Author Archives: Alex K Cossa

Mini Reviews and Recommendations For The Week Ending 11/28

Sometimes, the staff at Graphic Policy read more comics than we’re able to get reviewed. When that happens you’ll see a weekly feature compiling short reviews from the staff of the comics, or graphic novels, we just didn’t get a chance to write a full review for. Given the lack of new comics, expect this weekly update to begin featuring comics that we think you’ll enjoy while you can’t get anything new to read – only new to you.

These are Graphic Policy’s Mini Reviews and Recommendations.


Logan

X-Men #15 (Marvel)– All the groundwork that Jonathan Hickman has laid with the Summers family comes to fruition as he, Mahmud Asrar, and Sunny Gho craft a truly heroic Cyclops and Jean Grey in X-Men #15 against the backdrop of the final X of Swords duel between Apocalypse and Genesis. They portray Cyclops as a true hero, who is okay with taking any risk possible to protect his family (Kid Cable, in this case) and mutantdom as a whole unlike some of the other Quiet Council members, like Sebastian Shaw, Exodus, Sinister, and of course, Professor X. However, he and Jean can also play politics too like telling Nightcrawler (Who really wanted to do some swashbuckling) and Kate Pryde to stay behind to counterbalance the villains and unsavory folks. Asrar uses a nine panel grid to show the lively Quiet Council debate and crafts some dynamic compositions like Magneto and Professor X reflected in Scott’s visor as he weighs his options. This issue is definitely the Scott and Jean show, but I love how Hickman and Asrar cut away to Magneto and show the little glances that he gives Scott because he’s proud that he’s choosing his convictions and values over that cold Xaverian pragmatism. Overall: 9.0 Verdict: Buy

Excalibur #15 (Marvel)– The X-Men plus epic fantasy battles? I could consume this comic intravenously. Tini Howard, Mahmud Asrar, and Stefano Casselli spin a defeat from the jaws of victory tale and vice versa in Excalibur #15. Apocalypse’s ex Genesis is on a rampage with the hordes of Arakko, and both Otherworld and Krakoa are in her sights. Enter many dynamic action scenes and bursts of magic, but also touching, intimate scenes like Bei Bloodroot choosing Krakoa and her new husband Cypher over the Arakkii in a nine panel grid. Along the way, Howard gives her original Excalibur cast members moments to shine as Jubilee and Opal Saturnyne find a common cause in Jubilee’s dragon son Shogo and protecting the Starlight Citadel. It’s fun to see Opal Saturnyne go from manipulative enemy to ally, but that tends to happen when you’re fighting a baddie that makes Apocalypse look like your average altruistic, upstanding citizen. Also, I could kind of tell what was coming on the final page, but Casselli and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg make it look so glorious that I didn’t even care. Overall: 8.7 Verdict: Buy

X of Swords: Destruction #1 (Marvel)– The Captain Britain Corps, Cyclops and Jean Grey’s X-Men, and the creepy alien critters from earlier in the crossover join the final battle between Krakoa, Arakko, and Otherworld in X of Swords: Destruction #1. Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, and Pepe Larraz masterfully orchestrate a satisfying ending to this crossover that wraps up Apocalypse’s individual arc/journey throughout the X-Men and Excalibur titles as well as changing the dynamic between Otherworld, Krakoa, and Arakko, who becomes Otherworld’s vassal. A lot of the action is told in montage with minimal or no captions, and Larraz’s multi-faceted art and Marte Gracia’s bright colors doing the heavy lifting. Hickman and Howard do conclude the great war/tournament, but also leave lots of avenues open for future storytelling. Some of these threads include the reemergence of X-Men as an actual superhero team, the return of SWORD (Or at least, the space station) and the Captain Britain Corps, and the power void left by the departure of Apocalypse. There’s also the general Majestrix-ness of Opal Luna Saturnyne, who is depicted in soft, yet powerful light by Larraz and Gracia as she got everything she wanted, except for Brian Braddock. This is sure to be a sore point in future Excalibur issues. In conclusion, X of Swords finished strong even if not every chapter was a hit, and Tini Howard, Jonathan Hickman, and Pepe Larraz made the X-Men side of the Marvel Universe more interesting and compelling instead of wrecking the toy box and leaving other writers to clean up the mess. Overall: 8.9 Verdict: Buy

Red Hood #51 (DC)– Shawn Martinbrough returns to The Hill with artist Tony Akins in a fairly decent ancillary Bat-book, Red Hood #51. They set up The Hill as a predominantly Black neighborhood, which has become more diverse, while also being gentrified and not being affected by the Joker War. However, sneaker scion Tommy Maxx (Aka the “White Kanye” *vomits*) and Killer Croc are trying to disturb that fragile peace. Akins has a sharp, readable art style that can handle both explosions and conversations, and he has a little fun designing Killer Croc’s “signature shoe”. This issue doesn’t focus as much on Jason Todd as The Hill as a neighborhood. But with only two issues to tell this story, Martinbrough may have bit off more than he can chew in fleshing out the area and creating a new supporting cast. Perhaps a prestige one-shot like the original Batman: The Hill, he did with Priest in 2000 would have been better. However, it’s nice to see a part of Gotham deal with issues just like real world metropolises do instead of just supervillains and vigilantes. Overall: 7.6 Verdict: Read


Well, there you have it, folks. The reviews we didn’t quite get a chance to write. See you next week!

Please note that with some of the above comics, Graphic Policy was provided FREE copies for review. Where we purchased the comics, you’ll see an asterisk (*). If you don’t see that, you can infer the comic was a review copy. In cases where we were provided a review copy and we also purchased the comic you’ll see two asterisks (**).

Those Two Geeks Episode Ninety Two: This is The Mandalorian One

Alex and Joe talk about the first five episodes of The Mandalorian on Disney+ with spoilers (though not as many as they expect).

As always, Alex and Joe can be found on twitter respectively @karcossa and @jcb_smark if you feel the need to tell them they’re wrong individually, or @those2geeks if you want to yell at them together on twitter, or by email at ItsThose2Geeks@gmail.com.

Underrated: Batman: Blink

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way.

This week: Batman: Blink


When you think of great Batman comics, stories like Hush, The Long Halloween and Court of Owls come to mind fairly quickly for most of us, and depending on what the person giving you recommendations has read you may also see The Dark Knight Returns, War Games, Knightfall, Bruce Wayne; Murderer and No Man’s Land pop up at various points in the conversation, too. All of which are fantastic choices and well worth reading – indeed, all of those tend to be pretty high on my own recommendation list when talking to customers at the comic shop. But what happens when you’ve read all the main stuff? Well, that’s where something like Batman: Blink comes into play.

This trade collects two stories, Blink and Don’t Blink about a blind man who can see through the eyes of anyone he touches. The first story has him helping Batman track down a killer, and the second explores what happens when the government finds out he can do these things.

Originally presented in Legends of the Dark Knight 156-158 and 164-167, the story is set during the early days of Batman’s career – there’s no specific year, but judging by the framing device of the story being read from Batman’s journal and the Dark Knight’s confidence and lack of technology I’d put it within the second or third year (at latest) which means that we’re seeing a Batman stripped of a lot of what we’re used to seeing of late. There’s a lot more detective work in this story, with writer Dwayne McDuffie allowing the process to be shown on panel rather than as a one off comment or so.

This is Batman as he was before he became the caricature of himself where he could easily defeat Galactus with enough prep time (yeah, I know, different universe, but I’m making a point with extremes), where he’s more a man than a god. You see him get hit by chairs, make mistakes and still push through regardless. This Batman is fallible, and the stakes seem higher because of it in a way that Batman verses a giant monster doesn’t; it’s the human touch, the smaller scale of the threat and the consequences of failure. Plus, the way McDuffie frames the story through Batman’s journal also allows the perspective of an older Batman critiquing his earlier self which adds in both a sense of foreboding and the odd wryly funny line. I also want to highlight the choices of letterer Kurt Hathaway here because the font choice he went with is brilliant; one can easily read the cursive handwriting whilst understanding exactly what it is you’re seeing. Cursive can be tough to penetrate for some folks at times (and I am one of them despite my own writing being hard to read), and when there’s no impediment to the story because of the narration and stylistic choice then you can’t help but become immersed in the narrative.

As you cans see above, the art has a very moody feel to it, with the colours trending toward the blues, greys and other muted hues for the majority of the book – which only serves to make the brightness that much more striking. The story was penciled by Val Semeiks with inks by Dan Green and colours by James Sinclair, and despite the first issue in the book being published almost twenty years ago, the art still has that fresh and vibrant feel. Yes, there’s a sense of classic comics art to the pages, but given the flashback nature of the story, it works in a very meta way as your own sense of “back in the day” creeps into your perspective when reading this trade.

Granted that might just be my old man eyes and memories, and younger readers may not have the same experience (not kids, but folks who haven’t been reading comics since the 90’s; y’all likely won’t have the same perspective, and that’s okay – it’s not a deal breaker for this story).

The main reason I bring up this trade is because until I saw it on the shelf for the price of a single issue, I’d never heard about the story. While it won’t make it into my Must Read section of Batman recommendations, it’s going to be closer to the top of the “oh, this ones really good, too” section. It’s an underrated story, and one that can be easily overlooked when on a shelf among the other great Batman stories.


Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Review: X-O Manowar #2

X-O MANOWAR #2

Harvey Award-winning writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and breakout star Emilio Laiso unleash Valiant’s most powerful protector! Torn from the past and bonded with a living alien armor, will X-O Manowar become the hero the world needs now? As a futuristic force arises to destroy the planet, only this ancient warrior king has the courage to stand against impossible odds!

This is an updated version of a review for X-O Manowar #2. The original review copy was largely black and white as the colouring hadn’t been finalized. As such, the text is largely unchanged aside from the specifically noted UPDATE section below.

I recall reading this comic the first time around about three months back; it was a super early version designed to give folks an early preview at what’s coming up for the series. I enjoyed the book when I first read it, but after everything that’s happened in the world since first reading the book, I realized that there was more to X-O Manowar #2 than I first noticed – or maybe I’m looking at the comic with a different perspective. A lot has happened in the last three months, so it’s not surprising that a piece of art resonates with me in a different way.

Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum continues his polarizing depiction of Aric as he lives within a larger city with a single mother and her teenage son. Seeing the former king and emperor in this role hasn’t been popular with some readers, but personally I’m really enjoying seeing Aric trying to find a new way to fit into the modern world now that he’s lost everything but Shanhara. We’re seeing Aric adjust to being a modern man (sort of) in a totally unfamiliar world, and Hallum is using the fish out of water to let some humor into the comic. Not at Aric’s expense, but rather more along the lines of how the jokes are made in the first Thor movie.

The story in this issue is about how X-O Manowar, for all his power and access to knowledge from across human history, is still relatively unaware how to present himself in today’s world as the media falls out of love with him and he struggles to understand the complexity of certain situations. It’s an interesting angle to take with the character, and one I hope Hallum continues to explore as the series progresses.

I’m still all in for this comic, and I can’t wait to see how it improves when the finished product arrives. Although the book doesn’t have any color in it, Emilio Laiso‘s art still brings a wonderful quality to the proceedings. If the art is as good as the last issue, then I can’t wait to reread and update this again.

UPDATE: Well shit, what a difference a finished product makes. X-O Manowar #2 has the unenviable task of catching the attention of people after a long gap between issues who may or may not have read the first issue (And who may not really recall what happened in that issue). I’m honestly impressed that Valiant didn’t slap a big fat number one on the cover to draw attention to the young series.

Now there’s no doubt I enjoyed the story the last time through, and still do, but there’s something about Ruth Redmond‘s vibrant colouring work that makes the entire story pop. I love black and white comics, but there’s a difference between comics with art that should be black and white, and art that is yet to be coloured – and the swooping skies as Aric chases a robot across the water are understated and simplistic in design, but that simplicity conveys a sense of speed that’s underscored by the banter between Aric and Shanhara.

Redmond’s colours that elevate Laiso’s art into a level of fun that I didn’t realize I needed after a rough couple of days technology wise for myself. Ultimately, that’s why I love comics – their ability to take you away from reality (if only briefly). I enjoyed this book a lot when I first read this comic months ago, but the finished product is just so much better than I had expected it to be.

Story: Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum Art: Emilio Laiso
Colors: Ruth Redmond Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Story: 9.2 Art: 9 Overall: 9.2 Recommendation: Buy

Valiant provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


Purchase: comiXology

Writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum Answers Our Spoiler Filled Questions as X-O Manowar Invades

X-O Manowar #2

We recently got a chance to sit down with the writer of the latest volume of X-O Manowar and took a deep dive into his inspiration for Shanhara’s characterization, and how he’s been using X-O Manowar to tackle social issues. Originally slated for an April release, this issue is hitting shelves today and we’ve got the spoiler-filled scoop on the issue. So, if you don’t want the issue spoiled, go check it out and come back.

The newest volume has Aric struggling with his place in the world and what it means to be a hero. X-O Manowar #2 is an action-packed chapter that puts a brand-new character, Troy Whitaker, in the spotlight. Will Aric’s new ally help him become the hero that the modern world needs, or will X-O’s primitive ways only cause more damage?

We got to chat with writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum about the series and the real-world issues he’s taking head on.

Stay tuned after the interview for a preview of the issue!

Graphic Policy: This series has Aric and Shanhara in situations that we really haven’t seen them in before in that he’s being more of a traditional hero in an urban setting; where did the idea to take the fish out of water concept to the next level come from?

Dennis Hallum: In our very first conversation about the series, Senior Editor Heather Antos and I talked about bringing the series back down to Earth. We’ve seen a lot of X-O Manowar’s battles on distant worlds, toppling alien armadas over the years. We know Aric and Shanhara can stop an invasion, but we’ve seen very little of them on Earth in the here and now. Aric was abducted and enslaved by alien overlords who left him stranded in a future version of home. He’s a hero out of time and that in and of itself is interesting. It allows us to lean into the humanity of the character. To build drama around his blindspots and weaknesses even as he crushes villains underfoot…Which I guess is a long-winded way of saying it was Heather’s idea.

GP: I’ve been loving the characterization of Shanhara – where did the armour’s attitude come from?

DH: Frustration mostly. She’s this brilliant strategist with access to all human knowledge whose impulsive partner controls the arms and legs. Aric and Shanhara trust each other completely, but they couldn’t be more different. She’s the voice always in his ear, telling him to calm down and think of the repercussions. He’s a wrecking-ball tearing up the pavement before she finishes a sentence. It’s a great partnership. They’re better together than apart… But there’s a lot of fun arguing there.

GPYou’ve been able to use Aric to question society’s “progress” rather subtly in the first two issues, such as Aric willingly sharing the deer in issue one; are we likely to see more moments like this in the coming issues?

DH: Yeah, I think it’s one of the most interesting elements of the book’s anachronism. We obviously think of modern society as being super advanced. In many ways it obviously is, but our “grab it, own it, horde it” culture has its problems. There’s a lot we can say about that from Aric’s unique perspective and definitely will be.

GP: The first issue had Aric coming between the police and some kids they were shooting at, which is unfortunately something that’s not unfamiliar to us. Can you talk a little about why you felt that was an important element important to bring to the comic?

DH: One of the best things about working for Valiant is that we get to tackle social issues head-on. We’re not expected to pretend everyone in the city loves and respects the police. One of the obstacles Aric faces in the series is gaining the neighborhood’s trust. He wants to be their hero, but nobody invited him. He’s this big, blue monster who flies through buildings and crashes things. He’s powerful and dangerous and scary if you don’t trust him completely. Those themes seem to fit pretty well into the current conversation about law enforcement…That scene just made sense.

GP: X-O Manowar has Aric being manipulated to step into a civil war in Ukraine. While not exactly what’s going on it has echoes of the reality in Crimea and the nationalist forces at play. Often in comics, you see made-up countries for conflicts but here you’re willing to reference a real-life conflict (though with a bit of a twist on what’s exactly going on). Did you think about using a “fake” country at all? Any thoughts on how it might be taken by certain parties at play there? Part of the conflict is driven by white nationalists, is that going to be touched upon?

DH: The problem with making up a country is that it makes the conflict seem less real. We want the stakes in the book to have real-world weight. That said, I hope people can tell this is superhero fiction and not my treatise on Crimea. I’m not nearly educated enough on Ukrainian politics to put meaningful commentary in the book. Our villain is a very fictional warlord. Our goal was to create a reasonably believable conflict in a place people know.

GP: With the second issue, you’re delving into the influence of the media on our public figures. It’s especially played out in the Ukraine conflict which very much has disinformation/media as an aspect of it. Where’d you get the idea to go in that direction?

DH: I’m fascinated by the influence modern media and social media has over everyone. Sometimes it feels like we live inside a massive propaganda machine designed to make us buy things and hate each other. And if all of that is new and overwhelming to us, how would it feel to a time-stuck Visigoth Prince? You can’t be a public figure in today’s world without intense 24/7 public scrutiny. Everything is being spun and manipulated all the time to make people think this or that…All of which is very frustrating for Aric. He just wants to punch bad things, end wars, and help people. He doesn’t care about his approval rating. He’s not interested in PR.

GP: You’ve tackled some heavy subjects so far (food poverty, police brutality) – what else do you have in store for us?

DH: I’m hoping to balance the budget and decrease the national debt. Once that’s done, the sky’s the limit.

GP: Back on the Ukraine intervention… There’s often a question about heroes not solving real-world issues. You’d think with so much knowledge and power they could cure cancer for instance or end conflict. Is exploring that aspect some of what’s driving this arc?

DH: That’s absolutely the point. When the eyes of the world never close and everyone has an opinion, super heroism becomes a lot trickier. There are real-world ramifications to crashing a helicopter through a building…No matter how evil the helicopter might be. End a war with a punch. Throw a dictator into the ocean. That’s all great, but what happens next? When you power up vigilantism to X-O Manowar levels, there’s no limit to the good he can affect. But rapid change can be very dangerous and is often very unpopular. 

GP: A superhero acting on his own in such a way has to raise eyebrows and concerns from world governments. Is that going to be a part of it?  

DH: That’s a huge part of this arc, yes. One of my favorite new characters in the book, Billionaire Troy Whitaker, gets to be our mouthpiece for those concerns. He’s a blast to write.

GP: Do you think that superheroes interfering in other country’s problems is an area of comics that really hasn’t been explored all that much?

DH: It’s a tricky subject that has definitely been touched on before, the problem becomes maintaining suspension of disbelief when your hero’s existence would likely completely change the world. If New York is full of superheroes and villains, at what point does it stop looking anything like the real NYC? Our solution is to go ahead and let Aric and Shanhara change the world. Should be fun to see what shakes out.

GP: Thanks very much for your time!


Harvey Award-winner DENNIS HOPELESS (Star Wars: Darth Vader – Dark Visions) and astonishing artist EMILIO LAISO (Marvel’s Spider-Man: Velocity) present an action-packed chapter that puts a brand-new character, Troy Whitaker, in the spotlight. Will Aric’s new ally help him become the hero that the modern world needs, or will X-O’s primitive ways only cause more damage?

Mini Reviews and Recommendations For The Week Ending 11/7

Sometimes, the staff at Graphic Policy read more comics than we’re able to get reviewed. When that happens you’ll see a weekly feature compiling short reviews from the staff of the comics, or graphic novels, we just didn’t get a chance to write a full review for. Given the lack of new comics, expect this weekly update to begin featuring comics that we think you’ll enjoy while you can’t get anything new to read – only new to you.

These are Graphic Policy’s Mini Reviews and Recommendations.


Logan

X-Force #14 (Marvel)– X of Swords has completely veered down the weird game show route in Benjamin Percy, Gerry Duggan, and Joshua Cassara’s X-Force #14, and mostly, I’m here for it. Although, at this point, it’s a bit repetitive and annoying that all the contests are rigged in Arakko’s favor, and I hope there’s actual plot development in this week’s other issues. However, I enjoy X-Force #14 on a pure entertainment level thanks to the occasional laugh-out-loud gag from Percy, Duggan, and Cassara like the reveal of what Pogg-Ur-Pogg really is, Gorgon’s reaction to “sexy” rock sirens, and the data page where Mojo and Major Domo take notes on the tournament. Finally, in the midst of the sheer randomness, there is some characterization of Storm, who proves she just needs a knife to take down Death, and Wolverine whose guilt and sense of nobility dooms him what are basically sociopath test contests. Overall: 7.5 Verdict: Read

Hellions #6 (Marvel)– This is technically an X of Swords tie-in, but the Otherworld reality TV show only plays a comedic role in the latest installment of the Zeb Wells and Carmen Carnero’s Hellions aka the sneaky-best X-Book. Carnero excels at showing how worn down the team is after traveling through Otherworld and finally arriving in Arakko where Sinister basically meets his soulmate, who’s like him, but more body horror and less disaster bisexual. This triggers betrayal/survival of the fittest mode as the Hellions start dropping like flies. In Sinister, Zeb Wells has crafted a character who is totally evil, but also gets the best lines. Watching he dismantle his old team is a dark adrenaline rush although Carnero’s facial expressions wring emotion out of every kill and takedown except for that bastard Empath, who gets a truly poetic fate. The expendability and D-list nature of all these characters (Except for Havok) gives Wells and Carnero a true freedom to destroy their lives, and the stakes are even a little higher with the whole resurrection protocols issue/X of Swords going on in the background. Overall: 8.9 Verdict: Buy

Cable #6 (Marvel)– Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto set the stage for the final duel of X of the Swords in Cable #6. Sinister reading Kitty Pryde during an opening sequence set at the Quiet Council aside, this issue definitely has more pathos than comedy. Noto’s art is gorgeous and captures the quiet tragedy like Cable knowing that the odds of Krakoa winning the tournament is insurmountable, and he shows the light go out in his eyes as he suffers not a physical death, but a death of spirit. Although this issue is mainly focused on winding down the tournament, Duggan does spend a little time showing that bond he has with Cyclops and Jean Grey before his telepathy is shut out. Finally, he and Phil Noto do the impossible and turn an edgelord, Mark Millar-created villain aka Gorgon into a noble hero in a Kurosawa-esque one against many battle featuring blood, sad reaction shots from the fellow Krakoans, and layouts that look like katanas and sword strokes. Krakoa goes chambara, and I’m really excited for the final duel in next week’s issue of X of Swords. Overall: 8.7 Verdict: Buy

Barbalien: Red Planet #1 (Dark Horse) Tate Brombal, Jeff Lemire, Gabriel Walta, and Jordie Bellaire craft a deeply personal superhero tale about Barbalien, who has been persecuted for being an alien as well as being gay. The central action happens around a 1986 AIDS protest where Barbalien saves a young protestor who falls off a flagpole trying to hoist a rainbow flag and immediately arrests him in his civilian identity. Brombal knows when to let Walta’s art do the talking and shows the sadness and tension that Barbalien feels as he wants to safe and “blend in” in Earth, but he also wants to find love (or sex) and just be his true self. Except for the red sands of Mars, Bellaire keeps her palette muted until she goes full disco when Barbalien finds his first gay bar with Brombal’s dialogue coding it as illegal activity. It’s always amazing to me my that my queer elders withstood such hardships to be with the folks they love and to continue to fight even when the Republican-led government wouldn’t do shit about the AIDS crisis. Barbalien: Red Planet pays homage to them while also acting as a soul-searing exploration of my favorite Black Hammer universe superhero. Overall: 9.2 Verdict: Buy

Once and Future #13 (BOOM!)– The third arc of Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, and Tamra Bonvillain’s Once and Future kicks off with straight horror as magpies start pecking at Bridgette. It’s a portent of things to come. Also, Gillen goes back to the white supremacists raising Arthur plot thread, which is super relevant to the times we live in and also shows Duncan’s vulnerabilities to non-monster things. It’s sweet when he protects his badass grandma too. Mora and Bonvillain get to draw plenty of big action and fights all lead up to a very, well, relevant to 2020 page. (Not in that way; think A24, not Covid-19.) And as a cherry on top, he and Gillen also start to integrate Rose as a main cast member and explore her and Duncan’s relationship while starting another epic story. Overall: 8.0 Verdict: Buy

Die #15 (Image)– Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans’ Die #15 is a big damn battle with Hans nailing the gorgeous and dark use of magic with her color palettes and layouts as Matt dual wields the literal Grief of his father’s passing against Ash and Isabelle. This issue dips both into Die’s tabletop and fantasy roots with plenty of references to Tolkien and his tropes as well as RPG theory that translates into action. The ending has a very penultimate arc before the one last ride feel, and the ensemble cast (Including Sol) all get a moment to shine with their unique abilities and personalities as the stakes go beyond a multi-faction fantasy battle into more of a thread of reality one. Overall: 8.2 Verdict: Buy

Commanders in Crisis #2 (Image)– Steve Orlando and Davide Tinto slow down a little bit and flesh out Commanders in Crisis’ ensemble cast of alternate earth presidents-turned-superheroes in the series’ second issue before advancing the plot in the last few pages. It’s really enjoyable to learn what makes these hopeful, empathy-driven folks click. These scenarios range from Prizefighter only having a casual relationship with ersatz-genderbent Lois Lane to Seer using her quantum abilities to help check on, and Sawbones struggling with how he’s perceived by the folks on this Earth. (Doing an emergency tracheotomy while dressed like a 90s antihero is a little scary from an outside POV.) Even if this issue deals with more “crises” than a “Crisis”, Tinto’s art is still larger than life with big facial expressions and grids for small movements or intimate conversations while throwing up bigger panels when the Crisis Command uses their abilities. With their ability to weave together ideas and actions, metaphors and personalities, Steve Orlando and Davide Tinto continue to lay the groundwork for what a modern superhero comic could be in Commanders in Crisis #2. Overall: 8.9 Verdict: Buy

Brett

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night #1 (Behemoth) – An interesting start to a vampire story set in Iran. I wish it felt more like a comic set in Iran but beyond some little details here and there it so far feels like it could be set anywhere. But, the comic is written more like a poem than a traditional comic narrative and the build is really nice to the end. It’s a really interesting start and hopefully further issues deliver something a little more unique befitting its location and country it’s set in. But, it’s more than enough to get me to want to come back and check out the second issue. Overall Rating: 7.0 Recommendation: Read

Children of the Grave #1 (Scout Comics) – The concept of the comic feels familiar and the key will be where it goes after the first issue. A small town is provided for by an unseen force. One villager suspects there’s something else going on and seeks to find out the truth. There’s a great amount of tension and there’s a slight Dark City vibe to it all but that ending has me hoping, and thinking, I’m wrong in the direction it’s going in. This feels like sci-fi/horror and it’s a hell of a start and build-up that had me saying wtf at the end and looking forward to reading the second issue. Overall Rating: 8.35 Recommendation: Buy

Stillwater #3 (Image/Skybound) – We learn more about the rules of the town of Stillwater in a tense comic that makes you want to escape the town yourself. Fantastic characters and pacing brings things together for a mystery about a town where you can’t age and you can’t die. There’s still a lot of questions I have in what feels like slip-ups to the rules but there’s some solid small details that really build the world, things I’d have never thought of. Overall Rating: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy


Well, there you have it, folks. The reviews we didn’t quite get a chance to write. See you next week!

Please note that with some of the above comics, Graphic Policy was provided FREE copies for review. Where we purchased the comics, you’ll see an asterisk (*). If you don’t see that, you can infer the comic was a review copy. In cases where we were provided a review copy and we also purchased the comic you’ll see two asterisks (**).

Those Two Geeks Episode Ninety One: Marvel Legends, Toys, and Wonder Woman 84

Alex and Joe don’t really have anything planned, so end up talking about toys and movies with very few tangents.

As always, Alex and Joe can be found on twitter respectively @karcossa and @jcb_smark if you feel the need to tell them they’re wrong individually, or @those2geeks if you want to yell at them together on twitter, or by email at ItsThose2Geeks@gmail.com.

Underrated: A Once Crowded Sky

This week we’re revisiting a previous entry in the series with Tom King’s A Once Crowded Sky.


This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: A Once Crowded Sky


It’s no secret how much I love comics. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

While most pretty much all of the comics I read can, to varying degrees, be placed on the superhero side of things, sometimes I’ll pick up the odd non-superhero comic.  I’m a big fan of the modern comic book re-imaginings of the early pulp heroes such as The Black Bat, The Spider, and The Phantom, although one could argue their closeness to the superhero genre renders the example moot, so let me be blunt; the point I am poorly trying to make is that I love superhero stories (of all varieties) in my comics more than any other type of story. 

Amazingly enough, I also read books.

If you look at my book shelf you’ll see a lot of fantasy, sword and sorcery, and historical fiction. There isn’t much set within the last one hundred years or so that I tend to pick up and read. I can think of, maybe, twenty books (or series) that I’ve read in the last fifteen years or so that are set within the last century, and only a handful of them were based around superheroes. One was an average Wolverine tale I read on Kindle, one is the hugely enjoyable Dresden Files series and another was A Once Crowded Sky by some dude named Tom King, which  is the subject of today’s column.

Although the story wasn’t quite mind blowing, it was remarkably well told, and had some incredible ideas within its pages. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the book is actually the way it is told. In a book with multiple point of view characters, each character’s point of view is laid out like a comic book; the book is set up like a text version of a collected comic book tie-in event across multiple issues. It’s a brilliant way to tie in the obvious influence and homage to the four colour medium, as is the occasional comic book page within the book itself.

A Once Crowded Sky is a relative anomaly for me; it’s a superhero story that I read, and enjoyed, that wasn’t in a comic book. Now, my sample size of superhero books is obviously incredibly small compared with that of superhero comics, but the thing I must stress here is it isn’t that I’ve had no access to superhero books, it’s that I simply have no desire to read about superheroes in any other medium that isn’t a comic book, and I have no idea why.

Maybe it’s because up until A Once Crowded Sky every superhero book I’ve looked as has been hard to justify the price tag. I found A Once Crowded Sky for $3 on a table of reduced hardcover books at a chain book store – it’s easily worth four times that amount, but would I have looked at it for more than $3? Seeing as how it took me two days to decide to pick the book up even for about the price of a comic, well, then probably not. Maybe I don’t like superhero books because they lack the visual nature of comics, which probably does have something to do with it, but I’m more then happy reading the Dresden Files novels and graphic novels, but then the Dresden Files and superheroes occupy two different genres. Maybe, and most likely, it’s because there simply hasn’t been much buzz about any superhero books.

So what’s A Once Crowded Sky about, and why should you read it?

“The superheroes of Arcadia City fight a wonderful war and play a wonderful game, forever saving yet another day. However, after sacrificing both their powers and Ultimate, the greatest hero of them all, to defeat the latest apocalypse, these comic book characters are transformed from the marvelous into the mundane.

After too many battles won and too many friends lost, The Soldier of Freedom was fine letting all that glory go. But when a new threat blasts through his city, Soldier, as ever, accepts his duty and reenlists in this next war. Without his once amazing abilities, he’s forced to seek the help of the one man who walked away, the sole hero who refused to make the sacrifice–PenUltimate, the sidekick of Ultimate, who through his own rejection of the game has become the most powerful man in the world, the only one left who might still, once again, save the day.”

Tom King’s debut novel has some lofty ideas, and some great presentation ideas that more than out weigh the at times overly wordy moments as King at times loses himself in backstory and internal monologues. There are flashes of his later brilliance in this 2012 novel, and it’s fascinating to see how he’s grown as a writer since this book. Despite having some rather interesting names for his characters (no, that’s not food – that’s my tongue in my cheek), it’s not hard to identify where their inspiration came from. Soldier of Fortune and Captain America do bear more than a slight similarity, after all.

But by using his own versions of these characters we’re all so familiar with, King is able to tell the story he wants without worrying about the guiding hand of either of the big two publishers impacting his story.

What we’re left with at the end of the day is a solid, and very enjoyable superhero novel written by a man who would go on to write some utterly fantastic comics. This book isn’t on that level, but it’s still well worth checking out should you come across it.

Someday, hopefully soon, superhero books will have their own section in the book store and when they do, that’s where you’ll find me.


Join us next week when we explore another Underrated aspect that may be at best tangentially related to comics!

Mini Reviews and Recommendations For The Week Ending 11/7

Sometimes, the staff at Graphic Policy read more comics than we’re able to get reviewed. When that happens you’ll see a weekly feature compiling short reviews from the staff of the comics, or graphic novels, we just didn’t get a chance to write a full review for. Given the lack of new comics, expect this weekly update to begin featuring comics that we think you’ll enjoy while you can’t get anything new to read – only new to you.

These are Graphic Policy’s Mini Reviews and Recommendations.


Logan

Marauders #15 (Marvel)– Marauders #15 opens in a very cool, stakes raising way as Opal Saturnyne gives Wolverine a glimpse of what would happen if he actually followed through with killing her. The X-Men have dealt with dark futures, but this is pretty freaking bleak. Gerry Duggan, Benjamin Percy, and Stefano Caselli show in an economical way before returning to the irresistible weirdness of the feast. The Krakoans and Arakkii continue to size each other up, and the weakest member of both parties is almost taken out, but saved by White Sword’s paladin-esque sense of honor. Marauders #15 definitely continues the decompression theme of the past couple issues, but Caselli gets to show off his comedy chops a little bit with Magik and Cable messing around with Isca the Unbeaten and seeing she can lose at anything, including silly table games. This sequence is paid for laughs, but shows just how difficult the upcoming battle is. And speaking of upcoming battles, it’s a logical, yet exciting one. It’ll be nice to finally see some swords clash after 14 (!!) issues of build-up. Also, Wolverine eats unicorn meat this one and definitely enjoys it a little too much; it’s a pickle transformation sequence away from the funniest shit I’ve ever seen. Overall: 7.3 Verdict: Read

Excalibur #14 (Marvel)– The tournament has begun in the X of Swords storyline with Captain Britain facing off against Isca the Unbeaten, who lives up to her name. It’s fitting that Tini Howard gets to write Betsy’s big moment, and she and artist Phil Noto walk the tightrope between comedy and tragedy winningly and turn in an entertaining chapter of this crossover that rights the ship after a few lackluster ones. Howard zigs where most crossover events will zag with Noto’s full page spreads capturing the shocking moment before going into funny mode for the second half of the issue. This also is truly an issue of Excalibur as Jubilee and Shogo join the fun and end up being an example to show Opal Saturnyne’s unparalleled power set while acting as emotional tether for the Krakoans to rally together with. Who cares about the tournament? If Jubilee is harmed, Wolverine will filet someone, and Storm will zap you with lightning. Also, Howard and Noto do something a bit shocking and compelling with Cypher, who has been the fan favorite to be killed first so far. Verdict: 8.8 Verdict: Buy

Wolverine #7 (Marvel)– Benjamin Percy, Gerry Duggan, and an excellent Joshua Cassara turn in more weirdness as Krakoa keeps getting their ass kicked in a tournament that is so much more than a simple sword fight thanks to the wiles of Saturnyne. The issue opens with much of the same vein of humor as the last few issues of X of Swords as Magik and Pogg Ur-Pogg talk trash and end up arm wrestling instead of fighting to the death. After this fun diversion, we get a reality bending fight between Wolverine and the Summoner where Cassara switches art styles on a dime as they duel to the death, and the backgrounds shift behind them. It’s a thrill with a twist ending, and Wolverine #7 as a whole follows the consequences of its protagonist’s actions during his appearances in X of Swords. Chief among them is that it doesn’t look like Krakoa will be able to pull it out in this one. Overall: 7.6 Verdict: Read.

True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #2 (Dark Horse)– After shutting of his TV in the previous issue, Mike Milligram, the original Killjoy, has realized that basically all of the U.S. is under a form of sophisticated corporate mind control through different products and pills. For example, the Civil Rights movement doesn’t exist in its reality, and this causes kindly school teacher Maxwell to “wake up” and rejoin the Killjoys with Sofia whose son Jaime has been bullied. Gerard Way, Shaun Simon, and Leonardo Romero give us a solid snapshot of these key characters while leaving time for some shootouts and car chases with the aid of Jordie Bellaire’s Day-Glo color palette. Killjoys: National Anthem #2 satires things like revisionist history and 24 news cycle, but it’s also a fun action comic. It’s punk with a side of pop. Overall: 8.0 Verdict: Buy

Terminal Punks #1 (Mad Cave)– Matthew Erman and Shelby Criswell’s Terminal Punks #1 is part punk coming of age story, part disaster movie, and part creature feature with plenty of skewering of out-of-touch billionaires that see majestic, endangered animals as simply inspiration for vape juice. Criswell does a good job portraying the total anxiety that the members of a still-unnamed feel as they descend into New York City for their big post-winning-battle of the bands show. She draws in a style that reminds me a lot of current YA comics so it’s very unexpected when monsters jump out and bodies go flying. Along with this, Erman tells some of Terminal Punks’ story from the POV of the CDC workers trying to figure out what diseases and critters are getting loose. There are parallel discussions between them and the billionaire’s employees about their responsibility and why they have to put their life on the line instead of the rich guy who owns the things. Terminal Punks really captures the spirit of our current era with a spunky cast of rock kids, thrilling escapes, and gruesome monsters. Overall: 8.5 Verdict: Buy

Getting It Together #2 (Image)– This comic has so much drama, and I’m living for it. Sina Grace, Omar Spahi, and Jenny D. Fine start the book by actually focusing on protagonist, Lauren’s band Nipslip finding success and being signed to an indie label that sometimes gets reviews in Pitchfork (Baby steps!) However, a seemingly laidback conversation with ex/friend, Sam, turns into a physical altercation when he says that her talking about Nipslip reminds him that she cheated on him with her bass player. Oh, and while this is going on, tritagonist (Sam’s best friend/Lauren’s brother) Jack is having a hot hookup with a cute guy and wants to talk about that instead of the drama. Struble’s color palette goes steamy for that page before turning to bleakness as the drama spills out from these friends to Nipslip itself. Basically, the lesson of this comic is the classic “don’t shit where you eat”. However, Spahi and Grace add plenty of character-driven jokes to make Getting It Together #2 earn its dramedy classification, and Fine and Struble are along for the messy ride. Also, its takes on queer men using Tinder, the effects of vodka cranberry on the human consciousness, and the ripple effect of breakups are too real Overall: 9.4 Verdict: Buy

Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar #2 (Marvel)– Kieron Gillen and Jacen Burrows continue to tell the origin story of the great Ultramarine Marneus Calgar while setting up a threat on the moon where he did his training. We see more of the Chaos God side of things in this issue, and seeing what seemed like a gruff instructor doing blood sacrifices shows how fucked up this world is and connects nicely to the other antagonist killing Adepts on the same moon. Gillen fills in the pieces of Marneus’ personality and adds a twist to the usual “young boy becomes legendary soldier” story steeped in revenge and something personal. Finally, I really am digging Jacen Burrows’ art as he renders the machinery, blood, and guts nicely while not skimping on the faces, especially in scenes where Marneus and his buddy Tacitan are running for their lives. Overall: 7.8 Verdict: Read

Brett

Champions #2 (Marvel) – The series had a solid debut and the second issue keeps up the interesting new direction for Marvel’s young heroes. An exploration of “child soldiers” and the role of youth having a voice in their future is something that’s long overdue. There’s just a solid grasp on these characters and the art and energy about the comic fit its subjects. A strong series so far and well worth checking out. Overall rating: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy

Pantomime #1 (Mad Cave Studios) – Young kids stealing stuff seems to be a hot (semi) new genre as this is the second series to launch recently with the concept and a third has been optioned for film. This one has a twist in that the characters are students at a school for the deaf. It’s an interesting debut and it has a lot going for it, especially the direction it’s going towards the end. The kids’ personalities really stand out and there’s something great to see the signing within the comic. There’s more than enough unique qualities of the series to make it a debut to get. Overall Rating: 7.9 Recommendation: Buy

Scarenthood #1 (IDW Publishing) – One of my favorite comics of the week. It’s the story of parents who go ghost hunting while their kids away to solve a mystery. As a parent, there’s a lot to relate to with this one with tons of humor mixed into the scares. Between the really adorable kids and the art, it’s beyond a solid debut and the surprise of the week for me. There’s a lot of creepy aspects to it as well that has me excited to see what happens next as well. Overall Rating: 8.75 Recommendation: Buy

Seven Secrets #4 (BOOM! Studios) – The first four issues of this series has been great with a mix of James Bond and manga. This episode has a lot of twists, turns, and reveals and feels like it’s really kicking things off for what’s to come. Here’s hoping the series doesn’t stumble under it twists so far, as there’s quite a few. Just a great action comic that’ll keep you at the edge of your seat like a popcorn film. Overall Rating: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy.

Strange Academy #5 (Marvel) – This continues to be one of my favorite Marvel comics. There’s still a lot of set-up going on here as prophecies begin to fall into place and the kids meet their first enemies. Great characters with amazing art combo for yet another solid issue. If you’re looking for a new wizarding school to enroll at, Strange Academy is where it’s at. Overall Rating: 8.6 Recommendation: Buy

Terminal Punks #1 (Mad Cave Studios) – A disaster film with a twist. The story follows a punk band stuck in an airport with mutated animals on the loose. There’s a lot to really like about this debut. It’s also a little scattered in thought as well. It definitely has something to say with its constant digs at the rich/corporations/elected officials but that commentary doesn’t feel like it’s really given enough to shake out. It’s all quick hits and punches with the debut, a very punk attitude about it. Definitely a series I want to read more of but the first issue left me a little mixed on the end result. Overall Rating: 7.0 Recommendation: Read

Villainous #2 (Mad Cave Studios) – The villains are the heroes and the heroes are the villains in this take on the popular exploration of superheroes. The second issue improves in many ways on the first with having a stronger voice as far as if it’s a spoof, homage, or playing it straight. It’s definitely a series to keep an eye on, it’s going in really interesting directions with this issue and what it sets up to come. There characters too could easily build into a great world spinning out of it. If you want a superhero series from someone other than the big 2, this is one to check out. Overall Rating: 7.95 Recommendation: Buy


Well, there you have it, folks. The reviews we didn’t quite get a chance to write. See you next week!

Please note that with some of the above comics, Graphic Policy was provided FREE copies for review. Where we purchased the comics, you’ll see an asterisk (*). If you don’t see that, you can infer the comic was a review copy. In cases where we were provided a review copy and we also purchased the comic you’ll see two asterisks (**).

Those Two Geeks Episode Ninety: What Makes A Great Comic Run?

Alex and Joe talk about what factors combine to make a really great comic book run.

As always, Alex and Joe can be found on twitter respectively @karcossa and @jcb_smark if you feel the need to tell them they’re wrong individually, or @those2geeks if you want to yell at them together on twitter, or by email at ItsThose2Geeks@gmail.com.

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