By Molly Jane Kremer and Scott Southard. 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.
Harrow County #2
Dark Horse Comics/$3.99
Written by Cullen Bunn.
Art by Tyler Crook.
SS: The coming-of-age structure has permeated through all forms of popular fiction — from Fables to half of all the Batman stories, from As I Lay Dying, to Philip K. Dick — used to tell a tale of helpless innocence transformed into self-actualized wisdom over and over again. The ability to overcome life-changing moments and unbeatable odds has been woven so deeply into the fabric of story that it has changed what it means to grow as a human being.
It’s funny then, when a truly literal coming-of-age account is served to us in such a straightforward manner. We’re so used to taking in story through an ever-deepening well of setting and character building that we forget to notice the straightforward storytelling beneath it all. Now and then we get something that isn’t veiled or layered, and presents itself for what it is: a fiction about the fears and difficulties of maturation in a society that isn’t particularly interested in helping you out.
That is to say, Harrow County‘s concrete story of a young woman turning 18 only to be cast out to survive on her own has the ring of something firmly earnest. We continue to follow grown-up-kid/young adult, Emmy, in the eponymous Harrow County as it becomes more and more apparent that ritualistic witch killing occurs regularly, and requires a new young woman, like, immediately.
Cullen Bunn weaves his sequences beautifully and allows the reader to fully immerse themselves in the fantastical world he’s created. (I found myself accepting skinless bramble-dwellers as normal aspects of country life, as I thought it totally appropriate for a young lady to carry a satchel filled with human skin while she’s lamming from a witch hunt.) Bunn’s story structure never dips below a moderate level of tension, and eventually ramps up to some lip-bitingly riveting moments of terror.
As the book has progressed, the art has only gotten better and more in tune with the narrative. Dark watercolors soak the scenery (the color palette seems to only include black, brown, and blue, and it works), portraying sad old farmland and a cemetery that is (obviously) more than simply hallowed ground. Tyler Crook possesses the ability to make the reader afraid of the dark within the pages of the book (I felt a visceral need to reach out and stop Emmy from venturing further into the clouded depths of the forest). Plus his consistency throughout lends an extra creepy edge to all elements of the occult-y comings and goings.
My only gripe about this issue is the thin slice of story we’re given. By the time I’d read through it, I felt as if nothing had quite happened that the first few pages hadn’t set up to happen naturally. That said, as portion of a larger narrative, this may still become an integral part.
As far as stories of growth and growing up go, we’ve got millions to choose from. As Harrow County progresses, I expect to get sucked deeper into its brambles of horror and terrifying forests of human evolution. Because in reality, what’s scarier than turning into an adult?
7.5 out of 10
Gotham Academy #7
Written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher.
Art by Mingjue Helen Chen.
MJ: It’s good to see that after the disjointed mess that was Convergence, and the scads of storyline changes currently strewn about the DC Universe(s?), there were deserving aspects got the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” treatment. Gotham Academy was a book that was already nigh-perfect the way it was, so it’s incredibly relieving to see that very little of its great formula and makeup have been tampered with.
Which isn’t to say there’s nothing different about this light-hearted prep school drama: for the first time, we have an entire issue lacking the great talents of artist Karl Kerschl. Fill-in artist Mingjue Helen Chen, an accomplished animator from Disney, has already drawn some pages that have been featured in the series, but now she has an entire issue to herself and she knocks it out of the park. Her painterly style (all digital) makes wondrous use of light effects, and continues the lushly animated aesthetic already built by series-regular colorists MSASSYK and Serge LaPointe. Her facial expressions, while they appear simply rendered, are pointed and refined: it feels like she understands these characters, and she communicates their every thought effortlessly.
Another major change (but one that seems to be temporary) is the addition of the Academy’s newest matriculating student, one Master Damian Wayne. With regular series protagonist Olive Silverlock taking a brief sabbatical from the school and the book, bubbly Maps teams up with an unwilling and bratty Damian Wayne to solve a raven-borne mystery originating in a Scottish castle. Seeing the unstoppable force of Maps bouncing off (and holding hands with) the immovable object that is the Son of Batman is an utter pleasure to behold. The interactions between these two characters would be an inspired choice for a spin-off all-ages comic.
Once again, we have a magical mystery that embraces the mundane, à la the best Scooby Doo episodes – well-balanced stories with achingly normal school goings-on that showcase great character work from writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher. The two manage to keep the pace skipping along during a couple necessary expository interludes, and they continue to write Maps as the most endearingly adorable character in the entire DCU. It’s funny that even though DC felt the need to revamp (re-revamp?) their entire line of comics again, they already had a quintessential example of fun, quirky and engrossing all-ages adventure in Gotham Academy. Now if only they’d make a dozen more comics just like it…
8 out of 10
All-Star Section Eight #1
Written by Garth Ennis.
Art by John McCrea; colors by John Kalisz.
SS: Garth Ennis is back in the DC Universe, unabashedly swinging his trademark panache around like he’s ready to set things straight for the outliers of a post-Convergence world. He’s setting a steady, playful timbre from the onset, which will come as some relief after all the dire seriousness we just went through.
All-Star Section Eight #1 (see, the book’s already making jokes) brings back delusional leader, Sixpack, along with Section Eight favorites (don’t worry, Dogwelder’s here) while adding a few new faces to the squad. The potential for hijinks and situational buffoonery is high with this new team of very particularly talented heroes (The Grapplah! has a grappling hook and… uhh… that’s it.). The way these puzzle pieces end up fitting together is anyone’s guess, but the preposterous possibilities are infinite and infinitely exciting.
We can all agree that Ennis does teenage gross-out humor (for grown ups) better than almost anyone, and manages to do it in a playful way, stripped of offensive intention. The man just knows how to make a fart joke. Which makes his amalgamated team of barfy, out of shape, and sometimes inhuman miscreants seem almost natural in the world he’s beginning to lay out for us.
This is all heavily supplemented, of course, by John McCrea’s uncanny ability to portray the over-the-top caricaturization Ennis intends — these two were simply made for each other — without completely stealing the spotlight. It ends up forming a very cohesive end product which is a testament to the immense talent of both men.
The story revolves mostly around Sixpack’s attempts to re-form Section Eight to fight the crime that lurks the streets of Gotham, but really hits its stride once Batman is brought into the picture as a straight-faced foil. A spontaneous shot of Batman pouncing à la Neal Adams quickly shoots towards a Knightfall reference, which then seamlessly flows into a nearly perfect replica of the infamous Death in the Family cover by Jim Aparo. It’s such a playful jerkoff for even casual fans of DC, and a great way to get old readers reinvested in a new-ish series. Ennis shines brighter here than he has in years, and we all remember why we fell in love with the man in the first place.
Whether or not this series makes a real impact on the freshly reinvented world of DC (seriously, I’m gonna need at least another month and a half to get over the mid-page ads of Nick Lachey looking like he doesn’t know how to hold a candy bar) doesn’t particularly matter. It’s a brilliant pause for laughter in a sphere that rarely sees anything other than grim stares and angry sneers. I cannot overstate how much fun it is to read (and how much fun it clearly was to create) this book. If the new direction of DC Comics encourages and nurtures the growth of All-Star Section Eight and other comics like it, I’m on board.
8 out of 10
1602: Witch Hunter Angela #1
Written by Marguerite Bennett and Kieron Gillen.
Art by Stephanie Hans and Marguerite Sauvage.
MJ: There are a lot of Secret Wars tie-ins to choose from these days. While there have been quite a few standouts – it feels like series’ creators were given relative freedom within their areas, and the books’ quality reflect that – one of the best I’ve read so far happens to feature the Neil Gaiman-created Angela in the also-Neil Gaiman-created Marvel 1602 Universe (*pushes glasses up* technically called Earth-311, of course). Most of these Battleworld miniseries’ take pre-existing Marvel characters and reinterpret them into a different setting, but Neil Gaiman was twelve years ahead of the curve when he wrote 1602: Marvel’s most iconic characters were tweaked to fit into the Elizabethan era very successfully, even spawning a handful of spin-off miniseries since. The newest is 1602: Witch Hunter Angela, and writers Marguerite Bennett and Kieron Gillen carry on capably in Mr. Gaiman’s footsteps.
Just as in Angela’s ongoing title, the art duties are split between two artists: Marguerite Sauvage does the first five pages and Stephanie Hans handles the remaining fifteen. Two writers also handle the book, although the main story has Bennett taking writing reigns solo instead of with Gillen. (It’s an exciting change, as Bennett is so often paired with co-writers of late.) This was a great chance for her shine, as she proves more than a passing familiarity with the era and its playwrights. The humor is clever and wry, and the inclusion of a crowded pub scene full of literature’s luminaries has a hint of Shakespeare in Love to it, or of a high-quality BBC period drama. The dialogue feels authentically of the era and the language is fashioned eloquently, but not so overly-elaborate as to lose accessibility.
Sauvage and Hans provide gorgeous pages. Sauvage’s expressions, layouts, figures, and colors are stellar as always, and her designs for this world’s version of MODOK (“It was a mechanism that seemed crafted to perform a solitary murderous purpose”) is fantastic. Hans art is gorgeous as well, although the darkness of the pub scene muddied some of her colors. The rest of her art is her painterly best, especially her fae, goddess-of-the-wood inspired redesign of Enchantress, and Elizabethan-gentleman Bucky (Captain James Barnes, of Clan Buchanan of course). Very independent of the crossover it’s a part of, Witch Hunter Angela #1 works as an ancillary to Secret Wars, but is a fine and witty thing unto itself; a deserving addition to the alternate-continuity Neil Gaiman wrought.
8 out of 10
Agree? Disagree? Which books are you reading? We wanna know. Tell us about it in the comments section below.