By Molly Jane Kremer, Andrew Stevens, and Jarrod Jones. Our Week In Review serves to fill in the gaps our frequently verbose comic book coverage leaves behind. Each week, we take a brief look into the books that demand attention.
Written by Greg Rucka.
Art by Cully Hamner; colors by Dave McCaig.
JJ: It’s a curious feeling, revisiting the DC Universe. Of course, I’m not talking about any present status quo, mostly because there isn’t one anymore; thanks to Convergence, DC Comics’ latest foray into an orgy of continuity violence, we’re awash in a glut of expensive mini-series that all have a single purpose: To elicit feelings of either nostalgia or a vague sense of regret. (Or is that just me?)
The DC Universe that I’m referring to is the Post-Crisis (and Post-Zero Hour) DC Universe (because grown-ups don’t say Pre-Flashpoint; that would be ridiculous). Finally getting a chance to peek into the current state of so many beloved characters after nearly four years is bittersweet, especially since the impression was given that we’d never see them in this form ever again. Revisiting characters like Nightwing, Oracle, and others is surreal at best, and painful at worst.
Case in point: Renee Montoya, also known as The Question, has returned to our hearts and minds. The former police detective had enjoyed a downright peculiar character arc even before Flashpoint went and splatted all over the DCU: She endured Harvey Dent’s unwanted advances until he utterly ruined her life (guys, you have to read Gotham Central). After adopting the Question moniker — which is a long story unto itself — Renee decided that being a street-level vigilante wasn’t working for her, and so she went a-rompin’ through the entire multiverse (as seen in 52, Infinite Crisis, and Final Crisis). She also teamed up with her former partner, Crispus Allen, after he became The Spectre to fight something called the “Religion of Crime,” but that’s more than enough tomfoolery for today. (If all this sounds complicated, that’s fine. To be a DC Comics fan is to embrace the complicated.)
Renee Montoya’s life went from semi-normal (she does live in Gotham City) to straight Abba-Zaba in almost no time at all. So what’s she been up to all this time?
In my professional opinion, there’s but one person fit to continue the strange saga of The Question, and that’s Greg Rucka. His work during No Man’s Land (a killer Bat-crossover to which Renee pays a little lip-service in this installment) solidified the novelist’s place in the comics industry, and the subsequent years he spent on such books as Gotham Central, Detective Comics, and 52 gave a rarely heard voice for the LGBT community from within the mainstream comics industry. Renee Montoya may have been born on Batman: The Animated Series, but Greg Rucka gave her a soul.
Life inside a dome doesn’t work well for Gotham City, and it certainly doesn’t work for its citizens: villains like Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy have given up their errant ways (as seen in Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle #1), and as for Two-Face, well. It seems that in the years since Flashpoint interrupted our little narrative ol’ Harv has become even more of a lapdog for Renee than ever before. And it looks like Renee has taken to tormenting our suicidal ne’er-do-well as her faceless alter-ego. (As creepy and strange as it is, it’s the best sequence I’ve read in Convergence thus far.) Rucka writes these characters like he never left them, and that gives this issue the feeling like we’ve finally come home. Again.
Convergence: The Question #1 looks to be a fine epilogue to Renee Montoya’s crime-busting career. If only it had been under better circumstances.
8 out of 10
Written by Brian K. Vaughan.
Art by Fiona Staples.
AS: As always, the biggest flaw of any issue of Saga is that it ends. If you’ve been in any social interaction with me in the past two years, I’ve probably forced this book into your hands, or I’ve let you borrow it (while texting you for updates). My goal: To have all of us reading this thing at the same pace, so that we can experience the highs (getting to read Saga) and the lows (waiting to read Saga) together, forever.
Chapter 27 finds Marko suffering through a drug overdose for the duration of the entire issue. While other drug-induced spiritual revelations have a tendency to feel hollow, this one is filled with genuine pathos and insight. The trip serves two narrative functions; it provides access to Marko’s inner self (his soldiering life and childhood) and it acts as a crossroads for himself and Prince Robot IV.
Vaughn and Staples marry the carnage of an outsourced war with Marko’s earliest encounters with revenge and its subsequent punishments. The issue opener depicts Marko struggling with the reality of his hitting Alana, and we finally understand the crux of this flashback, which is to display Marko’s repeated justifications for violence. Marko exits the trip oriented towards both a familial reunion and absolute retribution.
Prince Robot and Ghüs anchor Marko’s darting visions in an issue where his daughter Hazel’s guiding voice is absent. Ghüs, clad in orange pajamas and wielding a halberd, wrangles an impatient (and similarly dressed down) Prince Robot IV. Their attire reflects the major theme of this chapter, which is a nakedness of character opening emotional windows that were previously closed. Ghüs corrects their course with a single sword stroke, and guides them toward ingenuity and compassion.
Saga, for all its foreign elements—horns, wings, robots—grounds itself firmly in an emotional reality. The issue’s opener, while still rife with hallucinogenic pyrotechnics, still manages a compelling portrait of Marko and Alana. Staples moves beyond the tropes of a typical sex scene and into an arena where two gorgeous people cast in chiaroscuro light are engaged in sweat-free sex. We get the rawness of Staples’ portraiture through Alana’s insistance that Marko “spank that fat ass.” Reliably, Staples and Vaughn bring us back into reality, granting the reader a rare acuity through which they can view their own life through the prism of blissful escape.
9.5 out of 10
Dark Horse Comics/$3.99
Written by Brian Wood.
Art by Andrea Mutti; Colors by Jordie Bellaire.
MJ: In recent years, Brian Wood has proved himself more than adept at penning both unsettling dystopic futures and thrilling historical fiction. While we’ve seen his work on the former with the recently-concluded The Massive from Dark Horse, its been a few years since he’s tried his hand at the latter. His Northlanders series featured a plethora of amazing comics artists (lots of today’s A-listers before they went big) illustrating realistic, visceral, and moving stories about the peoples we think of as Vikings, all meticulously researched and extremely affecting. (The two-part Lindisfarne remains one of my favorite stories to be written of that era, in any medium.)
Understandably, the news that Wood was returning to historical narrative piqued my interest–and Rebels, taking place during the American Revolution, is definitely a good read, but it’s not yet up to that dizzying level enjoyed by Northlanders. Partially, it’s simply the fault of the source material; A tale of life in the American Colonies of the 1770’s is automatically going to be less “sexy” than a story from the Dark Ages or the Medieval era. Rebels is a slow, meditative story, suited to its quiet, forested setting. It also features the refreshing perspective of an everyman within a colonial militia, instead of the (WELL over-used) points-of-view from our various Declaration of Independence signatories.
Much history is conveyed within the expository narration, and at times it can become dry. For such a purportedly taciturn character, Seth Abbott’s voice is the one the reader hears the most, though his choice of words are always very simple and to the point. Andrea Mutti’s art, with Jordie Bellaire’s colors, are well-utilized. The many scenes shrouded in wooded areas are beautifully rendered, and Bellaire’s colors are appropriately soft and earthy at those points. The few action scenes in the comic are chaotic and brutal–and interestingly, in those panels, Bellaire colors the Redcoats an even brighter scarlet than the ample amounts of blood. Mutti conveys the period-specific details extremely well, to the point of becoming inconspicuous: He makes sure Rebels’ time period never becomes a novelty, just another aspect of the story.
Much of Brian Wood’s works are methodically paced, taking patience to get to the well-earned payoffs. Rebels looks to be another piece in this same style in that it also includes intensely character-driven and thought-provoking drama amidst world-changing events. Such restrained story-telling isn’t for everyone (especially for an audience now used to superhero comics’ mega-crossovers, each trying to outdo the last in chaotic bombast) but this is a comic that is quiet (well, mostly), requiring actual thought and rumination about the dialogue, plot, and the repercussions of these historical (and, at the time, unprecedented) events. This is compelling, slow-burn historical fiction, and Wood’s return to the genre is a beautiful one.
8 out of 10
Written by Nick Spencer.
Art by Ramon Rosanas; colors by Jordan Boyd.
JJ: I have a wish. And that wish is for the day to arrive when comics fans whisper about Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas’ Ant-Man with the same reverent breath they typically reserve for Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. It’s a hope. A dream. Because as much as Hawkeye became Marvel’s most prestigious book by giving Clint Barton a newfound relevance, Ant-Man went and spat in the face of expectation and filled the gap left behind by Fraction and Aja’s often late/always great superhero saga. It would be a difficult job for any book, let alone a book starring fucking Ant-Man.
And yet Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas continue their hot streak with the latest issue of Ant-Man, a book that effectively qualifies Scott Lang as a hero worthy of your attention.
Spencer provides an incredibly unnecessary (and wholly welcome) depth to the silliest duo in comics since Quantum and Woody, namely Ant-Man and Grizzly (yeah, that Grizzly), two fellows thrown together by fate with very different ideas on what it means to be a “supervillain.” (“I thought you’d been to prison?” Grizzly asks Scott, who protests, “Well, yeah — but that was before I became Ant-Man –” only to have Griz reply, “You sure that don’t count?” You guys. It’s so sweet.) They’re in business to provide security, and yet the more they try to make a name for themselves, the less secure Scott Lang’s private life becomes. It’s a paradox that makes Ant-Man intriguing as it is hilarious.
And not only that — can we talk about Ramon Rosanas’ art for a minute? It’s consistently some of the finest work you’ll find on any book ever. (Look at how he illustrates Grizzly. He’s essentially just a dude in a big-ass bear suit — in the Marvel Universe that’s not gonna make you stand out much — and yet Rosanas makes him so much more.) His fluid lines provide a crisp, heightened realism that’s more cartoony than David Aja’s work on Hawkeye but suitably earnest for a book about a guy who talks to ants. I need Ramon Rosanas to illustrate Nick Spencer’s stories for the rest of my natural life, because when something this perfect comes around, I tend to cling onto it like grim death. And I just can’t quit Ant-Man.
8.5 out of 10
Written by Dennis Hopeless.
Art and colors by Javier Rodriguez; Inks by Alvaro Lopez.
MJ: While many of us celebrated Spider-Woman’s change in tone, costume and direction, and lauded Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez’s new bold and fun art style, it may have been overlooked as to how truly (and irreverently) funny the book has become. This is even more apparent in the second issue (well, it feels like the second issue, even if it is the series’ sixth, ok?), taking a cue from the subtle humor of Charles Soule’s She-Hulk (who coincidentally has an office down the hall from our eponymous heroine) and early issues of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. And like those other two books, Spider-Woman switches flawlessly to compelling drama at the drop of a hat.
The many visual gags include Jessica dumping out a Big Gulp cup to pour a bowl of cereal in it (“It’s more convenient. Makes the meal portable.”), with the selfsame cereal box later used to patch her office door’s broken window. A building that might be a trap is drawn to noticeably “look a bit like a hungry robot”. And as far as jokes of the less visual sort, Jessica’s interactions with Z-listers like Señor Suerte and Porcupine are full of snappy dialogue. Hopeless ensures Jessica comes off as resourceful and smart, even if her only current adversarial challenges come from the dregs of Marvel’s street villains (hey, she’s working her way up.) However, her run-in with Big Wheel in this issue as he attempts to steal a pair of alpacas is nothing short of priceless.
The art continues to be a stand-out: Javier Rodriguez’s colors in the opening sequence, lit by the old standby of shadows cast through blinds, set the perfect mood–a brighter, not-so-noir version of the stereotypical PI’s office. Alvaro Lopez’s inks finely compliment Rodriguez’s pencils, clean with added weight that matches the stylistically flat colors. Jessica Drew, in the capable hands of Hopeless, Rodriguez and Lopez, has become an incredibly enjoyable character, with a very human snark and silliness all her own. This is the best (and most) personality she’s been given in recent memory, and the exuberance and high quality of this comic reflect that. A spiritual successor to critically acclaimed books like She-Hulk and Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Spider-Woman is a fun, thrilling and satisfying read.
9 out of 10
Agree? Disagree? What comics are YOU reading this week? Let us know in the comments below.