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Review: The Joker Annual 2021

The Joker Annual 2021

Although the character is overexposed in both comics and other media, The Joker is one of DC’s most underrated current comics. It’s a multi-layered crime saga starring Jim Gordon, who has left the police force and is grappling with his need to take revenge on Joker while juggling a million other plates and forces, including clones in the last issue that came out. Arguably, the best installment of the comic was The Joker #5 with Matthew Rosenberg and Francesco Francavilla collaborating with series writer James Tynion that’s a worthy companion to Batman Year One thanks to its noir-like visuals and deep insight into the character of Gordon. The Joker Annual 2021 is the sequel to Joker #5 and is set during a, well, interesting time when organized crime is on the decline thanks to folks like Carmine Falcone being behind bars. However, there is still crime, but it’s mostly harmless pranks like the Joker robbing a Mexican candy factory with the help of a pre-Secret Six glow up Catman. But this seeming lull in the action doesn’t snuff out Gordon’s crusade to clean up Gotham, especially the dirty members of the police force, and these overt actions come back to bite him and only stoke the flames of his vendetta against the Joker any more.

The Joker Annual 2021 feels like if The Dark Knight and the 1960s Batman TV show had a beautiful baby, and this is definitely meant as a compliment. The comic’s tone is gritty police procedural meets pop art. With The Joker doing candy-centered crimes, Francesco Francavilla uses a fittingly garish color palette while going back to reds and blacks when Gordon is raiding warehouses or firing cops. His approach to storytelling is powerful and enhances Tynion and Rosenberg’s characterization like when Batgirl drops Catman from the sky onto a squad car while two cops argue if they should call her Batgirl or Batlady. Francavilla also shows the homicidal maniac hiding behind the clown when the Joker actually gets “serious” any time someone questions his methods adding a bit of shadow to his teeth and lipstick. His crimes might seem ridiculous compared to his modern appearances, but Joker does some real damage throughout the story and worst of all, shows Jim Gordon that he can’t have law and order in this city.

James Tynion and Matthew Rosenberg’s dialogue is a real treat in The Joker Annual 2021 with Harvey Bullock using blurred out expletives like a lethal weapon to Jim Gordon using pointed questions and contradictions to find out one of his men who is still corrupt. Bullock doesn’t have an arc like Gordon or especially Gotham City, but he and Barbara Gordon act as the voices of pragmatism and reality as fired police officers make great villainous henchmen. He’s portrayed as a high functioning alcoholic, and it’s presented as a personal flaw instead of a systemic flaw like the corrupt police officers. Tynion, Rosenberg, and Francesco Francavilla don’t go full “ACAB” in The Joker Annual 2021, but they do show how freed of their badge and uniform that police officers will do even worst things.

I do like how this comic shows that Gotham is truly a rotten system with the power vacuum of the mob leading to supervillains like Joker, Black Mask, Penguin, and Killer Croc taking over as well as firing all the bad cops at once having consequences like funding issues or them becoming Joker’s foot soldiers. In a highly stylized way, The Joker Annual 2021 shows that corrupt systems can’t truly be fixed from within, which is where vigilantes like Batgirl and Batman come in. However, despite helping against Catman, they spend most of the issue causing property damage and complicating Gordon’s police deployment strategy as he’s torn between 100% taking their side and following the usual protocol.

Francavilla draws Gordon with a look of consternation for much of the issue, and he really is over his head for most of the book struggling to balance cleaning up Gotham with being a father. Until she shows up with a bruise and isn’t in her bed at 2:30 AM, Gordon barely pays attention to Barbara and makes his favorite meal instead of hers while also demonstrating workaholic tendency. This workaholism completely obliterates his relationship with his off-panel son, Jim Jr., who is with his ex-wife in Chicago as Gordon won’t visit him although he has a lot more vacation time as a police commissioner versus a detective. Gordon’s decision in this matter ends up having real ramifications in future storylines, including The Joker. He tries to have it all and ends up broken with final pages acting as a grim punchline to his attempts to end mob corruption once and for all in Gotham. That stuff never ends, or why would we still have Batman and Batman-adjacent stories.

The Joker Annual 2021 is a masterpiece of day-glo crime storytelling from Francesco Francavilla, who can create tension from a flashlight or a cigarette butt as well as James Tynion and Matthew Rosenberg, who continue to flesh out Jim Gordon and his relationship with his daughter Barbara and the clown prince of crime. Like Joker #5, this comic easily stands on its own, but also adds context (Aka emotional scarring) to Gordon’s actions as he haphazardly tries to create his own system for taking out the Joker while keeping his soul intact.

Story: James Tynion IV, Matthew Rosenberg 
Art/Colors: Francesco Francavilla Letters: Tom Napolitano
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.3 Overall: 9.2 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Joy Operations #1

Joy Operations #1

Writer Brian Michael Bendis bits off way more than he can chew in Joy Operations #1, which was meant to be his big debut for Dark Horse Comics, but it ends up being an incredibly talky, boring, and contained first chapter of a space opera. And it’s a pity because Stephen Byrne’s art is clean, sleek, and perfect for this futuristic world that has been built on the ashes of what is now the United States. The protagonist, Joy, is some kind of skilled bodyguard for Kathryn, who seems to be like the Sheryl Sandberg or Kamala Harris or Hillary Clinton of this new order, but she’s really worst than these girl bosses and could be responsible for the death of humanity. These sentences make it seem like Joy Operations has an intriguing premise, but it really never gets off the ground.

Bendis has written a lot of crime, superhero, and although they’re usually not as compelling, science fiction stories, and he understands that conveying power and movement is one of the strengths of the comics medium. So, he and Byrne kick off Joy Operations #1 with a fight scene between Joy and Kathyrn’s Gerxhart bodyguard, who apparently sees her as a threat. It’s the stereotypical hero vs. hero battle in the first act of a superhero team-up, but with Tron lights and viscosity courtesy of Stephen Byrne’s color palette and design. The fight shows that the relationship between Joy and Kathryn isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but it doesn’t serve a purpose beyond setting up that Joy has some cool as shit skills that I’ve seen in the aforementioned Tron and nearly every piece of fiction involving a virtual reality. Byrne’s approach to fight choreography reminds me a lot of the energy of the Overwatch, which is definitely a compliment. However, until the bitter end of the comic, I don’t have anyone to root for or latch onto in the fight.

Speaking of bitter end, Bendis and Byrne mainly craft the world of Joy Operations through Joy talking to herself with the occasional big spread like when we finally get some details about Kathryn and her impact on this world. Brian Michael Bendis’ profanity-tinged, sarcastic sense of humor that made Jessica Jones and Deena Pilgrim is definitely present in Joy’s character voice even when it’s drowned out by half-baked concepts and in-universe jargon. He and Stephen Byrne run into a wall when Joy really only gets to bounce off the voice in her head. In his previous works, Bendis could make conversations as compelling as fight scenes with the help of great facial acting from his artists. However, Joy has conversations with word balloons, which would be okay in prose, but is snore-worthy in a visual medium like comics.

Stephen Byrne’s sleek vision of the future combined with a hubris-filled foe should have been a slam dunk space opera. However, Joy Operations #1 didn’t immerse me in this new world, but beat me over with walls of text and a POV character whose best moments seemed like retreads of better written Brian Michael Bendis female protagonists. Seriously, where is a text page when you need one? Joy Operations showcases Byrne’s gifts at worldbuilding, action blocking, and facial expressions, but Bendis’ script doesn’t rise up to match his energy so this is definitely a comic worth skipping and a poor start for Jinxworld’s first Dark Horse book.

Story: Brian Michael Bendis Art: Stephen Byrne
Letters: Joshua Reed
Story: 5.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 5.8 Recommendation: Pass

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Review: Radio Apocalypse #1

Radio Apocalypse

Radio Apocalypse is definitely more of a vibe than a story, but that’s A-okay as Ram V, Anand RK, and Anisha immerse us in the post-apocalyptic world of Bakerstown where the DJ still plays Springsteen and Muse. However, they’re barely scraping by, and going out after dark attracts the xinos, kind of mutant wolf creatures that emerge from the desert when they find a scent. Radio Apocalypse literally shows a day in the life of the inhabitants of Bakerstown and sets up key characters like the orphan refugee boy Rion and the couple, Tan and Cali, who are just trying to find a warm fire and shelter. The entire narrative and world is connected by the DJ of the last radio station, who is a Greek chorus meets Senor Love Daddy in Do the Right Thing with a bit of a survivalist edge.

Radio Apocalypse #1 establishes Anand RK’s distinct, yet varied art style, and his idiosyncrasies make the story memorable. Something I noticed about his approach to storytelling is that he and Ram V like to insert a panel of a foot before a tense scene like a xino jumping up, or Rion getting caught by the DJ while looking for copper wire for something the scrap and sell and get some food. Usually framed at medium range with the lower leg bending, this repeated motif shows the knife edge that Bakerstown is on. The sunset isn’t something that’s nice to know for golden hour lighting, but life or death. Anisha’s palette gauges the feelings of the characters and also corresponds to the time of day from a nice montage of various citizens on the first few pages to a far off explosion and darkness in the final few that sets up the series’ real hook and conflict.

To draw you into the story, Ram V and Anand RK use archetypal relationships: two lovers and a father and son. However, the second dynamic is different because DJ basically has Rion in indentured servitude paying him in meals and shelter instead of turning him in for breaking and stealing stuff from the station. From the first page, this station connects the world of the town with the outside world as Tan desperately reaches out to Cali with tips for surviving the night and a song in case that doesn’t happen. There are many panels where the words drop out, and RK just indulges in the power of music and all things analog. Even if nothing really nice happens in Radio Apocalypse #1, it’s nice to know that there’s still good music at the end of the world.

Radio Apocalypse #1 is like the comic book equivalent of a five minute opening track on a concept album establishing the visual language and color palette as well as the setting and key players. Ram V, Anand RK, and Anisha walk a tight rope between hope and hopelessness throughout the story and use seemingly throwaway dialogue between characters to set up the main brunt of the plot. (For now.) Compared to the areas outside it that are seen through the blurry, pain-filled POV of Cali and Tan, Bakerstown is pretty damn idyllic, but the darkness is coming.

Story: Ram V Art: Anand RK
Colors: Anisha Letters: Aditya Bidikar

Story: 7.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Superman, Son of Kal-El #5

Superman: Son of Kal-El #5

Superman: Son of Kal-El #5 shows just how stressful being Superman is (Especially when Bendix hits you with some solar energy.) in a focused story from Tom Taylor, John Timms, and Hi-Fi. Jon Kent think he can save everyone thanks to his little power boost that enhances his strength and speed, but it also increases his stress levels and leads to a kind of superpowered burnout. This is a comic for anyone who has taken on way too much at work or school and just can’t handle it any more as Taylor and Timms zeroes on Jon’s emotions and also set up a little romance with Jay, a journalist and metahuman.

John Timms and Hi-Fi’s visuals drive home how overworked Jon is while Tom Taylor’s plot has Jon Kent flying all over the world and only delegating a single task to a fellow superhero, The Flash, who definitely knows what he’s going through. Superman: Son of Kal-El #5 features several single and double page spreads with darting figures everywhere. There’s one page in particular where Timms and Hi-Fi depict Jon as just a red blur grabbing every citizen of a town in Luxembourg that has been overwhelmed by a flood. However, when Jon is portrayed in close-up, John Timms draws him with dark circle and beads of sweat coming down his face showing that he’s ill, and although he’s bulletproof, he still gets tired. A concept that comes into play throughout the comic is control with Jay and The Aerie finally telling Jon to take a break because people around the world are filming and saying that he can’t control himself.

These reality checks combined with Taylor’s narration for Jon shows how much self-control it takes to be Superman. You can’t just fly around willy-nilly: that shit is for Miracleman or Homelander. He and John Timms are digging into a vein of Superman story that can be great (The ending Superman vs. Darkseid battle in Justice League Unlimited) or not so great (Superman Returns video game). They create tension through Jon having to maintain control of his enhanced abilities and avoiding collateral damage that would directly contradict his mission to save everyone. However, the events of Superman: Son of Kal-El #5 are a wake up call for his youthful idealism and stress the importance of self-care and not filling one’s plate too much. But because Jon Kent’s job involves the difference between life or death, this sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, and the issue wraps up with him again going into action.

The cover of Superman: Son of Kal-El #5 isn’t misleading as Tom Taylor and Timms continue to flesh out the relationship between Jon and Jay. In-story, a big deal isn’t made about Jon’s sexuality: he and Jay have chemistry and an emotional bond so they smooch. It’s refreshing and reads like your standard superhero romantic subplot instead of some kind of Glee-esque very special issue although that’s the kind of media coverage this comic has been getting. (Just saying, Superman being bi would have been a huge deal for me as a queer kid so I’m 100% okay with all the hype and have enjoyed laughing at the ignorant cretins on Fox News and right wing Twitter.) I enjoy the back and forth that Taylor writes for Jon and Jay, and how sensitive Jay is to Jon’s needs giving him noise-canceling headphones so he can take a break from saving the day. Previous comics have laid the ground for their activism-driven approach to superheroics so Superman: Son of Kal-El #5 is really the culmination of everything as they’re ready to fight Bendix in upcoming issues. Also, Hi-Fi’s colors play an underrated part in showing Jon and Jay’s feelings for each other as the studio uses softer lighting compared to Jon’s frenetic flying and superheroing. The vibe for their first kiss is more like a Carly Rae Jepsen live show than a cape book.

Superman: Son of Kal-El #5 is character, not plot-driven as Tom Taylor, John Timms, and Hi-Fi dig into Jon Kent’s emotions at both work and play. He has great power, but he also has limitations. However, smooching a cute boy and taking some time for self-care will help with that so that Jon is back in action and using his powers in a social justice-tinged way.

Story: Tom Taylor Art: John Timms
Colors: Hi-Fi Letters: Dave Sharpe
Story: 9.0 Art:8.5 Overall: 8.7 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: A Thing Called Truth #1

A Thing Called Truth

What if you were whisked away from whatever your nine to five is and thrust into the middle of a world of car chases and adventure with an attractive stranger taking the wheel. That’s the premise of A Thing Called Truth, the new series from Alice in Leatherland‘s Iolanda Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli. The series has been described in promotional material as a queer road trip story, but that part really only comes at the beginning and end of the book. The lion’s share of A Thing Called Truth #1 establishes its protagonist, Dr. Magdalene Traumer, who is quite close to saving the world through science (And more importantly at an affordable cost to consumers), but hasn’t had a beer since grad school and is on the brink of divorce from her husband.

As shown from their previous work, Zanfardino and Romboli’s strength as comics creators is comedy, both of the verbal and visual variety. Elisa Romboli uses exaggerated gestures and piles on the papers and junk in Magdalene’s office to show how consumed she is by her work while Iolanda Zanfardino keeps the nature of her work vague to poke fun at how little laypeople know about scientific advances. (See everyone and their grandma becoming an epidemiologist during the COVID-19 pandemic.) There is a lot of satire in the early going as Zanfardino and Romboli riff off the the very real problem of pharmaceutical companies selling life saving medicine for exorbitant prices and keeping any real advances under wraps while making token shows of fighting climate change, racism, or whatever they think the cause du jour that will make their stockholders happy.

Along with its jabs at pharma bros, CEOs, and general one percenter parasites, A Thing Called for Truth #1 establishes Magdalene as both brilliant and messy. This characterization reaches its height during a bar sequence that is both the height of comedy and tragedy as Elisa Romboli’s crowded panels of figures nails the feeling of a noisy bar. She and Iolanda Zanfardino throw all reason out the window as Magdalene’s life work has been sold, and she can no longer access it. It’s like she has no purpose in life, and she turns towards the energy of a crowded bar to work some steam off. I can definitely relate as a few vodka crans and on a few hours of dance floor work wonders relieving my stress about work and life. However, from her wobbly movements and the whole topless thing, Magdalene is definitely out of her depth. Romboli makes her facial expressions just as passionate as she is when she’s talking about science, but gets rid of the whole center of gravity thing. She’s trying to cure burnout in a single night, and that usually doesn’t work out. (You need a whole vacation from the vacation.)

A Thing Called Truth #1 finds a nice balance between genre thrills, contemporary commentary, and slapstick comedy. Also, by being laser focused on Magdalene’s life and work, Iolanda Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli ensure that readers give a shit about her wild country spanning road trip. They leave a lot of cards on the table, and I’m excited to see them turned over as the series progresses.

Story/Letters: Iolanda Zanfardino Art: Elisa Romboli
Story: 8.6 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.7 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Batman/Superman: Authority Special #1

Batman/Superman: Authority Special #1

Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artists Trevor Hairsine, Scott Hanna, Jonathan Glapion, Rain Beredo, and Ben Templesmith do the unthinkable in Batman/Superman: Authority Special #1, which is make the Dark Multiverse compelling. This comic definitely spins out of the excellent Superman and the Authority miniseries, but no prior knowledge of any of the “Metal” comics are needed for this alternate universe romp as Batman teams up with Superman and his old team to do a first strike on a world where the Dark Knight has become corrupted by the League (Now, Empire) of Shadows and is the patriarch of the autocratic Al-Ghul dynasty. Templesmith handles the art duties for this “Shadow Earth”, and his slightly askew painterly style easily ups the quality of the book.

However, my favorite part of Batman/Superman: Authority Special was the constant trash talk between Midnighter and Batman with the lethal leather daddy taking the piss out of the Caped Crusader for much of the comic. Johnson leans into the metafictional connection between Batman and Midnighter and also that they’ve never met on panel, and their jawing and eventually teaming up gives the issue a strong undercurrent of humor beneath the grimdarkness. Philip Kennedy Johnson and Trevor Hairsine also expand on Apollo being a Superman fanboy in the previous miniseries and have him geek out a little bit over Batman too. These playful touches make this new iteration of the Authority endearing, and Johnson gives Batman and Superman a relationship of mutual respect. As evidenced by the sour facial expressions, Hairsine, Glapion, and Hanna give him, Batman isn’t impressed in the Authority as a unit, but he sees them and especially Enchantress’ interdimensional travel abilities as a way to protect Earth.

Although the rulers of Shadow Earth aren’t given much characterization beyond the League of Shadows on steroids and all related, Ben Templesmith puts his own spin on their realm and makes The Authority and Batman’s journey to their world that much more jarring as the art transitions from Trevor Hairsine, Jonathan Glapion, and Scott Hanna’s house style superheroes with a bit of Wildstorm widescreen edge to utter horror. The opening splash page with flames, skulls, darkness, and armor makes Batman/Superman: Authority Special feel more like the cover of a heavy metal album than a superhero team-up book. Interdimensional travel takes a toll on our protagonists as their figures warp and elongate against dark vistas featuring eye popping details like a Barbelith-esque red sun. It adds an air of atmosphere to what could just have been a punch-up against alternate universe Batmen, and Philip Kennedy Johnson and Templesmith show these doppelganger-type figures actually holding back against an icon that has inspired them to become tyrants.

Batman/Superman: The Authority Special shows that a creative team other than Grant Morrison and Mikel Janin can tell a compelling story with this cast characters, and I’m excited to see some of the character moments, such as Lightray going from being hero for fame to being in real action or Apollo and Midnighter working on the whole no-killing thing, expanded up on in future issues of Action Comics from Philip Kennedy Johnson. Paper-thin villain characterization aside, this book is a solid one-shot adventure with an eerie setting thanks to memorable art from Ben Templesmith plus loads of funny interactions between Batman and Midnighter.

Story: Philip Kennedy Johnson
  Art: Trevor Hairsine with Jonathan Glapion and Scott Hanna, Ben Templesmith
Colors: Rain Beredo Letters: Tom Napolitano
Story: 8.0 Art:8.8 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Suicide Squad: King Shark #2

Suicide Squad: King Shark #2

Suicide Squad: King Shark #2 continues to be a funny, gory, and occasionally sexy good time from Tim Seeley, Scott Kolins, and John Kalisz. This book feels a lot like a quirky late-1980s DC comic thanks to appearances of supporting cast members from Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and of course, the titular Suicide Squad, but Seeley brings a modern sense of humor with one of the most annoying songs in recent memory acting as both a running gag and something driving the plot. The same philosophy extends to Kolins’ sturdy, almost deadpan figures that are an inch away from erupting into total violence. Kalisz also eschews the fancy digital effects and goes for bold, trippy tones especially any time mystical power or energy is involved. King Shark is a silly book, but it’s well-crafted and has some great world-building too.

Like in many of his previous DC efforts, like Nightwing and Grayson, Seeley excels at both excavating old concepts and characters from previous DC Comics as well as fleshing his own additions to this vast multiverse. The entire plot of Suicide Squad: King Shark revolves around a tournament of representatives of different species from cockroaches and sea worms to sharks and humans to see which one is the prime evolutionary force on the planet. It’s also connected to the idea of the Red and Parliament of Limbs from Jeff Lemire’s run on Animal Man, but Tim Seeley and Kolins give it a reality TV/shonen manga/pro wrestling flair. It’s fun to watch anthropomorphic animals beat the shit out of each other while King Shark and our POV character, Shawn Tsang (Aka my favorite character from Seeley’s Nightwing run.) work out their anger issues and try to stay one step ahead of Amanda Waller, who wants King Shark to kill for her not his species.

Tim Seeley, Scott Kolins, and Kalisz are quite creative with the fight scenes in Suicide Squad: King Shark #2 and make them weirder, and in many cases, grosser than your usual superhero fisticuffs. John Kalisz colors the hell out of some oozing fluids, and Seeley doesn’t make King Shark’s matchups a cake walk even if he isn’t fighting any recognizable DC characters. However, the highly problematic B’wana Beast is the host and in full sleazy drama-stirring mode. (The fact that Mr. Beast is problematic is commented on by the characters in a quick witted line from Shawn.) This combination of struggles at the tournament plus Shawn (And by extension, the reader) rooting for Man King to ensure that humanity isn’t shark or cockroach bait increases the tension as well as Amanda Waller and a team of seriously cool characters ready to retrieve King Shark from what she perceives as nonsense. Her interactions with King Shark’s divine father are seriously chilling as she doesn’t back down from a character who gets special big lettering font from Wes Abbott because he’s so powerful.

Suicide Squad: King Shark #2 is truly a delight. It’s a deep dive into some seriously underappreciated DC characters, both past and present, with a sense of humor and a brutal approach to fight scenes. Tim Seeley and Scott Kolins also find the gentle humanity in King Shark, and most of the time you’re laughing with and not at him and feeling bad at how he’s manipulated by so many forces, including his father, Amanda Waller, and Shawn Tsang. Maybe, one day he’ll find a human that he can actually trust, but it probably won’t be in this miniseries among the Real Housewives, er, Furries of the DC Multiverse.

Story: Tim Seeley  Art: Scott Kolins
Colors: John Kalisz Letters: Wes Abbott
Story: 8.4 Art: 7.9 Overall: 8.1 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #9

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #9

Content warning: sexual assault

After four years and full television adaptation run, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack‘s slow burn, 1960s-set horror comic Chilling Adventures of Sabrina returns. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #9 is actually part three in the “Witch War” storyline, but a cheeky cover and recap page get readers back on track as everyone’s favorite white haired teenage witch is in the direst strait. Using necromancy with the help of her teacher Mrs. Porter (Aka Madam Satan), she brought back her boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle from the dead. However, the spell messed up, and her manipulative, deadbeat conjuror dad, Edward Spellman, is actually in Harvey’s body and enjoying life as teenager while also figuring out what happened to him. Sabrina isn’t aware of this and must take a life to balance out Harvey’s return according to her aunts Hilda and Zelda.

This quest for a soul is the main plotline of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #9 as Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack don’t hold back from going dark and creepy. Sabrina’s target is actually a serial killer, who recently appeared in the Netflix show Mindhunter, but Aguirre-Sacasa withholds this fact for most of the comic and builds tension by Sabrina acting like everything is normal when nothing is. Robert Hack’s opening six panel page is a study in guilt as he uses a different pose in each frame to show how Sabrina is before settling on a close-up of her face and downcast eyes. This contrasts with the cheery facial expression she has in the very next page and combined with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s small talk dialogue, you can definitely tell that something is up, and she’s seriously considering killing someone. And this ends up being true as the second half of the book leaves the friendly confines of Greendale for somewhere a bit more populous, and Aguirre-Sacasa and Hack show the lengths that Sabrina is willing to go to make sure that her boyfriend stays for good.

The B-plot of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #9 follow Edward in Harvey’s body, and he acts like a horny teenager sleeping with both his old demon buddy Empusa (Who shapeshifted into Lucifer so he could gain power in the Church of Night.) and Rosalind, who is Harvey’s ex-girlfriend. There is a lot of sleaziness and statutory rape going on, and Aguirre-Sacasa’s narration is self-aware enough not to linger on either of these moments and keep the ball rolling to the inevitable showdown, the titular witch war between Edward and Madam Satan. I love when Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack switch to Madam Satan’s wonderfully chaotic and villainous POV as she basks naked in a tub and ponders whether she wants to fuck, marry, or kill her ex-lover Edward Spellman. She also reveals that she wanted to bring Edward back all along, and this combination of lust and revenge makes for riveting reading shifting the tone from sex pest in action to a supernatural erotic thriller. Madam Satan having no eyes adds to the air of mystery.

What I missed most about Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was the horror paperback aesthetic-meets-clear sequential storytelling visuals of Robert Hack. His coloring is top notch in this comic with lots of reds and oranges to show that basically every main character in this issue deserves damnation. This hellish palette is a constant in the book and wavers slightly depending on the lighting of the panels, but it can be found everywhere from the janitor’s closet to a supermax prison cell showing that evil and manipulation is everywhere. It gives the book an extra level of tension to go with the demons, witches, and serial killers. In addition to this, Robert Hack excels at making dark magic look cool from Sabrina teleporting from a Greyhound bus to the black lines in the background that turn a teenage witch into an angel of Death.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #9 is a solid return for one of the best horror comics of 2010s. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack don’t shy away from putting their heroine through the moral wringer in this issue and continue their unified field theory of horror approach by adding serial killer to the mix with the usual supernatural denizens of the series. The scenes featuring Edward Spellman are pretty unsettling too, but don’t overwhelm the issue thanks to the longer panel time for Sabrina (and Salem the mouse) and Madam Satan.

Story: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art: Robert Hack Letters: Jack Morelli
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.9 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Superman and the Authority #4

Superman and the Authority #4

After an all-too brief four issues, Superman and the Authority #4 ends before the titular team can even blast off on their first mission together. However, that kind of seems to be the point as Grant Morrison, Mikel Janin, and Jordie Bellaire drive home that this is a team that has much bigger fish to fry than Ultrahumanite, Brainiac (I eye-rolled when he was revealed as the “Big Bad”. Of course, he was.), and rejects from the original run of The Authority. Also, in a more metafictional way, Morrison is showing that they’re beyond such petty things as superhero fisticuffs and are giving the DC Universe one last gift of a kick-ass superhero team plus one final, beautiful Superman moment and a couple “stingers” that could fuel a whole damn event comic or two.

Superman and the Authority #4 continues the divide and conquer structure of the previous three issues with Grant Morrison and Janin showing Superman fighting the Ultrahumanite by his lonesome, then the Authority doing their Wildstorm political satire with a heavy dose of punching, and finally, a primal, elemental battle between light and dark aka Apollo and Eclipso for the soul of Lightray. Lightray is more potential than a character at this point, but she does bring in a nonbinary, queer OMAC fittingly named Mac into the story that almost steals the whole comic at the end and might even have Manchester Black and Midnighter beat in the snappy one-liner department.

Each portion of the story plays with tropes from different comics eras or eras of Morrison’s career. For example, the opening fight between Superman and the Ultrahumanite mentions the gangsters he fought in the Golden Age and the different kinds of kryptonite from the Silver Age while Morrison’s whip-smart characterization of Lois Lane is straight from All-Star Superman. And after these small stories come to a close, Superman and the Authority #4 wraps up in a clever way that rejects the final slugfest that most “event” type books turn into and instead act as a road map for future characters, and in universe, heroes.

But, just because Superman and the Authority #4 doesn’t conclude with an apocalyptic punch-up, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have plenty of action. Mikel Janin turns in layouts and choreography that updates early aughts widescreen superhero books for the era of TikTok and NFTs. He takes glee in showing Midnighter kick the shit out of a white supremacist baddie named Iron Cross, who is probably pissed that Donald Trump doesn’t have a Twitter account any more, in swooping panels.

On the other hand, Janin uses tighter grids in conjunction with Bellaire’s intense flat colors to show any time Authority members are stressed out or in real danger like when Natasha Irons has to switch armor while fighting alien refugee Siv, who is not so bad in the end. There’s real power behind the punches and kicks with Mikel Janin adding speed lines and energy bursts to his clean figure work. Kirby Krackle meets ligne claire and all is right with the world as he, Morrison, and Jordie Bellaire embrace the fun, bombastic side of superhero comics while also shifting the paradigm just a little bit.

The Authority’s “new way” of doing things that Superman alluded to in previous issues comes to play in the battle between Natasha Irons and Siv. After making the Authority’s first opponent a totally irredeemable Nazi, Grant Morrison shakes things up and makes Siv, an alien who fights to raise awareness for her species that is hated and feared after accidentally crash landing in California. By beating up some superheroes, she can help her people get resources and recognition. Natasha Irons is aware of this fact, but still ends up shorting Siv out in the heat of battle as she switches armor in mid-air.

Janin’s frenetic paneling and MTV style “edits” helps build suspense as he cuts from Irons free-falling to Manchester Black tussling with one of his old Elite buddies Coldcast, a Black superhero that is trying to repair his reputation … by teaming up with a white supremacist aka respectability politics with metahuman powers. However, after all the hullabaloo, there’s one great panel of Irons apologizing to Siv and doing everything in her power to help Siv’s people while Siv contemplates pacifism. This little mini arc shows that like a great rock song, Grant Morrison and Mikel Janin can nail the quiet moments as well as the loud ones like Midnighter aggressively fighting and flirting with a French queer badass named Fleur de Lis, who I hope makes an appearance elsewhere.

Superman and the Authority #4 features the memorable action and one-liners of its predecessors while having a true heart thanks to the sequences with Superman deciding to move on to deal with other threats and letting his amazing, bisexual son Jon Kent defend Earth as Superman in his stead. There’s a real Shakespeare/Prospero in The Tempest relationship between Morrison and Superman as they, Janin, and Bellaire put on one last spectacle, remark on how the old days weren’t so great (I love Black’s dialogue about JFK), and set up some threads for the next generation of DC Comics writers to play with. I personally think this won’t be Grant Morrison’s last DC story, but if it was, Superman and the Authority #4 is suitably entertaining and thought provoking and looks towards the future instead of being blinded by nostalgia, namely, bring on nb OMAC!

Story: Grant Morrison  Art: Mikel Janin
Colors: Jordie Bellaire Letters: Tom Napolitano
Story: 9.0 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Why Boromir Was the Best Character in the Fellowship of the Ring

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since eight-year-old me read an 1,008 page fantasy novel called The Lord of the Rings (And The Hobbit too because it’s an actual children’s book.) just so I could be allowed to watch a fantasy movie called Fellowship of the Ring on VHS. There was also the Fellowship of the Ring video game for GameBoy Advance that had characters from the book, like Tom Bombadil, but would glitch out midway through the Mines of Moria. This was a glitch that not even the Prima strategy guide or GameFAQs.com could fix. 

As you can tell from this introductory paragraph, The Lord of the Rings has been a huge part of my life. Along with Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia, and good ol’ Redwall, it was my first fandom and is partially why I’m interested in genre fiction and, by extension, write for this website. One thing I love about going back and re-watching The Lord of the Rings films is seeing how my relationship with the characters and themes has evolved over the years. For example, when I was younger, I hated how “slow” the scenes in The Shire were at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, and would fast forward to when Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) began their journey. Now, I understand the contrast between the idyllic, adorable life of the Hobbits with the darkness that pervades the rest of the film as Peter Jackson shifts the tone from light comedy to fantasy thriller, and how these scenes establish the intoxicating power of the Ring through its effects on Bilbo (Ian Holm), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and Frodo.

Boromir

My relationship with a character that has changed the most is Boromir, who is played admirably by Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, Goldeneye). He joins the Fellowship of the Ring at Rivendell and is the only main cast member to die permanently. When I was younger, I thought he was the heel to Aragorn’s babyface and preferred his kinder, younger brother, Faramir (David Wenham), who is a wonderful character and may get an article of his own when the 20th anniversary of The Two Towers and The Return of the King rolls around. However, as I’ve gotten older, I started to connect with him as a flawed, tragic figure that ends up making a big sacrifice that sets up the hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), on their own hero’s journey. While studying texts like the Song of Roland, Beowulf, and Dante’s Inferno (Boromir is totally what medieval theologians would call “a virtuous pagan”.), I started to see Boromir as a more modern version of the tragic hero archetype, who is consumed by pride and greed, but ends up redeeming himself in the end through death. He is a glowing example of the rich intertextuality of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic as well as Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens’ film adaptation, and how these works are in conversation with older myths, legends, and stories.

However, I’ve started to connect with Boromir on a personal as well as intellectual level. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to take on more responsibilities like a multi-faceted full time job, paying the bills, and relationships to name a few. So, I relate to Boromir’s struggles with balancing what his father Denethor (And, by extension, his home country, Gondor) want him to do, and what he personally wants to do with his life. Boromir’s constant mentions of Gondor and “his city”  could easily be substituted with “the project”, “the numbers”, or insert office jargon here. However, you can definitely tell that Boromir cares deeply about his city as evidenced by his monologue to Aragorn in Lothlorien where he uses poetic language and describes Minas Tirith as the “The White Tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver”. Howard Shore’s score soars during this scene, and for a  second, it looks like we might get an Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir team-up to save the day. Alas, that’s not going to happen partially due to Boromir’s father Denethor’s desire for power and a weapon to defend his country.

Basically, Boromir’s whole motivation as a character in Fellowship of the Ring comes from a flashback scene in The Two Towers extended edition where he celebrates a great victory for Gondor, gives a short speech, and then breaks out the ale. However, his celebration is undercut by the appearance of his father Denethor (John Noble) aka the ultimate middle manager. Denethor isn’t the King of Gondor: his actual rank is Steward. Basically, he’s keeping the seat warm until the actual king (Aragorn, in this case) returns and is like an interim head coach if the “interim” tag never came off for hundreds of years. You can definitely see this in the way Noble plays Denethor as if he has the biggest of sticks up his ass, berates Faramir for making a strategic retreat instead of fighting while outnumbered, and doesn’t indulge in a pint of ale.

In this wonderful scene, Boromir tells his father that he wants to stay in Gondor instead of traveling to Rivendell to take an object that was responsible for the death of one of the greatest leaders of Men. (Isildur aka Aragorn’s ancestor from over 3,000 years ago.) His brother Faramir, ever being the empathetic one and trying to earn his father’s favor, says he’ll go to Rivendell, but Denethor doesn’t think he’ll toe the party line and forces Boromir to go and get the One Ring for Gondor so they can defeat Sauron and Mordor. This is in spite of the fact that the One Ring has brought nothing but suffering and death and should be destroyed. In a more modern setting, Boromir would be a top employee sent by a manager to do something unethical to get an edge on a competitor, but it ends up hurting the company and the employee. It’s very much a lose/lose situation. 

With the information gained from this extended scene, Boromir’s behavior in the Fellowship of the Ring makes sense from the way he contemptuously throws down Isildur’s blade Narsil, which cut the One Ring from Sauron’s finger, in Rivendell to his firsthand knowledge of Mordor because it borders Gondor. I love how Sean Bean talks with his hands while delivering dialogue about how “one does not simply walk into Mordor”. On a more positive note, the way he treats the hobbits, especially Merry and Pippin, mirrors the way he treats his younger brother, Faramir. There’s a hilarious scene where he spars with them and then ends up being tackled by them and wrestling like a big brother and his younger brothers or nephews. In Moria, he helps them jump across a chasm in a tense chase sequence. These scenes add humanity to Boromir and show that beyond the company line of “bring the Ring to Gondor”, he cares about fostering close relationships with other people, and there’s a reason why his men were raucously cheering in the flashback scene. It shows that Boromir is more than just the mission his father sent him just like we’re more than our job titles and professions.

These moments counterbalance the scenes where Boromir acts condescendingly to Frodo (I hate how he ruffles his hair like the hobbit is a puppy.) and especially the pivotal sequence where he tries to take the Ring from him, tells him that he’ll fail in his mission, and that the Ring belongs to him. In this moment, the corrupt influence of the power of the Ring plus Denethor’s mission consumes him, and he acts like a total asshole leading Frodo to put the Ring on (Never a good idea.) to evade him. Boromir’s treatment of Frodo at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring has parallels to someone having a bad day and taking it out on a co-worker or even a totally innocent customer service professional for an unrelated reason. 

Boromir

However, Boromir still has some good qualities and apologizes to Frodo (Even though Frodo is off in the netherworld of the Ring and can’t hear.) with Bean’s voice breaking as he comes to his senses. Fittingly, he ends up taking his little bros, Merry and Pippin, under his wing and protects them from the attacking Uruk-Hai whose only instructions are to capture Hobbits and kill everyone else. His protection of Merry and Pippin ends up being his redemption and inspires the hobbits to become soldiers in the armies of Rohan and Gondor respectively with Pippin mentioning Boromir’s sacrifice specifically when he swears his service to Denethor. Also, Pippin being in Minas Tirith ends up saving Faramir’s life as Denethor goes totally crazy and tries to burn his son to death because he has totally lost hope. It’s like he saved his brother beyond the grave, and in my head canon, he’s smiling somewhere as Faramir finds love with another kind, heroic character, who is underappreciated by her people aka Eowyn.

Boromir doesn’t have the traditional hero arc of Aragorn, who goes from pipe smoking, weather-beaten Ranger to well-groomed King of Gondor and atones for Isildur’s mistakes as he distracts the armies of Mordor at the Black Gate so Frodo and Sam can destroy the Ring. However, Boromir’s storyline is more relatable to me as a human and worker in a late capitalist hellscape because his passions and values are subsumed to a never ending for a bureaucrat (Denethor) desperately trying to hold onto power in a world where he has become quite irrelevant. 

In the end, Boromir doesn’t save the world or achieve some great destiny just like so many of us won’t be remembered in history books as great leaders or figures. However, he did have one great moment where he got to be himself and protect his surrogate brothers, Merry and Pippin. Boromir gives them hope that they’ll survive the next two films as well as returning to the Shire as sword-wielding, armor-wearing heroes. In a world where the wealth gap is increasing, the climate is rapidly changing, and a pandemic ravages the lands, I feel this one great moment where I know I made a difference is all I can hope for in life.

But, hopefully, it doesn’t involve me being shot through with some seriously gnarly arrows… 

Almost American
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