6.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Read

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Graphic Novels Suck!

Miles Morales: Spider-Man #1

One benefit of transitioning from the corporate world to the library world is that I get to work with and handle comics (or graphic novels as they like to call them.) on a daily basis. I mean I literally got paid to order and enter the ordering information for the first volume of Saladin Ahmed and Javier Garron’s Miles Morales: Spider-Man comic today and then at my other job at a public library, I got to show a couple of kids (whose first library card I made.) where the Pokemon “comics” were. It’s pretty awesome, but there’s a bittersweet lining to it too.

And that lining is that in the minds of many of the people I interact with at work, whether that’s colleagues or patrons, comics are still solely for kids. Yes, I know it’s a cliche, but it was corroborated by Eric Reynolds, the co-publisher of Fantagraphics in an interview with Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg of the Cartoonist Kayfabe podcast where he talked about how well comics by Dav Pilkey or Raina Telgemaier were selling, but how those sales don’t translate to the adult or even the YA market. Kids comics (and manga) are booming, but unless you’re already into the world of comics, or it’s something evergreen like Watchmen, Maus, or Fun Home, it seems like comics are not a viable reading material for, say, post-college age adults.

And I hate that I don’t feel empowered to recommend comics and graphic novels to adults at my work unless they’re already checking one out. For example, I told a patron who checked out Manhattan Projects to check out Jonathan Hickman’s recent X-Men work and that we would probably be ordering the complete hardcover in the winter. However, if a patron likes spy novels, I probably won’t recommend Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Velvet or Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s The Coldest City. I think a lot of this is how the graphic novels are shelved. (In the teens and kids section at one job, and hidden away on the 2nd floor at another.) But it might be a personal thing too.

In my mind as a comics critic/fan and librarian-in-training, I have two wolves inside me. One is out here trying to champion comics as either serious literature or something that can appeal to everyone like young adult dystopian novels, airport novels, or Oprah’s Book Club nonfiction. (She makes some pretty great choices.) Then, there’s another, admittedly bad, wolf that relishes in comics’ history and reputation as the “bastard child of art and commerce” and doesn’t give a shit if the people around me look down on the medium or see it as only fit for children and people, who need help learning how to read. (This is hilariously reductive because comics require both verbal and visual literacy to be understood.) I also enjoy having a little fun and saying things like the latest issue of Batman has more literary value than anything James Patterson and Tom Clancy. (It’s true, especially when Scott Snyder and Grant Morrison were writing the book.)

Batman "Enough"

What both wolves really like to come to blows over is the term “graphic novel”. The good wolf likes to emphasize it when talking to patrons because it reminds them of a currently respected medium. (The novel, which used to be seen as trash once upon a time.) The bad wolf likes to say that it’s a meaningless term, especially for trade paperbacks of ongoing series with multiple writers and artists. Both wolves agree that graphic non-fiction, memoirs, and medicine belong with their respective subjects and not with “graphic novels” because that makes so sense. Would you shelve a non-fiction book about anxiety next to J.D. Robb’s latest vapid thriller?

If I had my way, I would call anything that told a sequential story in both words and images a comic, plain and simple. However, graphic novel does have some marketing value even though some of the ways it’s used and overused are utterly banal. But, hey, if leads to a comic being checked out, I’ll use the word.

I have high hopes that as film and television shows of different genres that are comic book adaptations continue to be released, members of Generation Z keep reading comics even after their teachers and other adults say “They’re below their reading level” (This adds to their punk rock value, to be honest.), and cartoonists like Gene Luen Yang and Ed Piskor speak at prestigious book events (Aka they mainly focus on prose.) that comics will end up being just another item on the reading menu. Maybe, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will get elected president in 2024 and invite Alan Moore (He’ll probably decline.) and Dave Gibbons to chat Watchmen.

But, for now, I need to dig a little deeper and get better at recommending comics to people who aren’t children, teenagers, “geeks”, or fans of science fiction and fantasy. (I got a librarian at my work, who read Mort Weisinger-edited Superman books and 1960s Marvel comics as a child, seriously hooked on Saga.) I need to be a little less precious about semantics and use the term “graphic novel” as a tool for promotion instead of something that numbs my brain and makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. I need to understand that some people might not have the visual literacy levels to read and enjoy comics, which is okay.

And my final takeaway is that I need to read more manga. Seriously, I went to a Barnes and Noble in the Louisville, Kentucky suburbs and there were four full rows of manga. Because of the prevalence of public transportation and the lack of a Comics Code incident leading to one genre taking over the industry due to censorship, manga of all genres is easy to obtain in Japan, and maybe it’ll be like that the United States. But, for now, it’s time to crack open Uzumaki by Junji Ito. (Once I knock off all the others on my “to be read” list).

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

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