Tag Archives: Young Animal

Review: Eternity Girl #1

EternityGirl1Cover“Laid yourself out under the stars. Some peace at last so don’t be sad. A fitting end to your end…” from “Some Kind of Nothingness” by Manic Street Preachers (2010)

Abandon hope all ye who enter here, this article is more of a self-therapy session than a review of a DC comic book. Gallows humor about suicide, therapy sessions, cake and vodka veg out time on the couch, Eternity Girl #1 is definitely not your typical superhero/espionage book. This new book from Magdalene Visaggio, Sonny Liew, and Chris Chuckry fits like a glove with the Young Animal imprint’s ethos of telling stories about strange, yet extraordinary individuals that explore universal human themes in an experimental way with a psychedelic color palette. Caroline Sharp, the superhero/spy operative formerly known as Chrysalis or Eternity Girl (See the “Milk Wars” backups.) has been suspended because her shapeshifting abilities glitched and hurt a fellow Alpha 13 operative. She has to get the green light from her therapist before going back to active duty, but that seems light years away. Really, Caroline just wants to die and collapse in the nothingness of Chuckry’s electric blue  color palette.

To steal a phrase/cliché from an old children’s game, Liew’s art in Eternity Girl #1 can be light as a feather or stiff as a board depending on the mental state of our suicidal, “elemental superwoman” protagonist. When she dissociates, Liew’s pencils are fluid as Caroline becomes an energy wave, almost one with the universe. But when she’s forced to take up space in public, Liew’s sharp, rigid lines make you feel the pain in her body as she tries to maintain a frail human form on public transportation. He also has a real gift from switching gears from emotive slice of life, two friends at a coffee shop style art to throwback superhero work when Caroline is thinking about her past as Chrysalis and is confronted by the spectre of one of her old, presumed dead foes and finally pure Kirby crackle when the story gets really philosophical/trippy. My one minor critique of Liew’s work is that Caroline’s therapist and her good friend Dani look very similar, and I thought they were the same person until finally realizing they weren’t thanks to context clues/a second reading.

Visaggio and Liew convey a feeling that everyone who has ever suffered from anxiety or depression can understand of putting on a brave, happy, competent, and/or professional face when you want to cry, scream, or most of the time, just lie there motionless like when Caroline is making dark quips to her therapist about her suicide attempts. The use of humor to mask pain is definitely relatable, and using it to kick off Eternity Girl #1 immediately shows that Visaggio understands the nature of depression. She doesn’t sugarcoat things and isn’t afraid that after losing her purpose in life as a member of Alpha-13, Caroline feels like she’s just “killing time” and hoping that one of her futile (Due to her power set.) suicide attempts actually pan out. Immortal plus depression seriously sucks. However, in a literal earth and reality shattering third act, Caroline realizes that she has to pass as a functional human before she tastes death’s sweet release.

As a book, Eternity Girl #1 is nestled in a nice niche between artsy indie and superhero comic, but leaning more towards to the artsy side thanks to the fragmented nature of Magdalene Visaggio’s plot and Sonny Liew’s art plus scattershot, intergalactic colors from Chris Chuckry towards the end. However, Visaggio, Liew, and Chuckry use this niche to honestly probe and explore the feelings that come with depression and create opportunities for connection and empathy in regards to mental health through this engaging comic book. Because sometimes you don’t fear death, you long for it…

Story: Magdalene Visaggio  Art: Sonny Liew Colors: Chris Chuckry 
Story: 9.6 Art: 8.8 Overall: 9.2 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics/Young Animal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye/Swamp Thing Special #1

CaveSwampIn its penultimate chapter, “Milk Wars” gets grody and corporate as Cave Carson, his daughter Chloe, and the hockey mask wearing vigilante Wild Dog team up with Swamp Thing against brainwashed cubicle dweller types and a spot-on parody of those soulless, yet addictive Pop Vinyl figures. Jon Rivera’s scripting is a little on the nose as far as the corporate satire goes, but is more than redeemed by some funny one-liners (A guy reading his fellow co-workers name badge while beheading him takes the cake.) and the cast chemistry between Cave, Chloe, and Wild Dog.

But the best part of Cave Carson/Swamp Thing Special #1 is the interplay between Langdon Foss’ (Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier) art and Nick Filardi that threads together like one of Swamp Thing’s tendrils. When Swamp Thing bursts into one of one Retconn’s (Evil mind-controlling and metafictional corporation) offices and wakes up Cave and the crew from a milk induced stupor, Filardi throws up the puke green, and Foss gets grotesque with faces and various liquids. It’s very third act of Hateful Eight, but without the two hours of self-indulgent dialogue. Sometimes, epiphanies about being rat in a cage, or cubicle slave in a cave aren’t beautiful come to Jesus moments, but involve puking your guts up.

However, Foss and Filardi can do sleek and beautiful too when Cave and Chloe try to blow the office and attempt to rescue those under lactose tolerant mind control. Foss channels his inner John McTiernan and also Michael Avon Oeming’s work in the original Cave Carson comic with air vent escapades and excavations that use every inch of the CaveOffice.jpgpage and turn overcrowded cubicle space into an action playground. Filardi contributes to the tense mood with pinks and blues that are the polar opposite of the clinical off white palette he uses for the office scenes earlier in the book. Almost, every page has Ben-Day dots giving the book an old school comic gone deranged feel.

Cave Carson/Swamp Thing Special explores similar themes of conformity and corporate subservience as the other “Milk Wars” comics, but also riffs off the viscous body horror of Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben Saga of the Swamp Thing run. Swamp Thing’s first big splash page is an homage to the classic “Anatomy Lesson” story with a chopped up body emerging out of his green form. Langdon Foss’ take on Swamp Thing finds a happy medium between the sad, detailed Bissette/Totleben Swamp Thing and the more cartoonish Swampy like in the Justice League Dark animated film. It might not be as regal or easy on the eyes, but erring on the cartoon side helps when Swamp Thing starts punching office workers or emerging from a Green salad. Yeah, this is a pretty weird and great comic, and there’s even a much less sexual, but just as psychedelic allusion to Swamp Thing’s magic fruit.

On the Eternity Girl backup story front, Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew turn in their best work yet in a minimalist, yellow tinged parody of comics that break the fourth wall. Basically, when you run out of ideas or stories just tear everything down. The two pager is quite cathartic in age of reboots, reimaginings, and fresh starts and has elegant layouts and line work.

Cave Carson/Swamp Thing Special is a tiny bit office drone satire with a portion of DC “mature readers” body horror and is mostly a damn fun caper from Jon Rivera, Langdon Foss, and Nick Filardi. It’s gross, thrilling, and thought provoking (Sometimes all at once.) and provides a segue to the “Milk Wars” finale without taking up too much space from this adventure.

Story: Jon Rivera Art: Langdon Foss Colors: Nick Filardi
  Backup Story: Magdalene Visaggio Backup Art: Sonny Liew 
Story: 7.9 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.2 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics/Young Animal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: JLA/Doom Patrol Special #1

JLA DOOM PATROL SPECIAL #1Grab a milkshake, put a cherry on top, and maybe add a shot of whiskey or two, and you’ve got JLA/Doom Patrol #1, the first chapter of the monthlong DC Comics/Young Animal “Milk Wars” crossover. Writers Gerard Way and Steve Orlando combine the surrealism and fourth wall obliterating metafiction of Doom Patrol  with the punching and personality-driven Justice League of America to create the soft serve chocolate swirl of “event” comics. It roasts these kind of stories while indulging in all the tropes, including a spread it all around your dorm room four page spread from artist Aco and colorists Tamra Bonvillain and Marissa Louise of the Doom Patrol fighting the literally homogenized version of the JLA.

It’s super entertaining, in general, to see the book go from a critique of corporate comics to a 1950s Americana small town mystery thriller, then a slugfest, and finally an unlikely team-up thanks to a couple stinger pages that put those Wolverine “post-credits” pages in inconsequential Marvel Comics to shame. The play of genre, tongue in cheek sense satire, and embrace of the strange side of superhero stories makes JLA/Doom Patrol generally fantastic. It’s the comic book equivalent of getting a tasty dessert and getting some nutritious visuals and ideas along the way.

From his first appearance on the obviously homaging All Star Superman cover from Frank Quitely, Milkman Man is a fantastic villain even if the real Big Bad is the aptly named Retconn corporation. Besides being connected to a plot point in the main Doom Patrol series, Milkman Man is Superman drained of all his inspirational power, connection to social activism, and humanity. Aco might homage Action Comics #1 when he lifts Danny the Ambulance and throws it at the Doom Patrol, but this is a Superman, who punches down and stands for the status quo. With his neighborhood watch buddies, including a thoroughly neutered (and hilarious) Lobo, he’s here to make sure that outsiders stay down, and that superhero comics are just mind numbing punch outs and don’t have any real connection to people, their feelings, and the world around him.

Milkman Man is cereal mascot at best and alt right “Politics don’t belong in my white DP_JLA_1_3male spandex clad power fantasies” mascot at worst. In his first appearance, Aco goes for pure horror with inset panels of him shoving milk down the throats of an average white Middle America family.  This powerful, nearly silent scene played against an idyllic color palette from Bonvillain and Louise is a reminder that even when art claims to be apolitical, just for fun, or not have a message that it, in fact, does have a message. The Retconn Corporation wants to “homogenize” the DC Comics characters, including their classic Trinity, and turn them from powerful icons of justice into basically toys and merchandise as revealed in a couple pages that seem like a “behind the scenes” of a corporate board meeting. Milkman Man’s reaction to reading the actual Action Comics #1 (After yet another gorgeous and meta as hell double page spread from Aco, Bonvillain, and Louise.) is a reminder of how powerful Superman’s origin story is from Way and Orlando, who realize that pop culture can change the world and immigrants get the job done.

Along with having strong metaphors, a well-written villain, and some knock your skull off your body visuals, JLA/Doom Patrol succeeds because Way, Orlando, Aco, Bonvillain, and Louise realize that one thing that makes DC Comics great is that they’re pretty fucking weird. As the unflappable comic book character brought to life Casey Brinke says to Milkman Man, “Some of the best people are weirdos.” I mean, this is a universe where their most iconic hero wears his underwear on the outside and saves cats from trees while a bisexual, chain smoking, left wing British magician can have 300 straight issues of his comic and age in real time.

Way and Orlando’s understanding of the weirdness of DC Comics really comes out when the JLA and Doom Patrol interact as (Not so.) regular people and not milk drinking, mind controlled Stepford superheroes towards the end of the book. Ray and Danny the Ambulance kind of, sort of flirt, Larry Trainor the Negative Man opens up way too much to Lobo, and Killer Frost and Crazy Jane really bond over trying to do good with their vast, yet unwieldy powers. After the punching of the first 2/3 of the comic, Aco settles down into a casual hangout vibe for these scenes before going stylized with the aforementioned “stinger” sequences. It’s a reminder that some of the best superhero stories aren’t just action figure fights, but treat their larger than life characters like human beings with thoughts, motivations, and of course, flaws.

In JLA/Doom Patrol Special #1, Gerard Way, Steve Orlando, Aco, Hugo Petrus, Tamra Bonvillain, and Marissa Louise combine the best of DC Rebirth and the best of Young Animal in one beautiful, oversized package. And as a bonus, Mags Visaggio and Sonny Liew begin to tell the poetic, retro-styled origin story of Eternity Girl in a two page backup.

Story: Gerard Way and Steve Orlando Art: Aco with Hugo Petrus Colors: Tamra Bonvillain and Marissa Louise
  Backup Story: Mags Visaggio Backup Art: Sonny Liew 
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics/Young Animal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Doom Patrol #10

After a bit of a break, Doom Patrol is back and hurling full force into wackiness as the team faces Casey Brinke’s roommate Terry None’s dad Mr. Nobody in a world full of $#*!. It’s surreal, a bit meta (The kinda sorta framing narrative of “Retconn”), brightly colored by Tamra Bonvillain,  and has some decent character moments like Casey realizing that she has real feelings for Terry or the Reynolds family pleading with their distant son Lucius to stop messing with reality as the sorcerer pawn of Mr. Nobody. Sometimes, it seems like writer Gerard Way is trying too hard to be Grant Morrison or be too clever to his own good, but for the most part, he and artists Nick Derington and Tom Fowler and colorist Bonvillain craft an entertaining story with punching, chaos, and embrace the weird, loose side of corporate superhero comics with ever shifting team lineups and gimmicks like death, marriages, and capital c Crises and crossovers to sell books and keep readers engaged.

The first three pages of Doom Patrol #10 are a wonderful representation of the creative madness of the Brotherhood of Dada (Of which Mr. Nobody was a member.) with Derington and Fowler drawing Terry None tap dancing while seemingly regular humans transform after eating $#*! There are all kinds of gross pollen things floating around to her smooth dance moves with Bonvillain giving this world the sickly sweet palette of a garishly colored kid’s bedroom or one of those overly nostalgic documentary about old toys and how much they cost now. Derington, Fowler, and Bonvillain take a break from the stimulus to draw a close-up of Casey Brinke slowing coming to as she comes to grips with her roommate/possible lover being the daughter of a bad guy as well as trying to learn the rules of yet another rule bending and breaking dreamy world. Even though Doom Patrol is assembled, Way and company still use Casey as an entry point to the title despite her being non-existent according to the wannabe wise mentor Niles Caulder.

The overall narrative structure of Doom Patrol #10 is basically “$#*! continues to escalate until the entire comic book medium collapses in the end”, but Way buoys his script with hilarious and ass-kicking moments between the head scratching ones. Instead of being a metafictional comment on the different eras of superhero comics like in the 1996 Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely miniseries, Flex Mentallo continues to embrace his roots as a Charles Atlas parody and spout off facts about having a well-balanced diet and exercising at inopportune times. He is a fantastic source of comic relief, and the fact that his vast “Hero of the Beach” powers can’t save the day shows Mr. Nobody’s strength as a villain.

Even though they’re not Doom Patrol team members technically, I love the interactions between Sam (Casey’s old EMT partner) and his ex-cult member wife Valerie Reynolds and their son Lucius, who has become an edgy, manipulated teen sorcerer. In an eight and nine panel grid, Way, Derington, and Fowler create a heartfelt family reunion where Valerie (Who had previously been mind controlled by a personality of Crazy Jane.) empathizes with the fact that Lucius is facing forces beyond his control. They almost get a nice family reunion, but the arc isn’t over yet, and the big moment is interrupted by a red and yellow Bonvillain palette and magic critters.

In Doom Patrol #10, Gerard Way, Nick Derington, Tom Fowler, and Tamra Bonvillain embrace the sheer, often candy colored ridiculousness of superhero comics from fight scene that takes place in a sort of supermarket and features Flex Mentallo chasing a headless pair of legs, gym socks, and tight whiteys to an “Animal Man meets his maker” for the binge watching age. That second bit is still in the setup, but hopefully Way and company stick the landing after the filling the final pages of the issues with pure negative space probably representing all the contradictory continuity they have to sift through while making a Doom Patrol book.

At times, Doom Patrol seems to be Morrisonian for the sake of being Morrisonian, but Way’s writing has sly humor and bits of sweet humanity and Derington, Fowler, and Bonvillain’s art has a manic, sugar high rush that makes it stand out from DC’s more “traditional” books. Plus Robotman punching things a lot is always a good time.

Story: Gerard Way Pencils: Nick Derington Inks: Tom Fowler Colors: Tamra Bonvillain
Story: 7.5 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.7 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics/Young Animal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Logan’s Favorite Comics of 2017

In 2017, I found it increasingly difficult to keep up with all the new comics releases because of personal stuff etc.. There was also the sheer hatred and bigotry of some comic book fans, who foamed at the mouth every time a character that wasn’t a straight white male starred in their own book or if female characters weren’t drawn in an early 90s Image male gaze-y way. Creators and companies weren’t exempt from this either from Howard Chaykin’s transphobia and Islamophobia in his low selling Image book Divided States of Hysteria to the revelation that new Marvel Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski lied about writing comics under the Japanese pseudonym Akira Yoshida for years and suffered little to no consequences for it.

However, there was a lot to love about the comic books of 2017, and I found solace, entertainment, and inspiration in many books from (becoming) old favorites about godly pop stars and dark knights to intriguing new titles about all girl fight clubs and young people experimented on by the government.

 

  1. Batman #14-37 (DC)

In 2017, writer Tom King and a crack team of artists including David Finch, Clay Mann, Mitch Gerads, Mikel Janin, Joelle Jones, and Jordie Bellaire explored almost every nook and cranny of the Dark Knight’s world in their work on Batman. Sure, there were epic arcs featuring one on one battles with Bane, a yearlong gang war with the Joker and Riddler, and a little family reunion in the “Button” crossover. But what Batman resonate as a comic book was the standalone and two part stories from King and Gerads showing the sweetness of the relationship between Batman and Catwoman to the emotional tale of Kite Man (Hell yes). King has a real knack for telling O. Henry-esque stories of ideas that humanize iconic characters none more so than “Superfriends” where Batman and Superman go on a double date with Catwoman and Lois Lane. An artistic highlight of the book was Joelle Jones’ beautiful, savage, and a little bit sexy depiction of Batman and Catwoman fighting for their love against the most evil of exes.

  1. Josie and the Pussycats #4-9 (Archie)

Josie and the Pussycats is a gorgeous, funny book that ended much too soon although it is nice to see artist Audrey Mok working on the main Archie title. Writers Cameron DeOrdio and Marguerite Bennett craft the rare Archie book that looks at both romantic and platonic relationships from the POV of young adults, not teenagers. They, artist Mok, and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick imbue the title with a Saturday Morning cartoon zaniness, including high speed boat and motorcycle chases, kidnappings, and jokes about the polar bears from The Golden Compass. Yes, DeOrdio and Bennett overload all kinds of pop culture references and allusions in Josie, but it adds to the book’s energetic feel along with Mok’s fantastic fashion designs and Fitzpatrick’s bold colors. Josie and the Pussycats has some real heart to it with characters having all kinds of intense conversations about love, friendship, and fame between the over-the-top setpieces.

  1. Heavenly Blues #1-4 (Scout)

Writer Ben Kahn and artist Bruno Hidalgo’s Heavenly Blues blends the cosmology and philosophical and theological themes of Vertigo classics like Sandman and Lucifer with a quick and dirty heist thriller as a band of criminals, including a Great Depression Era thief, a girl who was sentenced to burn during the Salem Witch Trials, and a bisexual cowboy team up to break into heaven and steal something you may have heard of. Witty writing from Kahn and rhythmic art from Hidalgo that flows from the building of the Great Pyramids to the Old West and even an angel lounging in sweatpants keeps the story on its toes with flashback to each thief’s past life create an emotional connection to them. This is the perfect comic for folks who like to think about the nature of evil or the possibility of an afterlife while also watching Oceans 11 or Logan Lucky with a whiskey on the rocks.

 

  1. Shade the Changing Girl #4-12 (DC/Young Animal)

The crown jewel of DC’s Young Animal imprint, Shade: The Changing Girl is a beautiful, meditative look at identity and humanity from the perspective of a bird alien Metan girl named Loma Shade, who has possessed the body of teenage girl bully. Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, and Kelly Fitzpatrick’s story really took off when Shade decides to hit the road first for Gotham and eventually to meet her idol, Honey Rich, the aging star of a 1950s sitcom that was popular all over the galaxy. Zarcone’s artwork is extremely fluid and complements Shade’s reaction to the influx of stimulus all around her that is humanity as she begins to understand concepts like nostalgia and of course the big ones: life and death. Shade the Changing Girl is more poem than sci-fi thriller/mindbender, and Castellucci’s poetic captions, Zarcone’s sincere facial expressions, and Fitzpatrick’s, well, groovy colors bypass the critical part of the brain and go straight for the emotional center. It is an empathetic study into how humans communicate and navigate this complex world from a visitor from an equally as complex society so hence conflict.

  1. Generation Gone #1-5 (Image)

Comics’ enfant terrible Ales Kot makes his triumphant return with Generation Gone, which is one of his most accessible works that still takes shots at the kyriarchy and patriarchy through the lens of the “superhero” origin story. Artist Andre Araujo and colorist Chris O’Halloran provide equal parts majestic, disgusting, and triumphant wide screen visuals throughout the series from bodies being stripped down to bone, muscles, and organs to flying in the sunset. The way that the three main kids Elena, Baldwin, and Nick is a little bit of techno-organic body horror like Scanners filtered through 2017. Kot avoids typical superhero team up tropes and has them constantly at each other’s throats that all really boils down to toxic masculinity, especially Nick, who is like Max Landis with a healing factor. Generation Gone is an epic and visceral story with all kinds of carnage and big explosions that is ably balanced by Ales Kot’s nuanced characterization. There’s some decent world building, but it takes a backseat to Elena, Baldwin, and Nick’s journey and squabbles along the way.

  1. The Wicked + the Divine #25-33, 455 AD, Christmas Special (Image)

In its fourth year (Or “Imperial Phase”) as a title, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson’s The Wicked + the Divine became both more self-indulgent and introspective before the ending the year with more emotional destruction and much needed side dish of pure fanservice. The main focus is on the relationships of the Pantheon from Dionysus’ truly soulful friendship with Baphomet (They spend most of an issue talking in the dark, and it’s lovely.) to the intense connection between Persephone and Sakhmet and the older brother/little sister Baal and Minerva that takes a big turn for the disquieting. Even though McKelvie’s figures and fashion decisions are still flawless as usual, WicDiv uncovers every metaphorical wrinkle or mole on the Pantheon members by the time “Imperial Phase” ends in a truly soul crushing manner like the slow build in “In the Air Tonight” before the epic drums. And after it’s over, Gillen and a host of talented guest artists deliver a comic that is sexy, thoughtful, and filled to the brim of feels showing what the Pantheon were like when they were young and less dead. The Kris Anka and Jen Bartel Baal/Inanna short is most definitely the hottest thing I read in 2017.

 

  1. Kim and Kim: Love is A Battlefield #1-4 (Black Mask)

Shifting the focus from Kim Q to Kim D in this fantastic sequel to the Eisner nominated miniseries Kim and Kim, Mags Visaggio, Eva Cabrera, and Claudia Aguirre confidently tell the story of a woman trying to get over an ex that she really cared for, but wasn’t good for her. There are also mech suits, space battles, basses being used as a blunt instrument, and all kinds of space bounty hunter shenanigans. The rift and reunion between the Fighting Kim’s is super relatable as who hasn’t been disappointed in a friend for returning to the same, not cool ex over and over again. However, Visaggio gives the Kim’s great growth as friends and in their chosen career as bounty hunters by the time the miniseries wraps. On the visual front, Eva Cabrera can choreograph the hell out of a fight scene, and there is still plenty of pink from Claudia Aguirre. Kim and Kim: Love is a Battlefield is a smorgasbord of quips, fun sci-fi worldbuilding, and real friend talk and improves on its already pretty awesome predecessor.

 

  1. Mister Miracle #1-5 (DC)

Jack Kirby would have turned 100 in 2017, and there was arguably no better tribute to his imaginative work as an artist and writer than Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ Mister Miracle comic. I know I’m double dipping with King comics on the list, but he’s just that good. In his art, Gerads teaches the old dog of the nine panel grid some new tricks and uses it for everything from a tender love scene between Mister Miracle and Big Barda to him getting repeatedly beaten by his older brother Orion, who plays an antagonistic role in the series. The bar-like grid of the comic book he stars in is the one prison Mister Miracle can’t escape from. (Wow, that got meta.) Gerads uses a trippy, almost television fuzz effect to show Scott’s tattered psyche as he faces death with his escape artistry, goes to war against Apokolips, and is sentenced to execution. King’s gift of writing both the mundane and utterly cosmic comes in handy in Mister Miracle whose most memorable scenes are Scott and Barda cuddling and joking around, not the big battle scenes. Again, he and Mitch Gerads find the human and the epic, which is definitely something the King would be proud of. (Big Barda was patterned off his beloved wife Roz.)

  1. Giant Days #22-33, 2017 Special (BOOM!)

Although the facial expressions that Max Sarin and Liz Fleming draw are truly outrageous at times, Giant Days is a fairly naturally plotted comic with the friendships, relationships, and life statuses of Esther, Susan, and Daisy ebbing and flowing like normal university students. They begin the year as BFFs for life, but start to drift apart towards the end of the year as Susan and Daisy’s relationships with McGraw and Ingrid move onto the next level. Esther is kind of stuck in the lurch as her penchant for drama bombs starts to backfire. Giant Days nails the constantly evolving fluid thingamajig that is relationships as a young adult.  As an added bonus, we also get to see how the girls act and feel differently around their family versus friends as Susan’s way too big and complicated family makes quite the impression. And, of course, Giant Days is very funny, and John Allison, Max Sarin, and Liz Fleming mine the comedy out of everything from the deliciousness of home cooking, the grossness of nerd dorm food concoctions, and even a video game wedding. (Poor Dean.)

  1. Heavy Vinyl #1-4 (BOOM!)

Reading Carly Usdin, Nina Vakeuva, Irene Flores, and Rebecca Palty’s Heavy Vinyl is like the comic book equivalent of relaxing in a hot tub, but the hot tub is either cupcakes or adorable Corgi puppies. (Take your pick.) It’s about a teenage girl named Chris in 1998, who has just gotten her dream job at a record store and her first big crush on Maggie, her co-worker, who is drawn like a shoujo manga protagonist. But then she’s inducted into a top secret vigilante fight club and has to rescue the frontwoman of her favorite band. It’s high concept and slice of life just like Vakueva’s art is comedic, beautiful, and a little badass. Carly Usdin does a good job in just four issues of giving each member of the fight club their own distinct personalities and relationships while doubling down on the cuteness and awkwardness of Chris and Maggie’s budding romance. But what makes Heavy Vinyl  the best comic of 2017 is its belief in the power of women and music to change the world…

Review: Shade the Changing Girl #11

Loma Shade hits Hollywood, or mostly a rest home for old actors and actresses in Shade the Changing Girl #11, and finally meets her idol, Honey Rich, who is ready to die. However, Shade grabs Honey just before she reaches the afterlife, and they switch bodies. For most of the issue, Shade is in Honey’s body, and Honey is in Shade’s body. It’s a little bit of a mind screw from writer Cecil Castellucci, artists Marley Zarcone and Ande Parks, and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick. The plot veers from poetic meditations to soap opera, but Zarcone and Fitzpatrick’s visuals and the bits of Rac Shade poetry keeps the story beautiful. Who doesn’t love a comic book that has a cut out paper doll double page spread?

At this point of the series, I enjoy Shade the Changing Girl #11 far more as a character piece, a meandering poem about love and death that happens to be a comic, or a gingerly paced road trip than Castellucci’s “plot beats” of the Metans and Shade’s friends River and Teacup trying to track her down and/or grab the M-vest. It bypasses the logical, structural part of my brain and goes straight to my emotions thanks to the sincerity of the expressions that Zarcone draws both Honey and Shade that overcomes the general strangeness of the body swap.

Their first meeting is happiness personified with Shade leaping and exclaiming, “I’ve come light years to meet you.” Even though all her friends are dead and her show all but forgotten, a girl from the planet Meta still deeply cares about Honey Rich. It’s like the bendy, pops of color from Fitzpatrick version of It’s A Wonderful Life where Honey doesn’t realize how much her life and career meant to certain people, er, Avians.

The body swapping, location hopping story of Shade of the Changing Girl #11 is tied together in a sort of sunny way by Kelly Fitzpatrick’s use of yellows and golds from the stars above Hollywood on the first page to the life Shade. breathes into Honey. It kind of climaxes with the sixteen suns that shine about Honey’s rest home and alert River and the Metans to Shade’s location. Throughout the book, it reoccurs in the background when a life altering decision is about to happen like when River asks Teacup to go to L.A. with him to find Shade, or Mellu reveals his true motivation for wanting the M-Vest and becomes slightly sympathetic. The colors that Fitzpatrick chooses throughout Shade #11 are like notes on a keyboard with the rainbow, M-vest induced bursts acting like glorious chords during memorable parts of the story.

Shade the Changing Girl is a comic that is all about what it means to be human through the POV of an alien girl in a teenage girl’s body. She’s been faking it until she’s kind of, sort of, well, not really made it as a human being, and that little mantra easily applies to acting and is even said by Honey while she is in Shade’s body. Like actors who play a variety of different roles, we have to act certain ways around certain people to get what we want or make sure they don’t hate us and *insert any human motivation here*. Shade learns this important truth while in the body of her favorite actor and finally learns that there is a huge difference between the character Honey Rich and the actress who played her. People tend to have this problem with actors who play characters that share their name like when Kesha tried to hug Jerry Seinfeld, or Ilana Glazer from Broad City has to continuously turn down bong sessions with fans.

Shade the Changing Girl #11 ends on a couple plot twists. I like one, and one came way out of left field, but does connect to this issue’s themes of bodies changing and shifting identity. There is only one issue left until the series goes on hiatus, and hopefully, Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone can hit all those emotional beats in the finale and dovetail the River and Mellu/Lepuck side-plots with Loma Shade’s journey.

Shade #11 pays homage to the world of the silver screen as well as life and death in a visceral way thanks to a double page spread where artist Marley Zarcone and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick shows Shade forcibly breathing life back into Honey Rich. Cecil Castellucci’s writing is as thoughtful as ever, and I am still beaming at her extremely clever use of “changing girl” when Honey and Shade go out on the town one last time.

P.S. This comic pairs very well with Lana Del Rey’s latest album, Lust for Life especially the title track, which talks about “climbing up the H of the Hollywood sign” like Shade does on the Becky Cloonan cover of Shade the Changing Girl #11. There are also lines from poems interspersed with the “Lust for Life’s” regular lyrics, which is like the lines from Rac Shade poems that pop up in each issue of Shade.

Story: Cecil Castellucci Art: Marley Zarcone with Ande Parks
Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick Backup Art: Marguerite Sauvage 
Story: 7.8 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.2 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics/Young Animal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Doom Patrol #7

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Niles Caulder is a terrible, manipulative human being, and writer Gerard Way, artist Mike Allred, and colorist Laura Allred make readers, both new and veteran, aware of that fact in the standalone Doom Patrol #7. The comic might start with Robotman and Negative Man (Larry Trainor) hanging out at the mall and getting away from the general strangeness of the first arc, but this is no slice of life story. Robotman, Negative Man, and new team member Casey Brinke end up following Niles Caulder on a wild goose chase of a mission where they receive “upgrades” without their consent, travel in a cube to a world where bad ideas are jelly, and even transform into werewolves. Just another day in the life of the new look Doom Patrol.

Mike and Laura Allred are the perfect art choice for the adventurous tone of Doom Patrol #7. The one constant is the matching red uniforms that Niles forces Casey, Robotman, and Larry to wear, but their plaid patterned journey to the world of Scantaria provides an opportunity for Laura Allred to go wild with all kinds of reds, brown, and finally a downright disgusting blue when the team fights a monster that decided to ingest all of humanity’s bad ideas in one gulp. For his layouts, Mike Allred sticks mainly to grids and fills them up with all kinds of wobbling, viscous images because everything falls apart when Niles Caulder gets involved. In most of the action scenes, Niles is barking orders and turning the Doom Patrol into putty in his hands, but Allred goes for a iconic, superpower pose towards the end of the issue when Robotman whacks the aforementioned monster with his severed arm. It shows that the Doom Patrol doesn’t need Miles and are find chilling in Dannyland and looking for Casey’s missing cat.

Doom Patrol #7 is a clever book because it deconstructs superhero comics without going the usual  Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns route, having a postapocalyptic setting, or doubling down on the grim dark. It shows that superhero teams don’t have to have a clear leader, go on missions for the hell of it, wear spandex uniforms, or unquestionably follow the old white guy like the Doom Patrol of old. They can wander around the mall and find themselves or look for lost cats named Lotion. They can wear bandages on their faces, clank like a robot, or have a missing leg and still be happy. In the main Doom Patrol, Gerard Way and Nick Derington have taken a fluid, open ended approach to stories and took their time reassembling a “team”, which is the complete opposite of the rigidness that Niles immediately imposes on them. And he’s not a good guy just one on a power trip that tells people what’s good for them instead of asking them like when he gives Robotman a new body that emotions of its own to go with his mind’s emotions. (Being violent is awkward in this case.)

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Sure, he has kooky gadgets, serums, and vehicles that match the surrealistic tone of the comic, but Niles is entirely self-serving. There is savage irony in a man, who makes so many terrible decisions in this story on the behalf of some kind of greater good, looking for a substance that puts bad ideas that you think are good in your head. And the reason he wants this jelly to rectify one of his personal bad decisions, and the cycle continues like Mike Allred’s drawing of the rapid evolution process the “final boss” of this issue undergoes when he straight up ingests the jelly. Of course, Niles gives Casey and Larry the jelly in granola bar form to fight him off. This rapid sequence of events shows that he is willing to play god at a moment’s notice so the outcome favors him.

Doom Patrol #7 is a statement of this comic’s freedom from ordinary superhero storytelling using Niles Caulder as a metaphor with vibrant wit and an idea a minute plot from Gerard Way and transformative art from Mike Allred and Laura Allred. Old white guys usually don’t know best even if they can regrow limbs in a jiffy or travel between dimensions, and sometimes trying some weird and creative can be more fun than reading the same, “To me *insert old superhero team name here*” over and over again.

Story: Gerard Way Art: Mike Allred with Nick Derington Colors: Laura Allred
Story: 9 Art: 10 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics/Young Animal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Shade the Changing Girl #10

Shade10CoverOpening with a historical prologue where Shade witnesses Robert Oppenheimer’s first atomic test, Shade the Changing Girl #10 continues this second story arc’s road trip feel as our protagonist looks for the house of Honey Rich from her favorite Cold War era Earth sitcom Life with HoneyCecil Castellucci’s plot continues to flit from location to location while Marley Zarcone gets to apply her bendy, trippy approach to art to a Metan vs. Metan action scene with help from inker Ande Parks. Everything is topped off with a nuclear-meets-semitones color palette from Kelly Fitzpatrick.

Shade  the Changing Girl uses the vessel of an alien girl trekking across America to explore what it means to be human on both a sad and whimsical level. There’s a wonderful double page spread from Zarcone of a Life with Honey themed board game that instantly brought back memories of playing a Leave It to Beaver board game on a family vacation at a cozy cabin in the California wilderness. It’s a moment of real happiness and nostalgia divorced from real world context. Kid Logan didn’t really know about McCarthyism, the Hays Code, or Cold War, but just old black and white sitcoms shown on TV Land (Which shows Scrubs now.) and stories from my grandparents.

In the character of Shade, Castellucci successfully imitates this limited perspective on the world that we have as kids as she is utterly heartbroken when she shows up to “Honey Rich’s house” and is promptly shown the door by an angry relative. It’s like when I discovered the music of Elvis through the movie Lilo and Stitch, wanted to go to Graceland and meet him, and then was told that he’d been dead for decades. Her Shadeinteriorcoping mechanism is very adult though as she ends up at a local bar drinking with a couple sad old men that she has chirping like birds thanks to the power of the madness vest. This kind of whiplash from very childlike behavior to adult ennui kind of nails what it means to be a young person in 2017 as I go from dusting off the old Nintendo 64 to navigating the world of health insurance in the same hour.

But Shade isn’t just about Shade. There are oodles of storylines featuring her old high school friends River and Teacup, her Metan pursuers, her old boyfriend LePuck, a government agency, and even Honey Rich herself. It’s like each page is telling a different story all skillfully connected by Rac Shade’s epigrammatic poetry and Shade’s wise-beyond-her-years narration. River is a great supporting character and still cares for Shade even though she left down in a dramatic fashion and has everyone worried. His piecing together clues through news reports and using the Internet to track and follow her is an excellent real world version of Shade’s own ability to use the M-Vest to travel through space and time in the blink of an eye.

Shade the Changing Girl #10 has a four page action scene because another issue of nameless Metan pursuers fiddling around and trying to find her would be boring. However, Castellucci, Zarcone, and Fitzpatrick make the fight quite clever like a bar fight meets a ballet with bonus vaporizing guns that go pink and blue. Shade looks human, but she moves with a madness using a shot glass as a deadly weapon instead of her fists. It all climaxes in an atomic pink panel where Shade goes from girl to weapon and walks away guilty among the grey bodies. She critiqued atomic weapons and nukes in the beginning of the comic, but now has become one and even caused collateral damage. There are lines on her face, and the madness vest looks less trippy cool and more ragged like she has aged decades in a single page.

The backup story in Shade the Changing Girl #10 is a darkly hilarious story of fallout shelter and songs that mask the fear behind nuclear war courtesy of Honey Rich and her best friend Carmen. Leila Del Duca nails the fashions of the 1950s and draws faces that seem ignorant, but are actually wise perfect for the tone of this satire disguised as a period piece sitcom.

Shade the Changing Girl #10 is another beautiful installment of Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, Ande Parks, and Kelly Fitzpatrick’s comic as Shade wrestles with nostalgia, reality, and death through bar fights, sitcoms, and national parks.

Story: Cecil Castellucci Art: Marley Zarcone
Inks: Ande Parks Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Backup Art: Leila Del Duca
Story: 9 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.7 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics/Young Animal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Shade the Changing Girl #8

Thousands of comic books have taken place in Gotham City, not to mention the plethora of films, cartoons, live action TV shows, and video games set in its dark, sometimes Gothic/sometimes a stand-in for New York, Chicago, or Pittsburgh streets. So, it’s really refreshing to see the most used city in the DC Universe through the new eyes of an Avian in the body of a teenage girl in Shade: The Changing Girl #8 by writer Cecil Castellucci, artist Marley Zarcone, and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick with some inking done by Ande Parks. Shade has left the drama of high school behind to experience the world that she has read about through the poetry of Rac Shade or the 1950s sitcom Life with Honey.

It’s invigorating to see Shade literally transform the environment with her M-vest with Fitzpatrick turning the usually drab blacks and greys of Gotham into a real kaleidoscope of a color palette. Zarcone’s pencils and inks bend and flip with each whim that Shade has going from being cramped on public transportation to seeing a couple plays and even going to a museum and “talking” with dinosaurs, who honestly she has more kinship with humans because both Avians and dinosaurs had feathers.

Castellucci doesn’t give Shade #8 a straight ahead plot, but meanders with our narrator building up a kind of tone poem about how city dwellers take the wonder of theirs for granted. I was in Chicago a couple of weeks ago and was kind of amazed by the beauty of the Roman style gardens by the Art Institute, the fact that the play Hamilton is showing there, and the overload of good pizza places, which is something that someone who works downtown sees every day. Castellucci and Zarcone (Through Shade) find the every day beauty of the city and intensify it using the M-Vest and poetic narration.

One thing I liked about Shade #8 isn’t that aside from a joking reference to Batman (It’s the Gotham equivalent of small talk about the weather or local sports team.) that Castellucci and Zarcone avoid using guest stars, which would only stifle Shade’s pure experience of a day in the life of Gotham City. Sure, there are sub plots featuring her boyfriend LePuck being forced to wear an experimental version of the M-Vest, and people from her last city looking for Megan. (The girl whose body she is in.) However, these are seeded in for long term payoff, and in the here and now, we can revel as Shade easily understands the significance of a Statue of Liberty stand-in to welcome “aliens” of all kinds to Gotham, or how humans reveal more about their emotions through art (Like a Shakespeare or Henrik Ibsen play.) than every day conversation. And next issue is teased as being a musical one (And connected to the Life with Honey backup drawn gorgeously by Josie and the Pussycats‘ Audrey Mok.), which provides even more opportunities for Castellucci, Zarcone, and Fitzpatrick to play with emotions and colors in a magical way.

One thing that I have enjoyed about the Young Animal imprint as a whole in the sheer amount of imagination it adds to the DC Universe, and Shade the Changing Girl #8 is no exception. Using poetry, snatches of conversation, a whirlwind travelogue, and bursts of pop art colors, Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, and Kelly Fitzpatrick craft a comic that will even make the most jaded Batman fan smile and maybe scratch their head a little bit. The book is a lot like those music videos that Prince, Seal, and others did for the Burton/Schumacher era Batman movies, but with like 100 times less darkness and man pain.

Story: Cecil Castellucci Art: Marley Zarcone Inks: Ande Parks Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Backup Art: Audrey Mok Backup Colors:  Kelly Fitzpatrick
Story: 8 Art: 10 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics/Young Animal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Mother Panic #4

motherpanic4coverMother Panic #4 strikes fear into one of the more problematic elements of the Batman mythos. It’s the fact that when he’s not beating up the usual bank robbers, common criminals, or assassins who work for the al-Ghul family, he is repeatedly beating up the mentally ill. Mother Panic speaks out against that part of Batman in a late night interview as part of her cover identity as the wild, smart mouthed heiress Violet Paige, but writer Jody Houser and a new art team of Shawn Crystal (Arkham Manor) and Jean-Francois Beaulieu (I Hate Fairyland) have her put her ideas to action as well. However, everything is subsumed in her quest for vengeance to take out the men who sent her to the terrifying Gather House after she killed her abusive/rapist father. In this case, Mother Panic’s sights are set towards Layton, the man, who suggested to her brother that she go to Gather.

Crystal brings a more cartoonish art style to Mother Panic #4, but it fits the larger than life slightly Gothic revenge tale tone of the book as well as the spindly “villain” that Mother Panic faces. Childhood is a unifying theme in this issue with plenty of red tinged flashbacks courtesy of Beaulieu, and the big action set piece happens in a Gotham tech mogul’s own personal Chuck-E-Cheese. This infuriates Violet even more because her childhood was filled with tragedy and torture at the Gather House, whose one page appearance juxtaposed with a silhouette of the Mother Panic helmet reveals why she is so driven on her path to retribution. At least, Batman had Alfred to love and watch over him as a kid plus tons of money for fun stuff. Violet was shipped off to a terrible boarding school/tortured chamber and disowned by her own brother, which might be a reason why her methodology is more extreme than Batman.

But along with blood orange explosions and intense fight scenes set in reversion-to-childhood caves, Houser uses narrative captions to develop Violet/Mother Panic’s personality, and how she seamlessly shifts from mouthy socialite to loving, if a little deceptive daughter and task driven vigilante and finally a compassionate hero of all things. Mother Panic puts on a harder edge when she’s around strangers (I.e. talkshow hosts or members of the Batman Family), but softens around her. For example, Crystal and Beaulieu draw Violet as furious with anger lines and red everywhere but then dial down their lines and colors as she embraces and talks to her mom, who has been through a lot of painful stuff too. The hug and halfhearted promise of not hurting her brother Victor is touching, but the caption box from Houser reveals that she’s saving Victor for last. The kind, empathetic daughter is yet another mask she wears.

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Mother Panic is more violent and definitely more laconic than Violet Paige, but Houser and Crystal create an ideological connection between these two identities in Mother Panic and make their antiheroine more sympathetic in the process. Violet plays up her sarcastic and misanthropic tendencies so that the press and gossip freaks focus on her sound bites and don’t check deeper into her background and discover that she’s Mother Panic. But even when she’s being the worst talk show ever, Violet’s real views about the world pops up as she violently berates Batman’s “jackboot” approach to fighting crime. Mother Panic fights a mentally ill criminal later in the issue and instead of cold-cocking them, she gives them a hug because they both went to Gather House. It’s preceded by a riveting fight sequence where Mother Panic uses arcade cabinets as cover from gunfire but ends with a revelation that her desire for revenge is also tempered with empathy. Mother Panic terrifies the exploiters but is truly kind to the exploited even if she ends up using them as soldiers in her crusade against crime just like the despised Batman.

Shawn Crystal and Jean-Francois Beaulieu bring an extra level of anger and theatricality to Mother Panic, and the sequence set in Layton’s office has a tragic energy as two characters with horrible childhoods battle in a darkly lit “playroom”. This theatricality extends to Jim Krueger and Phil Hester‘s backup as the quirky Steve Ditko-created vigilante Odd Man begins to investigate the anti-Batman radio host at his daughter’s station.

Jody Houser, Crystal, and Beaulieu add new layers of kindness and darkness to Violet Paige in Mother Panic #4, and the issue functions as a great study of how people interact and behave in different contexts with a side dish of gadgets and punching because this is Gotham City after all.

Story: Jody Houser Art: Shawn Crystal Colors: Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Story: 9 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.2 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics/Young Animal provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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