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. 

STK671559The Legacy of Luther Strode #2

Image Comics/$3.50

Written by Justin Jordan.

Art by Tradd Moore; Colors by Felipe Sobreiro.

SS: Now that we’re into the meat of what seems to be the final journey of Luther Strode, Justin Jordan is realizing that he has to cram whatever storytelling, metaphors, and concepts he’s been rolling around his noggin into these last few issues, which means things are starting to get pretty heady.

We begin with Luther bursting out of a smuggled casket, yet another re-emergence from the dead for the hero who’s so archetypal, he’s almost quite refined. There is no over-explanation or backstory (similar to the first issue of this third volume of Strode), just the movement of Luther and his longtime girlfriend, Petra, as they trudge through Russian tundra under the guidance of the biblical (and somehow still alive) Delilah.

The artwork is striking and distinctly its own. Tradd Moore employs a classy use of horizontal and vertical panels, sometimes stretching both pages, but always remaining straightforward and descriptive. The technique allows panoramic views of the scenery and shots diagramming where each character is and what they’re doing. (It ends up giving us some pretty epic shots.) The stark greys and whites used by Sobreiro in the arctic desert give us a desolate beauty that’s contrasted with violent action sequences and blood that seems to spray from wounds like a thumbed-up garden hose. These guys have been honing this look for a while, and it’s adding up to an absolutely gorgeous piece of work.

To be clear, most of the story in The Legacy of Luther Strode #2 is, well, unclear. The journey’s purpose hasn’t quite been established besides bits and pieces from the previous arc: its tourguide hasn’t particularly been introduced (other than her aforementioned Samsonian roots), and a large portion of the dialogue is in untranslated Russian. We aren’t given an in-story explanation, although Jordan  reveals that this is a purposeful tactic in a supplemental appendix once the action is over.

Which brings us to the incredibly lengthy and candid postscripts Jordan gives us after each issue. They’re a refreshing and enlightening offering into some of the deeper considerations beneath the surface of a published comic (calling himself on “pretentious writery bullshit” is both charming and a thoughtful touch), especially considering the impenetrable nature of some of the more established franchises. It’s nice to gain some insight into process and narrative formation from the writer himself. Jordan praises his co-workers and comes across as a real peach.

(On a quick side note, final quarter of the issue contains part one of four of a mini-series within the Luther Strode world titled, “The Twins”, and it looks like it has the potential to break some hearts. We’re introduced to two foster children who have witnessed the violence and death of World War II and have somehow managed to maintain their sense of wonder and humor. I fear that this will quickly dissipate, and some powerful feelings are about be felt.)

If this book had to stand alone in a vacuum, it would fall flat on its nerdy, over accentuated, less-than-cool, big dumb muscles. But it doesn’t. It has the deliberate history of the Strodeverse to fall back on, and these next (and final) few issues to press into. It’s a slice-of-life story about characters who clearly love each other and express it healthily while still displaying autonomy and the ability to critically think. It’s kind of insane how simple it is to create good superhuman characters by giving them human qualities. But that’s the beauty of Luther Strode, isn’t it? He’s just like us, or rather, like we think we could be.

8.5 out of 10

4644156-sm_cv41_dsSuperman #41

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Gene Luen Yang.

Art by John Romita, Jr.; inks by Klaus Janson; colors by Dean White.

MJ: Superman just can’t catch a break. In (seemingly never-ending) attempts to make him cool to the backwards-hat-wearing dudes of the world, the past few years has seen the character suffer some of the most uneven writing in his nearly eighty-year history. Geoff Johns’ recent—and very short—run on the eponymous title saw the return of some much needed heart, and building on that momentum (and on DC Comics’ newest relaunch attempt), multiple award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang has come aboard to lead the latest crossover, “Truth”, where Clark Kent is finally outed as the Man of Steel.

Instead of the usual galaxy-spanning, universe-rocking threat, Yang has ensured a very personal conflict for this crossover, involving Clark Kent as much as it involves Superman. The best Superman stories put equal focus on his humanity and his superpowers, and this issue maintains the balance. But we already know how this ends, thanks to DC’s strange decision to let everyone know about Supes’ outing a month before this comic even came out—and to let the other Superman-led titles mull over the after-effects before this issue (part one in the storyline) had even seen release. Though Yang no longer has the element of surprise on his side, he tells a wonderfully paced story, full of lively dialogue and pitch-perfect characterization: a truly excellent debut issue.

Coming off Geoff Johns’ run, Yang has been gifted the entire Daily Planet cast, together again for the first time etc etc, and he has their banter and interactions down pat. Perry, Lois, Jimmy, and Clark are an essential part of any good Superman story, and seeing all of them in their newsroom element gives the comic an essentially genuine and well-grounded foundation. (Plus, it’s simply entertaining to just watch them bounce off each other.) Clark, Jimmy, and Lois perform some admirable muckraking, based on information supplied to Clark by an anonymous tipster (or blackmailer?) somehow privy to Clark’s double-life.

As usual, artist John Romita, Jr. excels at the action scenes, but has a hard time depicting expression: other than a smile or the occasional look of slight surprise. The lack of emotion makes it hard to connect with the story, despite Yang’s (very) best efforts. Statements that end in exclamation points are spoken by dour faces with empty gazes; even the little jokes sprinkled throughout get little traction, because the characters don’t visibly react. Dean White’s colors are beautiful, however, from the deep, bold blues and reds of Superman’s costume, to the soft glow of a smartphone screen’s light. He makes the action scenes impactful and dynamic: Superman’s new “solar flare” and a myriad of flashy explosions and car-chases are only improved further by White’s talents.

The first page of Superman #41 centers on a close-cropped, t-shirt-wearing Superman, chillin’ with his man-bag on the tail of a 767, looking resolute but peaceful. It’s a flash-forward past this point in the Truth storyline (see, they know that you know that they know crazy stuff happens later), and I’d like to think it’s the creative team’s way of apologetically shrugging their collective shoulders at their timing mishaps. Maybe they’re asking for an open mind (and a blind eye to the already-spoiled conclusion). But the best part about that first, sky-filled page is its tranquility: it’s an exceptional occurrence nowadays to see the traditionally joyful Superman with such an untroubled brow. I’d like to see it more often, and I think with Yang at the helm… I just might.

8 out of 10

xmen92X-Men ‘92 #1

Marvel Comics/$4.99

Written by Chris Sims and Chad Bowers.

Art by Scott Koblish; colors by Matt Milla.

SS: I’ve never been able to keep up with X-Men. Maybe it’s the number of constantly rotating team members (and the consequent queue of villains), old and new, that makes it difficult. Maybe it’s the alternate universes and divergent storylines that seem to scatter everyone, everywhere, all the time. Maybe it’s just Wolverine’s labyrinthine history. Whatever the case may be, whenever the X-Men are brought up my instinctual thoughts fall back to eight year-old me stopping at the convenience store on the way home from school, devouring Fun Dip, Jolt Cola, and whatever assortment of out of date comics they had to offer. This is where X-Men stays frozen in my mind, and whenever I’m exposed to a current iteration, I shrug it off like some passing phase that will soon enough be forgotten and start humming the theme song to the cartoon. Now I can thank X-Men ‘92 for allowing me to live with this blind delusion in perpetuity.

The first issue gives us sizable introductions to the classic characters while explaining the implications that come with Secret Wars (and the reason for the reemergence of the old gang). It’s clear that writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers are fans of the old comics and the classic TV show, as they do all they can to tickle that nostalgia gland. The first half of the issue establishes the seven main characters and their roles within the team: Cyclops is the whiny baby we all loved to hate; I re-fell in love with Rogue as soon as she uttered the pronoun “Sugah”; and I’ll be damned if Wolverine didn’t lone-wolf his way out of the group just to come back and save the day at the first sign of real danger.

But as soon as the inevitable Sentinel run-in ends, the necessities of the Secret World reveal themselves and we are forced into a storyline that’s both convoluted and confusing. Cassandra Nova plays the wolf in sheep’s clothing, creating Clear Mountain, a kind of rehab clinic for violent mutants. (It’s an obvious dark parallel of Professor Xavier’s school as she plays the foil to Xavier himself.) By the end of the issue, Nova is on the verge of wreaking havoc on both the Astral Plane and the physical world. This is all well and good, as it’s a tie-in, and ratcheting through the action in a disorienting manner is par for the course.

The art in the book is solid, and really shines in larger panels with its cast members thrown in dynamic action sequences. (An image of Wolverine’s first scent of Sabertooth and his resulting rage is particularly delightful.) However, the true star of the issue is the cover. With the ensemble posing in proprietary stances (Cyclops with his glowy eye, Storm standing stoic with her fist raised, Gambit just looking cool with pink playing cards) and a washed out color palette, the cover stands out in a nuanced way that makes me all giddy inside.

Is X-Men ‘92 pandering to an older audience without having much substance behind it? It sure is. But to some degree, I’ve bought in. If the story is given as much love and attention as the throwback sensibilities of the book, this thing could end up being a shallow (but fun) trip through our collective comic history (I know, there’s a Days of Future Past joke in here somewhere). I only hope they give it some room to breathe.

6 out of 10

1426502_xlWe Are Robin #1

DC Comics/$3.99

Story by Lee Bermejo.

Art by Jorge Corona and Rob Haynes; colors by Trish Mulvihill.

JJ: Ever since Scott Snyder took the reins as DC’s main Bat-writer, its universe has been provided two vibrant, very exciting new characters. Of course, there’s everybody’s favorite, the punky, spunky Harper Lee (a quintessential Snyder-name, if there ever was one), but the other has had a more muted presence in the Bat-family overall. But that’s all about to change.

Duke Thomas first popped up in the DC Universe during Snyder and Greg Capullo’s monstrous New 52 Batman origin story, Zero Year. (Specifically, in Batman #21.) In those days, Duke was but an ancillary character, one that showed up to help the Dark Knight in a moment of need only to be swallowed by the shadows of Gotham City once more. And for a while, he mostly stayed there.

But you just knew Snyder and DC had bigger plans for Duke, and if you were paying attention, you were already aware of what they would inevitably entail: for DC’s Futures End tie-in of Batman & Robin (a canonical glimpse five years into the future), Duke was already Robin, the Boy Wonder. (Of course, at the time, Damian Wayne was still dead, so do with that what you will.) And then later, when Snyder and Capullo were putting a bow on their first major run of Batman with Endgame, Duke appeared again, this time dragged into the perilous world of the Batman by the Joker himself. Duke Thomas’ fate has always been tied to the wider world that surrounded him, and it was only a matter of time before somebody seized the chance to make him truly shine.

Enter We Are Robin, DC’s latest post-Convergence premiere by Lee Bermejo, Jorge Corona, and Rob Haynes. Post-Convergence, post-Endgame — whichever doom-having event you happen to prefer — it doesn’t matter: Bruce Wayne is gone, maybe forever, and Gotham City has become a very different place because of it. Maybe it’s a deliberate thing, changing the landscape of Gotham to more adequately reflect the tumult that surrounds readers who take time out of their lives to read DC: the world went and changed around DC Comics way longer than a little while ago, but finally, with a more or less cleansing, thorough bout of house cleaning, DC is inching ever nearer to the same page as the rest of us, and it shows with the startling amount of freedom that comes with We Are Robin. 

Maybe it was all the years he spent making other people’s scripts look that much better as an artist, but Lee Bermejo knows how to craft one hell of a compelling story. He also knows how to create a voice for his characters, and Duke Thomas, possibly for the first time since he walked into Batman’s life, finally has a presence of his very own. Couple that with Jorge Corona’s finishes over Rob Haynes breakdowns, and we have a truly vital human being on our hands. And, it seems, a burgeoning hero too: Corona & Haynes make sure Bermejo’s savvy Thomas not only can handle himself on the streets, but that his innate ability to persevere comes from a place of necessity. Duke has been orphaned (for now; his folks disappeared in the chaos that was Endgame), Gotham’s foster program is woefully broken, and the guiding hand of Dr. Leslie Thompkins can only temper Duke’s desire to see wrongs righted only so much. The streets of Gotham are calling. And Duke’s decisions are nestled firmly in Bermejo’s urban cool. (Even his absolutely stunning, ebullient cover betrays an influence by street artist, Banksy.)

The premiere issue doesn’t reveal much about this rag-tag group of Robins; Bermejo keeps the other kids in the periphery. Their presence is certainly felt, but it’s an aloof presence. (Even the splash page reveal keeps most of its members far from the foreground.) The only thing we know for sure is that Duke’s future as a Boy Wonder — in whatever capacity — is now a certainty, and it feels pretty damned good. The potential that comes with We Are Robin is limitless. That’s fitting for a book about forgotten kids who only want to fly.

9 out of 10

bg-cv41-ds-c7109Batgirl #41

DC Comics/$2.99

Written by Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher. 

Art by Babs Tarr & Joel Gomez; colors by Serge LaPointe.

MJ: The DC You campaign, now in its fourth week of release, has spiritual origins in a few select books that grabbed massive attention for attempting something startlingly different: changing their aim to new readers and overlooked audiences. Batgirl was prime amongst them, paving the way for these new series and their “New Direction!”s. And as they debut – many of them aiming to satisfy these previously ignored audiences, some even successfullyBatgirl begins its second story arc, dealing with changes that occur both in-universe and behind-the-scenes.

Because of the new status quo in Gotham—(spoilers, if you’ve been living under a rock) Bruce Wayne is “dead”, and Jim Gordon got muscles, a li’l Mohawk, an empty upper-lip, and a big mechanical Batsuit that looks a lot like CHAPPiE—it was inevitable we’d see repercussions in Batgirl. Happily the opening action sequence has just enough exposition to clear things up for the reader amid all these kicks and batarangs. The angle pursued in the plot thankfully concerns Barbara’s relationship with her dad, and doesn’t actually mention Bruce at all. And of course, Gordon immediately tells Babs about his new secret identity, adding yet more guilt and tension to Barbara’s secret-keeping.

As a new jumping-on point, the creative team keeps it simple. All but one of the large cast of Burnside characters we’ve been introduced to over the last few issues are missing here, bringing the book’s focus back more fully into the Bat-universe. Batgirl’s recent independence from the rest of the Gotham-set books helped to so wonderfully set it apart in the first place, and bringing it “back into the fold” so to speak—concentrating so much on Jim Gordon as a father, bringing in an established DCU villain, while simultaneously back-burner-ing Babs’ new Burnside cast—is a little disappointing. But this is a superhero comic, and it is common to bring in a “big” guest star periodically. After seven issues nearly free of associations or mentions of the greater-Gotham world, considering this is a line-wide relaunch, a little Bat-recalibration is easily forgiven.

This is the first issue without breakdown assists credited to co-writer Cameron Stewart, and artist Babs Tarr capably goes it alone. The panels look good and the page layouts are attractive if not yet especially adventurous. Action sequences are the few areas that momentarily suffer from Stewart’s absence, but this is Tarr’s first solo comic issue—there’s bound to be a few bumps amongst the otherwise gorgeous visuals. Joel Gomez seamlessly assists on backgrounds, and new colorist Serge LaPointe (taking over from Maris Wicks) puts more rendering into the colors to make up for the lessened backgrounds, but otherwise the soft, painterly (and very pretty) colors of LaPointe aren’t always the best complement to Tarr’s art. Maris Wicks’ colors, while flatter and less complex, suited the look of Tarr’s linework well and gave the book a very unique, bold aesthetic.

Tarr’s gift for expression remains (Barbara’s aghast look after her father tells her “I’m Batman” is perfect) along with her penchant for drawing believably-shaped humans in believable attire. This remains an immensely readable book, and co-writers Stewart and Brenden Fletcher have a palpably solid grasp of every character within. A great jumping-on point for those curious about DC’s (sorta) fresh start, Batgirl #41 is more of the same charmingly fun action/adventure we’ve come to expect from Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr.

7.5 out of 10

Agree? Disagree? What books would you like to see us review in the future? We wanna know! Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

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