By 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. 

1426476_xlMad Max: Fury Road – Furiosa #1

Written by George Miller, Nico Lathouris, & Mark Sexton.

Art by Mark Sexton, Tristan Jones, and Szymon Kudranski.

SS: Within the rich history of movie-licensed comics, there have been some transcendent successes (Buffy, GI Joe, the new Star Wars stuff) and some inarguable failures (Alf). (Obviously there are tons more, but I think the singular “Alf” has a pretty halting effect.) Such a crapshoot seems to leave readers wary about dipping their toes into proprietarily licensed books, and the nature of a preexisting world-setting innately sets the bar for achievement higher.

Following the plenteous tradition of near-coinciding releases (the comic following the movie), Mad Max: Fury Road-Furiosa #1 (titular alliterative repetition acknowledged) has come out as one of three creator-approved preludes to the blockbuster movie, and it adds buckets of prological framework to the sparse quantities of backstory revealed in the film. We follow Furiosa as the greatest soldier of the ever-more-disgusting Immortan Joe, but really we are seeing lives lived by Joe’s women-turned-cattle: the five wives.

Furiosa #1 explores a load of backstory, addressing Furiosa’s bionic arm, Immortan Joe’s apparent predilection for young boys (of course, right?), and how the wives’ escape actually played out. It’s also refreshing to see that the book sticks with and expounds upon the strong lady/feminist ideals that made the movie so groundbreaking and powerful (and mildly — read: idiotically — controversial).  Through this exposition, we are greeted with ostensibly more dialogue in this single issue than what’s found in the entire movie, which might not be necessary, but incredibly useful in understanding where these characters came from, and why they do what they do.

It’s hard to not feel somewhat cheated that this is a borrowed world being propagated to build some narrative scaffolding for the film, but the knowledge that it was co-penned by the creator of the movie franchise quells most of the unease (and is also no fault of the book itself, just a general movie licensed comic dilemma). George Miller and company did some fine work in putting together a cohesive world that fits the tone of the series.

Speaking of cohesion, I never knew a palette consisting solely of grey and brown could be so beautiful and expressive. Jones and Zudranski (who carry the bulk of the art-load) do a wonderful job of making a desert an imaginative setting that demands the reader’s attention. Many of the panels find them playing with the foreground and background, constantly altering perspective. Couple that with some fresh and scary character models (Furiousa looks indisputably badass, blending with shadows as a silent, stone cold warrior) and the book is one big brown monument to depravity (in the nicest of ways).

For all of the limits a cinematic license can put on a comic book, Mad Max: Fury Road-Furiosa  stands out as an interesting and invaluable prelude to the movies. For any fan of the film, it’s absolutely worth reading. It’s a pretty remarkable thing to see such a sparse, but realized, world filled out just a bit more.

7.5 out of 10

4627728_jla_01Justice League of America #1

DC Comics/$5.99

Written by Bryan Hitch.

Art by Brian Hitch, Daniel Henriques, Wade von Grawbadger and Andrew Currie; colors by Alex Sinclair and Jeromy Cox.

JJ: The DC Universe is a strange place to visit anymore. Certain books coincide with others, other books do not. There is a war going on in Justice League, but I doubt that you’ll read about any of it in Black Canary. And Bruce Wayne is most certainly dead, but that’s not going to stop Bryan Hitch’s Justice League of America from slapping his face on the front of its premiere issue. Look there! You’ll notice that Clark Kent Superman is soaring through the skies with his fellow Justice Leaguers, instead of being anywhere else, unable to do precisely that.

Someone once told me that the DC Universe has become a “Choose Your Own Adventure” type of place, where you can pick and choose which stories you prefer to spend your time with, blissfully aware that the other books you willfully ignore are going to have no bearing on your decision. And when I read Bryan Hitch’s Justice League of America, especially after choking down Geoff Johns’ ambitious Darkseid War, that’s all I can think about anymore.

So be it. If that’s the universe DC wants to sell us these days (until it no longer suits their interests, anyway), I’m willing to hang in there. Besides, we’ve all accepted that Johns’ own League title is only too ready to ignore other pressing matters in the DCU for the sake of its own narrative momentum. Scott Snyder’s Batman has been doing it for nearly four years as well, so why the hell not. There’s forty-eight pages of Bryan Hitch to absorb after all — the first batch we’ve seen since he teamed with Mark Waid on JLA back in 2000 — and for the most part, it’s a reasonably entertaining superhero comic book.

And when it’s at its best, Bryan Hitch’s Justice League of America digs a deeper emotional well than DC’s flagship title usually bothers to. Insightful ideas concerning mortality, resurrection and the beyond imbue Hitch’s modern fable and he mostly does well by them. (His opening sequence, a chilling, apocalyptic, “worst case” scenario, sees our Man of Steel broken and beaten, looking at the impending doom with defeat in his eyes: “Look at this. Look at all of this. Look at what you’ve done.” It’s an effective moment.) The Pantheon that is DC’s top-tier demands a tale that’s worthy of their mettle, but that fight, it seems, is going to have to wait. Justice League of America introduces Hitch’s JLA as they take on the insurmountable might of… The Parasite.

There is a growing dread that permeates through Hitch’s premiere issue, one that culminates in a rather surprising ellipsis that portends rather drastic things for the World’s Greatest Superheroes. Hitch has introduced his vision of the Justice League to the world as a well-oiled machine. And with so many issues yet to fill, we know it’s not going to stay that way.

6.5 out of 10

Prez-Cover-e7a2aPrez #1

Written by Mark Russell.

Art by Ben Caldwell and Mark Morales; colors by Jeremy Lawson.

SS: Sometimes all it takes is a teenaged presidential candidate to tell the story of our inevitable dystopian future. Of course, this also requires some heavy-handed social commentary and a smattering of bright colors, but like the Emoji-faced corporate bureaucrat states (during the “Secret CEO meeting” nonetheless), “The rest is cherries jubilee.

Such is the tone of Prez, a new series (which borrows a handful of themes from a pre-existing DC Comics series) that follows Beth Ross, a teenager en route to being elected President of the United States of America in the year 2036 (via Twitter). The first issue is a siege that surrounds the reader with a collage of absurdist visions of the near-future. It’s pretty amazing that in just one issue, writer Mark Russell can touch on subjects of Youtube celebrity, medical finance, shady political collusion, selfies, corporations being ruled as human citizens by the Supreme Court, food stamps, integrated advertising, political doublespeak, the electoral college, Anonymous, mass media’s influence on national opinion, and crappy fast food jobs and make it all seem like a natural fit (man, just listing these has left me more impressed with the potential scope of the upcoming issues). And he handles it all without any pretense or an overbearing hand. The conversational tone taken by Prez #1 is both comforting (you’ve got a pal, in the authorial team, to commiserate with) and a little scary (like, uh, this is how the future is going, isn’t it?), and with some repetition, I think it’s going to become something I can really get along with.

But before we move forward, I’d kick myself if I didn’t quickly talk about the amazing cover. It’s a watercolor homage to Washington Crossing the Delaware with protagonist Beth Ross as our great general, surrounded by what seems to be a team of average Americans. It’s a really fun way to start off a series with grandeur and pizazz. While I love what’s on front, the art inside seems to span a spectrum from brilliant and innovative to spastic and confusing. With many non-traditional panels (that work wonderfully to illustrate broad picture ideas) and a lot of quick, action filled cuts (that are less than stellar and hard to follow), the art runs a gamut of what contemporary comic book art is capable of.

The story itself hasn’t done much yet, but the groundwork that’s been laid is burgeoning and fertile. It seems as if Russell is using the narrative of Prez to discuss the banal realities and terrifying prospects of modern life in America (from the welfare-replacing “Taco Drone” to the essential American infatuation with money and the Horatio Algerian dream). How else to do that besides electing a wide-eyed teenager that hasn’t yet been beaten down by “real life” and still maintains a sense of morals, values, and a do-gooder attitude? Hell, they’ve got my vote.

7 out of 10

Black-Canary-1-CoverBlack Canary #1

DC Comics/$2.99

Written by Brenden Fletcher.

Art by Annie Wu; colors by Lee Loughridge.

JJ: Full disclosure: I used to photograph touring bands that came through Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh, NC years and years ago, and I saw all sorts of prima donnas roll through during that time — the kind of caustic, leather-clad awfuls who’d bitch about their green rooms, cause a drunken ruckus on stage (before, during, and after the show), and generally be pretty miserable people. Touring can really, really suck sometimes. And a miserable band mate can make that misery feel that much more palpable. I’ve been there, and I’ve seen it. *hair flip*

But I’ve never seen a frontperson launch into a crowd boots first to KO a crew of armed gunmen. Not once. (Outside of, y’know, archival footage from a Brian Jonestown Massacre show.)

Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu’s electrifying Black Canary is the kind of book that you already know is far too cool for you. Upon an initial approach to issue #1, you’ll discover that it has that “‘zine scene” aesthetic all over it, which just happens to be something you’d completely embrace if only you knew how. And it makes the swagger that comes with this level of cool feel so damned effortless, that the only attempt to talk about it would inevitably be met with stammers and flustered sighs. Even its cover has a shock of neon pinks and yellows that you’d find on a poster to a show you know you have nothing to wear to. You’ll love it. You’ll hate it because you love it. Oh my god, it’s on my coffee table. *runs*

But even a book as achingly perfect as Black Canary needs an anchor. That’s wholly evident by how Annie Wu’s sharp frenzy is guided by Fletcher’s thoughtful approach to Dinah Lance. Dinah’s post-Batgirl life is imbued with enough depth and verve that it’s hard to shake the feeling that a stunning book like this was way overdue. (Mostly because it was.) And even when Fletcher’s take on Dinah’s mates feels slight (even for a premiere issue), Wu renders these characters with enough nuance and grace that we glean more story from her images than anything we’re explicitly told. (Yeah, something’s up with Ditto, and Paloma kinda sucks, but… *leans in* tell me more about Byron.)

With Dinah’s latest life choice finding nothing but hostility, future Black Canary shows are looking to be a daunting endeavor. I haven’t felt this much tension in a comic about a touring band since Love & Rockets put Hopey and Terry on the road together. (Except Hopey and Terry could never afford no tour bus.) Black Canary gives DC Comics what it desperately needs, while providing its readers with so much more. A tour this subversive and angsty has the potential to be the stuff of legends. Luckily Wu and Fletcher are fronting the show.

8.5 out of 10

4629933-rbsobm_cv1_dsRobin: Son of Batman #1

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Patrick Gleason.

Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray.

JJ: It was only a matter of time before Damian Wayne took his batarangs and sauntered off into the wider DC Universe all on his own. In his very short life, the Wee Wonder has endured hardships that are rarely experienced by characters who have been around for decades: not only has he had to say goodbye to his departed father — twice — he’s literally laughed off death, sheltered a feral, asshole cat, and handled an array of superpowers with extraordinary grace. Even Bruce Wayne can respect that.

And since there is no Batman to boss him around (no Bruce Wayne, not even a Dick Grayson), well yeah. You can bet your ass it’s time Damian Wayne got his own title.

Of course this isn’t the first time Damian Wayne has had to step out from the long shadow cast by his legendary father — remember, Bruce Wayne has “died” before — and so it is with predictable swagger that he struts into his first solo title with a well-earned confidence. It’s been more than a minute since Tim Drake’s own ongoing finally sputtered out (in the aftermath of Batman: R.I.P. with issue #183), so for the first Robin book in six years, Robin: Son of Batman #1 feels startlingly fresh.

That’s due to the book’s outside-the-box approach provided by Patrick Gleason. A man whose long collaboration with Peter J. Tomasi cemented him as one of DC’s eminent creators (on books like Green Lantern Corps and Batman and Robin), Gleason has finally earned his time in the limelight, and it looks like he’s handling this new paradigm shift as capably as Damian himself. With Chris Burnham’s interpretation of the heir of al Ghul a fond memory, Gleason’s moody renderings (given ink-black severity by inker Mick Gray) have lent Damian Wayne an iconic might, one that supports the full weight of this book with nary a drop of sweat to show for it.

In spite of the unwarranted fan hate that’s dogged him for nearly ten years, Damian Wayne has shown tremendous resilience in the DC Universe. As a character who has unquestionably grown with every adventure that’s come his way — and one who boasts a surprising amount of world-weary depth for being a ten year-old kid — it’s safe to say that Damian Wayne doesn’t need to prove himself to anyone anymore. And with a stellar debut such as this, neither does Patrick Gleason.

8 out of 10

Check this space for more reviews as the week continues, and let us know what you’re reading, dammit!