Author Archives: Logan Dalton

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Review: Made In Korea #3

Made in Korea #3

Made in Korea, a harrowing SF story and domestic drama, continues as Jeremy Holt and George Schall show Jesse continuing to fall in with a bad crowd at school and move apart from her loving parents. This is while her good-intentioned, yet socially inept “creator” tries to take her away from her family and return to where she was manufactured in South Korea. Made in Korea #3 is a solid middle issue and sets the table for some explosive developments and creates tension in key relationships in Jesse’s life.

Starting with an opening sequence where two of Jesse’s classmates blame the manufacturer of a BB gun instead of their own ineptitude for their lack of skill with it, Holt and Schall explore the connection between white male mediocrity and violence. Naive Jesse thinks that these guys are her friends, but they’re really just using her in a school shooting plot. Jeremy Holt nails these men’s ideology in a well-written monologue where one of them talks about being an outsider and persecuted by society. This draws a parallel to men who appropriate media, pop culture, and even history to justify their insecurities and hatred. As a women of color and artificial intelligence in a predominantly human society, Jesse faces real discrimination and is treated as an “other” by everyone from her parents, “creator, and even the teachers at her school who ask if she’s had any “technical difficulties” when she doesn’t show up for a few days.

Holt and George Schall do an excellent job of exploring racism through sci-fi metaphor and reality while also continuing to probe into the question of what it means to be human. These ideas come out through the strong storytelling of Schall’s art. They show the tension in Jesse’s family through a few powerful images like a slammed door, an angry face, or a car speeding into the night. The pink and red color palette can almost make you hear that asshole revving up his engine in the lane next to you even though it’s a one lane road, and the speed limit is 35. George Schall truly makes Jesse a conduit for the emotions of Made in Korea in bittersweet sequences like her genuinely having a good time with the bad kids from her school and howling like a wolf when her expression is usually neutral. It makes you even feel sadder that she’s being used by the folks around her.

As mentioned earlier, Made in Korea #3 falls squarely in the science fiction genre, but Holt and Schall also play with the superhero genre, especially in how a couple of the students from Jesse’s school treat her. Without mentioning the name of any popular characters, they reveal that she’s basically like Wolverine with unbreakable bones, great strength plus a knack for markmanship. However, these kids also strip the agency away from Jesse and basically play on her loneliness to use it for bad ends like robbing a military base and setting up a school shooting. Jeremy Holt strips away the “badass” from punching and shooting and focuses on the pain and loneliness as Jesse doesn’t want to hurt anyone. (It’s literally in her programming.) George Schall reinforces this by showing no joy when Jesse uses her abilities, and they even add some uncertainty in her facial expressions during the military base heist.

Jesse has great mental and physical skills, but of course, they’re exploited by humans for evil ends in Made in Korea #3 as some kids from her school prey on her loneliness and not fitting in to use her as a pawn in a school shooting. Jeremy Holt and George Schall have spent the previous two issues of Made in Korea crafting Jesse’s family dynamic and this five minutes in the future world, and this third issue starts to overturn it a little bit with the scientist that helped build her lacking the people skills to prevent a catastrophe from happening. The thread that continues to run through the series is that the people around Jesse continue to treat her as a “human in name only”, and this definitely seems like it will backfire in the back end of Made in Korea.

Story: Jeremy Holt, Eunjoo Han 
Art: George Schall, Eunjoo Han Letters: Adam Wollet
Story: 8.4 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.6 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Superman and the Authority #1

Superman and the Authority #1

Imagine a world where the Justice League failed in their mission to bring about modern Camelot on Earth, either the King Arthur one or the John F. Kennedy New Frontier one. Both fell any way. Writer Grant Morrison, artist Mikel Janin, and colorist Jordie Bellaire explore this avenue plus an ailing Superman in the first issue of their new miniseries Superman and the Authority. This comic is the perfect distillation of Otto Binder and that other British comic book writer with a beard who was a sex pest. Opening with an earnest chat between Superman and JFK and concluding with a gin-swilling British anti-hero vomiting on (a representation of) the world, Superman and the Authority brings together Silver Age and the Dark Age, but the decent Vertigo/Wildstorm stuff, not Lobdell and Nicieza on the X-Books.

Grant Morrison hits this sweet spot by focusing Superman and the Authority #1 by focusing on two characters, Superman and Manchester Black setting up the thesis for the series before the inevitable recruiting drive in next month issue’s. They bring in plenty of bells of whistles with their script, including edgy dialogue and vomit noises for Black and Silver Age deep cuts for Superman. (Kryptonian Thought-Beasts are so cool, which might be the only thing that Geoff Johns and I ever agree on.) However, what truly brings these two disparate worlds and characters together is the visuals of Janin and Bellaire. Mikel Janin’s clean line style with slight Ben-Day dot expertly conveys the nostalgia of the 1960s (Which happens to be the decade Morrison grew up in.), and his film strip layout of astronauts and Superman leaping on the moon along with JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy waving to passerbys captures an era of youth and optimism.

But this all broken up by distorted line-work from Janin and reds and blacks from Bellaire than come in any time characters are stressed and in trouble throughout Superman and the Authority from Manchester Black taking gunfire in a flurry of grid panels to Superman basically taking a life and death gambit with Phantom Zone prisoners to persuade Black to join his team. For this extended sequence, Janin works from odd angles and emphasizes the agony of a slowly depowering Superman, who can’t fly any more aka the opposite of the smiling Silver Age hero, who could breathe in space and turn a lump of coal into diamond with his bare hands. Again, there are lots of reds and repetition of the word “Die” like it’s a Misfits song or something until Manchester Black reluctantly decides to be a hero, and Jordie Bellaire pours on a bit of telekinetic blue because telepathy doesn’t work on drones. In the spirit of Hitman #34, Superman’s true power isn’t heat vision, X-Ray vision, or flight, but the ability to provide hope and inspire even the most gin-sodden anti-hero.

Speaking of hope, some fans and critics were definitely a little bit taken aback by Superman leading The Authority, a team that in past incarnations had no problem killing and doing other various terrible things in the spirit of proactive superheroing. However, Grant Morrison does a good job of making a case for a collaboration between Superman and them without shying away from action, a bit of mystery (Aka shadowy figures talking about kryptonite), and some big ideas. Even though Superman and the Authority opens with JFK and Superman smiling and laying the foundation for both the Justice League and the moon landing, the rest of the book focuses on the Man of Steel’s vulnerability. For example, instead of flying to Manchester Black’s rescue from helicopter sniper gunfire tearing across the pages, he leaps over a building in a single bound (A la New 52/Golden Age Superman), and Mikel Janin abandons his usual clean style for hazy, black lines. Morrison’s dialogue also alludes to this weakness like lines about Superman hovering over the ground for short periods as a kind of “exercise”.

It’s a far cry from a smiling figure flying into the sun, and it’s why Superman has recruited anti-heroes like Manchester to replace his lost powers and strike from the shadows and the margins because trying to change the world from out in the open leads to the assassination of JFK or MLK or RFK, who are all alluded to in Superman and the Authority #1 along with traditional Superman comic book opponents Intergang, Darkseid, and Doomsday. These baddies’ names evoke corruption, pure evil, and the ultimate defeat as Doomsday was solely created to kill Superman. (And boost sales!) They could definitely kick the current Superman’s ass as evidenced by his struggles with some drones from the Phantom Zone, which is where the new incarnation of the Authority comes in. Superman shows Black a literal Round Table when making his sales pitch, but Manchester Black’s vomiting and the overt mention of anti-heroes in Grant Morrison’s dialogue show that this team is going to be the polar opposite of their JLA.

Superman and the Authority #1 finds a balance of hope and cynicism through the characters of real time aged Superman and Manchester Black. Grant Morrison, Mikel Janin, and Jordie Bellaire give Black a true arc in this issue as evidenced by inset panels showing him walk away from the Fortress of Solitude and eventually slowly turning back to help him. Although Morrison makes cracks at traditional superheroes like the X-Men and JLA, their writing comes across as healthy skepticism more so than grimdark for the sake of grimdark. This is what Superman and the Authority the natural next step in their take on superhero team books as it captures the spirit of an age where racism, inequality, and senseless suffering continue with an added bonus of a climate crisis despite the social reforms of the 1960s.

To sum it all up, Superman and the Authority #1 is about the failure of the supposed Age of Aquarius as Morrison, Janin, and Bellaire turn from smiling, well-hewn Superman to a half-naked Manchester Black surrounded by detritus and targeted by the mooks of American imperialism. But there’s always hope even the more commercially successful superhero team failed in their mission to make the world a better place.

Story: Grant Morrison Art: Mikel Janin
Colors: Jordie Bellaire Letters: Steve Wands
Story: 8.8 Art: 9.4 Overall: 9.1 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: The Silver Coin #4

The Silver Coin #4

The Silver Coin is an anthology centered around different people finding a silver coin and getting great power as well as being cursed by it. Each issue features art from Michael Walsh and a script from a different writer, who also tells a story in a different genre. The Silver Coin #4 is written by Jeff Lemire and is a sci-fi dystopia story more in the vein of his series Descender than Vertigo’s Sweet Tooth. It’s set in 2467 AD where the difference between rich and poor is almost cartoonish, technological enhancements abound, and a woman is trying to get away from the cops with a few credits she nabbed from another poor soul on the outskirts of the city when she discovers, yep, the Silver Coin, and madness ensues.

My overall thoughts about The Silver Coin #4 are that I enjoy the world and setting of the comic, and Walsh and co-colorist Toni Marie Griffin turn in some damn good chase sequences, but I feel like I didn’t get to know this story’s protagonist and felt a little unsatisfied by how this story wrapped up. Also, the comic despite its “twist” ending really cries out to be a two-parter to see more of the effects of the Silver Coin on the main character. She’s like patient zero, and I want to how she fares in the big, rich city. I guess wanting more is a sign of a good entry in a serial series, but The Silver Coin is connected one-shots. Also, despite being a standard length comic book, The Silver Coin #4 felt shorter than its page length even though I definitely lingered on the gorgeous storytelling and horrifying details of Michael Walsh’s art.

Seeing a talented storyteller cut loose in different genres has been the main highlight of The Silver Coin, and this issue is no exception with Walsh and Griffin getting down to the nitty gritty of designing and chronicling a futuristic world where the income gap is beyond literal. His approach to cybernetics is very body horror with characters using worm-like appendages to “hack” into other characters and take their or money or even their lives. Humans and machines may or may not symbiotic throughout The Silver Coin #4 with the police character treating his tech like another toy at his disposal to protect the wealthy .001 percenters while our protagonist almost holds her breath as she waits for a transaction to go through for her getaway bike. That fear of having enough money in your bank account or that the technology/app just writes is a modern fear writ even larger in the post-apocalyptic wasteland setting.

And speaking of wasteland, Michael Walsh lays out one hell of a chase scene with Jeff Lemire plotting out plenty of tension and obstacles along the way and creating a couple kinds of conflict with the police officer chasing the protagonist as well as her cybernetics taking her away that doesn’t look like a smooth getaway. (It’s relatable for anyone who has opted to take that “shortcut” in Waze instead of staying on the main roads.) Walsh uses speed lines, diagonal panels, and big red and blue color schemes to build up intensity while using smaller panels with close-up of characters’ faces to create a sense of hopelessness that only a magical/haunted/cursed item like The Silver Coin could get the protagonist out of this bind as she surrounded, out-teched, and outgunned.

The energy of the chase doesn’t level out when the protagonist ditches her bike and goes on foot, and Michael Walsh and Toni Marie Griffin introduce a faded grey color palette and a setting that reminds me a lot of 1980s New York (Sans the people) in the first Valerian and Laureline volume. The greys create feelings of nostalgia and recognition as it has a similar vibe to the previous issues when their protagonists find The Silver Coin, and the premonition starts to sink in. Then, Lemire and Walsh kick into epic mode to show the final confrontation between the cop and the protagonist with black bars framing the action as the lines between science fiction and horror blur. However, as I mentioned earlier, the ending of The Silver Coin #4 seems more like a cliffhanger than powerful conclusion.

The Silver Coin #4 isn’t my favorite installment of the anthology, has a pretty one-dimensional protagonist, and a conclusion that had me going, “Wait, that was it.” However, Jeff Lemire, Michael Walsh, and Toni Marie Griffin craft a memorable dystopian hellscape, and there are some cool chase scenes, action bits, and seriously creepy panels of techno-horror. But this is more part one of a two part sci-fi TV show pilot than Tharg’s Future Shocks with extra pages.

Story: Jeff Lemire Art/Letters: Michael Walsh
Colors: Michael Walsh and Toni Marie Griffin
Story: 7.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read

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Review: X-Men #1

X-Men #1

Because it centers around a team of mutant heroes teaming up to beat up a giant villain, X-Men #1 could definitely be described as “meat and potato” superhero comics. But those meat and potatoes happen to be your older relative’s Sunday roast recipe. Plus it’s a damn superhero comic: fights are a staple of the genre, and Gerry Duggan, Pepe Larraz, and Marte Gracia turn in a good one that builds on the strengths of the different members of the Krakoan X-Men team and features visual flourishes like inset panels to show the scale of the monstrosity their fighting as well as different color palettes for different kind of energy discharges (Psychic etc.) This fight also ties into the current throughline of the X-Books that is basically the mutants are flexing their superiority over humanity whether that’s terraforming Mars or building a treehouse in Central Park as their new headquarters. This leads to jealousy and enemies as the main antagonist of X-Men is more like Elon Musk than a cannon fodder robot.

X-Men #1 flows nicely from Duggan and Larraz’s work on Planet-Sized X-Men #1 beginning with yet another large building project, the Treehouse and Seneca Village in Central Park. Seneca Village was home to free Black landowners in the 19th century before it was razed to make Central Park so this move shows Krakoa’s opposition to oppression and reinforces the Civil Rights themes that have been a part of X-Men comics for decades. Or it could just be a symbolic gesture like naming a street after Martin Luther King Jr., but doing nothing to fight systemic racism in a lasting way. With the way the Krakoans have treated folks like the Terra Verdeans, I think it’s the 2nd thing. It’s a drone strike presided over by a Black/South Asian woman, who also has a thing for putting trans women in men’s prisons.

However, for the most part, Gerry Duggan and Pepe Larraz portray the X-Men as classic heroes saving the day and using the abilities in such an efficient way that they did this day-saving before the Avengers, Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four arrive on the scene. (Duggan continues to write great dialogue for Ben Grimm in cameo appearances.) Even the usually arrogant Sunfire fits right in, and his solar fire powers the X-Mech that takes down the villain of the month. But, like a lot of the mutants’ actions during the Krakoa era of the X-Books, there’s something a little off about their actions, and investing billions of dollars in pharmaceutical money in Manhattan real estate is something a corporate baddie would do, not a team of heroes.

This critique of the X-Men comes from Ben Urich, who enjoys the vibe of Seneca Village and the Treehouse, but whose questions about the original death of Jumbo Carnation back in New X-Men are deflected by Cyclops. Cyclops also tells Jean Grey that he’s a little uncomfortable around the press. Urich’s dialogue and short data page article seems to show he has a positive view of the X-Men. However, the abruptness of Cyclops’ movements around him as well as Pepe Larraz using his glasses to hide Urich’s facial expressions show that maybe he doesn’t completely trust his new neighbors. Urich’s appearance in X-Men #1 grounds this new team in New York City almost as much as the Fantastic Four, Avengers, and Spider-Man cameos from afar and coupled with the confidence of the narrative captions as well Jean Grey and Cyclops’ dialogue shows that they’re ready to be the main superhero team in the city that’s the heart of the Marvel Universe.

From this review, you might think that the X-Men are more like X-Force in X-Men #1. This is actually the opposite of how Gerry Duggan and Pepe Larraz portray them in the majority of the comic. Although they’re caught unaware initially by their opponent, they are a smooth, adaptive fighting team. Duggan and Larraz establish Synch as the team’s glue and ideas man even before the battle as he uses Forge’s abilities to tinker around the Treehouse before turning his talents towards the X-Mech. I like how Pepe Larraz doesn’t show the X-Mech in a splash page, but also spends the page before showing the team using their powers in, well, sync to build something to stop the baddie. He can do busy multi-panel pages as well as more wide screen work like Rogue flies into the heat of battle as the X-Men’s tank, and Gracia is there to give each panel a distinct mood like colder colors for the psychically affected bystanders while the X-Men put together a plan. Larraz’s work screams big, damn superhero book, and he has fun with some the science fiction elements towards the end of the book.

On the tin, X-Men #1 is a team of badass mutants saving New York City from a creepy alien being with blockbuster visuals from Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia, who make the Treehouse as gorgeous and utopian as the team’s opponent is dark and cold. But Gerry Duggan still nudges at the cracks of the Krakoan experiment through remarks by side characters, data pages, and in time-honored genre tradition, the issue’s Big Bad, who is definitely a billionaire I would want to stay stuck in space. It has loads of action and few thought-provoking ideas and is overall just a lot of fun. I mean, in addition to the X-Mech and Cyclops geeking out way too much over the treehouse, there’s space Vegas that use black holes to simulate the “always day” casino feel plus Larraz nails Wolverine aka Laura Kinney’s physicality throughout the issue.

Story: Gerry Duggan Art: Pepe Larraz
Colors: Marte Gracia Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.6 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Kane and Able

Kane and Able

Veteran British cartoonists Shaky Kane and Krent Able perfect the art of the dual artist anthology in the cheekily named (and Biblically blurbed) Kane and Able. The volume consists of two Astonishing Shield Bug! stories from Kane and a Black Fur and Nightmare & Creepy story from Able. Kane’s stories flow together in a Jack Kirby-meets-David Lynch kind of way blurring the lines between fiction and metafiction, reality and unreality while also acting as an opportunity for him to draw cool things like dinosaurs, space women, aliens, the King of Comics, and even himself. Able’s stories have more of a grindhouse, body horror quality to him as a chainsaw-wielding Bear Fur battles a boom box wielding cockroach woman, who flesh bonds everyone in a listless, major city. Nightmare & Creepy is a gory and humorously nihilistic take on the Batman and Robin dynamic and the vigilante genre as a whole with vampires, rad vehicles, and spooky environs. In addition to these four stories, there are ads, contests, and even a letters page that contributes to Kane and Able‘s retro with a modern sense of humor charm.

Shaky Kane really knocks it out of the park with the opening story “The Astonishing Shield Bug!” that starts as a clean-lined, flat colored ode to the strange masked heroes that have entertained and inspired readers and viewers over the decades from The Fly, Dan Garret’s Blue Beetle, and Green Hornet to Jaime Reyes and Miles Morales. However, it evolves into an homage to the imagination of the cartoonist, especially Jack Kirby. Kane welds the historical record of Kirby serving in World War II and working sleepless nights as a writer and artist creating the Marvel Universe to the UFO craze of the 1950s. There’s also a Biblical connection between these extraterrestrials and Kirby like he was Moses taking dictation from Yahweh to write the Ten Commandments and a line of dialogue alluding to the Silver Surfer (And roasting Stan Lee.) builds off the genesis of Fantastic Four‘s Galactus Trilogy, which was “Let them fight God.”

Throughout the story, Shaky Kane’s plot is free-flowing, and he creates images ranging from Americana to the cosmos while also skewering the culture around comic books with a semi-autobiographical page of him at a convention hoping and begging for a smoke break. There’s a self-deprecatory quality to Kane’s visuals in these scenes as he draws himself with a sour expression and wrinkles, but later stories set himself up as one of the great cartoonists of his era. Mundane humanity juxtaposed with far-fetched, imagination-tinged images (Whether of wonder or fear) is a theme that joins Shaky Kane and Krent Able’s work in the anthology even if they have different art styles and approaches to storytelling.

Whereas Kane’s stories are surreal free verse, Able’s are grounded in B-movies and EC and Silver Age superhero comics. Modern elements pop up in both stories, but he laughs off a black armband, day of morning for the titular hero in “Black Fur” or the loss of yet another hapless teen sidekick in “Creepzone feat. Nightmare & Sleepy”. Instead, he leans into the absurdity of genre fiction, turns up the knobs to eleven with memorable images, bold colors, and an eye for the sick and twisted. Instead of facing Godzilla’s nuclear breath, Black Fur and his Chainsaw Dolls must endure the gastric of 10,000 human beings that the Deathroach has absorbed. Able’s visuals carry the story, but his clever captions add a layer of dark humor to the proceedings like the final fates of Black Fur and the Chainsaw Dolls. Like the space aliens and the magic pen of Shaky Kane’s stories, Krent Able understands that the comics medium has no limit and goes for (literal in some cases) face-melting outrageousness in “Black Fur” with poster-worthy panels of Black Fur doing his thing as well as pure body horror when Deathroach does her thing and exposes the conformity of the human condition.

Kane plays off the event of the previous Astonishing Shield Bug story, including a convention sketch done by a fictionalized Shaky Kane in “Dustmotes”, his second story in the anthology. He goes classic Edgar Allan Poe horror with mysterious house, coffins, and floor boards. Plus there are glimpses of a greyscale beyond that let Kane flex his zombie-drawing muscles to go with the superheroes, space people, dinosaurs, and general cosmic haze. “Dustmotes” looks at the darker side of imagination and perhaps even taking aim at nostalgia culture with narrative captions about comic book collections, autographs, and memorabilia. Towards the end of the story, there’s a definitely a feeling of moving onto newer creations and frontiers like the work Shaky Kane and Krent Able. Kane’s art might make dust look like Kirby Krackle, but it’ll make you sneeze instead of imbuing you with the power cosmic or The Source. The final page of the story is in black and white and acts as a reminder that comics are just lines on a page and can be the wellspring of any genre depending on the skill of the artist. Shaky Kane, for his part, transitions really well from sci-fi and superheroes in his first story to psychological horror in his second.

Krent Able also draws on the horror genre in his final story “Creepzone”, but he goes for the buckets of blood, beheading, and cruel deaths facing youths with sexual desire part of his story. Able’s artwork is like a screentone, exploitation movie poster with motion and flow. He pulls off one great page turn surprise that mines the psychosexual subtext of Batman and Robin that Frederic Wertham warned Congress and American families about in the 1950s before returning to severed heads, brain matter, viscera, and the good ol’ fashioned injury to eye motif. “Creepzone” is propelled by the sheer, fucked up nature of its protagonist Nightmare and his iconic mask and skeleton costume. He has a real penchant for doing everything in the showiest way possible with Krent Able spending whole panels on him squashing the heads of baby vampires in reference to his treatment of creepy, copyright friendly Mickey Mouse stand-in’s in a previous adventure. He badly needs therapy, but he’s the perfect character to wrap up Kane and Able.

Kane and Able is a 76 page reminder that comics can be a hell of a fun time. Shaky Kane and Krent Able bring their distinct visual sensibilities to tell over the top genre-melding stories that might have something a little deeper to say about the creative process or the power of comics, or because a bear with two chainsaw wielding babies on his shoulders fighting giant cockroach women in fetish gear will always be epic.

Story: Shaky Kane, Krent Able Art: Shaky Kane, Krent Able
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Marvel Voices Pride #1

Marvel Voices Pride #1

In honor of Pride Month, Marvel Comics dropped a big 84 pages one-shot celebrating both its LGBTQ+ creators and characters. Beginning with a story from Luciano Vecchio that’s not sure if it’s telling the story of queer characters in the Marvel Universe from an in-universe or more of a real-world documentary perspective, Marvel Voices Pride #1 sputters with a story that basically says aliens and shapeshifters brought the idea of being non-binary, genderqueer, or gender nonconforming to this world followed by a text-heavy Allan Heinberg/Jim Cheung Young Avengers reunion. However, it catches its footing with a cute Karolina Dean/Nico Minoru story, and for the most part, it provides a wide spectrum of LGBTQ+ representation with a special focus on the mutant/X-Men side of the Marvel Universe, who have acted as a mostly metaphorical representation to queer fans like myself. However, it’s nice to see characters like Anole, Prodigy, Destiny, Karma, and Jessie Drake get the spotlight along with more prominently featured cis male gay characters like Northstar (His coming out story in Alpha Flight #106 is reprinted at the end) and Iceman. But fans of non-mutant/Runaways/Wiccan and Hulkling characters may be disappointed as characters like Angela, Sera, Hercules, and America Chavez don’t appear except in small cameo roles.

Marvel Voices Pride #1 kicks off with a journey through the LGBTQ+ history of the Marvel Universe from writer/artist Luciano Vecchio. Even though many of his adult characters look like teens, Vecchio has a beautiful art style and color palette. However, my issue with this first story isn’t the form, but the content. As mentioned earlier, this introductory story isn’t sure if it’s being told from the perspective of the real world or Earth-616 even though it’s narrated by Prodigy. It also has a very self-congratulatory, back-patting tone, especially for a company that recently cancelled a book starring many of its queer characters (X-Factor) and mentions characters like Angela and Sera that haven’t been barely heard or seen from since getting their own title in 2015. Even though Vecchio is a queer creator, there’s big “ally” energy in this first story with a heterosexual character, Captain America getting the spotlight, and the implication that non-binary identities came from aliens and shapeshifters. He does successfully lay out what ended up being a thesis for the anthology, which is the connection between mutants and queer identity.

This story is followed by a one page Young Avengers creator reunion as Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, and Marcelo Maiolo chronicle Hulking and Wiccan’s wedding vows. Heinberg’s writing is tender, but this feels like more of a prose piece than a comic. Heinberg and Cheung’s inclusion seems like more stunt-casting to get older queer Marvel fans interested in the one-shot rather than being any kind of substantial addition to their work on Young Avengers. However, Marvel Voices: Pride rights the ship (Pun fully intended.) in its next story featuring two members of Marvel’s other prominent 2000s teen superhero team, the Runaways. Mariko Tamaki, Kris Anka, and Tamra Bonvillain turns in three pages of sweet glances, chatter, and a super adorable kiss as Nico Minoru and Karolina Dean think about what they would tell people if they asked how they met. The long line out of the venue reminded me of the pre-pandemic days when I would wait in line for hours to get a good spot to see artists like Carly Rae Jepsen and Robyn with my fellow queer folks, and Bonvillain’s summery color palette matches Anka’s skill with facial expressions. This story is like the cherry on top of the sundae that he helped build when he was the artist on Runaways and finally put Karolina and Nico in a relationship together.

The next story in Marvel Voices Pride is the first one to feature a trans protagonist, Dr. Charlene McGowan from Immortal Hulk. The plot of Lilah Sturges, Derek Charm, and Brittany Peer is about some “hilarious” misunderstandings when Lady Daredevil aka the artist formerly known as Elektra Natchios and some Z-list, rapping supervillains raid McGowan’s lab when they think she’s producing mutant growth hormone when when she’s actually working on a way to get trans women’s bodies to produce progesterone without taking pills. What follows is Trans 101 with a little bit of ass kicking courtesy Charm, who is in his Bronze Age element with the cheesy costumes and dark shadows. However, other than the fact that’s she a scientist who sometimes makes jokes, we don’t learn anything about Dr. McGowan except that she’s surprisingly cool with microaggressions from A-List Marvel heroes. Kudos to Marvel Voices‘ editorial for getting a trans writer in Sturges to pen this story, but the whole thing feels reductive and geared towards fanboys who know every member of Daredevil or Hulk’s rogues gallery and have never interacted with a transgender person.

Marvel Voices Pride #1

In contrast, Leah Williams, Jan Bazaldua, and Erick Arciniega re-introduce Marvel’s first transgender character, the mutant Jessie Drake in a thrilling manner as she appears in her first comic in 27 years. However, Black Cat is the protagonist of this story and is tracking down Steel Raven, a villain who’s been impersonating her, pulling some sloppy heists, and ruining her reputation. Williams’ quippy writing style works well for the fast-paced short story as Black Cat and Jessie meet, flirt, and figure out their next move in catching Steel Raven. Bazaldua plays with space and transforms what would normally be your run of the mill villain warehouse into something more surreal. She and Williams do succeed in building a connection between Jessie and Black Cat as well as showing off Jesse’s empathy-based abilities, but this is just a teaser for a bigger cat and mouse game. Hopefully, there’s room for more batting of eyes, power showcasing, and insight into the character of Jessie Drake, both in her own series or in Black Cat’s current ongoing, which has been a sneaky good read.

Continuing this positive trend is Crystal Frasier, Jethro Morales, and Rachelle Rosenberg telling a wonderful She-Hulk and Titania. But there’s a twist as Jennifer Walters doesn’t appear, but Jennifer Harris, who was inspired by her to come out as trans and cosplay her at a copyright friendly version of New York Comic Con. As someone who came out as bi around the same time Prodigy did in Young Avengers or when Iceman came out as gay in All-New X-Men, I can definitely connect to the inspirational power of fictional characters like Jennifer did with She-Hulk. She and Titania also have some nice banter, and Frasier and Morales also remind readers that She-Hulk was the original fourth wall breaker with some jokes and exploding layouts.

After the She-Hulk story is probably my favorite story of Marvel Voices Pride #1, which is a Prodigy and Speed one from Kieron Gillen, Jen Hickman, and Brittany Peer as Gillen returns to both the X-Men and Young Avengers franchises. The dialogue between Speed and Prodigy sparkles, and Hickman shows off their chops as a storyteller working in eating pizza, stealing glances at Colossus, and empathizing with Kitty Pryde as Prodigy basically tells his bisexual origin story. His story also acts as a critique of how the mutant books have been good about metaphorical queer representation, but not actual queer representation. This is timely because the book that Prodigy was a main cast member in is getting cancelled. However, this is really a lovely story full of hilarious and insightful writing from Kieron Gillen and pitch-perfect images and comedic timing from Hickman as Speed teases Prodigy for having a crush on Colossus when he ran with the New Mutants. Prodigy is true overthinking, chaos bisexual representation, and I’m personally glad to see him get a spotlight in this story even if it’s only a few pages long.

The anthology takes a break from comics for a bit and features an interview with Christian Cooper, one of the first queer editors at Marvel, and he talks about his experiences at the company and the impact comics have had on his life. After this, there’s a timeline of big LGBTQ+ moments in Marvel Comics. It’s followed up with a cute Anole story from Terry Blas, the wonderful Paulina Ganucheau, and Kendall Goode. Blas connects the idea of Krakoa being a mutant utopia to things like Pride, and the ability to unwind at the Green Lagoon with folks who understand your struggles being the goal of all this hard work and fighting. However, it’s not all big metaphors as he and Ganucheau probe into Anole’s body issues leading to him not wanting to date along with his friendship with Jonas Graymalkin. It all ends on a fabulous final page, and this story is worth checking out for Ganucheau and Goode’s soft, colorful takes on the different mutants.

Sticking with the mutant theme, Anthony Oliveira, Javier Garron, and David Curiel go all in with the mutant as gay metaphor in an Iceman story set during the time period of the original five X-Men. They play on the fact that Magneto was played by a gay man in four of the X-Men films and find a real connection between Bobby and Magneto, who takes a break from the missiles to provide a listening ear to this young man struggling with his identity. Oliveira writes Iceman as having a crush on Angel, and Garron nails the longing glances that he throws at the majestic mutant that turn into words when Magneto sits down to chat with him. They take the subtext (For example, Bobby not being interested in Jean Grey when she joins the team.) of these Silver Age text and transform them into glorious text while also showing off the sweeter side of Magneto, a man who would one day break down when he realized that his crusade almost led to the death of an innocent child, Kitty Pryde.

This story is followed up by one focusing on the relationship between Northstar and his husband, Kyle Jinadu from writer/artist J.J. Kirby. It’s touching to see what Northstar is like away from the cameras and public, and what Kyle loves about them. However, Kirby’s 1990s-style artwork with modern, digital coloring is a mismatch for the story, and I spent most of the time wondering why Northstar looked like a vampire or a block of ice instead of the events of the story. Luckily, the misstep is remedied by a thrilling riff on Sherlock Holmes vs. Professor Moriarty from Tini Howard, Samantha Dodge, and Brittany Peer featuring Mystique and Destiny. The story is adventurous filled with wits matching, chess games, and lover’s embraces and shows how iconic a couple these two are while also showing what a big deal it was for them to be open with their love in a time period where being queer got you thrown in jail. Plus it’s a reminder that queer people have always existed in history. (Or fiction.)

Vita Ayala, Joanna Estep, Brittney Williams, and Brittany Peer continue the theme of both mutants and queer women in a Karma story set during the Hellfire Gala after party where Magik gives her a pep talk to dance (and maybe even smooch) Elle, who as far as I can tell is a new, queer mutant created for this anthology. Karma truly gets the spotlight this story and gets to work out some of her issues with her powers and emotions as she’s afraid that if she asks Elle out that she’ll use her abilities to mess with her free will. However, this doesn’t happen, and we get to see a mutant who has been screwed over so many times be happy for once and get the girl in a beautiful sequence from Ayala, Estep, Williams, and Peer.

Marvel Voices Pride #1

The final story in Marvel Voices Pride #1 again shows that Steve Orlando is perfect for writing violent, queer characters with a sensitive side as he and Claudia Aguirre tell the story of Daken and Somnus, a new character who can make one night seem like a life time together. He used this power on Daken back in the day during a one night stand and then ended up living a long life without him even though he didn’t divulge his oneiromantic mutant abilities to everyone. However, Krakoa and its resurrection protocols are all about second chances, and Daken gives him one in this story. As well as digging deep into Daken’s emotions, Orlando and Aguirre also use this story to remind readers of queer elders, who because of society’s hate, never came out or came out later in life, and this is what makes Somnus’ second chance so special. Also, his abilities are pretty cool and bring a little Vertigo into the X-Books.

Marvel Voices Pride #1 is definitely an up and down ride. Some of the stories mishandle nonbinary and gender nonconforming identities (Also, there are no nonbinary lead characters in this anthology.) or seem to pander heavily to allies while others have issues with their art or storytelling style. (Northstar/Kyle, Wiccan/Hulkling) But, for the most part, it’s nice to see queer creators and queer characters get the spotlight for once instead of being hidden behind things like the mutant metaphor, which is usually Marvel editorial’s approach. Time will tell if we see them beyond this anthology, but most of the creators in Marvel Voices Pride work on books in Marvel’s main line or have had consistent success at other companies or even television in Allan Heinberg’s case so, at least, that’s something they have going for them.

Story: Luciano Vecchio, Allan Heinberg, Mariko Tamaki, Lilah Sturges, Leah Williams,
Crystal Frasier, Kieron Gillen, Terry Blas, Anthony Oliveira, J.J. Kirby, Tini Howard, Vita Ayala, Steve Orlando
Art: Luciano Vecchio, Jim Cheung, Kris Anka, Derek Charm, Jan Bazaldua,
Jethro Morales, Jen Hickman, Paulina Ganucheau, Javier Garron, J.J. Kirby, Samantha Dodge, Joanna Estep with Brittney Williams, Claudia Aguirre, Jacopo Camagni
Colors: Marcelo Maiolo, Tamra Bonvillain, Brittany Peer,
Erick Arciniega, Rachelle Rosenberg, Kendall Goode, David Curiel
Letters: Ariana Maher
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.6 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Alice in Leatherland #3

Alice in Leatherland #3

Iolanda Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli’s Alice in Leatherland continues its queering of the fairy tale in its third issue as Alice continues to quest for true love (and also write a children’s book) while being employed in a San Francisco sex shop fittingly called Leatherland. Alice in Leatherland #3 dives head-first into the world of online dating with Alice’s new friends coaching her in etiquette, taking boudoir-ready pictures of her, and offering her a safety valve in case things go badly. And, unfortunately, they do with Alice immediately swiping on Robin, her friend and former artistic collaborator, who has kind of ghosted her since moving to San Francisco.

Featuring Romboli’s expressive cartooning and storybook asides that use a children’s book framing device to explore Alice in Leatherland’s themes and its protagonist’s feelings, Alice in Leatherland #3 also hurls Alice headlong into discovering what she wants out of relationships and sex. There’s almost a Goldilocks vibe to the two women that she meets up with in this book with the first one spending her time bragging about her workout routine and occasionally body-shaming Alice before opening a closet of copyright friendly Bad Dragon strap-on’s, and the other one focusing on her own pleasure instead of Alice’s. It’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing them in any future issues, and the situations are relatable to anyone entering the dating world and finding folks, who are mostly decent, but don’t have the energy that matches yours. They also provide a chance for Elisa Romboli to flex her comedy chops capturing Alice’s reactions to the dildos.

That moment is one of many memorable reaction shots drawn by her throughout the issue with Alice’s manager’s face when she tries to organize the porn DVDs into a “happy ending” category after bombing a presentation taking the cake. Zanfardino and Romboli mine a lot of humor out of a wholesome, hopeful woman working at a sex shop that she still sees as an alien planet, but she’s never the butt of the joke. Alice also exhibits a lot of incremental growth in this issue building off Alice in Leatherland #2 where she met some friendly bears at a Pride parade and started to bond and connect with her roommates instead of pining for Robin. The growth this time comes in knowing her own body and what gives her pleasure as she trades in two unsatisfying hook-ups for one of her employer’s wares, and Elisa Romboli nails the literally orgasmic euphoria she feels towards the end of the comic. Alice might not have found a princess in this issue, but she’s definitely increased her self-love.

Alice in Leatherland #3 is another excellent chapter in this stylized romance story that isn’t afraid to get messy and real about relationships while riffing off traditional fairy tale tropes in both the character names and the children’s book that Alice is writing in-story and using to process her feelings. I can definitely start to see the destination, but the fun of this book is watching Alice find herself and community in her new gayborhood as well as seeing the creative synergy of Iolanda Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli evolve through the series.

Story: Iolanda Zanfardino Art: Elisa Romboli
Story: 8.6 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.8 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: DC Pride #1

DC Pride #1

In honor of Pride Month, DC Comics dropped DC Pride #1, an 80 page anthology featuring short stories with LGBTQ+ characters by mainly LGBTQ+ creators. In addition to the stories, there’s an introduction by prominent gay comics writer Marc Andreyko (Manhunter, Love is Love) and pinups by some of the best LGBTQ+ artists (and artists period) like Sophie Campbell, Nick Robles, and Kevin Wada. The overall tone of the anthology is celebratory, but one story definitely made me tear up. I really enjoyed how DC Pride touched all corners of the LGBTQ umbrella and its exploration of how our differences make us stronger and really hope that one day all the characters featured in the book can have their own comic.

After the aforementioned introduction by Andreyko and a vibrant pinup of queer Teen Titans Aqualad, Bunker, Traci-13, and Crush from Travis Moore, DC Pride #1 leads off with a Batwoman story from James Tynion and Trung Le Nguyen. It starts with a look back at Kate Kane’s childhood, and how she didn’t conform to traditional gender roles and desires beginning with the games she would play with her sister Beth (Now the supervillain Alice) where they would pretend to be dolls complete with makeup, frilly dresses, and the accoutrements of traditional femininity. There’s almost a fairy tale cadence to both Tynion’s writing and Nguyen’s art as Kate grows up, finds love in the arms of a variety of women, and forges an identity as the superhero, Batwoman. Trung Le Nguyen’s flat reds and blacks punctuate these changes while James Tynion’s script takes a macro-level to the theme of pride as they show a montage of various queer heroes in the DC Universe fighting their battles and being themselves. This opening story is a fine encapsulation of Batwoman’s character journey and also is an ode to embracing queerness and gender conformity in a heteronormative world. Plus Nguyen’s story book style applied to superhero comics is a real visual treat.

estrano and midnighter

The next story was one of my favorites as Steve Orlando returns to Midnighter (kind of) and Extraño as the magician regales John Constantine with a tale of a night out with the violent vigilante. Orlando and artist Stephen Byrne’s story is pure fanservice and adventure in the best way with iconic visual and verbal moments like Midnighter punching a Nazi vampire’s head off and John Constantine flirting with Extraño at a bar and totally being open to a threesome with Extraño and his werewolf husband. This story is mostly made up of fun things like one-liners, magic, and mayhem. However, Steve Orlando digs a little deeper with his script and commentates on how queer history is rewritten by bigoted historians with lovers becoming relatives (Like in the original Sailor Moon English dub) or “pals” as Midnighter and Extraño fight the aforementioned vampire to stop him from casting a spell that makes people think the mythological heroes Achilles and Patroclus were cousins, not lovers. This is a very real issue, and it’s vindicating to watch Midnighter and Extraño kick the asses of those who would straight-wash history in a thrilling, beautiful way thanks to Orlando’s witty script and Byrne’s power-packed visuals.

The third story in DC Pride is a noir-tinged saga of dark alleys, fisticuffs, and political activism starring Renee Montoya aka The Question from Vita Ayala, Skylar Partridge, and Jose Villarrubia. The plot is fairly straightforward with the Question tracking down missing defense attorney and city council candidate Valeria Johnson. Partridge and Villarrubia bring the dark shadows, atmosphere, and flat background colors when Montoya puts the fear of her into some loutishly heterosexual goons. I love how Skylar Partridge uses inset panels to show Montoya’s speed and skill and match Ayala’s snappy narrative captions. The whole story looks gorgeous, and there’s also a hint of budding romance between Renee Montoya and Valeria Johnson as the latter isn’t just a do-gooder damsel in distress. It definitely feels like a backdoor pilot for a Renee Montoya Question series, and I would love to see more of this creative team fleshing her and her relationship with Valeria out.

The Question story is followed by a hilarious and touching Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy story from Mariko Tamaki, Amy Reeder, and Marissa Louise. Basically, this anti-heroic duo stop a plant monster from going on a rampage (After giving it several cute pet names.) and talk about their relationship. Underneath Louise’s candy-meets-body horror palette and Reeder’s memorable facial expressions and high-wire layouts, they chat about going from the “will they, won’t they” stage to the moving in and starting a life stage. Tamaki’s script is peppered with jokes (Including a classic lesbian U-Haul one.), but she also once and for all shows that Harley and Ivy are a well-matched, occasionally wacky queer couple, and that they’ve brought a lot of support and laughs into each other’s lives. Also, Harley’s hammer should always have a Kirby face on it.

Alan Scott and Obsidian

Full disclosure: Sam Johns, Klaus Janson, and Dave McCaig’s Alan Scott and Obsidian story was the one that made me cry. At brunch with Obsidian and his partner, the Golden Age Green Lantern opens up to his estranged son and tells him that Obsidian’s confidence to live as an out gay man encouraged him to finally come out and be his full, true self to the world. Janson uses nine panel grids, Ben-Day dots, and a command of 1940s fashion to show Alan’s secret romance with a train conductor named Jimmy and also walk down memory lane when being gay was a crime and gay bars were shuttered and didn’t have liquor licenses. As well as expanding on Alan Scott coming out in the main DC continuity in Infinite Frontier, this story is an homage to queer elders and their struggles in a world where they could be jailed or even killed holding someone of the same gender’s hand in public. It’s a beautiful intergenerational story and really made me fall in love with Alan Scott as a character even more. He’s the queer grandpa I never had.

The sixth story in DC Pride #1is a fast-moving, romantic story from Danny Lore, Lisa Sterle, and Enrica Erin Angiolini about Jess Chambers (Future State Flash) getting ready for their date with Andy Curry aka Aquawoman. This pair had fantastic chemistry in Future State: Justice League, and it’s nice to see a story centered around their relationship that also riffs on the classic Flash tropes of lateness, Rogues, and legacy. As Jess faces off against Reflek, who was trained by Mirror Master, Sterle and Angiolini get play with different panel shapes simulating the speedster trying to break free from a hall of mirrors while trying to get their outfit, makeup, and gift together. Also, it’s refreshing to see a story featuring a nonbinary character not be all about their gender identity, but focus on action and relationships like any other Flash story. Andy and Jess have a nice thing going, and like many of the other characters who appear in this anthology, I hope to see more of them, their impeccable fashion senses, and cool superpowers in future DC titles.

DC Pride #1 returns to the intergenerational queerness well in a Pied Piper story from Sina Grace, Ro Stein, and Ted Brandt. They introduce a new character, Drummer Boy, who is inspired by Pied Piper to create mind-controlling beats so that he can take money from rich fat cats and save Central City’s gayborhood from gentrification, which is a very real problem in real life today. Drummer Boy calling out Pied Piper’s photo ops and not taking direct action since he’s been rich and famous is something that could be directed at many LGBTQ+ celebrities like Ru Paul, who literally uses his wealth to destroy the Earth. This issue creates a real fantasy in which LGBTQ+ celebrities help their community instead of palling around with war criminals at NFL games while Grace gets in some licks about being smart with one’s direct action and abilities when Pied Piper points out that if Drummer Boy steals money off rich people’s credit cards that they’ll just contest the charges. Drummer Boy has a real activist streak as a hero, and I love the energy that Stein and Brandt visually bring to his powers as well as not making him look like the average Ken-doll superhero body type.

The penultimate story in DC Pride #1introduces the transgender superhero Dreamer, who first appeared in the Supergirl television show, to the comics in a story written by Nicole Maines (Who played Dreamer in the show) and with art by Rachael Stott and Enrica Erin Angolini. Dreamer’s debut is a slice of story as she rushes to clean up a League of Shadows cell before rushing off to date night with Brainiac 5. Maines’ script has a cheery, humorous tone with a hilarious final panel, and Dreamer makes a lot of quips to go with Stott’s acrobatic fight choreography that is still good at showing motion even though her art style is more photorealistic. There’s a big feeling of wanting to get the fights over with so that Dreamer can spend time with the man she loves, and this story could honestly be one big metaphor for work/life balance. Dreamer makes her mark with charm and wholesomeness in the story, and her oneiromantic abilities have real visual flair.

Jackson Hyde

DC Pride #1 wraps up with a superhero spin on a big damn Pride parade with Andrew Wheeler, Luciano Vecchio, and Rex Lokus chronicling Aqualad’s first Pride since coming out with his new friend (and Extraño’s apprentice) Syl. Lokus’ colors match the tone of the story from bright and triumphant to dark and dreary as Eclipso has everyone at Pride airing out their worst thoughts and finally triumphant again with a group of DC’s LGBTQ+ superheroes led by Extraño saving the day and being the true, queer selves in the process. This story is a true victory lap, but Wheeler spends a little time in Aqualad’s head as he takes in the sights and sounds of Pride and also grapples with not wanting to be like his father, the villainous Black Manta. Even though everyone feels isolated and alone when targeted by Eclipso, there is actually a large, vibrant LGBTQ+ community of heroes in the DC Universe and hopefully they show up in stories beyond this anthology, which has honestly been a recurring theme as I read through the stories in DC Pride #1.

DC Pride #1 is a fantastic showcase not just for DC Comics’ LGBTQ+ characters, but the company’s LGBTQ+ creators too as they capture a range of relationships, feelings, sexualities, and gender identities. There’s a lot of focus on established romantic relationships, but some of the stories explore activism, community, and the Midnighter/Extrano/John Constantine is a straight up adventure yarn. I enjoyed seeing myself and my queer siblings uplifted in this comic and hope DC can do something more ongoing with these characters, situations, and especially creators.

Story: James Tynion IV, Steve Orlando, Vita Ayala, Mariko Tamaki
Sam Johns, Danny Lore, Sina Grace, Nicole Maines, Andrew Wheeler
Art: Trung Le Nguyen, Stephen Byrne, Skylar Partridge, Amy Reeder, Klaus Janson
Lisa Sterle, Ro Stein and Ted Brandt, Rachael Stott, Luciano Vecchio
Colors: Jose Villarrubia, Marissa Louise, Dave McCaig, Enrica Erin Angiolini, Rex Lokus
Letters: Aditya Bidikar, Josh Reed, Ariana Maher, Tom Napolitano, Becca Carey, Steve Wands
Story: 9.8 Art: 10 Overall: 9.9 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Marauders #21

Marauders #21,

The X-Books’ big summer event “Hellfire Gala” kicks off with Marauders #21, and it’s quite refreshing after the punch-ups of the last few Marvel events. Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, and Edgar Delgado dive into my favorite part of the Krakoa era X-Books, and that’s the political side of things. The Hellfire Gala is an event to show that Krakoa is a country worth recognizing, but the Hellfire Trading Company also wants to go legitimate and do trade deals and not black market swaps. It’s all orchestrated by the fabulous Emma Frost, who is the throughline of the issue, playing perfect hostess. Or is she?

In the usual event comic, there may be some arguing about ideology, philosophy, or personal issues, but then the fisticuffs start. Duggan and Lolli subvert this and use the fancy gala setting plus Krakoa’s status to just focus on the conversations, whether serious, (mostly) passive aggressive, or just jokes like Thing rolling dice with some of the Marauders or Quentin Quire roasting the hell out of Tony Stark. There are visitors from space, different Earth countries (Including Latveria and Madripoor), and superhero teams like the Avengers and Fantastic Four. All have varying responses to Krakoan hospitality, which includes a telepathic violin concert and cryptically whispering in Professor X’s ear.

There are lots of characters in Marauders #21, but for the most part, Duggan connects these cameos and guest spots into gauging what the world thinks of Krakoa. Vastly different party guests make uncomfortable comparisons to Latveria (In or out of Dr. Doom’s presence), and the Shi’ar delegation acts as a tantalizing teaser for Planet-Sized X-Men. Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli also deal with the fallout of X-Men/Fantastic Four and the whole Franklin Richards not being a mutant incident with Kate Pryde encouraging Franklin Richards and gassing him up in some nice moments that shows they’ll still have a good relationship event if he’s not a mutant for now. As mentioned earlier, Reed Richards has a completely different reaction to this and has a chaperone vibe while the Thing almost steals the entire comic with his everyman charm and reactions to Krakoa nailed with grace and comedic timing from Lolli.

Speaking of Matteo Lolli and Edgar Delgado, the visuals of Marauders #21 do Russell Dauterman’s wonderful costume designs justice from the wardrobe swaps of Emma Frost to the golden god complex get-up of Professor X and even the smart black and white tuxes of X-Force, who are on security duty. They give everything a festive air even as ambassadors trade barbs, and awkward encounters happen. Lolli has Emma pull some hilarious faces as her perfect evening starts to go awry. I also love the ethereal color palette that Delgado gives the telepathic music performance, and the shiny touches he adds to other panels like any time Emma Frost walks into the room or a guest walks through a Krakoan gate. However, he drops these effects during the last few pages set after the party and makes it almost like staggering around with a hangover or waking up from a dream.

Not to spoil the last few pages, but Gerry Duggan structures Marauders #21 in an engaging way. It’s like Reservoir Dogs with a Cecil DeMille-sized cast starting up the players and overall mood, cutting out the big action, and wrapping up with the aftermath of the big blow-up/action/what we’ll see unfold in the other chapters of “Hellfire Gala”. Plus Duggan and Matteo Lolli don’t give up the whole game and tease us with dialogue and more great facial expressions. As a kind of cherry on top, this comic also includes a reprint of a Classic X-Men story from Chris Claremont and John Bolton showing the first Hellfire Gala that explores similar themes like mutants increasing their influence and scaring humans. It also adds context to the hollowness in wheelchair-bound Sebastian Shaw’s eye throughout the soiree.

Marauders #21 is the first chapter of a new kind of a crossover, and I, for one, welcome our fabulous mutant overlords and look forward to seeing how these powerful, flawed characters screwed it up in the upcoming issues of “Hellfire Gala”.

Story: Gerry Duggan Art: Matteo Lolli
Colors: Edgar Delgado Letters: Cory Petit
Story: 8.8 Art: 8.3 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Casual Fling #4

Casual Fling #4

Content warning: sexual assault

Jason Starr, Dalibor Talajic, and Marco Lesko’s erotic thriller comes to a sweet, satisfying close in Casual Fling #4 as Jennifer teams up with her estranged husband Matthew and his hacker buddy Sensei to find the mysterious man that she had a one night affair with, but then was blackmailed by a potential leaked sex tape. Before going into the issue proper, I would like to applaud AWA Studios for publishing a monthly comic in this genre while helping the popular genres in comics match up with prose. This is while not losing sight of what makes comics great as one glance or a character’s body language as drawn by Talajic can tell as much about who they are as paragraphs of pure text.

With only four issues to work with, Starr has to quickly wrap up the loose ends of Casual Fling and leave time for a denouement featuring the beating heart of this series: the relationship between Jennifer and Matthew. The Hackers meets Eyes Wide Shut hijinks of a man, who is manipulative, charming, and as shown in this issue, a rapist are the surface draw of the comic. However, the most compelling part of Casual Fling is how it maneuvers a struggling marriage that ends up being quite complex with children, in-laws, and if the sex tape gets out, lost employment. This is why Jason Starr and Dalibor Talajaic bookend the issue with interactions between Jennifer and Matthew. The opening sequence shows how worn down they are with Jennifer balancing her career and being a single mom, and Matthew having many sleepless nights trying to track down the golden masked man, who blackmailed his wife.

There’s a chaotic energy in the way Talajic arranges the figures in his panels this first scene of Casual Fling #4 that goes with the confused dialogue that Starr writes for Jennifer and Matthew’s young children. They don’t know anything about the deeper implications of what is going on, but are tired of being shuttled in and out of the city depending on which parent gets them. The stress extends to Jennifer and Matthew, and Jason Starr’s writing nails where the relationship is at with Jennifer trying to be complimentary and repair their relationship while Matthew is laser-focused on the comic’s procedural plot. However, he does end up opening up to Sensei while they watched a montage of the curved dick, golden masked man manipulate women and says that maybe he got too caught up scheduling his children’s lives to think about her needs. Matthew also thought their relationship would work out because his parents were married for over forty years. Dalabor Talajic zooms in on Matthew’s furrowed brow while Sensei diagnoses why Jennifer had an affair. Sense is the unsung hero of Casual Fling with her filthy, often inappropriately timed sense of humor (She makes a crack about how Jennifer would be good at porn.), genuinely good advice, and casual, god-tier hacking skills.

Speaking of hacking skills, Starr definitely leans on it to wrap up the plot of Casual Fling #4 as we go from Jennifer meeting with other blackmail and sexual assault victims of the gold masked man to something out of the last five minutes of a Law and Order SVU episode. That quick wrap up connects to how Casual Fling overall is structured with the first couple issues focusing on Jennifer having the affair and the effect it had on her marriage and her career, and the back half of the miniseries turning into more of a thriller. Some off panel hacking gets the good ending, and even though it would be nice to see Sensei, Matthew, and Jennifer match wits with the golden masked man, Jason Starr and Talajic focus on getting justice for his victims instead of trying to make him a sympathetic figure. In the end, he and his partner end up looking like Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, and the fact that there are powerful men out there who act this way (Or look the other while their buddies act this way *cough* Bill Gates) is what makes Casual Fling such a harrowing read. I also love the dig that Starr gets in at the police, who are basically useless in this comic just like they are in most cases of revenge porn in real life with a focus on shaming women instead of understanding consent.

With emotionally open art and color palette from Dalibor Talajic and Marco Lesko and honest writing from Jason Starr, Casual Fling #4 is a strong finish for a comic that was a decent erotic thriller and still had plenty of time for tough, nuanced conversations. I would definitely love to read more monthly books like it in the future.

Story: Jason Starr Art: Dalibor Talajic Colors: Marco Lesko
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.3 Overall: 8.1 Recommendation: Buy

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