HEY, KIDS! COMICS! WEEK IN REVIEW

HEY, KIDS! COMICS! WEEK IN REVIEW

By Molly Jane Kremer, Scott Southard, and Jarrod JonesOur Week In Review collects our thoughts on the comics that demand attention. Do you have a deep-rooted desire to know what we think about all your favorite books? Well. This is where you need to be.

Island_01-1Island #1

Image Comics/$7.99

Written by Brandon Graham, Emma Rios, Kelly Sue Deconnick, and Ludroe.

Art by Marian Churchland, Brandom Graham, Emma Rios, and Ludroe.

SS: Much of the beauty and overall flair of Island #1 is in the pages between the larger stories. At first leaf-through, the load of seemingly one-off shots (a brain and spinal cord in casting resin, a grainy photo of a black cat stretched in the shade on a sun-speckled patio, the first four pages entirely covered in thick, layered, impressionistic oil painting) seem to bleed from one story to the next, making the whole book a cohesive unit rather than a smattering of loosely related stories. It comes off as an entity filled with passion, and even more creative energy. It’s not often we stumble into something so professionally made yet still bursting with furious ardor.

The table of contents is a very DIY, cut-and-paste style. Here the seemingly autobiographical origin story behind the brand new Island series is explained and we are introduced to the creator/editor/curator of the “magazine,” Brandon Graham. In this inaugural issue, Graham immediately lays out the concept as 20-50 pages of “like-minded stories under one cover”. I think the intro is perfect, as Island is wholly confusing and daunting, and Graham’s statement that this is just the creative output of an endlessly tired man and the friends he admires is charming and makes the book accessible to the reader.

It seems like Emma Rios has given us the first chapter of what could be a lengthy foray into the lives of a handful of ordinary folks in a near-future where governmental power structures and social unrest are boiling over into everyday life. (Think Children of Men with a little more of the quotidian.) I’m a sucker for pseudo-intellectuals having unfriendly, highfalutin conversations around a table in a tavern or cafe, you know, the classic Hemingway stuff, and I.D. uses natural conversation and small setting devices to tackle an array of pertinent divergences these dialogs generally cover: dualism, gender politics, existential philosophy, state power, societal growth and deterioration. As the narrative moves from conversation to backstory and eventually to immediate action, the world that Rios has created becomes fleshed out and we’re all exposed to very intense, very real action that hits closer to home than it should. Rios is tapped into something special, a direct route to the pulse of how modern life functions and progresses. It’s not quite dystopian, but Rios’ future certainly isn’t bright.

We see Rios’ range of talent as she switches to water colors in Railbirds, a short memoir penned by Kelly Sue Deconnick. A handful of loosely connected unremarkable snapshots charged with meaning and deep humanity. It’s unapologetic about the openness and vulnerability laid out in the purportedly true story and that’s where the charisma and weight of the narrative rest. Very powerful stuff.

It’s telling that the piece by Brandon Graham, the magazine’s editor, is the most abstract. It’s a continuation of Multiple Warheads, but plugged into the middle of Island’s scattershot collage and without the concrete that held the original comic together. This leaves an already confusing comic without context and much more brainspinning. Beginning where he last left off, Graham leads us through dream sequences and pun-infused psychedelia. Small instances of real photographs (what’s quickly becoming Graham’s trademark) show up throughout, as well as panels diagramming everyday objects like a toothbrush and a fruit market. It’s jammed with details and it can be a little overwhelming, but the charm is undeniable.

Filling out the first issue of this beast of a comic is the boisterously direct Dagger Proof Mummy. Comparatively simple, Ludroe’s superhero story uses thick lines and big panels to stretch a world of relatively simple city living into something larger than life. The delicately quick expression of skateboarding looks more like a butterfly with electric contrails than a plank on wheels.  Part anthropomorphic tall tale, part Jet Grind Radio, and part rom-com, Dagger Proof Mummy is a chimerical study of movement and urbanity.

Island is an unexplainable entity. It’s an artifact of loosely related vignettes, and Black Mirror-esque in its episodic, bleak worldview. More than anything, in a world that necessitates isolation, this is a big piece of conjoined positivity with loads of potential for the future.

9 out of 10

Where-Monsters-Dwell-3-CoverWhere Monsters Dwell #3

Marvel/$3.99

Written by Garth Ennis.

Art by Russ Braun; colors by Dono Sanchez Almara.

SS: Generally in Ennis scripts, sexism and racism are byproducts of male-centric storylines, and we just have to accept it. Dealing with these caveats isn’t always pleasant, but there’s generally something beneath all of it that’s worth reading (if this sounds apologistic, it’s only to give the benefit of the doubt before pulling the rug out). In the case of Where Monsters Dwell, however, the story IS a sexist fantasy attempting to be subversive and gender bending. We’re given an Indiana-Jones-on-HGH leading man in Karl Kaufmann, alongside the wolf in sheep’s clothing, Clementine Franklin-Cox. Their accidental flight through a storm has landed them in a seemingly prehistoric coastal jungle where they’re left to scramble for survival and civilization.

The gender dynamics between the two stray slightly from traditional, as Kaufmann is a chauvinistic womanizer and Clemmie displays volumes of knowledge and general physical prowess. This leads to moments of great hope that we will break through to some clarity and true growth, which is quickly succeeded by utter disappointment when the story reverts back to the male-fantasy schlock we’ve all seen before. It’s infuriating to run through pages of Karl Kaufman in a powerless role next to Clemmie Franklin-Cox, only to be followed by dialog that insinuates that the female-operated island they’ve landed on is populated entirely by lesbians and that Kaufman is in some kind of heaven (brazenly counterintuitive, I know). It’s a book that is constantly undermining itself and the possibly positive statements it could be making.

The sparse male characters (who still somehow manage to dominate the speaking roles) talk of being treated like objects and feeling trapped in a society not meant for them. It seems like a positive step forward, but besides the role-reversed blanket statements, there is still plenty of space for lady-positive movement and evolution. But I don’t know, there’s some insinuation of a possible future castration, and the Eerie-esque covers are all pretty great, so I’ll probably continue reading with some pre-rolled eyes and a handful of salt.

There’s certainly effort being put in here, however misguided. It seems like this is Ennis’ stab at a Y: The Last Man type thesis-piece, but it doesn’t live up to the predecessor (who didn’t set the bar particularly high, as far as progressive-lit goes). Ennis is great at big guns and bigger farts. He excels in blood and vomit. Revels in spilled guts and the food between your teeth. Maybe he’s not the man (see: irony) to take on gender equality and he should just stick to what he’s good at while trying to keep his own playing field equal and fair.

6 out of 10

4677223-hawkeye2012022_dc11-0Hawkeye #22

Marvel Comics/$4.99

Written by Matt Fraction.

Art by David Aja; colors by Matt Hollingsworth.

MJ: The last issue of Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Matt Hollingsworth’s incredible Hawkeye series has finally seen release—and I’m still sussing out whether it’s a happy or a sad occassion. Of course I’m glad that the series will finally see its oh-so-long-awaited conclusion, and we can now read it as the finite, nigh-perfect piece of sequential storytelling that it is. But… there was a reassurance in knowing that one last, lingering issue still floated in the ether, in knowing Clint and Kate and Lucky – and more importantly, their erstwhile storytellers – hadn’t moved on just yet. Now that they have, a seminal run in modern comics has come to its close.

Matt Fraction’s Marvel forays often began stronger than they ended: sometimes taken over by another writer or co-writer before completion, sometimes ending too quickly or unceremoniously. Thankfully Hawkeye #22 is the last issue in a well-plotted conclusion, an organic culmination of the entire series to this date. Kate returns with Lucky from her Californian sojourn, dressed (and bandaged) a whole lot like Clint. The three fight their final battle with Ivan, the Clown, and the various Tracksuit Draculi (or is it Draculae?), and everyone is given their not-too-final finale. The comic is equal parts thrilling and touching, even a bit funny. It’s sentimental without the saccharine aftertaste.

David Aja’s art is typically pristine, and as always Matt Hollingsworth’s flat yet expressive hues complement gorgeously. Aja’s storytelling abilities are unparalleled: panels shaped like the sound effect they contain show up a few times – not unusual for a superhero comic – but each time, they’re starkly inked, mono-colored silhouettes, and are incredibly impactful. In fact, all the fight scenes are gritty and bloody and realistic (despite the artful decision to color any and all blood black instead of red). This feels like human people attacking, shooting, and beating the crap out of each other, something that many Marvel comics’ universe-spanning viewpoints often lack. Hawkeye has consistently addressed what it’s like to be “the normal-guy (or -girl) Avenger”, and holds onto that concept to the very end.

Despite the (agonizing?) length of time it’s been since a single-issue reader may have seen ol’ Hawkeye #1 – it has been nearly three full years since that baby dropped – numerous call-backs pop up within this issue. Despite those delays, they’re not too hard to catch or appreciate, and the references span the entirety of the series, both verbally and visually. Hawkeye #22 closes the loop of what has been an incredible reading experience, and makes it a complete and self-contained entity, with infinite readability (and re-readability).

Fraction, Aja, and Hollingsworth will most certainly continue on to do even more great works (maybe even together? my fingers are crossed), and until then, we can think back fondly on oft-delayed Hawkeye and reminisce about boomerang arrows, Dog Cops, and “Aw, coffee, no.” It’s a bittersweet feeling, the end of a fiction you’ve grown to love: and a good conclusion leaves you appreciating even further the work as a whole. Hawkeye #22 has echoes of each preceding issue embedded within it, and contains the wit, action, and heart that made every one of them mandatory reading. Hawkeye is a wondrous thing – a nearly perfect Marvel comic series – made all the more so by its quintessential final issue.

9.5 out of 10

1436520_xlBlack Canary #2

DC Comics/$2.99

Written by Brenden Fletcher.

Art by Annie Wu; colors by Lee Loughridge.

SS: I want to like Black Canary so badly. From the re-emergence of elder heroine, Dinah Lance, to the sharp D.I.Y. aesthetic, to the Riot Grrrl sensibilities, this title seems to have worked its way into a niche that few comics occupy, especially comics put out by a major publisher. But the major publisher factor might be the downfall of Black Canary. What’s being promoted as subversive, countercultural, or fringe-intellectual is instead coming across as an out of touch whirlwind that’s more Hot Topic mall-punk than Maximum Rocknroll. It’s the Sex Pistols broken down in the most metaphysical way.

Fletcher does a lot of fun things with Black Canary, but many of them fall short of the goals they set for themselves. For instance, the book’s overlying narrator is a punk zine (called Burnside Tofu, ugh), kind of a play on the traditional newspaper headlines used to set the scene in a million other comics. But what should be an innovative angle on old-school storytelling plays out like a bad parody of what life on the road looks like. Just imagine your favorite aunt (but remember, she’s still your aunt) inventing names of punk bands and then put her in charge of an entire fictional world, and you’ll get the idea of what’s awry in the ontology of Black Canary.

But maybe I’m being nitpicky or over-critical. Because there’s a ton to love in this book: the art, particularly the cover, is dazzling. The ultra-neon fills pages with a natural sense of urgency and it keeps all of the action moving. The pinks, yellows, and blacks translate perfectly into thoroughly engaging action sequences and do a great job of conveying tonal changes from panel to panel. I think Loughridge’s colors tend to outshine a lot of the line work, but Annie Wu’s work on full pages and the “multi-media” overlays is spectacular.

It’s within the big set-pieces and heavy action moments that the writing gleams as well. The story of the tough, conflicted hero and the powerful, but silent, sidekick is ancient, but effective. We’ve got shadowy monstrous villains popping up at inconvenient times, and a gang of misfit champions that are easy to root for, probably because they’re humanized in a smart, multifaceted way. It’s a basic, well-grounded story with a silly, unpolished veneer.

In the end, the building blocks of this story have the potential to turn out great. We’ve been given some off-tempo origin stories and a real kickass protagonist to propel things forward. Let’s just hope Fletcher can lay off the cool kid lingo (and stop sounding like an undercover cop on Facebook, asking where the “underground punk rock concerts” are), and just write the progressive, character driven superhero story we know he can. God Save the Black Canary.

7 out of 10

1436561_xlJustice League #42

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Geoff Johns.

Art by Jason Fabok; colors by Brad Anderson.

JJ: In a Post-Convergence multiverse, the tricky part about DC doing whatever the hell they want whenever the hell they want is figuring out where every single incarnation of our favorite superheroes are each week.

DC doesn’t typically burden its readers with helpful recaps at the beginning of each book (like another publisher I could mention), and generally, all this action figure smashing can blur upon recollection. With few sagas that stand out enough that a recap isn’t necessary, the DC Universe can get to be a pretty disorienting place. (For instance, Bruce Wayne sure isn’t Batman anymore, but tell that to Brian Hitch’s Justice League of America.)

Consider Geoff Johns & Jason Fabok’s Justice League: it’s a book carried over from the havoc that was the New 52, mostly out of respect for all the world-building and hard work Johns put into it in order to finally reach this point in time. “The Darkseid War” is an epic that’s four, nearly five years in the making, the rich harvest reaped from the watermelon-sized seeds planted by the writer not-so long ago (alongside Johns’ DC Comics Boss-Man, Jim Lee). It would be pretty disappointing if Johns had to jettison his baby for the sake of his publisher’s new world order, so at the expense of furthering their newly-minted, infinitely more progressive initiative, DCYou, Johns is seeing this war through. But with Luthor wearing whatever the hell he’s wearing these days, Superman outed as Clark Kent to the entire world, and Batman dead just about everywhere else, the dated Justice League requires constant recalibration.

But since we’re here, how is Johns & Fabok’s “War” faring so far? Well, for one, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Jason Fabok was doing great things over at Detective Comics during his tenure, and to see him handle the cosmic with the same grace, attention to detail, and chutzpah as his more street-level work puts the artist in the upper-rungs of the industry. His interpretation of Johns’ Apokolips is appropriately harrowing, hateful, and frightening, and how he handles the Anti-Monitor’s first steps on Earth are equally daunting. (The look of fear he puts on Wonder Woman’s face as Mobius approaches stuck a lump right in my throat.) I’ll say this: Fabok is a talent DC does not want to see jumping over to New York.

[SPOILERS]

Beyond that, does “The Darkseid War” stand on its own merits? Well it looks like we have another month to see for sure. There’s a lot more expositional wheel-spinning found here, with Johns working overtime to make sure we fully understand who Myrina Black is (and, by extension, her surly, hipper-than-thou daughter, Grail). And wouldn’t you know it, he’s using poor, put-upon Scot Free as the vessel through which we absorb most of the exposition. We have the galaxy’s greatest escape artist at our fingertips, and he can scarcely avoid a heel-turned ambush. (For there not being a whole lot of action this month, Johns still manages to get some blood spilled.) Tsk-tsk.

Then there’s the Johns-ian “Big Moment”. This writer is maddeningly good at leaving readers chomping at the bit to read what happens next, but here he leaves us with a visual of Batman sitting upon the Mobius chair, and boy is it pretty damned silly: The man has the power of all knowledge at his fingertips, and like a shrewd detective, he tests the chair’s mettle with some pretty selfish questions: “Who killed my parents?“, is quickly followed by “What’s the Joker’s true name?” And guess what. He gets an answer. (But we don’t.)

Does this information have any bearing on the impending war between the Anti-Monitor and Darkseid? Of course not. It’s just another cliffhanger heaped upon the other cliffhangers left in the wake of Justice League #42. But one thing’s for sure, the fallout probably won’t matter anywhere else.

Consider it a Catch-22. No, scratch that. A Catch-52.

6.5 out of 10

Agree? Disagree? What books would you like to see us cover in our Week In Review? Sound off in the comments below.

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