Author Archives: Logan Dalton

Review: Batman: Damned #1 Has Gorgeous Visuals, Overwrought Narration

Batman: Damned #1 is 50 pages of glorious and sometimes creepy Lee Bermejo as well as 50 pages of John Constantine yapping about theology, heaven and hell, religious things, and the like and occasionally displaying his snarky wit courtesy of writer Brian Azzarello, who returns to the character almost two decades after being the first American to write Hellblazer in 2000. Batman: Damned has the tailor made for an elevator pitch premise of the Joker mysteriously being wounded, and Batman mysteriously having no idea what happened to him and teaming up with John Constantine to get to the bottom of things. It’s equally parts gritty and Gothic thanks to Bermejo’s art and works best when it’s reveling in its spookiness and disorienting atmosphere instead of trying to be deep or give Bruce Wayne a screwed up childhood before his parents were murdered.

At times, Azzarello and Bermejo seem to be working at counter purposes in Batman: Damned #1. The comic is filled with brilliant and sometimes shocking imagery from Bermejo and then kind of ruined with the overwrought narration from Azzarello. Brian Azzarello definitely is having a fun time writing Constantine narration, and the lettering has a nice storybook flow to it, but it undercuts the art sometimes by describing what is on the page instead of creating an interesting juxtaposition or adding layers to characterization like in Watchmen or Kingdom Come, for example. Azzarello and Bermejo do nail Constantine’s character in a single panel when he’s smoking and refers to himself as “the unreliable narrator”, which fits the non-linear, yet non-confusing nature of Batman: Damned’s plot whose supernatural elements keep it from being a cut and dried “What If Batman killed the Joker” story.

Honestly, the most unsettling part of Batman: Damned #1 are the flashbacks to Bruce’s childhood that go beyond the typical Zorro, pearls, Crime Alley, Waynes getting shot, and I’m not talking about Lee Bermejo’s creepy girl from The Ring take on The Enchantress. There’s a scene where young Bruce is out with his father Thomas and his mistress and entertaining himself by spitting off a tall building and counting, and he almost falls off the building when his dad throws a penny for his spit to “race”. A lot of orphan superhero’s parents were at least some kind of moral paragon, like Uncle Ben or Battlin’ Jack Murdock refusing to take a dive for a mob boss, but despite being super rich, Thomas Wayne doesn’t come across as a great dad or husband. Having a near death experience while your dad is cheating on your mom is definitely traumatic and adds more tragedy to the Batman mythos.

Batman: Damned #1 is at its finest when Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo go away from the theological narration and hurl the reader forward in a story about Batman being on the ropes with a gritty, supernatural tinge to it like Zatanna being a street musician or an eerie, invasive take on the body possessing Deadman. The comic’s opening sequence is a perfect example this beginning with a nine panel grid of an EKG and cutting to a full page image of Batman bleeding out before having him beat up cops, EMTS, and random passerbys while being disoriented and falling into the open arms of Alfred, er, John Constantine. There’s a real feeling of peril like the guy who has extensive notes and solutions for each Justice League member’s weaknesses has finally screwed up and could actually die or fail. It reminds me a lot of the Batman: Arkham video games when your health is dwindling, and the world is all cloudy and blood filled.

As shown in a scene where he’s crouching naked in front of a Batsuit (A page or so after the famous full frontal nudity.), Batman is definitely in pain throughout Batman: Damned #1 as he spends the entire comic trying to retrace his steps and figure out if he’s responsible for killing the Joker. Brian Azzarello’s incessant John Constantine is both parts annoying and hilarious, insightful and overbearing, but Lee Bermejo’s gorgeous image composition and aforementioned Gothic grit make the first DC Black Label book worth a read.

Story: Brian Azzarello Art: Lee Bermejo
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

Story: 6 Art: 9.5 Overall: 7.8 Recommendation: Read

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

Review: Iceman #1

Iceman is back from writer Sina Grace with new series artist Nathan Stockman and colorist Federico Blee. In the first issue of the new series, Grace and Stockman indulge in a little team-up action (and jog down memory lane for X-Men fans of the late 1980s) as Iceman and Bishop work together to prevent a new mutant massacre of the Morlocks. They have a really quirky dynamic with Bishop playing the serious focused on several possible futures, and Iceman being the one with the bad jokes and clunky Kanye references. However, Grace gives Bobby a little more self-awareness than the previous volume where he was just coming into his own as both a gay man and omega level mutant and trying to balance coming out to his parents and his first real boyfriend. In Iceman #1, he’s still developing as a person, but is a little more self-assured, which makes the book a little more fun.

Speaking of fun, Iceman #1 has some seriously action-packed setpieces courtesy of Nathan Stockman and Federico Blee beginning with a literal cold open where Bobby saves an old lady from a homophobic bad guy in Hell’s Kitchen while trying to meet a cute guy. (Oops, I have to put a dollar in the clunky dad joke jar.) One thing I love about heroes like Spider-Man is the intersection between their personal life, especially romance, and superhero action, and Grace and Stockman really get that dynamic with a gay superhero. It’s also seriously empowering to see a queer superhero kick a homophobic bad dude’s ass by completely encasing him in ice. And as a humorous cherry on top, pulling out an ice “glass” slipper on the dance floor made me laugh and cringe. Northstar really needs to give him dating lessons. This opening sequence really sets the tone for the first issue with Grace and Stockman, who seamlessly transition from fight scene to conversation without losing momentum handling everything from a main villain reveal to a text message conversation between Bobby and Kitty with style and grace.

Iceman #1 shows again why having an actual gay writer on an X-Book makes the X-Men as LGBTQ people more nuanced and powerful. In this case, there is the Morlocks. Sina Grace uses them as a metaphor for LGBTQ folks who don’t want to pass as straight or assimilate into a patriarchal, heteronormative society. That’s totally cool as Bobby begins to understand after a short conversation about why they don’t join the revolving door of the Xavier School. I also like how Grace refers to the Morlocks home as a “safe space” instead of creepy tunnels or whatever like previous writers.

However, in the context of the story, the Morlocks’ separatism and non-conformity leads to them being targeted by Mr. Sinister and the Marauders, who think they are hampering upward mutant mobility. At best, they’re the Marvel Universe version of Log Cabin Republicans, and at worse, they’re the “no fats, no femmes” guys on Grindr. To give them a little more real world relevance, Grace even makes the new look Marauders organize via the not so nice parts of the Internet like real hate groups. And Mr. Sinister is kind of a perfect villain for Bobby because he’s all about finding the perfect genetic potential, which Bobby kind of is as an ice golem creating omega level mutant.

Just like its protagonist at times, Iceman #1 is a highly confident start to Sina Grace, Nathan Stockman, and Federico Blee’s new series. It gives Bobby both a personal life as well as integrating him into the X-Men as a team, has well laid out action, and the most groan-worthy of dad jokes plus quirky banter between him and Bishop. As an added bonus, Grace writes the Morlocks with respect and empathy transforming them into badasses, who fight for their home and friends and won’t conform to society’s standards instead of empty cannon fodder like in the original “Mutant Massacre” story.

Story: Sina Grace Art: Nathan Stockman
Colors: Federico Blee Letters: Joe Sabino

Story: 8.8 Art: 8.2 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Wicked + the Divine #39

I check my look in the mirror. I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face…”- Bruce Springsteen, “Dancing in the Dark”

I have a confession to make. I don’t really read The Wicked + the Divine for the cycle of birth and death, Ananke/Minerva/Persephone, Woden machine, talking heads, Great Darkness overarching plot; I read it for Laura Wilson/Persephone’s personal journey, and these feelings have definitely intensified in the “Mothering Invention” arc and reached a fever pitch in WicDiv #39. Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson personify character development as Laura rejects godhood (Or does she??.) in a story that visually and content-wise goes back to the salad days of its first two arcs, “Faust Act” and “Fandemonium”, especially the breathtaking final page.

Free will and freedom of choice is the refrain that rings out, or mostly hums, in WicDiv #39. Gillen doesn’t frame these big ideas in philosophical discourse or even witty banter, but in action. Laura chooses to no longer be a god, and she chooses to have an abortion. After latching onto almost every WicDiv cast member, either platonically, sexually, or romantically, she takes ownership of herself even if that means sitting in the dark. She changes. McKelvie draws her in an vulnerable way with a plain, shorn hairstyle, face with just a touch of shadow to it that signifies her status as the Destroyer. There’s a real humanity in this simplicity, and the even palette that Wilson chooses for her panels compared to the ostentation, guns, crazy pink colors, and EDM womp womp of Woden’s new Valkyries aka Beth and her fan army. (Wow, fuck nerd culture.)  They represent the empty show and lights of the Pantheon’s displays earlier in the series (i.e. the fights in “Rising Action”) while Laura is feeling and truth cutting to the quick like the sharp internal monologue that Gillen writes for her.

But WicDiv #39 isn’t about all the big ideas, it’s rooted in some big character development for Laura – arguably the most significant bit of her personal arc since WicDiv #11 when she became Persephone and was “murdered” by Ananke. The girl who dressed up like the gods and desperately wanted to be one and even took on the moniker of “ascended fangirl” rejected her godhood and chose a simple, desperate existence like the rest of the world even if that meant dancing, er,  sitting in the dark. But she’s not like that any more and chooses to opt out of the 39 or so issues of drama that has been her life with breaks for flashbacks. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie also handle her abortion with sensitivity and even have one of the Valkyries empathize with her. It’s a choice that Laura made for herself, she’s not ready to be a mom, and that’s that. Like the Tara story in WicDiv #13 that dealt with online harassment of women, the plot point doesn’t feel like a PSA, but something that is part of her character and respected as such.

Sure, WicDiv might have millennia spanning long cons, magical contraptions, and flame sprouting finger snapping, but this is still a story about young adults and the choices they make. And Gillen and McKelvie explore these choices in a non-condescending way and even poke a little bit of meta-fun at poor writers in the first pages where Minerva tries to unpack the middle aged man, Woden, pretending to be a teenager for the most of the series. Woden has been one of the creepiest characters in the series, and Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson find new ways to make him even creepier as the series progresses while keeping him fairly pathetic and not up to Big Bad status.

Speaking of Big Bad, WicDiv #39 is also the final transformation of Minerva into an amazing long con baddie complete with furtive glances drawn by Jamie McKelvie and using Woden and the Valkyries as the ultimate cannon fodder. (Even though Woden just thinks the Valkyries are cannon fodder.) She still looks young, but there’s something ancient in the facial expressions that she pulls after putting up with Woden, or to herself in the mirror as she reminds herself of her big, bad plan to knock out the rest of the gods, collect the final head, and continue the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. And Gillen writes her as quite genre-savvy (Living for thousands years is definitely a perk on this front.) as she never underestimates Laura although Woden just wants to snuff her out or leave her alone thinking she’s an emo nobody. The stage is definitely set for an all out showdown between them in the final arc like a present day incarnation of the eternal battle between them shown in previous issues of the arc.

In The Wicked + the Divine #39, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson go for the pivotal character moment over mass character slaughter (There aren’t many left.) and deliver callback heavy payoff for fans who have followed Laura Wilson/Persephone’s journey over the past four years. The closing moments where Laura muses on her decision to no longer be a god have some of Gillen’s most insightful writing, have simple, yet elegant visuals from McKelvie and Wilson, and are a reminder of why character growth is one of the biggest assets of a serial medium like comics.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Colors: Matthew Wilson
Story: 8.3 Art: 8.6 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Jessica Jones: Blind Spot #2

In Jessica Jones #2, the new creative team of Kelly Thompson and Mattia De Iulis bring a great new energy to one of Marvel’s best characters by simply giving her a compelling case to solve and letting her do her P.I. thing as she follows the trail of a serial killer, who is offing “D-list” female Marvel superheroes and supervillains. Like the previous issue, Jessica Jones #2 is divided into two parts with the first chapter being more about physical ass kicking and tracking down leads and with chapter two being more personal and psychological. Artist Mattia De Iulis is game to draw both kinds of plots, and he excels at everything from Elsa Bloodstone and Jessica Jones using axes to kill green blood oozing sea monsters to more subdued, noir scenes like Jessica snooping around Dia Sloane’s house, who was the first “victim” of the serial killer and has an incredibly power set that is both and blessing and a curse.

Kelly Thompson understands that Jessica Jones has such an engaging and complex personality, and her skills as a private eye and background as a superhero and strained relationships with them and more traditional authority figures like the NYPD add emotional stakes and sometimes dark humor to a murder mystery case. Thompson creates an immediate bond between Elsa Bloodstone and Jessica as they are both no-nonsense ass kickers, who protect people while not being particularly good at interacting with them. However, in the flow of action, Jessica learns more about Elsa’s connection to Dia while also trying not to get all navel gaze-y with Elsa thinking about how all humans are monsters.

Sticking an edged weapon into a squicky, gross thing over and over as your job probably gets repetitive so self-reflection keeps things interesting, I guess. And having an exciting action scene with acrobatic poses and panels from De Iulis is a way more entertaining way to do an “interrogation” scene than reusing panels and using a grid with talking heads and placing all the storytelling weight on dialogue, which is really fun too and gets a little poignant as Elsa really had a great bond with Dia. Elsa Bloodstone has some creative ways of swearing, and the pulpy, horror vibe meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned cynic would make a great Marvel MAX book.

But Jessica Jones #2 isn’t all guest stars and ass kicking even those make a great garnish for this story. Kelly Thompson and Mattia De Iulis craft an original, new villain that gets his power by siphoning it from women because he has no powers of his own. He’s not like Killgrave; it’s all just murdering them and bringing them back to life, and towards of the end of the comic, there is a real Tyler Durden/Narrator thing going on with him. Because this is a second act, Thompson and De Iulis don’t reveal everything about him, but just enough that he is the power of toxic masculinity in relationships weaponized. He is the guy who will lash out at a woman and then build her back up, but add a Marvel twist on that. Thompson and De Iulis also deal with this theme of toxic masculinity in a more true to life way when Jessica is doing her investigation at the Menagerie, the bar of the murdered female supervillain White Rabbit. She’s pumping the bartender for info, and a guy hits on her and then grabs her butt because he thinks he is entitled to her body because she is wearing leather pants. Of course, she sends him flying and walks out, but it is s ad and painfully realistic to see real world harassment in a Marvel comic and a benefit of having a female writer on the book, who writes one of Jessica’s best lines yet, “I’m goddamn sick of dudes just putting their hands wherever they want. Dudes thinking they can do whatever they want”.

In that scene and others, De Iulis is fantastic at drawing Jessica’s strength and tenacity, and an almost successful “superhero landing” seems like visual character development for a character whose secondary power is that she can fly, but not land. The aforementioned bar scene has a whoosh of wind as Jessica clocks the creep, and that same energy continues when she runs out to chase a new lead on Dia and get away from Misty Knight while almost “breaking the sidewalk” outside Alias Investigations in a hilarious scene. Like Michael Gaydos before them and in a more visually sharp manner, De Iulis has a certain skill for keeping his art in Jessica Jones grounded in a detective story while adding more fantastical elements in a matter of fact way like a big time superhero showing up in the second chapter to not team up and fight bad guys, but having an emotional breakdown. He handles that scene so well, and it’s a reminder that what makes the Marvel superheroes great is their flaws and humanity.

The first arc of Kelly Thompson and Mattia De Iulis’ Jessica Jones run has been a master class in three act storytelling with issue one introducing Jessica’s case, premise, and putting in her dire straits, Jessica Jones #2 doling out information about the serial killer revel and putting her even more dire straits, and who knows what issue three will bring. As well as being a compelling mystery, Jessica Jones #2 explores its title character’s guilt, acumen for detective work, and continued fight against toxic masculinity that happens to involve superpowers. It also has enjoyable scenes of humor and action, especially when Elsa Bloodstone is involved.

Story: Kelly Thompson Art: Mattia De Iulis Letters: Cory Petit
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

FlameCon 2018: Artist Kris Anka Talks Runaways and Gert’s Redesign

Kris Anka is one of Marvel’s superstar artists making a splash drawing some of the X-Books before moving onto titles like Captain MarvelStar-Lord and his current series Runaways with Rainbow Rowell of Fangirl and Eleanor and Park fame and colorist extraordinaire Matthew Wilson (The Wicked + the Divine, Paper Girls). He also redesigned Jessica Drew’s Spider-Woman costume and has a keen eye for character design and fashion.

I had the opportunity to chat with Kris Anka at FlameCon about his work on Runaways, approach to storytelling and costume design, and more.

Graphic Policy: Let’s address the elephant in the room. Why are your characters of all genders drawn so sexy? Why are they so attractive?

Kris Anka: It feels like in superhero comics that it’s always been part of it. If it’s people with powers, why not make everyone hot? Everyone can enjoy it. You’ve got something for everybody. It’s fun to make everyone hot, and they’re hot in different ways. Mostly, it’s just a lot of fun.

GP: One thing I like about your art is that the character clothing reflects their personality. What’s your favorite outfit that you’ve drawn in Runaways, and what are your inspirations for the outfits?

KA: Addressing the second question and specifically talking about Runaways, a benefit is that they’ve been around for a while. Hopping into the book, Rainbow [Rowell] and I know these kids. We kind of equate our run and the original run. The original run was looking for them, and now we know them. So, we’ve hit the ground running, and there’s not a lot of questions in our head of who these kids are.

Inspiration is fairly easily, especially since I’m from L.A. I was a freshman in high school when Runaways #1 came out. I was the same age. I went to high school with all of these kids so I knew them. It’s really easy for me to equate what their looks are and who they are in kind of a 2018 vibe.

Inspiration comes from life, and I can sort of string it all together and combine it into who they are. Because they’re growing and hitting their later teens. Chase is 20. That’s kind of the age where people start changing. We can grow with and kind of experiment a little bit. It’s kind of fun with Karolina where she used to be so young hippie. She was a vegetarian and health conscious. And, in L.A. now, people who are health conscious are fitness conscious. She’s part hippie, but she’s also a festival kid. There’s also athleisure, and she’s very active.

We’re kind of able to grow them into new looks that still feels like them. That helps narrow and specify your focus on them. It’s really fun building wardrobes and all these things. There’s not a lot of guesswork. I know exactly where to go.

In terms of a favorite outfit, it’s in [Runaways] #12, and one of them you can see on the cover for issue 13, which is Karolina’s dress. That dress took me eight hours to design. When you see issue 12, it took me so long to draw these pages. But it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had.

GP: What do you think sets apart the Runaways from the other Marvel superhero teams, who might get more buzz or bigger movies?

KA: The Marvel Universe has always prided itself on being the world outside your door. The Runaways is even more specific where it feels like kids you might actually know. On a superficial level, the fact that it’s West Coast already sets it way far apart. That kind of allowed Runaways to live in its own world. In a lot of ways, it feels like a creator owned book that just happens to be in a world where you understand the powers.

It’s got this different of these feel like actual teenagers you may know. I think that’s what it’s survived on. The personalities are so specific, and it never forced them to be a big superhero book. Because Teen Titans and Legion [of Superheroes] and all those teen superhero books have that to them, but also have the huge, overarching superhero plot. We kind of don’t, and this allows it to be much more about them as people than things they have to deal with.

So, you get a lot of melodrama, a lot of teen heartthrob drama when you’re 18 and all the bad decisions you make. It makes the Runaways feel more whole because we don’t always have to figure out, “Who’s punching this issue?” We can spend a whole issue just crying and look at what they’re going through.

GP: Speaking of crying, the big Karolina/Julie Power breakup in Runaways #10 tore at my heart strings. How do you get in the mindset to draw such a big emotional beat that rips the Internet in half?

KA: That was a big one because Rainbow and I had talked about it for months. We needed to be very clear on what it was, especially in a world where there’s so many kinds of media with bad queer relationships, especially with how messy sometimes breakups can be. We didn’t want to sugarcoat it and not make it real because they’re also eighteen. Eighteen years old don’t make exactly the easiest decisions. They’re pretty damn rough about things. We wanted to ground it in who they are and what they’re going through.

Even if people don’t like the decision, they can understand why these two characters are in that same place and why this is happening. [Rainbow and I] talked about this scene a lot to get the right kind of nuance for it. This thing is happening, but they both have an agency to this decision rather than someone just getting thrown under the bus. I like Julie and Karolina together, but [the breakup] also felt right with this overarching story of bringing the family back together. How messy it got made sense with all the buildup.

So when we got there, it was kind of tough, and it worked with the rest of the story. It wasn’t something where we were like, “We gotta do this.” It felt right.

GP: Yeah, it didn’t feel like the comics version of a sweeps week plot twist. So, I was a big fan of Gert’s new look in Runaways #11 and her walking through L.A. What was your thought process in designing her new look?

KA: We had been talking about the Gert look since I started on issue one. When I signed back onto the book, one of the things that Rainbow really wanted to do was: A- bring Gert back. B was the fact that there’s this huge important factor of (The timeline stuff with her is so strange with the Marvel Universe and sliding timelines.) when Gert debuted in 2003, the idea of having crazy hair colors was so counter culture and a little taboo.

Gert’s whole character was about acting taboo. The guys’ clothes to hide her, having purple hair, and cynical and crabby. She wanted to be the antithesis to all the other girls around her. Now, that we’re in 2018, and [dying hair] is so commonplace, all these things that she had that were countercultural are common. What does that do to someone who is also coming back from the dead and seeing all her friends grow up without her.

Rainbow always wanted [to change Gert’s look], but I don’t remember the beginnings of that conversation. The big thing was that this allowed us to do the lost character arc that she was going through, superficially. Where she’s like, “What do I look like now?” We wanted to have a scene where she sees all these people with purple hair, and she’s like, “Shit, this thing I did to spite the adults and be this kind of rebel, everyone has”. [She’s] no longer a rebel in this world.

We wanted to have Gert refocus on herself where she doesn’t need to be this counter to everybody. She can kind of calm down. She’s still Gert, but we can have it where she doesn’t need to be so loud any more. [Colorist Matthew] Wilson also wanted to hint at the future Gert [who leads the Avengers] so a lot of that first outfit based on design cues from future Gert like the green corset top and the grey skirt. We wanted to allude to all of that, and the fact that she goes back to her natural hair color. It’s kind of fun to go in the middle of [her timeline] and find something that still feels Gert, but doesn’t feel like she’s trying. Because one thing we did in our whole run is that Gert doesn’t have her own clothes. For the entirety of the first two arcs, she’s wearing Chase’s clothes or hand-me-downs because she doesn’t have a wardrobe.

That’s part of it. She never was herself yet. She’s still looking. That’s our first moment. We spent a long time thinking about what Gert’s look was going to be. It took us a year. I remember one day that we arrived at the same thing where [Rainbow Rowell] saw a photo of Chadwick Boseman with this t-shirt with kind of a military button pattern. She saw that, and separately, I thought that Gert seems like someone who would see Hamilton and get really into Hamilton and dress like that. We both brought military jackets to the table and said that should be the Gert look. Also, that’s her parents’ look too: these steampunk military time travelers. We alluded to that, she would definitely be a Hamilton fan, and this was the look that Rainbow wanted so it all fit. That’s new Gert.

And stylistically, it also keeps her separate from all the other girls on the team. She doesn’t look like Karolina. She doesn’t look like Nico. She doesn’t look like Molly. There’s a lot for the individual, but not in a forced way any more. It’s only on one page, but that one outfit took 11 months of work.

GP: It’s cool. I love hearing about behind the scenes stuff. I have one final question not related to Runaways. I’m a big fan of the WicDiv Christmas Annual that you worked on, especially the Baal and Inanna male nudity part. How did you get onboard with that unique project?

KA: I had done the Baal cover of him getting out of the pool [for WicDiv #19], and it kind of became a thing. When [Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie] were coming up with the idea for a Christmas issue, they said one of the stories was about Baal and Inanna doin’ it. They were like “We should get Kris to draw it.” It was all very nonchalant. The amount of nudity that showed was up in the air, and they said, “As much as you want and whatever you’re comfortable with.”

We didn’t want to go super over the top with it, but we wanted to just get some dicks in there. It was very chill job. Let’s just draw these two guys having a good time and draw some dicks because there’s never dicks in comics. It was all fairly easy.

Runaways #12 is out on August 29, 2018.

Follow Kris Anka on Twitter

When the Anti-Harassment Bodyguard is the Harasser

One of the most omnipresent images of this year’s San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) wasn’t a big comic book announcement or a still from a movie trailer. It was the fact that Eisner Award winning Batman writer Tom King needed a bodyguard because of death threats about his handling of the wedding between Batman and Catwoman in the recently published Batman #50. This bodyguard was David Wray, who has provided security for Stan Lee in the past. Wray became somewhat of an Internet darling during SDCC posing for pictures with King and other creators, and some fans even wanted his autograph or for him to have a cameo in Batman or another Tom King comic.

Wray has been a managing partner at the Cincinnati Comic Expo since 2013. According to Expo administrator, Matt Bredestege, he also has had the position of Comics Guest liaison and travels to conventions to personally invite guests to Cincinnati Comic Expo. This role gives him a good deal of authority in choosing guests for the Expo.

However, Wray has exhibited behavior towards women online that could be considered harassment and allegedly refused to invite a prominent female comic book creator to the Cincinnati Comic Expo because she was a “feminist.” He has also made a homophobic joke about Tom Hiddleston at an Expo executive committee meeting implying that he was gay because of the way he looked.

I spoke with Megan Goodier on the phone about David Wray’s actions and her interactions with him both online and offline. Goodier was a volunteer at Cincinnati Comic Expo from 2011-2015 and a member of its executive committee in 2015 until she stepped down because of health reasons. She has known Wray since 2013 and worked closely with him on the executive committee.

At an executive committee meeting, Goodier brought up the fact that the Expo had not invited many female comics creators as guests. Guests are paid an appearance fee and have their travel and lodging covered by the Expo whereas artist alley creators pay for their tables/exhibition space at the convention. She brought up writer Gail Simone (Batgirl, Wonder Woman) as a possible guest, but this was immediately shot down because she talked about being a feminist a lot. Goodier mentioned that she self-identified as a feminist, and Wray responded by saying, “I will never book her for my show.”

In response to the claim of not booking Gail Simone because she self-identifies as a feminist, Matt Bredestege stated that:

We have never disqualified any guest for their personal beliefs or ideals… No one’s thoughts and opinions on sexuality, religion, politics, science, or whatever has ever been a factor in having them appear or not appear at the Cincinnati Comic Expo.

He followed up by saying that Simone had been invited as a guest to the Expo on “several occasions” and that would he “would provide copies of the communications of the communications between (them).” However, when I asked for these emails, my request for comment was not returned. We followed up with Gail Simone’s agent, Ari Lubet, and asked if she had ever attended or been invited to Cincinnati Comic Expo, but did not get a response.

In 2016, the Cincinnati Comic Expo booked actor Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck) as a media guest even after, in 2014, he helped popularize the phrase and Twitter hashtag “Gamergate” and participated in the harassment of female game developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu and journalist Anita Sarkeesian. Baldwin’s actions and the mobilization of his large Twitter following to attack these women definitely went against the Cincinnati Comic Expo’s conduct policy of “providing a safe and harassment-free experience for everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, or religion“.

According to Matt Bredestege, the Cincinnati Comic Expo organizers were “not aware” of Adam Baldwin’s connection to Gamergate and booked him in “late 2015/early 2016” because fans wanted actors from the popular 2002 science fiction show Firefly to attend the show. After the announcement, a fan did bring “the allegations to [the Expo organizers’] attention” online, but they “….already had a binding legal agreement with [Baldwin] and his agency” and kept him as a guest.

As well as booking a known enabler of online harassment towards women and saying he would not book a prominent comics creator because she was too feminist, David Wray has also made unwanted advances toward multiple women over Facebook Messenger. (See below image gallery.) In a 2015 Facebook conversation, Wray told Megan Goodier that he “would do everything I can” to get comics creators Matt Fraction (Hawkeye) and Chip Zdarsky (Jughead) to attend Cincinnati Comic Expo if she got him a date with a woman on her Facebook friends list that was much younger than him.

Goodier said that she had not contacted the woman in years and told Wray to back off, but he still messaged the woman even though he admitted that it made Goodier “uncomfortable.” He even mentioned Goodier to the woman although they hadn’t talked in a while. Along with admitting he messaged the woman after Goodier told him not to, Wray threw in some additional creepy comments about the “crazy/hot scale” and turning down strippers.

Following this up, Wray contacted another woman on Goodier’s friends list, who she had volunteered with at Free Comic Book Day and whose picture he had found on her Facebook profile. Again, Goodier told him to back off and even mentioned that “she is even more feminist than me”. This led to a rant a rant criticizing “radicals” and “shit stirrers”, including those who protested Rafael Albuquerque’s 2015 Batgirl variant cover, which was an homage to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke where Barbara Gordon was crippled and sexually assaulted by the Joker. Albuquerque later requested that the cover be cancelled because those protested it were getting “threats of violence and harassment”.

Even though Cincinnati Comic Expo has a strict anti-harassment policy, its own managing partner David Wray harasses women online. Megan Goodier also states:

There are other women in the area who have had bad experiences with him, who have chosen not to step forward or say anything. I don’t have receipts. These women don’t want to publicly step out  about what happened to them. I know of them, but I cannot prove it. You mention the name David Wray to women who have worked, especially in the convention industry or even in the comics shops in town, they know exactly who you mean. And he does not have a good reputation.

Matt Bredestege, an administrator at Cincinnati Comic Expo, responded to these accusations towards David Wray via email by saying:

We have no comment on these allegations at this time. The allegations are new to our attention. We have reached out to see the alleged messages and no copies have been provided to us.

However, Megan Goodier provided another Facebook Messenger conversation from July 26, 2018 where Cincinnati Comic Expo founder and director Andrew Satterfield and “marketing partner” Jackie Reau offered to talk with her either in person or over the phone about David Wray’s actions. Goodier said she was “not comfortable having any meeting that would create further my word against his situations…” and offered to send screenshots of her chats with Wray that are in this article. Both Satterfield and Reau read her message and didn’t respond.

FlameCon 2018: Writer Sina Grace Talks Iceman, Dad Jokes, and Li’l Depressed Boy

Sina Grace is a veteran L.A. based comic book writer, artist, and former editor whose body of work ranges from graphic memoirs like Not My Bag, Self-Obsessed, and Nothing Lasts Forever to an Iceman ongoing series for Marvel Comics. He has also done the artwork for the cult Image comic The Li’l Depressed Boy, which is written by Shaun Steven Struble. Self-Obsessed was made into a webseries starring Grace as himself and co-starring Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Amber Benson and Adam Busch.

At FlameCon, I had the opportunity to catch up with Sina Grace and chat about his upcoming Iceman miniseries and some other projects.

Graphic Policy: You’ve got the new Iceman coming up. What sets apart this miniseries from your initial run on the character?

Sina Grace: I’m really excited that I get to come back to the series after a passage of time. So, Bobby’s sort of done with the chapter of growing he went through in those first eleven issues, and in this one, we get to see him a little more settled in his skin. The reader will have so much more fun watching him do what he wants to do now that he’s like, “I am an omega level mutant. I am awesome.” He’s finally settling in.

With that comes a lot more fun and also some new challenges.

GP: What are some of those challenges?

SG: I’ve always thought that if you’re known for being an omega level mutant that means people with good and bad intentions are going to be paying more attention. Their eyes are on you. I’ve made it no secret that Mr. Sinister is the bad guy, and he kind of realizes that there’s something special about Bobby. Because Bobby is realizing there’s something special about Bobby. And you don’t want Mr. Sinister to be obsessed with you, I’ll leave it at that.

Then, similarly, we see Emma Frost come back into the fold, and their relationship is so rife with tension. I think one of the last times they had a very big talk about him, she seemed to be disappointed by his immense potential and how he never lived up to it. This series is really going to focus on him living up to his potential and being around people who can bring more out of him.

GP: I’ve talked to a lot of Iceman fans online, and they’ve wanted him to have more romantic and definitely more sexual relationships. What is Bobby’s dating and romantic life going to be like in the new series?

SG: I’m excited to keep Bobby single for a while. I think it’s going to be really fun to have him be single in the Marvel Universe and sort of show what that whole world looks like. How easy or how hard is it to be a mutant and in the X-Men and looking for romance. Usually, with all these other X-Men, they can date within the pool, but aside from Pyro, who they just wanted it to be what that evening was, there aren’t a lot of suitors out there.

He is dating. We get to see what that looks like for him. It’s adorable, but I’m not ready to have him fall in love just yet.

GP: You’re working with a new artist on the series, Nate Stockman (X-Men Blue). What has collaborating with him been like?

SG: Nate Stockman, and I’ve been so lucky because I’ve been saying this about the other artists, is really collaborative and so open minded in terms of taking notes from a writer who knows how to draw and has drawn comic books. Nate is injecting this level of humor that we didn’t quite hit with the previous artists, and I’m so happy because again and again I will say that this arc is a celebration. We got the book back. Bobby is a happier person. We’re just here to have a blast. It’s like a bonus round.

Nate really brings that energy. He’s just so happy and kind, and that’s all you can ask for in a collaborator. He also has really good insights as a storyteller and has helped me become a better writer in the end too.

GP: I saw Bishop on the cover of Iceman #1. What role is he going to play in the series?

SG: He’s mainly in issue one. He does show up at the end of the arc. I wanted a character where it’s the same thing as Bobby Drake. He’s always kind of around. But he’s always in the periphery. Bishop is like that too. There’s a lesson to be learned in the first adventure with them preventing the Mutant Massacre together that I felt he was able to speak to Bobby in a different way and help him understand things. I’ve always been drawn to the character, and I wanted to spend some time with him and see how his brain works. He’s cool.

GP: Yeah, wielding that big gun in X-Men Legends was when I fell in love with him.

SG: He’s also lived out the thing he needed to do in this timeline, and again, he’s in the periphery and on a similar, but different journey. So, I wanted to have these two personalities next to each other for that adventure.

GP: One thing that stands out about your Iceman is that he makes a ton of dad jokes. Why did you decide to make that a big part of his personality?

SG: It’s one of the consistent things about him. If you go through all these books, he makes really dumb jokes. His humor is a little stale, but I had to lean into as a writer because if you only do one or two, people think you can’t write a good joke. So, I kind of had to write 10 or 15 so readers would understand this is about the character kind of cracking wise.

Also, we talk a lot about how Bobby had been hiding a part of his identity from everyone. He’s filling the air. He’s nervous. These are nervous jokes. We’re going to be massaging that in the story talking about that, and how he changes on a micro-interaction level. Maybe, he’s gonna fill the air a little less with dumb jokes, or maybe his jokes will just be good. We shall see.

GP: Yeah, they’re a big part of his character. So, the X-Men have been used as a metaphor for LGBTQ themes for years. What experiences do you as a gay man bring to these characters that a straight writer couldn’t?

SG: I talk a lot about how the power of diverse storytelling lies in the details and specificity. On the way to the interview, we were talking about how opening up the restrooms at FlameCon and making them gender free opened my eyes to “Now I can’t just pop in and pop out. I have deal with a line.” But, cool, I’m aware of my privilege.

There’s no way you can have insight into a story so it’s not even in your eye line. But we bring the specifics of what the experience feels like. Case in point, in issue six of the first series, he falls head over heels with a guy he meets in L.A., Judah Miller. And he thinks about wanting to move to L.A. Resisters, and people who didn’t the like book as a whole, thought that was dumb, and gay Twitter had my back and was like, “No, girl, listen. This is what happens when you just come out, and you’ve spent your whole life thinking you can’t have something.”

You do latch onto the first person who gives it to you and make very questionable decisions about moving across the country. I almost moved to Seattle for love. So, the thing I bring where I can have a character do something that works for the sake of dramatic storytelling, but is still rooted in a reality. I think if a hetero, cis writer did this, it would come off more problematically.

GP: Speaking of your experience, you’ve written a lot of autobio comics, like Self-Obsessed and Not My Bag. How do you switch gears from writing so personally about yourself to writing about a corporate property?

SG: I think actually switching back and forth makes doing both easier for me. I have a space where I can be myself and talk about myself and reconcile questions about the world that I have that may not be interesting to everyone. I have a space for that with an audience that is willing to watch me go down these paths. And, then, because I have this safety valve, I can really look outside myself when I’m speaking to an audience that is 10,000 to 20,000 readers, and I can think about stuff that a larger group of people would want to have explored.

I like that I have both. What’s awesome is that Marvel readers aren’t like, “Let’s go look at your slice of life tales.” They love action books so it’s very safe space to go down some deep ends.

GP: In those autobio books, you have playlists, and I low key got into Jenny Lewis because of Nothing Lasts Forever. Do you have playlists for Iceman?

SG: I create playlists for any character with a big speaking role in my comics because I find music to be a fascinating look into someone’s psyche. On a very surface level, it’s a good way for me to be like “My brain is different from his brain.” So, Bobby listens to stuff I don’t listen to.

I joke that I don’t much care for The Weeknd, but Bobby likes him. He likes the War on Drugs a lot. I don’t mind them. They’re actually good. But I wouldn’t have pursued them. They’re in his wheelhouse. They’re what he likes. I was dating a guy, and we spent the date joking about what he would listen to versus us. The great debate is if Bobby Drake listens to Coldplay. I don’t have the answer yet.

It’s a good exercise. Like for Daken, I was listening to a lot of dark, nihilistic, and loud music like Health and Nine Inch Nails. Dirty Beaches too. He’s a very swagger-y guy. It’s a cool tip to tell burgeoning writers. This is how you get into a different groove and force yourself into something: a different conversation.

GP: That’s good advice. I have one last question. I’m a big fan of The Li’l Depressed Boy. Any news on that front?

SG: Our only goal with this new series of The Li’l Depressed Boy is to have the entire arc done before we put it on the calendar. I don’t think anyone likes when a book ships late, and the series comes from a personal place for both [me and Shaun Steven Struble]. We’re just letting it take the time it needs. But there are pages drawn. There is a ton of script written out.

Shaun and I are lifelong friends and partners so as long as we’re in love with each other and the book, it’s always going to be on our minds and always going to be made. Having the book come out on time and having it be the best it can be is more important than anything. No rushing for us.

Iceman #1 will available from Comixology and local comic book stores on September 12, 2018

Follow Sina Grace on Twitter.

FlameCon 2018: Writers Ben Kahn and Rachel Silverstein Talk Their New Comic, Renegade Rule

FlameCon 2018 marked the debut of the creator owned comic book Renegade Rule #1. It’s a slice of life comic about an all female VR eSports team called Manhattan Mist featuring the team members Amanda, Sasha, Jessie, and Tonya. It is written by Ben Kahn (Heavenly Blues) and Rachel Silverstein, a J.D. student and member of Marvel’s Agents of GIRL with art by Sam Beck (Verse).

At the convention, I got the latest scoop from Ben Kahn and Rachel Silverstein on this exciting new book.

Graphic Policy: How did you all meet creatively and decide to work on this comic together. Ben, I know you’ve done a lot of solo books in the past so why did you want to bring on Rachel as a co-writer?

Ben Kahn: We met at the first Five Points festival last year.

Rachel Silverstein: It was totally random, and Ben was one of those hecklers, who had a table. And I walked by, and he said, “Hey, buy my comic.” And I bought the first two issue. Then, we somehow got into the topic of Judaism on Twitter, and I was in Israel at the time. Then, we kind of became friends after that.

BK: Rachel was in law school. I’ve been there when I wanted to make a comic and didn’t have the resources to sink into it, and I’m like, “Hell, let me pay it forward.” Because I had read scripts by her and knew she was an amazing writer. This will not stand if she goes out and becomes a lawyer without ever gracing the comic book pages. We’re gonna make something happen.

What does Rachel like? Girls and video games. There’s a comic there somewhere.

GP: Renegade Rule is all about video games. What has your experience been of gaming over the years?

BK: I feel like the old fogey. [in cranky old man voice] Back in my day, platformers and JRPGs ruled the land. I was into more of the single player games. I loved all these fantastical plots and worlds. I don’t really like the gameplay as much. I wish I could find a medium that only did the plots and the characterization. And then I found comics, and that was all I cared about.

I always enjoyed Halo growing up. It’s probably the biggest influence on me. I spent a lot of middle school playing Halo at a friend’s house until two in the morning.

GP: Me too.

BK: For me, with a lot of the modern games like Team Fortress, Overwatch, and Fortnite, I’m an outsider looking in. Especially the fandom element and the culture that builds around it. I’ve never played Overwatch except at [Rachel’s] house a few times. But I read all the comics, watch all the cinematics, read all the wikis. So, I was definitely intrigued at the idea of having this fun, fictional crazy world to throw on top of a sports story narrative [in Renegade Rule].

RS: For me, I would never call myself a gamer, but when Overwatch came out, I remember seeing the first posts on Tumblr of the cinematic for Widowmaker and Tracer. I was like “This looks really gay. What is it?” I thought it was a movie.

BK: Let the record show that Rachel is wearing a Pharah hat and a color matching jacket.

RS: And a D. Va backpack. I was like, “What is this?” So, I watched a lot of gameplay and thought it was really cool. I actually bought an Xbox One just so I could play Overwatch. That’s pretty much the only thing I’ve gotten into that’s relevant to Renegade Rule. When Ben wanted to make a comic with similar elements to a video game, I figured, “I can do this. I can totally do this.”

GP: Why did you guys decide to do a VR game?

BK: I just think it would be super fucking boring to have characters holding controllers for twenty pages.

RS: We also wanted it to be a little futuristic. We could add the element of them moving around and have action in it.

BK: It’s like that .hack//Sign/Ready Player One old school trope of the VR game, especially with the sports movie narrative of physicality and training. There’s a real physical element to the gameplay beyond them holding controllers.

GP: Break that whole workout scene with Amanda, the team leader, towards the end of comic because when I think of video games, I think of just sitting on the couch. But she’s pumping iron and stuff.

RS: We wanted to make it so they’re not sitting on a couch and wanted to add an element where they have to maintain their physical bodies and have the dexterity to play a video game.

BK: Because I love exercise. It’s a part of my daily routine. I went on a whole run before coming to the convention. I wanted to capture the sense of pushing yourself, and Amanda wanting to overcome her limits and being better than she is. We were trying to get the invigorating feeling of training and communicating that on the page.

GP: Renegade Rule is a self-published comic. What have been some of the challenges of doing it by yourselves?

RS: Nothing at all.

BK: Nothing unexpected. I’ve gone through the production process enough to know what it’s going to be, and our whole hope was to have issue one ready for FlameCon.

RS: Sam [Beck] really came through with that. We have to give her kudos. We never gave her a time frame to do anything. We were like “Do it at your own pace. There’s no rush”, and then we were going to be at FlameCon so let’s debut it here.

It was halfway through June, and she said she took on a few other projects. And we were like “Can you have this done by the beginning of August?”, and she did an amazing job considering the time crunch.

BK: Sam’s work on the book was so good. I look at the pages, and the colors are stunning and the atmosphere and the characters. There are some facial expressions that just make me laugh looking at them. I can’t say enough good things about Sam’s art. The girls feel like real people, and a lot of that is the way Sam brought them to life and communicated their attitudes from their fashions to their faces to the way they carry themselves. The acting she’s able to do through an image is fantastic.

GP: How were you all able to get her join Renegade Rule? Why was she the best artist for the project?

RS: We actually search on Twitter. We looked at the #VisibleWomen hashtag. I remember I saw it and sent a link to her Twitter and said, “Ben, this the artist we need. Please make this happen.” It actually worked. She was the first person we asked and was like “Okay”.  We were really lucky.

GP: I love the team name Manhattan Mist and that you named it after a character’s vape. Which member of Manhattan Mist are you, and why?

BK: We read the script out loud.

RS: We sit down to write it together. We Skype together.

BK: We’re writing every panel together. When we break down who reads what voices, Rachel reads as Amanda and Tonya, and I read for Jessie and Sasha. I feel like that’s a good breakdown personality-wise.

GP: So you treat it like a stage play.

RS: Yeah, whenever we try to think of emphasis when we bold the words for lettering, we try to read the script in different voices.

BK: We figure out the best way to read the line and then figuring out the best way to communicate that line to the reader. That’s always been a big part of my writing process. Reading the dialogue out loud and then seeing how it sounds. That’s why I’ve been kicked out of a lot of coffee shops, but I think it’s worth it for the dialogue.

RS: But to answer your question, I would definitely be a Tonya. When I had sent the PDF of Renegade Rule to one of my friends, I asked, “What are your thoughts?” And all she said back was “When you think that you’re Sasha, but really you’re Tonya.” That is so accurate. I think a lot of people would relate to that. Everyone wants to think that they’re this badass who picks up all the girls. But you’re really just the one in the bar going “I’m gonna die alone.”

GP: So relatable.

BK: I think I’ve always been more of a Jessie. I’m not quite always on the ball. “Yeah, yeah that thing we’re doing, but also that thing that has nothing to do with that relevant thing.” Jessie is all about the sloth videos.

GP: I like the romances set up in Renegade Rule #1. You’ve got Jessie and her boyfriend and Amanda with her crush on Gabby. What role will romance play in the book going forward?

BK: In sports stories, you’ve seen the rivals that launch a thousand fan fics. So, we thought what if that subtext was very textual. We want to do that love story with a rival story.

RS: We’re doing cliche. Number one enemy becomes the love interest.

BK: I think this is gonna have a few more punches to the face than the cliche love story.

RS: We have a lot of big things planned for Amanda and Gabby.

BK: It’s gonna be fun because these are two very driven, very competitive, very compassionate women that are gonna find a lot in common. Sparks and punches will fly to use my marketing poster line.

GP: Do you find writing the action/video game scenes or the slice of life scenes more enjoyable?

RS: I love the slice of life stuff.

BK: The slice of life stuff is really fun. I always love that intersection between fantastic and mundane so it feels unique to write an eight page stretch of friends hanging out at a bar. Action is fun, especially when we get to play with because what I like about having the video game motif is we get to have very epic sci-fi action visuals without having to do the whole epic sci-fi war part. Fuck it, lizard man, cyborg, and ninja that’s who they’re gonna fight this issue.

GP: Can you guys tease out any of the teams that Manhattan Mist is facing?

RS: Yes. We spent a long time coming up with teams, and we trashed a couple of them. The big thing for us was coming up with the names.

BK: Let’s see, we’ve got their Y-chromosome doppelgangers, the Nashville Banjos coming up. It’s the Mist, but with slightly relationship dynamics. They can very much get in the heads of our girls.

RS: Then, we’ve got the Brooklyn Sharpshooters, who are the best team.

BK: Their colors are purple and gold. ‘Cause even in Brooklyn, it’s totally not a take on the L.A. Lakers. One thing I like, starting in issue two, is the differing play styles and the philosophy behind it. There’s the Santa Fe Shinobi, who represent regimented training in all areas. It’ll be fun putting that up against a bunch of friends and that mess around, have fun play style of the Manhattan Mist.

GP: I have one last question. Ben, you have the Heavenly Blues trade coming out from Scout Comics in December. Why should fans of Renegade Rule pick up Heavenly Blues?

RS: Why shouldn’t they?

BK: So, the basic plot of Heavenly Blues is about a group of thieves in Hell from throughout history, who team up to pull the ultimate heist on Heaven. If you like a team full of chaotic scoundrels who come together to be more than the sum of their parts going up against impossible odds and pulling off an impossible job, Heavenly Blues is the book for you. Also, it has weaponized gay kissing. I guess if you can’t imagine that you’re just gonna have to buy the book.

Buy a physical copy of Renegade Rule #1 on Etsy.

Follow Ben Kahn on Twitter.

Follow Rachel Silverstein on Twitter.

FlameCon 2018: Writer Leah Williams Talks Emma Frost, X-Men, and More

Leah Williams is one of Marvel Comics‘ brightest and most enthusiastic new writers. Before making her Marvel debut with a Lady Hellbender story in Totally Awesome Hulk #1.MU, Williams penned the 2015 young adult novel The Alchemy of Being Fourteen. She has a story in the upcoming Domino Annual #1 as well as the X-Men Black: Emma Frost #1 one-shot drawn by Chris Bachalo, What If? Magik #1, and a yet to be announced creator owned title.

At FlameCon, I had the opportunity to chat with Leah Williams about her upcoming comics, love for the X-Men, and relationship with fictional characters, especially Emma Frost.

Graphic Policy: Let’s start with a general question. How did you become a fan of Marvel Comics, and what is kind of like your “origin story”?

Leah Williams: I am deeply entrenched in fandom culture and never really stopped once I started writing for Marvel. But the way I really got obsessed with Marvel and the X-Men comics specifically was when I first started working at a comic book shop. I worked there for maybe a year and half to two years, and in that time, I just spent all day, every day reading comics and studying them and thinking about them. It was transcendent.

GP: How has your fandom influenced your writing?

LW: For me, they’re never separated. Being active in the fandom is a way that, I think, gives me an advantage as a writer because it allows me to keep this ongoing and current knowledge of what people are saying and what they’re feeling and where there’s a lack of their favorite character and the kind of stories they’d like to see.

GP: Most of your books for Marvel so far have involved the X-Men corner of the universe. What draws you to the mutant side of the Marvel U?

LW: What I find most fascinating about X-Men comics is how flawed they are. It’s the same thing that draws me towards Peter Parker as well. The fact that they make mistakes, and they learn from those mistakes, but they’re always trying to do better. They don’t come out the gate being correct and right in every decision that they make. And I think that it’s seeing those kind of flaws in our heroes that makes them more compelling because it does humanize them.

With mutants, in particular, my obsession largely spawns from the fact that you have characters like Beak or Maggott or the gross mutants, who in a different body of work would exemplify genre conventions of body horror. They’re disfigured and grotesque in other works. But because they’re mutants in X-Men comics, they get to be the heroes. Their disfigurement or what would inhibit them in a different genre is their power. I roll hard for that. I think it’s great.

GP: So the X-Men have been used a metaphor for LGBTQ themes since at least the 1980s. How have your experiences as a bisexual woman set apart your writing of the X-Men versus a straight person writing them?

LW: I can tell there’s a difference in what I bring to the table as a writer and as a bisexual woman than the existing canon. For example, the way I depict different characters is informed by different life experiences. That’s true of all the Big Two comics in general. As characters get handed off down the line, when they pass hands, they take on new qualities and different aspects. So, I’m excited to be part of the fresh blood at Marvel now when we’re getting to do some really exciting stuff. It’s just thrilling.

GP: Speaking of exciting stuff, you have an Emma Frost one-shot coming up. It’s part of X-Men Black, which is focusing on the villains. Do you consider Emma Frost to be a hero, villain, or antihero, and why?

LW: I think she exists in a moral grey area. To me, I’m a flagrant Emma Frost apologist. She can do no wrong, including blowing up [Firestar’s] pony. She had her reasons. At the same time, she has this brutal heart, and she’s deeply compassionate, radically so. That’s what informs her actions. All she ever wanted to be was a school teacher, and people often forget that about her. It’s one of those things where she’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way.

Being able to tell a story with her is (I don’t know how to do a sports metaphor.) that I picked up the ball and ran as far as I could with it. And it’s deeply exciting.

GP: So what can fans expect from your Emma Frost story?

LW: It’s a love letter to Emma Frost. It is going to be cathartic, and it’s going to show Emma at her best.

GP: What has been collaborating with artist Chris Bachalo been like?

LW:  He is amazing and so humble. When my editor Jordan D. White said that he had a line on a good artist, I replied by sending him a whole bunch of “eyes” emojis. Then he was like, “Are you sitting down?”

I was, but when he told me it was Chris Bachalo, I burst into tears and had to go lay down and breathe for a minute. It was during the time when we were outlining, but then I started to see the script come alive in Chris’ style and artistic voice because his work is so meaningful to me. It is so formative. Working with him has been incredible. He’s very kind and an all around awesome guy.

GP: You also have a story in the Domino Annual coming up. I really enjoyed your Domino and Emma Frost story in Secret Empire: Brave New World. There’s a line in there I still remember, “Being a hot girl is weird.”

LW: That’s another thing. In each script, there’s something where I think there’s no way they’re going to let me get away with it, but they do. It was that line, and it was super exciting.

GP: Do you play off that line of dialogue at all in your new story at all?

LW: It’s a part of her character because Domino is open about these things. She’s playful. She’s flirty. The Domino Annual is going to be very exciting because there’s a sexiness to it. While she doesn’t talk about the reality of being that insanely hot, you still get to see her in these different scenarios and different outfits and running around town getting stuff done.

GP: That sounds like a lot of fun. You’re also a doing a Magik What If? story. What attracts you to writing characters that people might consider to be morally flawed or antiheroes? I kind of sense a theme in your upcoming works.

LW: I roll hard for female characters who I don’t think are getting their due and need to be developed so much more. I was actually approached to write the Illyana Rasputin one-shot by my editor Annalise Bissa, who is amazing and a huge fan of the character. In her words that she straight up put in the actual press release, Illyana deserves better. That’s what were doing in the one-shot to show the world where she never joined the New Mutants. It’s when she gets out of Limbo and never joined the New Mutants.

GP: What have been some of the challenges of creating your own reality in this story because Marvel does the different Earth designations for the What If stories?

LW: Specifically, with [Magik], we had to think about kind of long term consequences because it becomes a butterfly effect. We change this in this world, well, how will it effect different kinds of things? We had to account for readers’ questions they would have while reading it and try to anticipate the questions they would have and answer them proactively so we could get on with the worldbuilding of this different universe. It’s a very practical technique. It’s a logistical thing.

GP: Do you have any favorite What If? stories from the past?

LW: I can’t think of anything specifically off the top of my head, but have you ever read the What The–?! stories?

GP: Yeah, when Marvel was making fun of their own stuff MAD Magazine style.

LW: Jordan D. White just introduced me to those, and that’s my current obsession. They’re super goofy. And there’s this panel where Angel is strapping down his massive eight foot wings to his body. And he’s like, “This’ll be fine. No one will notice this when I go out.” Then, you see him put on a jacket and walking out, and he’s got like camel humps under his jacket that are taller than his head. It’s the funniest thing.

GP: Most of your comics for Marvel have been one shots. What has been a challenge of doing this versus a miniseries or an ongoing?

LW: It’s all been fun so far. It’s all been wildly thrilling. The backup story “Super Hot” in Secret Empire Brave New World  had its own challenges because it was four pages. Working with those kind of constraints has the same kind of exhilaration as completing an obstacle course where if you can pay respect to continuity, represent the characters authentically, have all the necessary plot elements you need to have in there, and make it visually appealing and compelling in four pages that’s an adrenaline rush to let off.

The most difficult thing, for me, that I’ve worked on is the Emma Frost one-shot because working on it was terrifying. From the moment Jordan D. White asked me to write it, I knew what was at stake and how incredible it was. While I was writing it, I was terrified the whole time because it was the first time I realized that loving a character is not enough. Being a fan of a character is not enough. You write these stories. You have to stay the course. You have to stay true to your outline, and that kind of thing.

The reason why it was scary for me during the Emma Frost is there is nothing rational about the way I feel about Emma Frost. It is a blind devotion, and realizing that while I was writing her was so scary. I was like, “I’m gonna fuck this up.” I’m gonna mess this up so bad, and they’re never gonna let me do it again.

At the same time, I felt honor bound as someone who loves her so much to do as much with her as I could in the space I had available. God bless Jordan D. White, he’s letting me.

GP: When did you fall in love with her? When did you know that Emma Frost would be so influential to you?

LW: I honestly don’t know. It’s been a long time coming for sure. It’s gotten really pronounced in the last few years, I’m not sure why. I’ve always had a respect for her, but it didn’t become irrational and crazy until I had started writing for Marvel a couple years ago and was doing a lot of research. I read her origin story and read the solo miniseries.

GP: With the terrible covers.

LW: Listen, they’re Trojan horses. People give comic covers a lot of shit for being male gaze-y. You gotta keep in mind they’re Trojan horses.

GP: I like that because people have been talking about the J. Scott Campbell cover for your one-shot.

LW: Exactly. People are gonna pick up this book who don’t know anything about Emma Frost and are picking it up because she looks sexy on the cover. But what you’re gonna get is an intense character study.

So, it was reading the original solo miniseries with her and learning her background and how she set out on her own, the tragic family dynamic, and she was a stripper. All of it. I love it.

GP: I have one last question. You’ve teased about doing creator owned work. Do you have any more info on that?

LW: The only thing I can do is build mystery hype about it because it hasn’t been announced yet. I am working on my first original comics series, and I am calling it X-Files, but lesbians and magic. It’s cyberpunk, neo-noir in an island setting. It’s one of the most wildly indulgent projects I’ve ever worked on.

You can find Leah Williams on her website.

Follow Leah on Twitter.

Review: West Coast Avengers #1

Spinning out of her fantastic Hawkeye run, Kelly Thompson kicks off the next stage in Kate Bishop’s heroic career and makes her the leader of the Avengers with artist Stefano Caselli and Triona Farrell. Well, it’s the West Coast Avengers to be honest, and they fight lands harks and 200 feet Tigras and are funded by Quentin Quire’s reality TV show and camera crew. But questionable credentials aside, Thompson and Caselli have created something special: a comedic superhero team in the vein of the classic “bwahaha” Justice League International for 2018. Caselli can do literal big action and big funny as well as romance (Kate’s boyfriend from Hawkeye is on the team as the rookie superhero, Fuse) and even capture the watercolor beauty of traveling through America Chavez’s star portals. He gives West Coast Avengers a blockbuster scope while not sacrificing the humor or quirkiness.

Like most team superhero first issues, West Coast Avengers #1 is all about assembling the team and setting up the team’s first obstacle. Thompson and Caselli create this new Avengers squad from a highly organic place: Kate Bishop freaking out. Seriously, fighting land sharks with a bow and arrow and some martial arts is a tall order. There’s also the more logical place that most superheroes in the Marvel Universe are clustered around New York City and really there needs to be a dedicated, experienced superhero team to protect the West Coast, especially the United States’ second biggest media market, L.A. (Sorry Runaways!) Thompson and Caselli immediately set up the team’s key relationships by having Kate call in the other Hawkeye, Clint Barton and her BFF, America Chavez to help out with the initial threat. They have an easy conversational rhythm in the heat of battle, and Barton especially fits into his supporting role with Stefano Caselli drawing hilarious reaction shots of him watching Kate ride a herd of sharks into the ocean or his responses when Fuse acts about Kate’s ex Noh Varr, who wasn’t invited to the team.  He also acts as the connection

The two wild cards on West Coast Avengers are Gwenpool and Quentin Quire, who brings in the reality TV show angle and makes sure everyone around him knows that he’s an omega level mutant and the strongest member of the team. Since the mid-2000s and the New Warriors, the reality TV superhero angle has been used a lot in comic, but Thompson and Caselli don’t use it for broad brushed satire. Instead, they use the sound bites for characterization and quick moments of levity like when Quire and Gwenpool blow something up in the background while Kate is doing a semi-serious confessional. During these big gags, colorist Triona Farrell’s palette is bolder and absurd than her usual sunny SoCal color choices with the soft purple of Kate’s costume or the glow of the horizon.

West Coast Avengers is a grounded world of ex-boyfriends and sprawling and eating pizza after a hard day’s work, but it’s also a world of Looney Tunes Gwenpool guns and this never gets old, land sharks. Stefano Caselli uses reaction panels to wink at the audience and say, “Yes, this book is weird. Enjoy it!” It can segue from a romance beat to a comedy beat and then an action beat and back again in the space of a couple pages like when Kate and Fuse are making out, run into Quentin Quire and Gwenpool aka “useless Deadpool knockoff” bickering about a wet towel prank to jumping into action via an America star portal. West Coast Avengers has a light tone without devolving too much into parody. For example, giant Tigra is a very real threat to the team and also an opportunity for team leader, Kate Bishop, to exercise situational ethics as she begins with getting Tigra’s old teammate Clint to try to talk her down before bringing in Quentin Quire with the psychic knockout punch.

In recent years, Marvel Comics has had several strong comedy titles in their lineup (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Howard the Duck, and Max Bemis’ Worst X-Man Ever come to mind), but Kelly Thompson, Stefano Caselli, and Triona Farrell bring the funny to a team superhero book in West Coast Avengers.  It also continues the fantastic arc that Thompson has crafted for Kate Bishop over the past two years and providing a new home for the madcap antics of Gwenpool, the goofiness and salt of the earth earnestness of Clint Barton, the laconic punching of America Chavez (Hopefully, she isn’t relegated to team chauffeur.), and the pompous edginess and untapped potential of Quentin Quire. In one issue, a team with an interesting dynamic has been assembled as well as a bad guy that fits the tone of the book so all in all, West Coast Avengers #1 is a win.

Story: Kelly Thompson Art: Stefano Caselli
Colors: Triona Farrell Letters: Joe Caramagna

Story: 8.4 Art: 8.7 Overall: 8.6 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

« Older Entries