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Review: The Sandman Universe – Nightmare Country #1

The Sandman Universe - Nightmare Country #1

James Tynion, Lisandro Estherren, and Patricio Delpeche dip their toes back into The Dreaming in The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Country #1. The story centers around the nightmare The Corinthian, whose teeth for eyes motif has been an inspiration for a Brooklyn college student named Flynn. (It’s less inspiring to the guy she brings back to her dorm room.) Estherren’s art style actually looks like dreams with a flowing, impressionistic line and a lo-fi palette from Delpeche. However, in the early going the visuals are unfortunately all Nightmare Country has going for it.

In the tradition of many Sandman stories and spinoffs like the Death minis and The Dreaming, Nightmare Country #1 focuses on mortals with supernatural beings like The Corinthian in this case playing a background role. However, Flynn isn’t really an interesting protagonist even if her monologues about the world ending and being an outcast are totally relatable to anyone in their 20s, early, late, or otherwise. Lisandro Estherren and Patricio’s Delpeche’s art do the heavy lifting during her monologues conjuring up a future vision of New York underwater with fish being poisoned by art students’ paints and hint at her worst fear: Jabba the Hutt with teeth for eyes that’s sure to be revealed down the road.

It’s interesting to be that their more surreal work is used for the “real world” (With jaunts into the horrific and bizarre) while Yanick Paquette‘s clean line and Nathan Fairbairn’s clearly delineated, color in the lines work is used for an interlude into The Dreaming in Nightmare Country. This four page sequence’s writing style is clearly Tynion channeling Neil Gaiman, and there are real “A book is a dream you hold in your hand” vibes to it as he introduces The Corinthian to anyone not familiar with the original Sandman series. He also does a super short story about a man in Appalachia that is afraid in mirrors that along with the last few pages featuring Mr. Agony and Mr. Ecstasy is more effective than any of the main story sequences featuring Flynn, The Corinthian, and her lover. However, Tynion, Estherren, and Paquette’s characterization of The Corinthian doesn’t go beyond creepy guy with teeth for eyes that has a connection/is an inspiration to Flynn and heralds a bigger fish in the pond, the Smiling Man. He’s just a fixation for now even if Lisandro Estherren and Patricio Delpeche make crimson, scarring mini-masterpieces out of Flynn’s paintings of him.

It fits the whole actual dream/nightmare of it all, but Nightmare Country‘s key flaw is honestly how the scenes are put together. The Paquette/Fairbairn sequence has more of a prologue vibe and its combination of strong visuals plus nostalgia for the original Sandman may have worked better opening the issue than Flynn talking bullshit at the bar with a man who she ends up in bed with despite sharing almost no chemistry beyond man and woman at a bar. (There’s an awkward panel that I think is meant to be their arms brushing against each other to create a physical connection, but it’s staged in extreme close-up and is hard to follow.) But, despite a slow start, Tynion and Estherren do end with Nighmare Country‘s most entertainingly written sequence plus some gory chills in the visual department as Mr. Agony and Mr. Ecstasy match their names in the best way and have some amusing banter while killing their victim. But, of course, The Smiling One is the Big Bad and gets the final page despite only being basically “that creepy guy in the background” for now. It’s meant to be a mystery, but for now, I’m not super invested as Agony and Ecstasy steal the show.

Despite being a continuation of what is considered to be one of the greatest comics of all time, Nighmare Country #1 is a middling start to this dreamscape horror yarn. As mentioned several times, its saving grace is the art of Lisandro Estherren and Patricio Delpeche whose hazy line and colors blur the lines between sleep and waking, fear and nightmare. This series might be one to check out in the inevitable trade paperback edition instead of on a monthly basis for now with an uninteresting protagonist and a baddie that is all flash and no substance for now.

Story: James Tynion IV Art: Lisandro Estherren, Yanick Paquette
Colors: Patricio Delpeche, Nathan Fairbairn Letters: Simon Bowland
Story: 6.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.4 Recommendation: Read

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


Purchase: comiXology/KindleZeus ComicsTFAW

Logan’s Favorite Comics of 2021

Even though it was a shitty year overall, I found some great comics to enjoy in 2021, both old and new. Beginning with its “Future State” event, DC easily shot up to become my favorite mainstream publisher thanks to its renewed focus on different visual styles instead of a Jim Lee-esque art style and its emphasis on LGBTQ+ characters even after Pride Month. Vault and Image continued to be the homes of both my favorite creators and SF stories, and AWA, Dark Horse and even Black Mask and Archie had titles that surprised me even if they didn’t make the cut on this list. Finally, continuing a trend that I jumped on in 2020, I continued to read or revisit classic comics (Both old and new) in 2021, like Copra, Invincible, The Umbrella Academy, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman: True Amazon, The Invisibles, Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Force, Hawkeye, and Black Bolt among others.

So, without further ado, here are my ten favorite comics of 2021

10. Alice in Leatherland (Black Mask)

Alice in Leatherland is a wholesome, sexy, and hyper-stylized slice of life romance comic from the creative team of Iolanda Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli. The book is about Alice, a children’s book writer, who leaves her small town for San Francisco when her girlfriend cheats on her and captures the fear and adrenaline of taking a big step in your life. The series explores sex and love through an expansive cast of LGBTQ+ characters that I wanted to spend more than five issues with. Romboli uses fairy tale style visuals as a metaphor to examine Alice’s feelings and self-growth throughout the series, and she excels at depicting both the hilarious and erotic. Alice in Leatherland is an emotional, funny read with well-developed queer characters and made me immediately add Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli to the list of creators I’ll read anything by.

9. The Autumnal (Vault)

The Autumnal by Daniel Kraus, Chris Shehan, and Jason Wordie was the most unsettling comic I read in 2021. The book follows Kat Somerville and her daughter Sybil as they leave Chicago for the town of Comfort Notch, New Hampshire. However, this town isn’t a rural oasis, but incredibly creepy. Kraus’ script unravels the foundation of blood that the town is built on while Shehan and Wordie create tension with the fall of the leaf or a crackle of a branch. I also love how fleshed out Kat is as she deals with being an outsider in what turns out to be an unfriendly space with her parenting style and approach to life being critiqued by her neighbors. Finally, The Autumnal is the finest of slow burns beginning with NIMBY/Karen-like behavior and then going full-on death cult. It’s a must read for anyone who has lived or experienced a place where time seems to stand still, or who thinks a NextDoor app post could be the basis of a good horror story.

8. The Joker (DC)

Contrary to its title, James Tynion, Guillem March, Steffano Rafaele, Arif Prianto, and others’ The Joker isn’t a comic looking at the Clown Prince of Crime’s inner psyche, but is a globe-trotting P.I. type story featuring Jim Gordon trying to capture the Joker for some folks that looks shadier and shadier as the story progresses. Tynion and (predominantly) March show the effect Joker has had on Gordon’s life and his family while also showing him discover himself outside the bounds of Gotham and its police department. As the series progresses, The Joker shows the impact that Batman and his rogue’s gallery have had on the rest of the world, and the ways governments, intelligence agencies, and more nefarious organizations deal with threats of their ilk. Along with a crime novel set in present time, James Tynion, Matthew Rosenberg, and the virtuosic Francesco Francavilla created several flashback comics showing the development of Jim Gordon’s relationship with the Joker over the years, and how it effected his family life and career almost acting as a “Year One” for Gordon as Francavilla’s art style shifts based on the era the story is set in. Plus most issues of Joker feature colorful backup stories with Harper Row trying to bring Joker’s newest ally Punchline to justice in and out of prison from Tynion, Sam Johns, Sweeney Boo, Rosi Kampe, and others.

7. Kane and Able (Image)

Kane and Able is a dual-cartoonist anthology featuring work by British cartoonists Shaky Kane and Krent Able. Kane’s stories flow together in a Jack Kirby-meets-David Lynch kind of way blurring the lines between fiction and metafiction, reality and unreality while also acting as an opportunity for him to draw cool things like dinosaurs, space women, aliens, the King of Comics, and even himself. Able’s stories have more of a grindhouse, body horror quality to him as a chainsaw-wielding Bear Fur battles a boom box wielding cockroach woman, who flesh bonds everyone in a listless, major city. Both creators have delightful, distinctive styles and put their own spin on genres like sci-fi, exploitation, and superhero. Kane and Able is free-flowing, clever, and most of all, fun and is tailor made for the larger page format of treasury editions.

6. Static Season One (DC/Milestone)

As far as pure visuals go, Static Season One by Vita Ayala, Nikolas Draper-Ivey, and ChrisCross was easily one of the best looking books on the stands in 2021. This was in addition to reinventing the iconic Black superhero through the lens of contemporary social movements, like Black Lives Matter and protests against police brutality in summer of 2020. Static Season One doesn’t merely pay homage to the classic Milestone series, but brings it into 2021 with fight sequences straight out of the best shonen manga and a three dimensional supporting cast that holistically explore the Black experience in the United States while also being a coming of age and superhero origin tale. Draper-Ivey’s character designs are sleek as hell, and his high energy approach to color palette adds intensity to fight and chase scenes. I’m excited to see what the talented creative duo of Ayala and Nikolas Draper-Ivey bring to Static’s journey as Season One wraps up and Season Two (hopefully) begins in 2022.

5. Renegade Rule (Dark Horse)

Renegade Rule is an original graphic novel from Ben Kahn, Rachel Silverstein, and Sam Beck that is a perfect fusion of a sports manga and a queer romance story set in the world of competitive video games. Even if you’re like me and have only attempted to play Overwatch a single time, Renegade Rule and its world are quite accessible via things like hypercompetitiveness, sexual tension, and breathtaking fight choreography. The in-game sequences are almost like musical numbers and use shooting, sniping, and various acrobatics to make characters’ unspoken thoughts real. Renegade Rule is like if your favorite sports movie and romantic comedy had a gay baby who loved kicking ass at video games, and I pumped my fist every time the Manhattan Mist overcame adversity or overwhelming odds and smiled when certain characters ended up with each other…

4. Echolands (Image)

After a four year absence from interior art, co-writer/artist J.H. Williams III didn’t mess around with Echolands, a love letter to both genre fiction and double page spreads. Done in collaboration with co-writer Haden Blackman and colorist Dave Stewart, Echolands is an epic fantasy quest loaded up with all kinds of genres and art styles leaking off the page and was one of the most immersive comics I read in 2021. It has a sprawling cast and world, but Blackman and Williams know when to slow down and dig into Hope Redhood and her allies and antagonists’ motivations and when to drop in a multi-page underwater or underground chase sequence. With its unique landscape layouts and all the details in J.H. Williams and Stewart’s visuals, Echolands is definitely a book worth picking up in physical format and has backmatter that both humorously and seriously adds to the worldbuilding.

3. DC Pride (DC)

In honor of Pride Month, DC Comics put some of its most talented LGBTQ+ creators on its most iconic LGBTQ+ characters in a super-sized celebration of overcoming adversity, being yourself, and loving whoever you want to love. DC Pride covered a spectrum of sexual and gender identities from a fast-paced date night story featuring the non-binary Flash, Jess Chambers, to James Tynion and Trung Le Nguyen’s fairy tale influenced story of Batwoman’s younger days and even the first appearance of transgender superhero Dreamer (From the Supergirl TV show) in the comics. Depending on the character or creative team, the different stories could be adventurous and flirtatious, heartfelt and emotional, or a bit of both. This book shows that superhero comics have come a long way since the stereotypes of the 1980s and 1990s, but there’s still room for improvement as many of the characters featured in this anthology are relegated to backup stories or are supporting cast members of cisgender, heterosexual heroes.

2. Barbalien: Red Planet (Dark Horse)

Barbalien: Red Planet is a masterfully crafted, queer rage infused superhero/sci-fi comic from Jeff Lemire, Tate Brombal, Gabriel Walta, and Jordie Bellaire. It understands subtext is for cowards and draws parallels between Barbalien coming out as gay and a Martian with his new friend/potential lover Miguel, who is a Latino activist fighting for the US government to do something about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Barbalien: Red Planet pays homage to the Black and Latinx activists who fought for queer liberation and is also an emotionally honest character study for Barbalien, who is easily my favorite character in the Black Hammer universe. Lemire, Brombal, and Walta use the superhero and sword and planet genres to explore the conflict between queer folks and power structures as Barbalien struggles with trying to fit into Spiral City as a white cop or being his true, gay Martian self. And to get personal for a second, Barbalien: Red Planet inspired me to speak out against my city’s Pride organization’s open support of police even though it led to me resigning as chairperson of my work’s LGBTQ+ employee affinity group. It’s both a damn good superhero book and a story that had a huge impact on my life in 2020-2021.

1. Die (Image)

My favorite comic of 2021 was Die by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans that wrapped up with the mother of all quest arcs. But beyond having cool fantasy landscapes and wrapping up each party member’s arc, Die nailed the importance of stories, whether games, comics, films, prose, TV shows etc., to change how we view and interact with the world in both a heightened and realistic manner. Most of the realism came in Die #20 where the main characters escape the world of the game into our reality with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing and have emotional reunions with loved ones or just hang out by themselves. However, the final arc of Die also is full of existential nightmares courtesy of Hans’ visuals as well as awakenings and self-realization, especially in Die #19 where Ash comes out as non-binary and discusses how games and fiction shaped their identity. The final issues of Die is a double-edged look at the power of narrative and games to shape us done in both glorious and surprisingly intimate fashion, and I felt I really knew Ash, Matt, Angela, Isabelle, Matt, Chuck, and Sol in the end.

Honorable Mentions: Casual Fling (AWA), Nightwing (DC), Made in Korea (Image), Barbaric (Vault), Superman and the Authority (DC), Catwoman: Lonely City (DC/Black Label)

FlameCon 2018: The Panels

To go along with an environment free of toxicity and full of heartfelt enthusiasm to go with the water stations, pronoun stickers, and the best press lounge in my five years of covering conventions, Flame Con also had nuanced panels on a variety of comics and pop culture topics with panelists, who represented a broad spectrum of voices and experiences. I attended three panels at the con: “Fan Activists Assemble!” about practical ways members of fandom can effect sociopolitical change, “Fangirl… But then Make It Fashion” an entertaining, yet wide ranging panel about the larger cultural context of character designs and costumes, and “Telling All Ages Queer Stories” about LGBTQ representation in all ages comics.

Jay Edidin and Elana Levin

Fan Activists Assemble! (Saturday)

Fan Activists Assemble” was hosted by Elana Levin of Graphic Policy Radio, who also trains digital organizes and is a new media mentor and also featured a guest appearance from journalist and podcaster Jay Edidin of Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men fame. Pop culture has always been intertwined with her activism beginning with her love for the X-Men comics, and her current passion is bridging those two worlds via the tool of the Internet. She also talked about how social media and the ability for protests to “trend” has helped the way they are viewed in society unlike in the past when protesters were arrested or beat up by the police, and their narrative was shaped by traditional news media.

As Stephen Duncombe said, “Scratch an activist, and you’re apt to find a fan.” At the beginning of her talk, Elana Levin stated many strengths that fans can bring to the world of activism, including community building, thinking beyond the world we exist in, and practical skills like art, writing, social media posting, and even meme and GIF making. Fans don’t have to reinvent the wheel and form their own organization and can bring their talents and fresh POV to existing organizations from larger ones like GLAAD or the ACLU to smaller, local ones.

Next, Levin brought in Jay Edidin as a case study of fan activism when he confronted Dark Horse Comics for having healthcare that excluded any coverage “…related to gender dysphoria and transition” while claiming to be an LGBTQ friendly company and featuring the Pride flag on their Twitter profile. Edidin used to be an employee of Dark Horse Comics and has been a journalist since 2007. He couldn’t go public for a while because his ex-husband worked for Dark Horse, but seeing the company’s Pride Day tweet led to him confronting the company. With the help of comic book creator, Mariah McCourt, an open letter stating a demand for expanding Dark Horse’s healthcare coverage was drafted and signed by many comics professionals. Dark Horse changed their policy a day before the letter went public.

Elana Levin showed that this action fit an effective four part organizational strategy. There was the goal, which was for Dark Horse Comics to have trans inclusive healthcare, the target was upper management because they have the power to effect change in the company, the “ask” was for comics creators to sign the open letter, and the message was for Dark Horse to basically put their money where their mouth is and support the LGBTQ community through their actions and not just through rainbow logos. Jay Edidin added that using the letter format was important because comics creators are vulnerable on their own.

Later, in the panel, Elana Levin gave examples of how social media and hashtags are able to shape discussions like the conversation around having an Asian American Iron Fist that cast a shadow over Finn Jones’ eventual casting as him in the Marvel Netflix show. Even if this didn’t end in a “win”, it started a conversation, and Marvel later did some race bent casting by having Tessa Thompson play Valkyrie in Thor Ragnarok and Zazie Beetz play Domino in Deadpool 2. Levin also laid out practical rules for hashtags, including keeping them short and simple and only using two per tweet. An example was using #WakandatheVote and #BlackPanther in a tweet about registering voters who were in line for the Black Panther film. She also reiterated the importance of having a specific goal, targeting decision makers, and having a clear ask in online activism using the Harry Potter Alliance’s efforts of having the franchise’s chocolate frogs made with fair trade chocolate and opposing North Carolina’s anti-trans HB2 “bathroom bill”.

The panel concluded with Levin engaging the audience in their own activism brainstorming session with an audience member discussing the need for more asexual representation in pop culture and comics and using FlameCon as a venue to make a case for this.  This led to a side discussion about the importance of fun in activism and helping keep people engaged in cause from free pizza and T-shirts to crafting GIFs like one of the Dora Milaje from Black Panther metaphorically confronting ICE.

Little Corvus, Yoshi Yoshitani, Aaron Reese, Terry Blas, Jen Bartel, Irene Koh

“Fangirl… But Then Make It Fashion!” (Saturday)

“Fan Activists Assemble” was immediately followed by the “Fangirl… But Then Make It Fashion” panel, which was moderated by Geeks Out’s Aaron Reese. The panelists were comic book creators Little Corvus (Deja Brew), Yoshi Yoshitani (Jem and the Holograms), Terry Blas (Dead Weight), Irene Koh (The Legend of Korra), and Jen Bartel (America). After breaking the ice with a fun discussion about favorite candies, Reese started out by asking about the difference between cultural inspiration and appropriation in character outfits. Bartel stressed the importance of “cultural and historical context” in fashion while Koh gave the positive example of the Bangladeshi character she introduced in the Legend of Korra comics as well as time periods where there was “cultural exchange” between European and Asian cultures.

A negative example given by Koh was Queen Amidala’s outfits in Star Wars, which she said were inspired by North Asian and Mongolian fashions and demeaned the original culture. Reese added that Padme had dreadlocks in a deleted scene from Revenge of the Sith, which led to the realization that most of the design and fashion choices in Star Wars are cultural appropriation beginning with the “white guys dressed like ninjas” that Terry Blas used to describe the Jedi Knights. Blas said that unlike Star Wars which exoticizes or “others” its Asian influences, Avatar: The Last Airbender respected Asian cultures even though it wasn’t created by Asians and was superhero stories for people who didn’t have superheroes that looked like them.

The discussion then turned to the popular video game Overwatch where Yoshi Yoshitani criticized the character Doomfist, whose map and character is supposedly inspired by Nigerian culture, but he is half naked, has tusks, and looks like the creators never did research on actual Nigerian fashion. She said that Hanzo and Symmetra had good designs while Irene Koh poked fun at Hanzo’s obsession with honor. Aaron Reese said that the issue with Overwatch was that the game designers focused on environments instead of character looks.

The next topic was body positivity, and Reese gave a shout out to Rose Quartz and the curviness and softness of characters in Steven Universe as well as the strength of Antiope from the Wonder Woman film and the other athletic “hunter/gatherer” Amazon women. His bad example was Psylocke, and a slide showed an example from both the comics and Olivia Munn playing her in X-Men: Apocalypse. Little Corvus made a good point that the difficulty that the panel had thinking of examples was a big problem in pop culture. Terry Blas used the example of his comic Dead Weight about a murder mystery at a fat camp where the characters are drawn as fat in different ways that reflects their character instead of just having the same body shape.

Bartel said that she had done covers for the character Faith from Valiant Comics and liked her as a representative of body positivity, but said that she wished she could redesign her costume into something that the superheroine would actually wear. In connection with this, Blas said that some male comic book artists spend hours of research getting a jet engine part right, but don’t consider fashion in their work. This led to a discussion about female superhero body types with Yoshitani saying that there was pressure on female superheroes to be perfect for everyone. Irene Koh said that she wished superhero artists took inspiration from ESPN: The Body Issue, which shows how different kinds of athletes have different body types.

Other topics discussed by the panel, included gender expression and how this was handled better in anime than in Western comics with Little Corvus making an excellent point about how Mulan could be non-binary as she explores different gender presentations in the 1998 Disney film. Another topic was color washing where Reese and Koh strongly criticized writers who described people of color like food.  The panel ended on a positive note with Reese, Blas, and Little Corvus talking about how the Runaways from the Hulu TV show and America were good representations of teenage fashion and their clothing choices made them seem like they were real people.

This panel reinforced the idea that careful attention to a character’s heritage even through something like a piece of clothing makes for a richer reading or viewing experience, and it also challenged me to look at media that I have taken for granted for instances of cultural appropriation. Star Wars was a big one.

Steve Fox, Chad Sell, Barbara Perez Marquez, Molly Ostertag, Lilah Sturges, James Tynion IV

“Telling All Ages Queer Stories” (Sunday)

The final panel I attended was on Sunday and was about all ages comics created by LGBTQ creators. The panel was moderated by Paste’s Steve Foxe and featured Chad Sell (Cardboard Kingdom), Barbara Perez Marquez (Cardboard Kingdom), Molly Ostertag (Witch Boy), Lilah Sturges (Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass), and James Tynion IV (Justice League Dark)Foxe began by asking what kind of LGBTQ characters whether positive or negative the panelists came across when they were young adults.

Tynion said that he mainly read superhero comics growing up where there wasn’t a lot of LGBTQ representation except for homophobic jokes and said he connected to the X-Men as well as webcomics with gay characters when he was in middle school. Sell said that an issue of Superman from the early 1990s scared him into possibly not coming out when two gay men were chased out of town and then rescued by Superman. The point he got from this story is that if he came out as gay, he would be forced to run away. Sturges’ first experience with a trans character in media was The Crying Game, but she said until Lana Wachowski made her 2012 speech that trans characters were portrayed as either pathetic or deceivers. She said that she enjoyed writing Jo as a happy trans kid in Lumberjanes. Perez Marquez talked about how she didn’t grow up with LGBTQ characters, but did connect with queer coded” characters like Spinelli from Recess.

Foxe’s next question was that in writing stories about LGBT youth that the panelists drew on their own childhood or an idealized one. James Tynion said that his science fiction series The Woods about a school being transported to a different planet drew on his own experiences as an out queer high schooler while his series The Backstagers about theater kids was more idealized. Molly Ostertag said that she wasn’t out as a lesbian in high school, and her upcoming queer high school girl romance was a vision of what she wanted as a teenager. However, she didn’t want to talk down to teens or avoid the realities of homophobia. Lilah Sturges said she felt a moment of doubt writing about the happy romance between Mal and Molly in Lumberjanes, but said she was able to write it because Lumberjanes like their relationship is a true utopian vision. Barbara Perez Marquez’s work on Cardboard Kingdom was more true to her life as a young queer Dominican girl while her webcomic Order of the Belfry was pure wish fulfillment about lady knights who kiss.

The discussion shifted to queer content filtering and pushback about LGBTQ content from editors and publishers. Tynion made a good point about how companies realized there was money in queer audiences and said he got some pushback in his superhero books and relatively none in his all ages comics for BOOM! Ostertag said it was easier to “push the envelope” in regards to LGBTQ content in comics versus television where she rarely interacted with the people who pulled the strings. So, it was much easier for her to explore gender roles in Witch Boy where a boy wants to try girl magic and not boy magic and harder to have a same gender couple holding hands in the background of an animated show. Sell and Perez Marquez talked about the “sneaky” representation of Cardboard Kingdom which are stories geared to 9-12 year olds and don’t have labels, but do explore things like same sex attraction and gender nonconformity.

Then, the panel basically transformed into a pure celebration of LGBTQ YA stories. James Tynion talked about how in Backstagers that he began with subtle representation and then had two of his leads, Jory and Hunter, become boyfriends by the end of the series. Lilah Sturges said that she enjoyed writing a pre-teen trans coming of age story in Lumberjanes because it’s not sexual and is a pure statement about what does it mean to have a gender. She also revealed something adorable that will make fans of the series smile when they read her graphic novel. Chad Sell talked about how he chose writers for The Cardboard Kingdom based on their own personal experiences that they could bring to the “neighborhood” of stories.

The panel ended in Q and A where an audience member asked about how the creators as adults captured the voices of today’s young people in their comics. Barbara Perez Marquez made the excellent suggestion of having kids or teens like in a public library’s graphic novel or anime club to beta read their scripts and give notes on what they liked about the scripts.

Review: Dark Knights Rising: The Wild Hunt #1

WildHuntCoverDetective Chimp and Grant Morrison fans, rejoice! Both play pivotal roles in Dark Knights Rising: The Wild Hunt, a one-shot that acts as the penultimate chapter of obscure DC Comic character and evil version of Batman filled “Metal” crossover. Morrison is joined by writers/DC architects Scott Snyder, James Tynion, and Joshua Williamson and a blockbuster art team of Howard Porter, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, Jamie Mendoza, Hi-Fi, Alejandro Sanchez, and Wil Quintana to show the last stand of the multiverse against the Dark Multiverse and its metal album cover Batmen. You might want to dust off that copy of Final Crisis or at least check out the Wiki page of The Bleed before diving into this one-shot. The Batman: Red Death one-shot helps the emotional beats land.

The Wild Hunt has several gears it hits. There’s the Morrisonian multiversal technobabble that gets dropped pretty early on and thankfully is roasted by mad scientists, like T.O. Morrow and Sivana, who are apparently good guys in this crossover. This is when the book is at its least fun. However, it’s entertaining when the writers say “Screw it!” and let Porter, Jimenez, and Mahnke cut loose with super cool double page splashes that show these high (As balls.) concept in action. Some personal visual highlights include Jimenez’s manga meets speed lines pages of Raven interfacing with and then empathizing with The Bleed (Barrier between universes.) and then throwing down a kick-ass one-liner with a purple background. There’s also Porter’s ballad of Red Death, who gets a golden makeover and a little redemption in a decent homage to Crisis on Infinite Earths down to his final fate. (Maybe, you should read that comic too before taking on this one.)

The third gear of Wild Hunt, and honestly I blame Morrison for this one, is pure comics kookiness embodied by the first and final pages of the book. (I think they were drawn by Mahnke and Mendoza, but don’t quote me because his style blends well.) Morrison and Mahnke retell the origin story of Detective Chimp and gets a little metafictional by including the map from Multiversity and the sheet music from Superman’s song in Final Crisis. These panels feel like a couple of old rockers digging into their greatest hits before the last third of the comics hits, and they realize they need a new hit single to get the fans on their feet again. (In light of the event of Wild Hunt #1, this comic could be taken literally or metaphorically.)

ChimpYearOne

However, I don’t think they stick the landing and going for wacky for the sake of wackiness instead of something poignant. I do find the idea of Detective Chimp as a kind of ersatz furry Batman to be fascinating, and he gets a full Hero’s Journey in Wild Hunt #1 as he comes to grips with using the vast knowledge of the DC multiverse stored underneath his deer stalker. (The origin for his trademark headwear gave me all the feels.) He wants to be hopeful and look up in the sky, but hell is opening up at his feet. Chimp is piddling around a keyboard and trying to find a tune to save the world, and hell, he might have found it. Also, his piano playing is a nice throughline between Morrison’s work on Final Crisis and Snyder’s on Metal because a shared superhero universe is a neverending symphony of players, characters and creators both.

With searing multiversal land (and sound)scapes from Howard Porter, Jorge Jimenez, and Doug Mahnke; enchanting and frightening colors from Hi-Fi, Alejandro Sanchez, and Wil Quintana; and a very Grant Morrison, The Wild Hunt #1 is a decent setup to the Metal finale even though the last few pages will either make you laugh nervously or do a hard eye roll.

Story: Scott Snyder, Grant Morrison, James Tynion IV, Josh Williamson Art: Howard Porter, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke with Jamie Mendoza
Colors: Hi-Fi, Alejandro Sanchez, Wil Quintana

Story: 7.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Team Up Again

Gotham’s Dark Knight joins forces with New York’s Heroes in A Half-Shell this December as DC Entertainment and IDW Publishing have announced plans for Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, a six-issue follow up to the smash-hit crossover series of 2015. Writer James Tynion IV and artist Freddie Williams II will reunite for this second meeting of two icons of pop culture.

When Donatello goes looking for a new mentor to help him improve his fighting skills, he opens a doorway to another reality, hoping to summon the Turtles’ one-time ally, Batman. But instead, he gets sent to Gotham City and someone else comes through the open portal —Bane! Suddenly, there’s a new gang boss in New York and he’s out to unite all the other bad guys under him. Can Donnie get back in time and bring Batman with him to help his brothers before Bane causes irreparable destruction?

As an added bonus for fans, the first two issues will release in December before going monthly. Issue #1 hits comics retailers and digital outlets on December 6, with issue #2 following two weeks later on December 20.

In addition to covers by Williams II, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman will illustrate variant covers for the series.

Review: Love is Love

loveislovefiOn June 12, 2016, a hateful man killed 49 people and wounded 53 at The Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, Florida. This was a terrible day for the LGBTQ community, and I was just plain sad. A couple weeks ago, I had celebrated getting a job and moving to a new city with a few friends at a couple gay clubs in my old home of Richmond, Virginia so a thought went through my head, “It could have been me.” Even though I am relatively privileged as a white cisgendered, relatively straight passing bisexual male, I had no queer friends in my new home to turn to and confide in after the events in Orlando. But what got me through was the queer comics and comics journalism community, and my Facebook inboxes and Twitter DM’s were filled with messages of hope and understanding. I may have felt alone in my current situation, but these beautiful people, many of whom I have never met in the flesh, got me through the tough days after the Pulse shooting.

The Love is Love comics anthology project from IDW Publishing with assistance from DC Comics, Archie Comics, Aftershock, and the Will Eisner estate gave me a similar feeling of the comics community coming together to mourn after The Pulse shooting. While reading the graphic novel, I simultaneously felt sadness and hope and remembered that despite the scandals that the comics industry has some great folks, whose excellent work appears in this comic. I enjoyed how well-represented all genders, races, sexualities, and religions were in Love is Love along with the different art styles and color palette. On a pure aesthetic level, most of the stories in Love is Love hit two of my favorite genre sweet spots: superhero and autobio, which made it a great read on both an emotional and intellectual level.

Honestly, I could write a book about the brilliant one to three page stories, poems, and pinups in Love is Love, and maybe I will one day. For the purpose of this review, I will hit on a few that affected me personally; those stories that through words, art, colors, and letters gave me comfort as I thought back to Orlando.

batwomanPaul Dini‘s Harley and Ivy story is insanely adorable and nails their romantic relationship in a nutshell with each one making compromises for the each other. For example, Harley goes vegetarian while Ivy is subjected to a Three Stooges marathon. Bill Morrison‘s art is very similar to the style of Batman: Animated Series and peppered with all kinds of background details to add to the humor. Another funny story (Albeit darker than Harley and Ivy shenanigans.) that provided some great comic relief in the midst of the emotionally headier material of Love is Love was a Deathstroke one by Taran Killam where he switches out his arsenal of guns for karate after the Pulse shooting. Gallows humor is a great way to stave off pain.

As someone whose sexuality is still not accepted by those close to me and was afraid to come out until I was 19, Love is Love‘s portrayal of homophobia is harrowing, yet all too relatable. Early, in the book, Daniel Beals and David Lafuente do a splitscreen story where two young boys see the same news coverage of The Pulse, but react in vastly different ways because of their parent’s homophobia and empathy respectively. Then, there is a nuanced story from Jeff King and Steve Pugh where a girl is sad about the shooting and wants to go to the memorial service, but her dad is uneasy about men kissing men. Later, he realizes how thoughtless he was and apologizes. I know Pugh from his superhero work on Fantastic Four and Detective Comics, and this appeal for forgiveness was just as fictional as Batman or Reed Richards in my own life.

The stories that bypassed my head and went straight to my heart strings were ones that focused on queer clubs as sanctuaries. In six pulsing panels and two pages, comics legends Grant Morrison and Jesus Merino capture the beat with alternating colors and skeletons in the background. Without a word, an image engulfed my mind and reminded me of fog lights, cute boys, and too many Long Island ice teas. In a similar vein, Emma Houxbois and Alejandra Gutierrez looked at the escapism of a queer club experience complete with cuties and the sad realities of the morning after. (Full disclosure: I worked closely with Emma on the Fantheon podcast and at the websites The Rainbow Hub and Pop Optiq and she has contributed to this site.) The comic had a soft color palette and intelligent narration while still connecting to my personal experiences and of other LGBTQ people. And it was followed by a silent comic by Brian Michael Bendis, his daughter Olivia Bendis, Michael Oeming, and Taki Soma that captured the joy and energy of a queer night club with people dancing with they wanted to and bright colors everywhere courtesy of Soma.

Many of the creators, who were from Florida, had very personal stories to share about the LGBTQ community of Orlando, which were sad and enjoyable, like Scott Snyder, who wrote a prose piece with a spot illustration by Jock about working at Disney World, and how some of the queer employees, who played various Disney characters, would invite him to a gay bar every Thursday and accept him.

Love is Love gave me an opportunity to listen to the stories of some queer comics creators that I have admired for quite some time, like James Tynion and Phil Jimenez. Tynion’s story was drawn in black and white by artist Molly Ostertag except for splotches of rainbow in the bracelet that he got as a youngster. It skips time frantically in a two page story as he comes to terms with his sexuality cutting from him spending time with his friends at Pride to facing the fact that he is a bisexual boy at an all-boy’s Catholic school. Jimenez did his comic with his writer friend David Kim and talked about how they had grown up from using codenames to show that they are dating men to being out and proud DC Comics creators. The comic is filled with snatches of conversations they had about relationships and even superhero oddities as they reflect on their friendship after the events in Orlando. Jimenez also excels at wispy, life drawing as well as superheroes, Amazons, and the Invisible College.

The queer DC Comics character that means the most to me is definitely Midnighter, and I was happy to see him featured in a couple of the Love is Love stories. The first one is by Dan DiDio and Carlos D’Anda and acts as a crash course in DC’s LGBTQ characters. It’s pretty amusing and features Midnighter and Apollo doing shots of tequila and getting on the dance floor with Batwoman as Renee Montoya snarks from the sides. The other one was my favorite story of the entire Love is Love collection from Tom Taylor, Emily Smith, and Michael Garland. Midnighter was angry after The Pulse shooting just like I was angry, and Garland punctuates his anger with a red background. He’s just punching aimlessly when Apollo shows up and says that he is not alone and will be safe with him. This kind of solidarity between queer people in the face of death and tragedy truly empowered me as Taylor makes good use of Midnighter’s vulnerable side that is the emotional center of Steve Orlando’s current work on his title.

Other highlights of Love is Love included Tom King and Mitch Gerads doing a rainbow-tinted Batman tale, Sterling Gates returning to Supergirl and writing about how she failed to save the day, married couple Amanda Seibert and Cat Staggs showing Batwoman comforting a child, whose mother died at The Pulse, and much more. There’s even a wonderful, yet vulnerable riff on Beauty and the Beast from Marguerite Bennett and Aneke where Bennett, and an LGBT-inclusive riff on DC’s old romance comics from project creator Marc Andreyko with art from George Perez, Karl Kesel, and Laura Allred.  A full list of collaborators on Love is Love can be found here, and I definitely plan on delving into their other work.

Love is Love is personal, beautiful, and tragic collection of comics that really affected me despite their being more “ally” creators than LGBTQ ones. I hope it will make the world a more loving and inclusive place even in the shadow of the election of two homophobes to the office of president and vice president.

As Batman says in King and Gerads’ story, “Today, I will get up. Today, I will face their hate… And I will again fight for my love.” Visual and verbal moments like that are why I love comics.

Story: Various Art: Various
Story: 9.5 Art: 10 Overall: 9.8 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Zeismic