Author Archives: Jon Carroll

Around the DC Universe: Week 2 – A Superman Focused Week

Welcome to Around the DC Universe, your weekly guide to the best comics and shows featured on DC Entertainment’s exclusive new streaming service.

Technical Issues

I begin this week with technical issues because after almost two weeks of playing with the app I have finally figured out how DC Universe deals with the release of new comics.

Most of the titles are part of the curated library, a selection of 2500 or so issues that will swap out quarterly (though I imagine that a few key issues like Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27 will remain in perpetuity). Special features will be added weekly for shorter runs usually of a week or two.

Special Features

Right now you have three weeks to check out the original Death and Return of Superman  in Action Comics (1938-), Adventures of Superman, Superman: The Man of Steel and Superman (1986). This epic event stands at the crossroads between marketing gimmick and heartfelt storytelling. The writers and artists involved have a deep and abiding affection for the Man of Steel that shines through the hype as they take him as low as a person can go and then bring him back. Superman’s supporting cast, one of the best in the history of comics, really gets a chance to shine in the absence of the series’ main character and there are several moments that still move me to tears. Unfortunately, as of this writing DC Universe is missing several key issues including Superman (1986) #78 and 79 which introduce the infamous Cyborg Superman. It’s possible to enjoy the story despite this gap but it is disappointing that DC could not be bothered to correct their mistake despite several queries on the community forums and at least one query to their customer service department which received no response. Even if you have read the story before be sure and check out Newstime: The Life and Death of Superman (1993). Originally published as a facsimile of a tribute magazine, this is a great artifact from within the DC Universe that offers some interesting perspectives and more than a few easter eggs and has  never, to my knowledge, been reprinted.

Movies and TV

Those who don’t have time to wade through all those comics might find themselves tempted two different animated versions available on the video streaming portion of DC Universe. Sadly the older of the two (Superman: Doomsday) is an inferior adaptation. The original story took up almost a year’s worth of four monthly titles so trying to condense it into a mere hour and forty five minutes is impossible. A lot of questionable creative choices were also made, including a Superman who is perfectly willing to engage in intimate relations with Lois Lane without telling her his secret identity. The generally mean characterization of many of the characters involved robs the feature of all of its poignancy. A double feature of Batman v Superman and Justice League does the original material more credit and is infinitely more preferable to this waste of good talent. I’ve yet to watch this year’s The Death of Superman but it’s on my agenda for next week.

On the other side of the Superman coin I’m surprised by how much I enjoy watching George Reeves in the Adventures of Superman TV show. While it’s very much a product of its time, it’s still incredibly fun to watch in small doses. Reeves is inherently likable as both Superman and Clark Kent has the inherent likeability and the supporting cast is also top notch. There are some interesting wrinkles added to the legend. I particularly liked watching Pa Kent risking his life to save Baby Kal El from the blazing wreckage of his rocket after it crashes to work. The plots are much more down to Earth than we’re used to with Superman taking on smugglers and bank robbers instead of alien despots and mad scientists.  That’s not a bad thing however as it reminds us that Superman was once a much more relatable, down to Earth character, not so much in his power level but in his concerns. It’s fun to revisit that simpler time even if only for a couple of episodes.

Comics

The Legion of Superheroes is one  of my all time favorite teams. The long running drama of a club of teenage heroes in the far future is in turns both goofy and profound with a tangled continuity that makes the X-Men look simple by comparison. If you’ve never experienced the Legion many of their earliest stories are currently available in Adventure Comics. DC Universe has taken a greatest hits sort of approach with some of the best stories from the first few years of the Legion’s run, many of them by science fiction legend Ed Hamilton. Reading the stories as they’re presented does sacrifice the development of on a rich and compelling continuity but these high points, including the death of one of the major players in Legion history, is well worth your time if you’re a fan of DC’s silver age. Adventure Comics was an anthology title that also featured stories about of other heroes and they are included here as as well. Fans of Aquaman  should take note of superior stories in the first two issues with art by the great Ramona Fradon, one of the first women to draw a superhero comic. Available on DC Universe in Adventure Comics (1938-) #247, 267, 300, 304, 306, 310, 312, and 316.

Around the DC Universe Week One

Welcome to the first installment of Around the DC Universe, a regular guide to what’s available this week on DC Entertainment’s new streaming service. Last time I focused on the ins and outs of the service itself. From here on out though I will be focusing on content and helping you to make the most of your subscription.

Movies and TV

Most of my viewing time this past week was dominated by the four entries in the original Batman film canon beginning with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. These were movies I had grown up with but it had been a while since I had the chance to revisit them. For all their many flaws, they still manage retain a certain charm that takes me back to when I first encountered them as a kid and remain enjoyable superhero fare. Watching as an adult Batman Returns is my favorite of the bunch. Michael Keaton comes out of his shell, portraying a Bruce Wayne that’s a bit closer to the version from the comics than what was on offer in the original while remaining one of the best actors behind the cowl. Michelle Pfeiffer also gives us what is arguably the finest interpretation of Catwoman in any medium. Her Selina Kyle is a sensual yet ultimately feminist femme fatale and  she is well matched by Danny DeVito’s grotesquely masculine Penguin. The movie that surprised me the most was Batman and Robin. Often derided as one of the worst superhero films ever made, it’s hard to hate this movie in light of the obvious affection that Joel Schumacher has for this franchise. Batman and Robin is not a great movie but if you watch it as an homage to Bill Finger/Dick Sprang comics of the ‘40s and the Adam West TV show it’s still a fun romp through a darkly campy rendition of Gotham City. George Clooney is great as Bruce Wayne and both Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger deliver their lines with scenery chewing relish. Make sure to watch these soon as their leaving the service on September 30th (a disappointment since they were heavily billed as a selling point in early promotional material).

DC Daily is also well worth your time. Billed as daily roundup of DC related news it’s far more than just hype. In addition to providing glimpses of upcoming comics, shows and movies, there are also some good discussions about what’s available on the service. Of particular note this week is their three part discussion with the legendary George Perez where he talks about his role in crafting The New Teen Titans, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Wonder Woman. While much of DC Daily is available free on YouTube, the panel discussion at the end is exclusive to subscribers with a rotating selection of guests discussing DC related topics including Batman Day,  the ‘90s Flash show, and Identity Crisis. In and of itself its not enough to justify subscribing but if you’re a subscriber and you’re not watching, then you’re missing out.

Comics

I bought the third issue of Lonely Place of Dying as Batmania was winding down in the fall of 1989. It’s one of the stories that  cemented my love of Batman in comics but unfortunately I was never able to read the whole thing before. This Batman/New Titans crossover fleshed out the character of Tim Drake (previously introduced in Batman Year Three) and put him into the Robin costume for the first time. Tim seeks out former sidekick Dick Grayson  because he feels that Batman needs a Robin to help pull him back from the edge that he’s been skirting ever since the death of Jason Todd. Meanwhile Batman and Two Face are slowly circling one another in a what we are lead to believe may become a death spiral.  Lonely Place of Dying is great because it makes the case for why Robin is an essential part of the Batman mythos; he serves to keep Batman grounded and more focused on justice than revenge. The artwork by Jim Aparo (on the Batman issues) and George Perez (on the New Titans), both working close to the peak of their artistic powers, certainly helps in this regard. Marv Wolfman’s writing does show its age a bit but its a solid, underappreciated entry in the Batman annals and could make the basis of an amazing Batman film. Available in DC Universe in Batman (1940-) 440-442 and New Titans (1994-2001) #60-61.  

I first read A Death in the Family in its original trade paperback presentation around the same time as Lonely Place of Dying was being serialized and it has not aged well at all. I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the most overrated Batman stories ever written. While its not as egregious as its contemporary, The Killing Joke, it’s still a problematic arc that highlights many of the problems of mainstream superhero comics in general and Batman in particular. In this story Jason Todd, the second Robin, goes to the middle east and Africa on a quest to find his real mother and runs afoul of the Joker who beats him senseless with a crowbar and blows him up. Technically the book is well written. Jim Starlin does a good job channeling Batman’s feelings for his young charge, taking  concern and affection and metastasizing into grief as the story reaches its tragic climax. Jim Aparo’s art is superb though it does pale when compared to the covers by a young Mike Mignola. The problem with A Death in the Family is the fact that it uses its tropes so artlessly. Talking about this arc on Facebook a friend remarked that it was like a “Canon film” and the comparison hits the mark. Its portrayals of Shiite terrorists and runaway abortion doctors that are completely lacking in nuance. The final chapter, in which the Joker is given diplomatic immunity by the Iranian government as part of a plot to murder the entire UN, is so absurd as to be almost insulting. It’s too grim to be goofy and not goofy enough to be good. While it lacks the aspect of sexual violence found in The Killing Joke, it doubles down on the earlier books flaws by embedding it in continuity (a mistake that DC has doubled down on ever since). It also lacks the technical excellence of Alan Moore and Brian Boland’s work making it worthwhile for only the very curious or the very bored. Available on DC Universe in Batman (1940-) 426-429.

If you’re one of those readers who wants to return to a time before comics were made by liberal social justice warriors than do NOT read the first ten issues of Action Comics Superman stories by Man of Steel creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. In these short yarns, first published between 1938 and 1939, Superman takes on a variety of nefarious no-goodniks including wife beaters, war mongering arms manufacturers, corrupt mine owners, and a college football coach with dreams of cheating his way to a win in the big game. Siegel and Shuster’s Superman may seem quaint and old fashioned by today’s standards but they were creating stories that tackled the issues that were important to them as lower class Jewish kids of the New Deal era in the years before the United States entered World War II. The handful of issues available on DC Universe are not their best but they do provide a nice introduction to their run, one of the best in the character’s history. Available on DC Universe in Action Comics (1938-)1-10.  

Technical Issues

In my initial review I noted that there was a fair amount of slow down and buffering when watching videos. Unfortunately this has not improved and if anything has gotten worse, at least when watching longer movies (anything shorter than a half an hour is okay after some stuttering at start up). Whether this is a problem with the app or with the downfall of net neutrality is hard to say but my opinion is trending towards the former.   

The biggest problem with DC Universe, however, continues to be a lack of alerts and/or consistency with the addition of new material. At the very least a section of new releases or a consistent and public release schedule would be nice. I shudder to think how difficult it’s going to become to track what comics are available to subscribers and when once the full digital library is added in October. The good news is that DC does seem committed to adding complete arcs as both the full run of Identity Crisis and Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow were uploaded.  

Harlan Ellison: A Memorial

Harlan Ellison died in his sleep. Not a bad way to shuffle off this mortal coil as these things go but I am reasonably confident that he would have preferred some form of corporeal immortality to what dreams may come. I never got to meet the man but he wrote with his heart on his sleeve so I feel like I know him and that, I think, was responsible for most of his appeal. Neil Gaiman once wrote that “writers are liars” but Harlan Ellison was the exception that proves the rule: he was, in his art at least, completely and brutally honest.

I think that maybe this is one reason that he took such umbrage at being identified as a “science-fiction writer”. There’s a certain sense that science-fiction (and fantasy, horror, and comics for that matter) don’t mean anything because they aren’t about real things. This is true to a certain extent. Most of what passes for popular fiction in both its prose and graphic form is hollow, a bronze titan with feet of clay ready to collapse under the weight of its own conceits. Ellison’s fiction, both fantastic and otherwise, was as solid as Mount Everest and (hopefully) just as enduring.

Ellison’s work is special because he combined several traits that are rarely found in a single individual. The first of these is a childlike lust for life that became truly poignant when combined with an adult’s sense that mortality is essentially unfair.  Read a story like “Jefty Is Five” or “Grail” and you’ll see what I mean. 

Ellison was also full of rage, not merely angry but burning with a pure, righteous fury at humanity’s cowardice, cruelty and stupidity. There are some who would characterize him as a misanthrope but I’ve always thought that Ellison was a true humanist who was constantly frustrated by the fact that far too many people are content to waste their small span of years as bigots, dupes and trolls. Some would argue that he hated the internet but I think that he was just annoyed that a small fraction of humanity took the greatest invention for human mass communication since the printing press and turned it into a cesspool where monsters bred unchallenged behind their pseudonyms and avatars. This is the Ellison you’ll see in “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (my personal favorite), and “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.”

Of course none of that would matter without a fine eye for details and character. Ellison’s people seem to be shards of himself, refracted onto paper through his typewriter in black, white, and a thousand shades of gray in between. And funny too. Only Twain was funnier when Ellison was trying. Read “Prince Myshkin, and Hold the Relish” and “Paladin of the Lost Hour” and you’ll see what I mean.

Ellison was prolific as few writers of his quality are. Among modern writers only Stephen King can compete with Harlan Ellison in term of both the quantity and quality of words produced and even he falls far short on both counts. Ellison wrote almost everything, in almost every genre, and almost every media. The stories I’ve mentioned above barely scratch the surface of Ellison’s genius. All are collected in Harlan 101: Encountering Ellison along with many other classics and this is just the surface of an ice burg big enough to drown a dozen Titanics. 

Harlan Ellison died in his sleep but read and share his work and it will live on so long as humanity dares to dream.

Review: Mata Hari #1

Mata Hari is the life story of the infamous German spy from World War I. Beyond that it’s hard to provide a summary and hard to review. The biggest difficulty in comics criticism is that we’re dealing with a serial medium in which we must occasionally evaluate enormously complex works in bite-sized pieces that don’t always lend themselves to such analyses. It’s a bit like trying to talk about a film fifteen minutes at a time and Mata Hari is a prime example of this problem in action.

Mata Hari is a complicated house of cards that leaps back and forth through the life of its main character. We see her over the course of many years, first as a child and then an adult, facing trial for espionage and on the road to her execution. Writer Emma Beeby clearly has a fascination with her subject and a good grasp of the various historical sources. Unfortunately this doesn’t always translate into a coherent narrative and there is a studied ambiguity to the way details are presented that makes Mata Hari elusive. I don’t know much more about her now than I did before and that, I think, is part of the point.

The art by Ariela Kristantina is a mixed bag. While I would rate it good overall, it’s a bit inconsistent. It’s clear that she was trying to draw two different stories using different styles: one a sultry spy thriller and the other a portrait of a woman facing the injustice of society’s expectations in the wake of an unconventional life. Kristantina manages both well but the shock between the two is jarring and since most of the more titillating material is in the front and back of the book, many readers may have already been turned off by the cover and the previews.

Mata Hari is certainly an interesting book though it demands a lot of the reader in terms of attention to both the written words and the pictures themselves. You’re going to want to read this one carefully and probably more than once. I don’t know that it’s a great comic book, but it certainly reads like the first chapter of a very good graphic novel. Given editor Karen Berger’s reputation for producing many such longer form examples of the medium, it’s a bit mystifying to me that Mata Hari is being serialized at all. From what I’ve seen it will be a fascinating read when complete but is not particularly well served by being chopped up for monthly publication. That said it was good enough that I’m on board for at least one more installment.

Story: Emma Beeby Artist: Ariela Kristantina
Story: 7.0 Art 7.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Buy (but wait to read until the entire series is done)

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Advanced Review: Mata Hari #1

Mata Hari is the life story of the infamous German spy from World War I. Beyond that it’s hard to provide a summary and hard to review. The biggest difficulty in comics criticism is that we’re dealing with a serial medium in which we must occasionally evaluate enormously complex works in bite-sized pieces that don’t always lend themselves to such analyses. It’s a bit like trying to talk about a film fifteen minutes at a time and Mata Hari is a prime example of this problem in action.

Mata Hari is a complicated house of cards that leaps back and forth through the life of its main character. We see her over the course of many years, first as a child and then an adult, facing trial for espionage and on the road to her execution. Writer Emma Beeby clearly has a fascination with her subject and a good grasp of the various historical sources. Unfortunately this doesn’t always translate into a coherent narrative and there is a studied ambiguity to the way details are presented that makes Mata Hari elusive. I don’t know much more about her now than I did before and that, I think, is part of the point.

The art by Ariela Kristantina is a mixed bag. While I would rate it good overall, it’s a bit inconsistent. It’s clear that she was trying to draw two different stories using different styles: one a sultry spy thriller and the other a portrait of a woman facing the injustice of society’s expectations in the wake of an unconventional life. Kristantina manages both well but the shock between the two is jarring and since most of the more titillating material is in the front and back of the book, many readers may have already been turned off by the cover and the previews.

Mata Hari is certainly an interesting book though it demands a lot of the reader in terms of attention to both the written words and the pictures themselves. You’re going to want to read this one carefully and probably more than once. I don’t know that it’s a great comic book, but it certainly reads like the first chapter of a very good graphic novel. Given editor Karen Berger’s reputation for producing many such longer form examples of the medium, it’s a bit mystifying to me that Mata Hari is being serialized at all. From what I’ve seen it will be a fascinating read when complete but is not particularly well served by being chopped up for monthly publication. That said it was good enough that I’m on board for at least one more installment.

Story: Emma Beeby Artist: Ariela Kristantina
Story: 7.0 Art 7.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Buy (but wait to read until the entire series is done)

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Kick Ass # 1

Kick-Ass is back but Dave Lizewski, the earnest, bespectacled, nerd of days past is gone. In his place is Patience Lee, a black woman and mother of two who leaves the military only to find that her husband has abandoned her to pursue a musical career. Faced with few options and mounting debt Patience decides to rob a gang to provide for her family.

Mark Millar is a divisive figure in the comics industry. While many people adore his high concepts and cinematic storytelling others are revolted by the mean streak that runs through most of his work and his tendency to fall back on highly problematic tropes of disability, race, sexuality and violence, especially towards women. As a reader I’m highly conflicted since it was Miller’s run on Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men that brought me back into the comic book fold and it was his MillarWorld forum that nourished my resurgent fandom. I want to like what he does but, sadly, I didn’t much like this.

One thing you have to give Millar credit for on the original Kick-Ass was it’s realism. For all that it could be offensive, it still had a solid emotional core that was grounded in the experiences of a lifelong fanboy. It’s story of a young man  trying to make a difference in the world in the only way he could conceive how was at once poignant and pathetic and gave that book some value despite the worst of its creator’s excesses.

In this new book it feels like Millar has heard all the criticism about the lack of diversity in comics and tried to answer it. Unfortunately the result, while brilliant in concept, is sloppy in its execution. Patience feels less like a fully rounded character and more like a bucket full of cliches: a woman of color raising her kids alone because of a feckless spouse who has to turn to crime to make ends meet. He’s put a minority character into the spotlight but she’s never allowed to transcend the stereotypes of her race if not her gender (at least no one threatens to rape her in this first issue). Millar has veered so far out of his lane here that it feels like he’s gone right into oncoming traffic and that’s a shame because the idea of a veteran (and a female veteran of color at that) as a superhero is one that has a lot of potential for good storytelling.

One thing about which I can find no flaw here is the artwork. John Romita Jr continues to amaze and delight me with this new career resurgence he’s been on for the last year. His work, which felt boring and staid after too many years at Marvel, has come alive once again in his creator owned project and his work for hire at DC. He’s drawing like a much younger artist and the passion is evident where before there was a growing sense of a man who had been there and done that a thousand times before. This is Romita at his best, raw and unfiltered. The digital inks of Peter Steigerwald and Megan Madrigal keep his lines from straying and Steigerwald’s colors add to the comic’s already strong flavor of the cinema. It almost looks like you’re watching one of Netflix’s Marvel shows, an effect that I’m sure was intentional. Letterer John Workman is brilliant as always, with an understated hand for his craft that you can’t help but notice while you’re not noticing it.

Overall the new Kick-Ass is a mixed bag, a fumbled attempt at producing the kind of comic the industry needs with some really nice looking art. It might have been successful if Millar had bothered to delve a little deeper into the inner life of his protagonist and brought to light something that felt half as true as Dave Lizewski did at his best. He can do great stuff when he doesn’t try to outdo Garth Ennis in being edgy. I wish he would remember that.

Story: Mark Millar Artist: John Romita Jr
Ink: Peter Steigerwald and Megan Madrigal Lettering: John Workman
Story: 5.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Pass

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Death of Love # 1

Philo Harris is a man in love with the owner of a local coffee house. He buys her gifts, listens to her gripe about her boyfriend and occasionally pet-sits for her cat. Philo is a “nice guy” and not in a good way. After a night of hard drinking with some friends,  a mysterious stranger offers him some red pills to help his love life. Philo takes them and the next thing you know he’s in the bathroom staring down a very pissed off looking cherub with a bow and arrow.

Writer Justin Jordan is no stranger to gallows humor. It runs like a black thread through much of his catalog but Death of Love is the first time, to my knowledge, that he’s attempted a straight up satire and it works pretty well. While a lot of the laugh out loud moments are in-jokes for those who follow him on social media, Jordan has a fine grasp of the dark absurdity baked into his scenario and produces a piece of work that is more akin to the Coen brothers than it is to the Farrelly brothers. While it wears its point of view on its sleeve, the characters are fleshed out and compelling enough that it never feels like a polemic.

Artist Donal Delay is a relative newcomer to mainstream American comics but he’s the perfect collaborator for this project. His work here recalls Rob Guillory’s early issues of Chew with just a dash of Venture Brothers thrown into the mix. There’s a quiet confidence to his line and his layouts are interesting to look at in themselves without ever being distracting from the story. The first two page spread is also one of the most inspired pieces of mayhem I’ve seen for a long time: equal parts Quentin Tarentino and Chuck Jones. I predict we’ll see a lot of big things from him in the next few years as more people take notice of his obvious skills.

The colors (by Felipe Sobreiro and Omar Estévez) really help to set the scene. A different palette is used for every venue, and this is used to great effect to quickly ground the reader in the particular ambience of what is going on. Letterer Rachel Deering adds a touch of much needed subtlety with a few understated sound effects that actually force you to pay more attention to the edges of every panel lest you miss something. It’s a nifty trick and something I’ve never seen used by a letterer to help the artist.   

In a time when toxic masculinity has become a subject of regular discussion and female creators across all media come under regular attack for daring to even point it out, Death of Love is both a cogent and relevant critique of sexual relations wrapped up in what promises to be a brilliant (and bloody) farce. It is at once a great big middle finger in the face of Gamergaters, MRAs, “nice” guys and a valentine for everyone who despises them… or for anyone who just wants to see some angels cut down with a chainsaw.  

Story: Justin Jordan Art: Donal Delay
Color: Felipe Sobreiro and Omar Estévez Lettering: Rachel Deering
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Advance Review: Death of Love # 1

Philo Harris is a man in love with the owner of a local coffee house. He buys her gifts, listens to her gripe about her boyfriend and occasionally pet-sits for her cat. Philo is a “nice guy” and not in a good way. After a night of hard drinking with some friends,  a mysterious stranger offers him some red pills to help his love life. Philo takes them and the next thing you know he’s in the bathroom staring down a very pissed off looking cherub with a bow and arrow.

Writer Justin Jordan is no stranger to gallows humor. It runs like a black thread through much of his catalog but Death of Love is the first time, to my knowledge, that he’s attempted a straight up satire and it works pretty well. While a lot of the laugh out loud moments are in-jokes for those who follow him on social media, Jordan has a fine grasp of the dark absurdity baked into his scenario and produces a piece of work that is more akin to the Coen brothers than it is to the Farrelly brothers. While it wears its point of view on its sleeve, the characters are fleshed out and compelling enough that it never feels like a polemic.

Artist Donal Delay is a relative newcomer to mainstream American comics but he’s the perfect collaborator for this project. His work here recalls Rob Guillory’s early issues of Chew with just a dash of Venture Brothers thrown into the mix. There’s a quiet confidence to his line and his layouts are interesting to look at in themselves without ever being distracting from the story. The first two page spread is also one of the most inspired pieces of mayhem I’ve seen for a long time: equal parts Quentin Tarentino and Chuck Jones. I predict we’ll see a lot of big things from him in the next few years as more people take notice of his obvious skills.

The colors (by Felipe Sobreiro and Omar Estévez) really help to set the scene. A different palette is used for every venue, and this is used to great effect to quickly ground the reader in the particular ambience of what is going on. Letterer Rachel Deering adds a touch of much needed subtlety with a few understated sound effects that actually force you to pay more attention to the edges of every panel lest you miss something. It’s a nifty trick and something I’ve never seen used by a letterer to help the artist.   

In a time when toxic masculinity has become a subject of regular discussion and female creators across all media come under regular attack for daring to even point it out, Death of Love is both a cogent and relevant critique of sexual relations wrapped up in what promises to be a brilliant (and bloody) farce. It is at once a great big middle finger in the face of Gamergaters, MRAs, “nice” guys and a valentine for everyone who despises them… or for anyone who just wants to see some angels cut down with a chainsaw.  

Story: Justin Jordan Art: Donal Delay
Color: Felipe Sobreiro and Omar Estévez Lettering: Rachel Deering
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Review: Young Monsters In Love # 1

Here’s my pitch for Young Monsters in Love #2:

After a comic book company cuts down Poison Ivy’s favorite trees to make terrible Valentine’s Day special about their most popular supernatural characters in romantic situations, Ivy reanimates all the print copies as zombies to horribly murder everyone foolish enough to buy it.

This was originally supposed to be a short review but the depths of hatred inspired in me by reading the book cannot be easily contained within a mere paragraph or two.

Young Monsters in Love is one of the worst comics DC has ever published in it’s 80+ year history, ranking right alongside the original Super Sons stories from the mid seventies and All-Star Batman and Robin. Reading this book felt like a chore for the first sixty pages and like torture for the last twenty.

What you get for your $7.99 cover price is a selection of vignettes (I hesitate to call them stories) in which a variety of DC’s darker characters feel the tug of love at whatever passes for their heartstrings. It’s a solid concept and one that should have yielded a decent comic, especially considering the amount of talent DC assigned to it (far too many names to list). This is more like a box of cut rate,  dollar store Valentine’s Day cards featuring off-brand monster cereal mascots. It’s a cynical cash grab with as much earnest affection behind it as a box of chocolates purchased from CVS at the last minute because you forgot your anniversary.

The biggest problem here is the format. 80 pages is a lot of space, enough for four regular issues in fact. Yet most of the stories are simply too short. Some of them could have been worthwhile had they been given a little more room to breathe. The characters, as depicted here, are at best a vague motivation and wrapped up in a thinly veiled conceit of supernatural horror. They never quite develop as people and fail to establish the emotional connection essential to all good love stories. If you’re not already a fan there is no real reason for you to become one. Staring at a blank sheet of bristol board is more compelling than most of this stuff. 

The worst of the bunch are “Pieces of Me” a Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. story by Tim Seeley and Giuseppe Camuncoli and “The Dead Can Dance” a Raven story written by Colin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing with art by Javier Fernandez. The idea of a man (Frankenstein) pining for his ex-wife, who is now in love with another woman, should have been retired along with Friends and I can’t believe that a story in which the resolution of the plot requires a teenage female superhero (Raven)  to dance with a male ghost against her wishes is being published in 2018 of all years. In both cases what’s meant to be poignant comes off as tone deaf and creepy. 

The best story and the only one worth the paper it’s printed on is “Be My Valentine” by Paul Dini and Guillem March. This surprised me as Dini’s comics are hit or miss, I’ve never cared much for March’s faux manga style and the star character (Deadman) is someone I usually find at least mildly irritating if not downright annoying. Nonetheless this is a great story, a true diamond buried in a giant pile of turds. Deadman saves a little kid from being hit by a train and uncovers a case of bullying in the classroom which he puts right with a sense of compassion not usually found in the genre. Dini’s script recalls the holiday special issues of old and March feels like he’s channeling a bit of Neal Adams, the best artist to ever draw a Deadman story, to good effect. It’s a true classic and one of the best things I’ve ever read in a DC comic but sadly it doesn’t come close to justifying paying almost eight dollars for the rest of this garbage. Hopefully it gets reprinted in a better book.

I love DC’s supernatural characters so I was really expecting Young Monsters In Love to be a fun book. What it is instead is a collection of what amounts to back-up features that are as lacking in purpose as they are in heart. Oh and the story teased by the cover about Swamp Thing and Frankenstein’s bride? That never happens. For shame DC. For shame.

Story: Paul Dini, James Robinson, Jeff Lemire, Steve Orlando, Mark Russell, Kyle Higgins, Alisa Kwitney, Phil Hester, Tim Seeley, Mairghread Scott
Art: Guillem March, Frazer Irving, Kelley Jones, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Bryan Hitch, Javier Fernandez, Nic Klein, Stephanie Hans, Mirko Colak, John McCrea

Story: 0.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 4.0 Recommendation: Pass

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Incognegro Renaissance #1

You’ll know all about Zane Pinchblack if you have read Incognegro, the masterful 2008 Vertigo graphic novel by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece. Even if you haven’t  (and you totally should) you should still find Incognegro: Renaissance, published this week under the banner of Dark Horse‘s Berger Books imprint, one hundred percent approachable.

Johnson and Pleece both return for a prequel, an origin story of that explains how Zane, a young African American reporter covering the arts scene New York  during the Harlem Renaissance, became The Incognegro: an undercover journalist exposing the fetid underbelly of racism at the beginning of the American Century. When a black man is found dead at a party full of wealthy white literati the police are only too happy to label it a suicide. Zane decides to use the fact that he is light skinned enough to pass for white to investigate the truth.

Comparisons between the two series are inevitable but also bit premature. The original Incognegro is a complete piece of work, conceived of and published as a true graphic novel. Renaissance is a serial story being told in monthly chunks. While it has a good beginning it’s hard to say how it will end. Based on what I’ve seen so far however, it is shaping up to be at least as good as its predecessor if not as groundbreaking.

As a James Baldwin Fellow whose first novel was a Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Selection, Johnson has a much more literary pedigree than other traditional novelists who have found success in comics but he clearly understands the medium just as well. His dialog is pithy and to the point, capable of shifting between divergent points of view so that every character has a distinctive voice. He also knows when to have the characters stop talking and let the art carry the load.

Speaking of the art Pleece is just as good as he was ten years ago. His style is understated but distinctive, capable of capturing a range of emotions in the characters while simultaneously evoking them in the reader. There is just enough abstraction to allow for the greatest possible identification between the reader and the characters but not so much that it descends to the level of a cartoon. Everything moves at a good clip despite the fact that there is no real action to speak of and you’re never left wondering which way to move your eyes. Clem Robbins lettering is smooth and easy to follow as well.

In a day and age when too many creators feel like interchangeable cogs in a corporate machine and too many comics feel like they are mass produced to appeal to the majority of hypothetical readers a book like Incognegro Renaissance is refreshing because it is unique. This is a book that only Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece could have made and one of the best things I’ve read this year in any format.  

Story: Mat Johnson Art: Warren Pleece Lettering: Clem Robbins
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy.

Dark Horse Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

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