Author Archives: Logan Dalton

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Review: Nightwing #78

Nightwing #78

Tom Taylor, Bruno Redondo, and Adriano Lucas begin their run on Nightwing with a heart-render of a first issue that really shows what makes Dick Grayson tick as a person and a hero. It also sets up some train tracks for future developments in the title and has a cute puppy to boot. Opening with a six page flashback featuring a young Dick and Barbara Gordon, Nightwing #78 pays tribute to the character’s past, but it’s also forward-thinking as well with our protagonist getting an opportunity to improve life in Bludhaven on a larger scale than beating up Orca, Blockbuster, or whatever Metropolis or Gotham villains decide to pay a visit to his city.

Taylor and Redondo wisely sidestep yet another re-tread of Dick Grayson’s origin, but they do spend Nightwing #78 showing how trauma has shaped his life. But, instead of turning him angry or isolated like certain other heroes, Dick Grayson is all about building and maintaining relationships with the people (or animals) he comes into contact with whether he’s dressed up in his Nightwing or Robin costume or just going about his day. We see this in the flashback where he protects one of his classmates from a bully and also gets to duck and weave a little bit and knock the teeth out of the son of one of Gotham’s most corrupt insurance company owners. There’s definitely a little bit of the hero who’s not afraid to stand up against in corruption in young Dick, and Taylor and Redondo even make certain fans happy by having a young Barbara Gordon show up to help. This scene is really sweet and re-establishes the friendships Dick has with Barbara and had with Alfred Pennyworth (He helps him do the dishes!) as well as his generally altruistic attitude. He’s always ready to help out whether that’s standing up to a school bully or punching someone in a killer whale costume.

Tom Taylor structures Nightwing #78 as a study in contrasts between Dick Grayson and Melinda Zucco. Dick is the scion of two good men, Alfred Pennyworth and Bruce Wayne, while Melinda is the daughter of a corrupt murderer, Tony Zucco, who also killed Dick’s parents. She has two scenes in the book, and for now, she looks just like a pawn/yes person for the jacked up crime lord Blockbuster, who is the real power in Bludhaven and totally cool with squashing the heads of public officials that don’t play ball with him. Colorist Adriano Lucas bathes her scenes with shadow and dim light while Bruno Redondo draws Blockbuster towering over her while she takes direction from him and doesn’t even react when his henchman disposes of the old mayor’s body like a candy wrapper. However, the whole passive thing might just be an act, and Melinda’s final scene in the comic hints at a character with a thirst for revenge and finishing what her dad started. She’s definitely smarter than the old mayor.

While Melinda Zucco works within the corrupt system of Bludhaven in Nightwing #78, Dick Grayson wants to dismantle it in both big and small ways. He rescues a puppy that is being kicked around by some sadistic men while also trying to figure out how to keep the rent in his apartment complex affordable after losing access to his Wayne Enterprises funds during the events of “Joker War”. This macro/micro approach to Nightwing’s extends to how the comic is written and drawn. During action scenes, Bruno Redondo’s art is super kinetic with all kinds of speed lines and silhouettes while Tom Taylor’s narrative captions add context and look at the bigger picture of what Nightwing is trying to accomplish. We don’t just get him trying to sniff out an intruder in his apartment: Taylor gives the whole backstory behind where he has decided to live. He’s always drawing parallels throughout the events the story like Dick thinking back to how he acted after his parents passed away when his new puppy bites him.

In Nightwing #78, Tom Taylor, Bruno Redondo, and Adriano Lucas plot out a familiar, yet new path for Dick Grayson. He’s in Bludhaven and eventually going up against Blockbuster, but Taylor and Redondo add all kinds of lovely bits of characterization like pausing to let him finally grieve over Alfred and bond with a new puppy. From this issue, it seems that they care about Dick as a person just as much as a superhero, and they also start to craft an antagonist that is a shattered mirror of him without being cheesy and putting her in a “Dark Nightwing” costume or something. All in all, this issue is a charming read and worth checking out whether this is your first or 201st Nightwing comic

Story: Tom Taylor Art: Bruno Redondo
Colors: Adriano Lucas Letters: Wes Abbott
Story: 9.0 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Justice League #59

Justice League #59

Although the Rebirth numbering is intact, both the Justice League and Justice League Dark titles get a bit of relaunch in Justice League #59. Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, and Tamra Bonvillain bring large scale action and a sequel to Bendis, David Walker, and Jamal Campbell’s Naomi in the lead story. While in the backup “Justice League Dark” story, Ram V, Xermanico, and Romulo Fajardo Jr. tap something a little more mystical as Merlin makes his return, and John Constantine and Zatanna investigate cults and prophecies in rural New Mexico. One of these strives to be modern mythology with all of the biggest toys in the DC Universe toy box while the other one might actually succeed with its riffs on Arthurian legends, the conflict between Heaven and Hell, and the senselessness of human existence underneath it all.

Justice League #59 is a 20 page story, but it feels a lot shorter thanks to an abundance of double page spreads from artist David Marquez. He and Brian Michael Bendis throw readers right into the middle of the fray as a mysterious interdimensional invader named Brutus lands in Kahndaq and confronts its king and protector, Black Adam. This later escalates into a kind of, sort of team-up between Adam and some of the members of the Justice League, which doesn’t thrill a monarch that is more into isolation than cooperation. However, this tension only really shows up towards the end of the battle when Black Adam immediately ejects the Justice League from his land and finally towards the end of the story. Having Black Adam has a wild card is Bendis’ smartest plotting decision, and he definitely fits Green Arrow’s idea of a “dissenting voice” when Oliver talks to the other members about doing “more” as a team.

But, for the most part, this initial Justice League story is lots of punching against a villain that is generically enough called “Brutus”, and the only interesting thing about him is that he’s most likely from Naomi’s home world giving her a reason to appear in the comic beyond being a Bendis co-creation. If you’re familiar with Bendis’ run on the Superman books, there’s a Rogol Zaar vibe to him in that he’s not an interesting character except in his connections to pre-existing characters or lore. You can definitely tell that he’s going to be forgettable character when he decides to peace out in the middle of the battle through an interdimensional portal before

Justice League #59 doesn’t really much to draw readers in beyond being a kind of sequel to the excellent Naomi comic, but it does have its bright spots. David Marquez and Tamra Bonvillain really embrace the wide screen nature of the book and make a middling script gorgeous with Bonvillain contributing deep blues to the bubble-shaped panels when Aquaman and his army of sharks battle Brutus. She also uses really intense red and blues to match Marquez’s speed lines as Superman and Black Adam race to grab Brutus before he disappears. This page is pretty busy, but it drives home the point that Black Adam thinks he’s beyond the Justice League and doesn’t respect Superman unlike the other heroes. (Even the edgy, cocky Green Arrow just wants Superman to agree with him.)

Justice League #59

To go along with the blockbuster visuals, Brian Michael Bendis’ writing is at its best when characters are ribbing or arguing with each other a la New Avengers. He seems to have a lot of fun with Green Arrow and Black Canary, who debate both sides of the Justice League’s current status quo and adds a little extra reverence when Superman opens his mouth. Superman also takes lead during the fight scenes, and you can tell he’s the team leader without any kind of exposition about it. We’ll see what Bendis does with them in future issues, but for now, Flash and Hawkgirl are exposition spouters while Batman just reacts to things. As the one non-powered hero during the fight scene, he may have been trying to make Batman a POV character, but few readers can react to an (ex) billionaire and genius strategist/martial artist. Thankfully, Naomi is coming soon to fill this role, and hopefully, she brings a hook too.

Ram V and Xermanico’s “Justice League Dark” doesn’t have a problem with hooks and opens with the return of Merlin to the mortal plane. If you’ve read V’s work on Future State: Justice League, then you know that his take on the mythical wizard is more nefarious than kindly, and Merlin definitely sets himself up as the Big Bad in the pages of this issue. His actions on the final pages definitely set up a need for a Justice League type of team to take him down as Xermanico’s lovely cathedral window layouts and Fajardo’s warm color palette turns bloody and scarlet. Also, V logically connects the John Constantine/Zatanna plot to Merlin’s rise through the appearance of a fan favorite character and basically shows that their mission was just a symptom of a larger disease. It’s tension and escalation all in ten pages.

However, as well as setting up a big-time enemy for this disassembled team to face, Ram V and Xermanico still find time to explore the relationship between John Constantine and Zatanna. There’s a real softness to their interactions even as Constantine does his usual con man hijinks to get them out of a bind as the narration goes slightly nihilistic and focuses on humanity’s stupidity and willingness to place their lives in religions and cults while there’s literally bigger fish to fry. I love how Constantine cares about Zatanna’s feelings after the loss of her father and the disbandment of Justice League Dark, and Xermanico shows this through a beat panel where their hands nearly touch. Constantine and Zatanna will never be a stable couple, but V and Xermanico know they have great chemistry and use it to carry this initial installment of “Justice League Dark” because while Merlin is quite metal, we need someone to root for.

Thanks to a one-dimensional baddie and the usual Brian Michael Bendis decompression issues, Justice League #59 only gets a slight recommendation for me. However, David Marquez and Tamra Bonvillain’s take on DC’s A-list is truly awe-inspiring, and their Black Adam exudes power and contempt as well. Hopefully, there’s more Naomi, Green Arrow, and Black Canary in future issues and less alien punching bag. But the real reason this comic crosses the line from trade wait to a purchase is Ram V, Xermanico, and Romulo Fajardo’s “Justice League Dark” backup, which features both Arthurian legends and supernatural hijinks and has a formidable villain plus witty, yet emotionally honest writing for its leads, John Constantine and Zatanna.

Story: Brian Michael Bendis, Ram V Art: David Marquez, Xermanico
Colors: Tamra Bonvillain, Romulo Fajardo Jr. Letters: Josh Reed, Rob Leigh
Story: 7.1 Art: 8.5 Overall: 7.8 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Karmen #1

Karmen #1

Karmen #1 is one weird comic. It’s an English translation of Spanish cartoonist Guillem March’s (Catwoman, Batman) book about a young woman named Cata, who in the middle of a suicide attempt, meets a ghost named Karmen, and she ends up walking around the city completely naked while Karmen makes dirty jokes about sex and farting. It starts out utterly highbrow, yet wordy with philosophical captions about dreams, and then a couple of pages later, it cuts to a woman behaving like the stereotype of a shrew to her offscreen boyfriend. Her name is Vanessa, and she is inconsequential to the plot even though her boyfriend Xisco is close with Cata. We also don’t see her face or its expressions during the phone call just her butt in some tight jeans. The page is a metaphor for Karmen as a comic. It could be smart, poignant about sadness, hope, and above all, mortality, but it gets undercut by March’s love for cheesecake and dirty jokes that don’t serve the story. However, Karmen saying whatever the hell comes to her mind is good for a few laughs throughout the story especially as she roasts Cata’s lack of knowledge of American pop culture.

The constant nudity of Cata and utter horniness of Karmen’s dialogue plus the aforementioned ass shots make sense for Guillem March, who began his career as an erotic cartoonist and was also the artist on the launch of the New 52 version of Catwoman. Like Adam Hughes or Frank Cho, he likes drawing attractive women, and of course, he’s going to do that in his creator-owned work. Cata’s nudity even is plot-relevant as she is trying to commit suicide by drawing a bath and cutting herself with razors as we see in a powerful full-page spread that shows Cata watching herself be surrounded by a full tub of blood. It’s implied that she is a ghost, and Karmen is her feisty, skeleton onesie-rocking guide to the afterlife and will train her in all things spectral. As mentioned earlier, Karmen does spend most of her time making dirty jokes, but she also has great abilities and can see the arc of Cata’s life like film on a reel in yet another beautiful series of panels from March.

Although his writing is clunky at times like the pages that are just philosophizing, exposition about the ghost life, and call-outs to Karmen‘s obvious pop culture predecessors, Guillem March really is a strong storyteller even though his comic doesn’t have as much as substance as it would like to have. All his panels have a sense of place, and he uses cut-away panels to show Kata sneaking out of her apartment so her housemate won’t see her naked, or worst of all, see Karmen. Of course, there’s no problem of that because they’re both ghosts. However, the fear of being discovered naked in public is the key tension for the second half of the comic. This is the part of the story where March’s experience in superhero comics comes in handy as he uses a rapid series of panels to show Karmen quickly dropping from branch to branch. Also, when Kata flies for the first time in the climax of issue one, he shows that she’s a natural by having him swim through the air. There’s a real grace to her movements compared to the sudden stop start of the panels where she is cutting herself, and Karmen arrives in a truly jarring moment.

Karmen #1 demonstrates that Guillem March is a technically skilled artist with an eye for page and character design, but is a below-average artist that can go from Philosophy 101 mumbo jumbo to utter filth in the space of a couple of pages. Karmen #1 is a low-key fantasy story like Ghost or It’s A Wonderful Life, which is cute, but I didn’t connect to the protagonist at all and felt like I knew more about her body than her personality or why she was in the bathtub that night.

Story: Guillem March Art: Guillem March
Story: 5.0 Art: 7.5 Overall: 6.0 Recommendation: Pass

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Review: Batman: Urban Legends #1

Batman: Urban Legends #1

As seen in The Lego Batman Movie, the Arkham video games, and the Batman comics of the 1990s and early 2000s, Batman’s strength is in the world and characters that he creates access to. Whether that’s his allies, villains, nooks and crannies of Gotham, or even police officers that he either works with or against, these personalities and settings are why I continue to return to the Batman side of the DC Universe. The creators of Batman: Urban Legends #1 understand this and flesh out different Batman-adjacent characters and even sometimes explore their relationship to the Dark Knight while also telling action, romance, and crime stories.

First up in this Gotham-themed anthology is the beginning of a six part Batman and Red Hood serial where Batman and his former protege-turned-killer vigilante (He’s switched to rubber bullets for the moment.) investigate a source of a hallucinatory street drug tackily called Cheerdrops. Writer Chip Zdarsky has a firm grasp on Jason Todd’s voice, including the darkness inside his soul and his hunger for justice, especially for Gotham’s beleaguered working class. Artists Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira and colorist Adriano Lucas nail the grit of the city with explosive linework and jagged layouts to go with a color palette that has had all the light sucked out of it. However, Excalibur’s Marcus To does the art in the flashbacks, which features brighter colors as well as simpler, cleaner lines with a more traditional superhero feel even though one of the scenes is set during “Under the Red Hood” when Jason Todd came back from the dead and started killing criminals.

“Batman and Red Hood” is also a study in contrasts in how two very different crime fighters deal with the same crisis. Batman is the World’s Greatest Detective and is super methodical with Barrows and Ferreria drawing him looking at the chemical makeup of Cheerdrops CSI-style, and his All-Star Superman-esque moment with a jumper is less feel-good and more evidence collection. On the other hand, Jason fights crime with his guts and heart and even admits in a wry line from Zdarsky that he’s not a great detective as he struggles to find a Cheerdrop stash house. However, he does find a boy named Tyler, and of course, Jason is great with kids and even lets him wear part of his mask while he looks for his dad in a dodgy part of Gotham. Zdarsky, Barrows, and Ferreira create something truly heartwarming between Jason Todd and Tyler.

There’s a throughline between this and the flashbacks where Batman (Portrayed as more of an action figure than man by To) struggles being a father figure to Jason, and Alfred does the job perfectly because he sees him as a human being and not an obstacle in his war on crime. Chip Zdarsky writes Alfred Pennyworth as the perfect parent to the Bat-family, who isn’t afraid to tell Batman that he’s full of shit and chooses compassion over a closed fist. And speaking of Batman, I love how Zdarsky doesn’t give him an inner monologue and depicts him more as a force of nature than a gun toting, broken man like Jason Todd, who agonizes over every decision and whose interaction with Tyler bring back memories of his mom who died of a drug overdose. Also, he’s not afraid to go a little dark, and Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira jagged layouts and emotional poses are along for the ride.

Batman: Urban Legends #1

The second story in Batman: Urban Legends #1 is an eight page Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy one-off from writer Stephanie Phillips, artist Laura Braga, and colorist Ivan Plascencia. Plascencia is this story’s secret weapon that shows the happy, hilarious times of Harley and Ivy’s first dates and the bleak current times for Harley as she has moved back to Gotham in her solo title and as a recurring character in Batman. Braga’s art is expressive and high energy for both the good times (Harley and Ivy smooching and snapping selfies) and bad times (A sudden bolt of lightning shattering their pictures), and she is a good fit for a story that isn’t centered around a heist or fight against a superhero, but a relationship. She and Phillips tap into the depth of feelings that Harley has for Ivy, and through some handy plant symbolism, they create hope for the relationship that has become very popular for fans in the past decade. “Harley and Ivy” is a nice, nearly slice of life oasis in the midst of the three other stories, which have more moving parts.

The third story in this comic is a 10 page “Outsiders” feature by Brandon Thomas, Max Dunbar, and Luis Guerrero starring Black Lightning, Katana, and an interesting take on Metamorpho. Thomas turns in kind of a mystery plot with the story starting with Black Lightning and an unseen Metamorpho in a Japanese prison before cutting to a bonkers, two page spread of a speedboat chase. Unlike the previous two stories in Batman: Urban Legends #1, Thomas and Dunbar go for a action over character focus, and honestly, I’m here for it. Dunbar uses arrows from their pursuers to act as eye-lines to follow the high speed chase, and he and Thomas have a clever moment or two up their sleeve, especially in regards to Metamorpho’s first appearance. The story isn’t particularly deep, but it has the vibe of a James Bond cold open with superpowers as Guerrero really makes Black Lightning’s abilities sizzle. Finally, Brandon Thomas’ plotting really kept me engaged with thinking about why characters were acting a certain way, and the the mini mystery box structure has me intrigued for the upcoming issue.

Batman: Urban Legends #1

Grifter is a character I didn’t really know a lot about except for some random comics like the New 52 Team 7 and JLA/WildCATs, but Matthew Rosenberg, Ryan Benjamin, and Antonio Fabela have made this anti-hero/rapscallion and his various pratfalls quite lovable and hilarious Batman: Urban Legends #1’s final story. Grifter is like that guy who bluffs at poker, but never has a good hand. And until maybe the penultimate page of the comic, he’s either screwing up or making a joke about it beginning with his mad rush towards supervillain fire during his Team 6 days with a lot of characters with familiar names from Wildstorm comics. (I’m not an expert on these characters, and you don’t have to be to enjoy the story.) Grifter uses his sense of humor to detract from his mediocre performance as Lucius Fox’s bodyguard or to avoid getting his ass kicked by Batman, but he also has a mystery side that is revealed when he has a “date” at one of Penguin’s bars. The mystery starts to really unfold towards the end of the comic, but Rosenberg hints at every time, he talks on a headset with what I assume is his older brother.

The comedy in “Grifter” isn’t just limited to Matthew Rosenberg’s delightfully smartass dialogue. It shows up a lot in Ryan Benjamin’s visuals, which range from G.I. Joe or Authority homages (When the superheroes clean up Team 6’s mess.) in the flashback to pure slapstick. For example, Grifter spills a drink at a party Lucius Fox is meeting a client at and spills a drink on a woman. In this situation, Benjamin doesn’t just show a simple facial expression, but throws in some growlixes and makes you know that she’s furious that the soaking wet guy in Converse and blue jeans is even in the same room with her. This playfulness extends to the fight between Batman and Grifter, which starts as a serious throwdown and ends up in a total cat and mouse situation with Grifter finally getting enough self-awareness to call it quits. However, their paths will cross, and you can tell that Batman understands he’s a wildcard with his connections to Lucius Fox, the criminal underworld, and probably those Wildstorm guys. All in all, Matthew Rosenberg, Ryan Benjamin, and Antonio Fabela turn in a hilarious action-comedy set in DC’s weirdest and (sometimes) dourest city and also slowly unveil what seems to be a master plan to merge the worlds of Wildstorm and Gotham.

Batman: Urban Legends #1 is an absolute win for the anthology format that DC Comics has been trying out with all of the four stories in the comic being entertaining and shedding light on a unique cast of characters. The longer stories that bookend the comic are especially noteworthy thanks to Chip Zdarsky’s pitch-perfect handle on the fascinating character of Jason Todd in “Batman and Red Hood” and Matthew Rosenberg and Ryan Benjamin’s skill with verbal and visual humor in “Grifter”.

Story: Chip Zdarsky, Stephanie Phillips, Brandon Thomas, Matthew Rosenberg
Art: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Marcus To, Laura Braga, Max Dunbar, Ryan Benjamin
Colors: Adriano Lucas, Ivan Plascencia, Luis Guerrero, Antonio Fabela
Letters: Becca Carey, Deron Bennett, Steve Wands, Saida Temofonte
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.6 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters #1

Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters #1

The talented artist/colorist duo of Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson dive headfirst into the world of all-ages fantasy comics in Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters #1 with Samnee handing story duties as well with co-writer Laura Samnee. The premise of the story is simple, yet heart-rending. Jonna is an energetic young girl, who enjoys running, climbing trees, and being generally adventurous. However, she runs into a big monster one day and goes missing. The hook for the series is that her older sister, Rainbow, must find her in a landscape that’s gone from pastoral to dystopian. With a knapsack on her back and a feather in her beanie, Rainbow also seems to have that adventurous spirit, but it’s for a purpose: finding her lost sister and family.

The first and second half of Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters have completely different tones, and the Samnees and Wilson do an excellent job conveying that through script, art, and color palette. All the dialogue in the first half of the comic comes from an exasperated Rainbow, except for one word from Jonna, “Unpossible”. And, honestly, that’s all that needs to be said about her character and the setup of the comic. Jonna is a doer, not a talker, and Samnee and Wilson fill full pages of her leaping from branch to branch culminating in a triumphant splash page at her leaping at the titular monster. These pages are a showcase for Samnee’s skill at showing action and tension as Jonna’s position changes from panel to panel, and Samnee switches from horizontal to vertical layouts depending on the degree of difficulty of her jumps and flips. The tension comes when a branch almost break, and, of course, when she encounters a monster so Wilson uses red to symbolize fear and danger almost in a similar manner to how he colored Chris Samnee’s work on Black Widow when its protagonist got in a rough spot.

However, the second half of Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters swaps out Matthew Wilson’s bright colors for something a little more drab. (The one exception is Rainbow’s shock of blue hair.) Facial expressions and dialogue play a larger role as the Samnees’ story transitions from a little girl running free in the wood to her sister trying to find her. Chris Samnee digs into the hopelessness of this new monster-infested status quo in little ways like Rainbow’s utter surprise when she has a nice conversation with another kid about the feather (From the last bird ever!) in her cap or from a close-up of her kicking rock to show the sheer emptiness of her surrounding. However, he and Laura Samnee find little glimmers of light like through Rainbow’s interactions with the totally adorable Gramma Pat, who wants nothing more than for Rainbow to settle down and stay in the camp for a while. However, she also understands that the potential of finding Jonna or the rest of her family is what keeps her motivated and basically gives her a reason to get up in the morning.

Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters #1 reminds me a lot of Gareth Edwards’ excellent kaiju film Monsters although the Samnees’ comic has a much more whimsical vibe than the film. The main similarity is in the focus on how these giant monsters have affected human civilization instead of epic battles. (For now.) Rainbow blacks out when she sees Jonna jumping at the monster, and then there’s a page of black with a couple stars that leads into the one year time skip. It shows that these monsters have changed humanity’s way of life and aren’t just gentle giants that young girls can hop around in the woods. These two pages between the first and second part of the comics are a metaphor for having to grow up too fast and sacrifice your childhood and sense of wonder to survive, which is what Rainbow has had to do even though she does keep around relics of the “before time” like her beanie, the aforementioned feather, and her blue hair. These little costume and design choices from Chris Samnee definitely add a hopeful tone to the dark setting of the second half of the comic and hint at a rich world that we’ve only scratched the surface of.

Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters #1 shows off Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson’s skill at visually depicting both dynamic movement and quiet character moments as they and Laura Samnee set up a world full of danger and things that go bump during the night and day plus a plucky protagonist, who is willing to face them because she loves and misses her family. I can’t wait to see how Rainbow grows as a character and the dangers (Aka monsters) she faces and hopefully overcomes on her adventure with a purpose.

Story: Laura Samnee and Chris Samnee Art: Chris Samnee
Colors: Matthew Wilson Letters: Crank!
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.5 Overall: 8.7 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Demon Days: X-Men #1

Demon Days: X-Men #1

Peach Momoko is a talented Japanese cartoonist who has created many manga-influenced, watercolor comic book covers for Marvel and other publishers. She makes both her writing and interior art debut for Marvel in Demon Days: X-Men #1 where she puts her own spin on Marvel heavy hitters like Psylocke, Wolverine, Jubilee, Venom, and Hulk while placing them in the context of Japanese folklore and yokai stories. She transposes the conflict between humans hating and fearing mutants to humans hating and fearing the oni, like Hulk-maru, whose trees have been cut down so they have to raid the human village to get food for their children. What follows is a fairly simple story about humans and oni putting aside their differences to fight a larger threat, Orochi, or Venom with some fun takes on Marvel characters. For example, Jubilee is now a lazy sorcerer named Juju, and Logan is a wolf instead of a short, hairy mutant.

But the fighting is where Demon Days: X-Men starts to unravel. Momoko has many strengths as an artist, including an eye for design, cool poses, and the ability to match a color palette to a mood. She’s also good at setting a scene like the oni’s forest, Venom’s sanctuary, or the village where Sai (Demon Days’ Psylocke) and Logan travel to and offer their services as a sell-sword. However, choreographing and laying out a fight scene isn’t her strong suit, which is unfortunate because the majority with little interstitials of negotiations between Sai and the oni, various planning (Coaxing in Juju’s case.) sessions, and the ending of the book, which shows that maybe Momoko is better at slice of life than magical/sword slashing/symbiote action.

In brief, the battle between Venom and the villager/oni alliance is hard to follow with Peach Momoko switching up perspective and angles on a dime. It’s kind of like the comic book equivalent of the dreaded “shaky cam” even if it’s cool to see Sai fight gracefully with a katana, or Juju set off fireworks everywhere. Momoko sets up the condition that the oni and humans have to work together to defeat Venom, but there’s no magical weakness or fairy tale comeuppance just hacking, slashing, biting, and smashing until the yokai dissipates. It reads like “mandatory fight scene”, and apparently Logan loses his eye. However, you don’t see this until some post-fight dialogue where Momoko throws an obvious reference to his healing factor. The dynamic between him and Sai as well as the young girl Tsuki is really fun as both a nod to their relationship in the comics as well as a riff on Lone Wolf and Cub with a literal animal.

Demon Days: X-Men #1 has some cool designs (Juju’s was my favorite), fun character interactions, and the story and backmatter are a great introduction to Japanese folklore and yokai stories via American pop culture. However, Peach Momoko’s plotting is predictable, and she is better at drawing landscapes and conversations than fight scenes. But the comic isn’t a total wash, and it’s nice to see an artist whose style is a far cry from most of the “house style” Marvel books get to put her own imprint on iconic characters. Also, the final pages are damn good and made me interested in the nature of this universe that Momoko has created.

Story: Peach Momoko Art: Peach Momoko
English Adaptation: Zack Davisson Letters: Ariana Maher
Story: 7.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read

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Review: BRZRKR #1

BRZRKR #1

“Wake the fuck up, samurai. We have a city to burn.”- Cyberpunk 2077

Legendary actor/the Internet’s boyfriend Keanu Reeves teams up with co-writer Matt Kindt, artist Ron Garney, and colorist Bill Crabtree for BRZRKR #1. The premise is simple: a possibly divine immortal is fighting and killing for the United on various black ops missions for the opportunity to become mortal. As shown in this first issue, Berzerker is a single-minded killer, who will stab someone to death with their own bones or get blown up to finish a mission. However, BRZRKR #1 also shows he may have a shred of humanity beneath all the grisly violence and terse dialogue, and it’s the series’ biggest wild card as well as its hook along with the slow unveiling of Berzerker’s past, who is more Christian Walker than Wolverine. He’s no cop or hero though.

From Berzerker’s speech patterns to the way he carries himself as a character and also the deep levels of grief he hides behind a stoic demeanor, BRZKR #1 definitely seems like a comic that could turn into a Keanu Reeves acting role down the road. However, future brand synergy and questionable use of Kickstarter aside, this comic doesn’t come across as an illustrated movie script thanks to Reeves, Kindt, and especially artist Garney’s use of what makes the medium unique. The team marries show and tell nicely in the first 30 pages of the comic with Keanu Reeves and Matt Kindt’s narration fleshing out Berzerker’s attitude and motivation while Ron Garney and Bill Crabtree’s visuals establish him as a nearly unstoppable force of violence. They show his disconnection from humanity in other ways like how he never directly addresses the soldiers he’s with, leaps into action ahead of them, and never really acknowledges anyone until we see him with the doctor towards the end of the comic, who is trying to bring him back to reality while making sure the U.S. will still have his services.

Ron Garney, who is coming off tremendous runs on Daredevil and Juggernaut, finds a happy medium between Frank Miller’s work on Sin City and Geof Darrow’s general, violent mayhem. Perhaps, BRZKR is Hard Boiled 2021. Garney’s iconic poses and uses of silhouette, shadow, and vertical panels are straight from Miller’s best work while his detailed approach to violence is very Darrow-esque although he goes for cartooning over hyper detail. Like both storytellers, he lets the opening setpiece breathe, which gives this comic a “day in the life” feel while also showing many opportunities for Berzerker to kill the dictator’s goons in increasingly creative ways. This is while the real enemy aka the U.S. government is skulking in the corners and using his DNA to build a non-white-helmeted clone army. As well as letting the fight scenes breathe, Reeves, Kindt, and Garney let the scenes in the government lab last for a few extra pages and also be part of the book’s only double page spread to show how Berzerker’s employer controls him so much.

Bill Crabtree’s colors help up the creepiness quotient of the lab scenes in BRZRKR #1 that are slightly reminiscent of Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Weapon X” storyline. He uses lots of greys and blues to show how lifeless and invasive Berzerker’s surroundings are in contrast with the earthier palette he uses for the fight scenes (Plus red for the really violent bits.) and a big time flashback. This is especially effective when Berzerker has a moment of hesitation and doesn’t kill a young man watching him brutally assassinate the president of an unnamed Latin American country that the United States is starting a coup in. Crabtree transitions from the scarlet of battle to the blue of mercy, and this pattern recurs when Berzerker chats with his doctor on-panel towards the end of the comic in a sequence that really adds to his character and provides additional layers beyond being a killer with a dry sense of humor.

There are several comics (The Old Guard, Heavy, almost every Wolverine book) dealing with the themes of immortality, violence, and hopefully becoming mortal one day. However, none of them will likely be adapted into a film starring Keanu Reeves as a star eyed, shaggy haired warrior, who will jump out of windows into humvees, take gunfire on his chest, and a bullet to the head just to have a slight shot at remembering his past and being able to die one day. And none of them were co-written by Reeves, who with Kindt, gives Berzerker the laconic, world-worn voice that matches the carnage he’s covered in and dishes out as depicted by Ron Garney, who channels his inner warrior poet with an action sequence longer than most comics with the help of colorist Bill Crabtree, whose palette conveys rage and just a small slice of hope. All of this is to say is that BRZRKR #1 is worth checking out if you like breathtaking fight choreography and layouts with an eye for detail with a protagonist, who is a total badass, but needs a hug and not to be treated like a lab rat or go on another mission in service of American imperialism.

Story: Keanu Reeves and Matt Kindt Art: Ron Garney
Colors: Bill Crabtree Letters: Clem Robins
Story: 7.5 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Wolverine #10

Wolverine #10

Wolverine #10 starts out like an action movie with Benjamin Percy, Adam Kubert, and Frank Martin channeling that black ops Team X killing machine energy that the folks who made X-Men Origins: Wolverine tried and failed at. Maverick gets to shoot, fight, and kill his way out of being mind-controlled with Wolverine trying to get him to find healing in Krakoa. However, unlike Wolverine who basically has a whole family (Found, cloned, blood, and otherwise) waiting for him on the island, Maverick doesn’t have friends: just co-workers and employers. That’s the tragedy at the heart of the relationship between Maverick and Wolverine. Logan wants to move on while Maverick wants to continue to re-live the past glories of his Team X days and wander around with guns and a mask taking out baddies for the highest bidder even if he no longer has his mutant powers.

Adam Kubert has been drawing Wolverine for over 27 years, but his work on Wolverine #10 shows that he still enjoys drawing Logan’s berserker rage and the nobility buried underneath. (Full disclosure, he’s my favorite Wolverine artist along with John Romita Jr. You gotta love second generation comics pros.) Kubert also has some damn good storytelling chops, especially in his approach to layouts. He uses white space to simulate Maverick coming out of his mindwipe as well as gaps in his memory. At the beginning of the comic, Kubert uses close-ups and different angles on the same stand-off to show Maverick starting to fill in the details with the help of Wolverine. The next page uses more straighforward panel choices while keeping the blanks, and by the time the Merchant grazes Maverick with Frank Castle’s pistol, we’re back in double page spread mode with insets showing these former Team X members doing what they do best while colorist Frank Martin turns on the red.

Wolverine #10 features quite a few of these compositions from Kubert, namely, a double page spread freezing a moment in time while the story progresses through small grids or inset panels. This is also happening while Martin sets the general tone of the page with his color choices from sleazy neons for the port of Madripoor to *fittingly* black for the Mercs and finally light greens for Krakoa. Frank Martin uses darker greens for the inset panels to drive home that Maverick is really hostile and skeptical about Krakoa even if it means rest and the restoration of his considerable abilities. These color choices along with the insets give you the key story information about the sequence while the rest of the spread adds context and atmosphere. They also show how Maverick is still boxed into his past as a merc and is cool with taking money from the CIA (Who tried to kill him earlier) even while he chides and quips at Wolverine for being a cult leader and Kool-Aid drinker. He’s definitely the kind of guy who says “sell-out” unironically.

Wolverine #10
Dudes rock…

Between the chases, killings, and tough guy one-liners, Benjamin Percy and Adam Kubert continue to explore nostalgia in Wolverine #10. Kubert is an interesting artist choice because he worked with Larry Hama and other on the Wolverine and Weapon X comics in the 1990s that the past two or three issues have been trying to evoke with the Madripoor setting, Team X (Especially Maverick’s mask.), and even the short, yet sweet return of “Patch”. Also, the plot of the comic revolves around an auction of basically Easter Eggs from the Marvel Universe like the grave stone from “Kraven’s Last Hunt”, and Maverick, Wolverine, and the Mercs end up going on a mission to a warehouse with these items. However, Wolverine realizes the emptiness of nostalgia and doesn’t even look at what’s in the “Team X” before torching them. Percy shows where Logan is at as a character while also commenting on creators who yearn to re-tell the stories of their youth instead of breaking new ground.

Basically, there have been enough Wolverine flashback/origin stories, and it’s time to put him in new context or remix these previous stories like he and Kubert are doing with Maverick as they focus on the psychological dimensions of the relationship between them. There was that great flashback sequence in Wolverine #9, and now in this issue, Percy and Kubert show the sad reality of Logan and Maverick’s friendship as they’re perfectly in-sync when fighting CIA agents or various goons, but talk past each other once they get a quiet moment on the helicopter or overlooking Krakoa. Logan and Maverick are like (ultraviolent) work buddies, who really gel professionally, successfully complete projects together, and even throw a few brews back at the happy hour, but don’t really work out of that context. So, Maverick’s actions on the last couple pages of Wolverine #10 hurt like hell, but they do make sense. They might stand back to back on the cover, but these are men heading in polar opposite directions with Logan having both family and national responsibilities. Also, the blank panels come back hinting at Maverick resigning himself to just being a weapon again instead of trying to restart his life in Krakoa as Adam Kubert wrings emotions out of just white on the page.

Benjamin Percy, Adam Kubert, and Frank Martin balance black ops action and the complicated relationship dynamic between Logan and Maverick in Wolverine #10. It also features breathtaking layouts from Kubert and smart color choices from Martin and has nods to the 1990s era of X-comics while adding a little substance to those books’ style.

Story: Benjamin Percy Art: Adam Kubert
Colors: Frank Martin Letters: Cory Petit
Story: 7.8 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: X-Men #18

X-Men #18

Writer Jonathan Hickman tugs on a long-simmering plot thread in X-Men #18 as he, Mahmud Asrar, and Sunny Gho send the rough and tumble team of Wolverine (Laura Kinney), Darwin, and Synch into the Vault to confront and find information about the Children of the Vault, who appeared way back in X-Men #5 after a lengthy absence from the X-Books. (This is a great explainer about them.) The Children of the Vault are shrouded in mystery, hence, the risky reconnaissance mission in an environment where time doesn’t work traditionally, but they’re humans evolved over a period of 6,000 years in a specialized environment that have given them superhuman abilities. They also see the mutants and Krakoa as a threat so Darwin, Synch, and Wolverine are not in for a good time.

Escape from the Vault” is going to be a rare two-part story in a series that has mostly been loosely connected done-in-ones that give readers a flavor of the Krakoa era. However, with the impending election of an X-Men team and coming of last issue’s space mission, it looks like Jonathan Hickman and Mahmud Asrar are back on a “mutants going on a mission” kick even if it’s not traditionally superheroic.

Basically, the team in X-Men #18 are like the members of the various hapless crews in the Alien franchise, but with special abilities that could get them out of this bind. And speaking of powers, Hickman crafts this team lineup almost perfectly with Wolverine’s healing ability, Darwin’s adaptability, and Synch’s ability to duplicate any mutant power make them have a chance in this hostile environment. Hickman takes a purposeful approach to superhero team building, and you can see this throughline of complementary abilities echo down the X-Books from SWORD and the magic in Excalibur to the training exercises in Vita Ayala and Rod Reis’ New Mutants and even in the Resurrection protocols of The Five. The previous issue was more self-indulgent with 1990s style art and costumes from Brett Booth and star turns from Hickman faves Cannonball and Sunspot, but X-Men #18 is back to the business of setting a tone for the line of comics and showing how Krakoa deals with threats.

After a foreboding setup and quick introduction to the team, Hickman, Asrar, and Gho dive straight into combat. Wolverine, Darwin, and Synch fight more like the X-Force (Sans guns and pouches.) than the X-Men with Wolverine especially being a ball of rage. Asrar draws her from overhead angles and with plenty of speed lines to show her aggression, and that she isn’t holding back with blood spurting out of Serafina, the only Child of the Vault who gets mentioned by name in this issue. Colorist Sunny Gho accentuates this panel by switching the usual blue background of the Vault to red. Laura is more into action than words, and she demonstrates this in X-Men #18 through her single-handed focus on the mission unlike Darwin and Synch, who are hoping for a quick in and out mission.

Synch acts as the narrator of X-Men #18 providing commentary on the team’s time in the Vault while Jonathan Hickman and Mahmud Asrar show that a seemingly timid character that’s been dead in the comics since 2000 could be one of Krakoa’s deadliest weapon. Synch’s tone is fairly neutral, yet a little freaked out as he reminds readers that even though this comic has a fairly straightforward plot, time isn’t working normally right now, and the team is probably end for some weirdness one they reach the other side, especially after this issue’s, shall we way, nuclear finish. If the middle of X-Men #18 is Aliens, its bookends are Alien: all horror, atmosphere, and tension tinged with science fiction. Because his powers literally make him the ultimate support character, Synch is very passive in the early stages of the fight against the Children of the Vault walking around with a water bubble around his head once he takes a flame to the face.

X-Men #18

However, fire plus water equals boiling, and Synch unveils his grisly potential in a sequence where he reveals that he can duplicate the powers of both mutants and other superpowered beings like the Children of the Vault. It immediately shifts the momentum of both the battle and X-Men #18 with Sunny Gho bringing some vivid oranges in his palette to go with Asrar’s skeleton silhouettes. The A.I. in the Dome was right that the Children of the Vault needed more training, upgrades, and/or evolution to have a chance against the mutants even if total victory doesn’t happen in this issue. However, Synch’s flame on moment pays off a data page earlier in the issue where Dr. Reyes says that his power limits have increased, and that he can “connect” to any kind of superhuman ability.

There is only one other data page in X-Men #18, but Hickman makes them crucial to the plot and arc of the main character. Their placement is also clever with the aforementioned payoff, and more importantly, he puts the text of a letter allowing the team to use deadly force because the Children of the Vault aren’t classified as humans after Wolverine and Synch have done their thing. It’s a great final page of the issue that adds an ethical dimension to the snikts and explosions and shows again that the Krakoans are a little hypocritical and are just like any human nation snuffing out a threat to their sovereignty via various black ops and cutthroat ways, especially since they and the Children of the Vault are a lot alike.

X-Men #18 shows Jonathan Hickman putting his own spin on the typical X-Men “rescue” mission, and the focus on a tight-knit, complementary cast lets Wolverine, Darwin, and Synch’s personalities and abilities shine. Mahmud Asrar and Sunny Gho also get to draw riveting action sequences that showcase this cast of character’s unique powers while working in tandem with Hickman to create an uneasy tone around the team’s actions. By the end of the issue, we know so much about who Wolverine, Darwin, and Synch are, but their opponents are basically explod-y action figures. Hmm…

Story: Jonathan Hickman Art: Mahmud Asrar
Colors: Sunny Gho Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.4 Overall: 8.2 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Haha #2

Haha #2

In the second issue of W. Maxwell Prince‘s clown-themed anthology Haha, he teams up with artist Zoe Thorogood and colorist Chris O’Halloran to tell yet another story of a sad clown. This time, a clown-themed burlesque dancer named Rudy thinks back to the tragic life of her mother, who suffered from psychosis and was a sex worker that dressed up as a clown. One day, she had a breakdown and took Rudy with her on a fruitless quest to Funville aka the amusement park that closed in Haha #1. There are some sweet moments like the mom putting a red nose on Rudy or shooting off fireworks together, but for the most part, Haha #2 is a bleak, hopeless character study about how switching up the scenery won’t change your path in life as Rudy ends up being a clown like her mother. She is a little bit more self aware one as demonstrated through Prince’s narration and framing device

Like the previous issue in the series, Haha #2 plays with both the humor and creepiness of clowns in pop culture to tell a story about the dark, twisted side of the human psyche. However, in his portrayal of (mainly) the mom and Rudy, W. Maxwell Prince leans on harmful stereotypes that sex workers or folks that work in sex work adjacent professions are mentally ill or have bad childhoods. Child abuse and sex work are difficult topics to write about, and it seems like Prince blows by them to tell a story filled with unease and tension. However, his portrayal of Rudy is much better than her mother’s thanks to the narrative caption that give her thoughts and perception of her childhood.

Zoe Thorogood’s art complements these captions as the clown imagery represents hope or a mask to make money or wall one’s self off from the world depending on the context. For example, she draws the mom and Rudy with smiling expressions as they run away from home with the red nose as a symbol of their bond. In a different context, this would be a sweet moment, but Chris O’Halloran’s dark color palette creates a sense of impending doom. And little by little, Rudy’s childhood is chipped away as her mom comes back with bruises from one of her clients, props up books so 12 year old Rudy can drive on the highway, and finally, makes her hide in a closet while she has sex with one of her johns. The scene where Rudy comes at the man with her mom’s razor shows her trauma bond to her mom, and then O’Halloran explodes in intense colors as the tragedy unfolds.

Even if W. Maxwell Prince might lean into one too many stereotypes in his portrayal of the mom in Haha #2 (I mean she doesn’t even get a name), Thorogood does an excellent job conveying her various moods through facial expressions, body language, and even the way her hair moves or she is positioned on a panel. When the vaunted destination of Funville turns out to be a bust complete with an “F” that is drooping down on the sign, Thorogood doesn’t show the mom or Rudy’s faces: only their backs. This allows the readers to drink in the destitute nature of Funville and realize that all the running away, abuse, manipulation, and even murder is all for nothing. Two pages later, Thorogood draws the mom holding her face in her hands to show both the shattered dream and her negative feelings about how this effected her daughter. It’s a moment of lucidity, and the future burlesque dancer, Rudy, slips into her first “role” that of mother and comforter.

Haha #2 continues this series’ throughline of portraying fucked up family dynamics although it seems like writer W. Maxwell Prince bit off a little more than he could chew in tackling child abuse and sex workers as Rudy is a three-dimensional character, and her mother isn’t. Still, this comic is still worth checking out for Zoe Thorogood’s art alone as she continues to exhibit her mastery of creating empathy for characters through eyes, hair, and facial expressions. Thorogood is also one of my current favorite storytellers, and Haha #2 is great to flip through and look at the moments between moments as she crafts the character of Rudy with the help of Prince’s at-times, poignant captions.

Story: W. Maxwell Prince Art: Zoe Thorogood
Colors: Chris O’Halloran Letters: Good Old Neon
Story: 7.5 Art: 9.2 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Buy

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