By Molly Jane Kremer and Jarrod JonesOur 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.

STK658377-300x461New Suicide Squad #5

DC Comics/$2.99

Written by Sean Ryan.

Art by Tom Derenick and Rob Hunter. 

JJ: *sighs, pinches bridge of nose* It’s obviously common knowledge that Warner Bros has not only added Suicide Squad to its ambitious DC film slate, but its full roster has been cast and filming begins in April of next year. Things are ratcheting up pretty fast for Task Force X, so one would think that DC would throw everything they have at their soon-to-be in-demand title, if for nothing else than to draw in new readers vaguely interested in the hype surrounding the property. I mean, Will Smith is going to be in this thing, for chrissakes.

One would think.

For New Suicide Squad #5, artist Jeremy Roberts, who typically brings some fluid strength to Tom Derenick’s breakdowns, sits this entry out, leaving the art chores on the shoulders of Rob Hunter (also chasing after Derenick’s artistic direction). Hunter’s finished art – inconsistent, sloppy, and downright lousy – would be embarrassing even by seventh-grade art class standards. What doesn’t help matters is Sean Ryan’s plodding script, one that allows full pages to go by without a single word offered to be uttered aloud. The script seeks pathos and finds only dead air. That means that the narrative buck is passed to Derenick and Hunter, and the results are – to be polite – catastrophic. (Four pages featuring Amanda Waller starting her day – including a panel featuring a laughably ill-advised shower sequence – are especially awful.)

I don’t pretend to know what DC has in store for New Suicide Squad after Convergence, but if there’s going to be any hope for this book, something needs to change, and quick. There’s plenty of time to decide what needs to be done, but if I were making the decisions? Consider this new attempt scrapped, assign a superior creative team, and start again. Otherwise, DC’s failure to back a book that will be featured in a prominent motion picture will really and truly cause worry for anyone looking to purchase a movie ticket to DC’s aspirations in the near future.

1.5 out of 10

SouthernBastards_06-1_300_462Southern Bastards #6

Image Comics/$3.50

Written by Jason Aaron.

Art by Jason Latour.

MJ: It’s a difficult thing to turn a well-established villain into a character you sympathize with and not lose that scary-as-hell je ne sais quoi. The first storyarc of Southern Bastards really let you in on how much Coach Euless Boss lives up to the title of this comic, and this second storyarc, Gridiron, takes a look back at Boss’ high school years, revealing how he grew into the man who runs Craw County – and most importantly, coaches the local Running Rebs football team – and somehow, writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Latour make you understand and appreciate where this, ahem, bastard came from.

Latour’s craggy faces and expressive, minimalistic linework – and gorgeous coloring, all in sepias and reds – really shine in this book, and no one is more suited to draw it. He effortlessly and subtly communicates emotion with only a glance, or the slight tilt of an eyebrow. The training sequences between Euless and “Ol’ Big”, the blind old black man who tries to help the hapless Boss make the football team, are outstandingly illustrated (even to a non-fan of most sports, like yours truly); we feel the thud of every hit and tackle, colored in deep maroons, reminding us that Euless is “a boy willing to bleed for football”.

Aaron also forces us to admire young Boss’ determination as he tries his damnedest during the Running Rebs’ tryouts, despite being short, skinny, and not exactly competent on the field, while revealing to us his extremely problematic home life (there’s a certain scene involving some chickens that sticks in the mind). The end of the issue is completely heartbreaking, and it’s a credit to Jasons Aaron and Latour for making us care so much about a character after cementing his status as a despicable human being only two issues prior.

9.5 out of 10

Sex Criminals 009 (2014) (Digital) (Darkness-Empire) 001Sex Criminals #9

Image Comics/$3.50

Written by Matt Fraction.

Art by Chip Zdarsky.

JJ: It would seem that I’ve caught a wicked case of Sex Criminals.

It itches. Not in an aggravating “I need a balm for that” kind of way. It’s more of a “wait, I gotta wait until MARCH for the next issue???” kind of way. It’s an excellent book in a way that few other books are excellent. I love it. I also kinda hate it. Why did I wait so long to jump all over this thing? Questions.

Issue #9 places Suzie and Jon – the main offenders in Image Comics’ most, um, titillating ongoing series – on the backburner for most of it, and that’s just fine: we’re caught up on these characters, we know how they feel, what motivates them – all that good stuff. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky free up some time to expand upon a character known only up to recently as the main inspiration behind Jon’s own personal spank bank – Jazmine St. Cocaine, alias Rae Anne Toots, alias Dr. Ana Kincaid – utilizing the patience with which to craft an arresting and fully realized human being within their well-structured paradigm. Rae Anne’s saga, from sexually wounded, to sexually curious, to really sexually curious, makes the book’s twenty pages turn slowly. It’s an absorbing read.

And even though the book’s fictional porno – Fraction and Zdarsky take a poke at The Wicked + The Divine (“The Lick-Ed and the Divine”, har) – is just lurid enough to feel like some crazy, borderline gross slashfic (actors depict Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Lucifer and the legally underage Amaterasu sharing carnal relations with an impressively mounted strap-on), the creators keep Rae Anne’s engrossing backstory at the forefront of the story’s unapologetic sexual bonanza. There are only three months to wait and see how Dr. Kincaid will fit in with Jon and Suzie’s crazy underverse. With a book this good, that wait is just gonna feel like forever.

9.5 out of 10

BG-Cv37-ds-acd4cBatgirl #37

DC Comics/$2.99.

Written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher.

Art by Babs Tarr, breakdowns by Cameron Stewart.

MJ: Batgirl has remained consistent since it’s soft-relaunch two issues ago: it’s still written like a fast-paced young adult novel, complete with a universally beloved heroine and a very involved use of social media and technology in its plot. It’s aimed at a long-ignored younger, female audience, and from what this writer can tell, it continues to be wildly successful in that aim, although a more traditional superhero comic reader (i.e. older, and male-er) might feel a bit alienated by the veiled (?) Instagram references and iMessage-bubbles-as-word-bubbles. But that’s ok; that ”traditional” audience still is the demographic to which 90% of all superhero comics cater (re: pander), so a light, fun, bubbly read has more than a deserved place on DC’s roster.

This issue of Batgirl goes a little further in its pop-culture reference, and borrows elements from a couple of familiar places in doing so: Sophia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is recalled near the beginning, with a group of girls (aided by a Batgirl-doppelganger) robbing celebrities. There are also echoes of BBC’s Sherlock; aside from Barbara’s use of her Holmes-esque photographic memory, more and more the book’s looming big-bad – whose identity remains unknown – is omnisciently pulling the strings in the background, much like a certain nemesis by the name of Moriarty.

Artist Babs Tarr continues to rock the absolute socks off this book. Still working from Cameron Stewart’s breakdowns, her faultless eye for fashion, facial expressions, and body-shape are all her own, and there’s quite honestly no one else in mainstream comics like her right now. With a few pages taking place at a swanky art gallery exhibition, Stewart and Fletcher give Tarr room to play to her strengths: every dress and outfit looks different, gorgeous, and current, and each person wearing them has a different body-type, hairstyle, accessories – you name it, this book has it. Her fantastic art gives this book such a distinct feel that readers may need to remind themselves that this still takes place in the DCU. As it has since issue #35, Batgirl looks and feels like a comic completely unto itself, and in the New52 (with its rampant house-style) that’s an accomplishment as difficult as it is invigorating.

8 out of 10

GARGALANN2014001-DC11-ecdfcGuardians of the Galaxy Annual #1

Marvel/$4.99

Written by Brian Michael Bendis.

Art by Frank Cho.

JJ: It’s easy to exhale an agitated sigh of angst when reaching for any particular DC comic anymore. Knowing that each issue is yet another chapter to an ongoing saga or company-wide event, where everything that occurs is owed to something bigger, something purportedly grander… well. It’s exhausting. I miss the singular “one-and-done” issues of yesteryear, where an issue had a beginning, a middle, an end… and that was it. No “To Be Continued…” no “To Be Concluded…” no “It All Goes Down In The Next Issue That Also Costs $3.99…” I could keep going. (I harbor a lot of anger, and I’m working that out.)

Luckily, I always have Marvel to fall back on, where the classic “one-and-done” pops up often enough to keep a half-hearted Marvel Zombie like me aware of the House of Ideas’ overall direction. With Guardians of the Galaxy‘s first Annual (at least, for this run), writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Frank Cho inhabit a self-contained issue where each current member of the ragtag group of space-faring misfits has a moment to shine. A lot of this works. Some of it doesn’t.

Bendis’ breezy script doesn’t give Cho much room to indulge in his more basic impulses, so the artist finds excuses to inject bits of T&A here and there that are altogether distracting, insufferable, and annoying. (Which explains why Gamora graces this Annual’s cover instead of, I dunno, Drax.) With that particular gripe out of the way, the facial expressions Cho provides are the real reason to invest in this standalone issue: the bookending pages that feature a beautiful sequence of Capt. Carol Danvers phoning home feature the working synergy between writer and artist, and they tug at the feels something awful.

When those moments occur (and they only occur briefly), Bendis and Cho’s collaboration truly shines. Other instances – like a two-page spread depicting a hastily-drawn S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier – diminish the overall quality dramatically. Cho’s splash pages aren’t all that lousy – Jason Keith’s colors would never allow for that – they’re merely uninteresting, filling up space that the Annual’s 32-page, five buck price tag demands. For a space saga with much bombast to offer, Cho’s fireworks don’t inspire awe so much as they inspire yawns.

Most of Bendis’ trademark banter sparks and pops in typical fashion (Rocket’s suggestion that Skrulls purchased the Helicarrier at an auction made me chuckle out loud), while other bits simply fall flat on the ground and stay there. (Fury takes a crack at Rocket by saying the blaster-packing Guardian looks like what would happen if Nick had laid down with a raccoon, which, um…) The Annual’s big spectacle and its intimate moments don’t really gel as well as they ought to, but the brisk, harmless fun of Guardians of the Galaxy is on full display here, and hey! There’s no damned ellipsis at the end of this thing, and for me? That’s always a positive.

7 out of 10

marvel-thor-3-coverThor #3

Marvel/$3.99

Written by Jason Aaron.

Art by Russell Dauterman.

MJ: Thor might be my favorite superhero comic being published today. It’s brutally action-packed, full of both whip-smart dialogue and narration heavy with meaning and purpose. It features a new female superhero just getting started by being thrown into the deep end, and the jaw-dropping art makes the entire experience visually spectacular.

Writer Jason Aaron continues to write our new Thor flawlessly, with just enough oh-so-human insecurity to foil that (apparently inherent) god-like braggadocio and hubris so often tossed around by guy-Thor. Lady-Thor now uses that bluster to taunt Frost Giants while beating the snot out of them: “I can feel my senses slipping away. Quickly, fight harder before I faint from boredom!” (All without her Uru hammer, natch.)

With Mjolnir trapped away from Thor in an impenetrable vault for nearly all of the issue, we discover that our new heroine can hold her own even without her hammer – although if she’s away from it for too long, her “Thor-ness” starts to fade. We’re treated to a great tease in that regard, where she almost reverts back to her normal state. (Personally, this writer hopes they keep on stretching out the mystery of her identity as long as possible; it’s fun as hell.)

Aaron also writes the Dark Elf villain Malekith wickedly and wittily, having him throw around snide remarks at Frost Giants, Thunder Goddesses, and dastardly Minotaurs alike, all while continuing to wear Thor’s severed arm like the most revolting stole ever made.

Artist Russell Dauterman and colorist Matthew Wilson continue to make this one of the best-looking comics on the stands, in every possible aspect. Dauterman draws a broad-shouldered, muscular but still slender lady-Thor kicking massive amounts of Jotunn ass – and the most gloriously hunky (and, uh, topless) dude-Thor you may ever see gracing the pages of a Marvel comic. (Seriously. Chris Hemsworth ain’t got nothin’ on this.) Additionally, the scribbly-scrawled (and oft neon-colored) sound effects – whether drawn by Dauterman or added by letterer Joe Sabino – are unique and add a frenzied level of excitement to an already action-packed book.

I can’t recall a more entertainingly action-packed comic in recent memory, and with the creative team increasing the pace, the suspense, and the stakes with each issue, this storyline is approaching the same high quality as Aaron’s first Thor story, The God Butcher. Next month’s issue is being touted as “Thor vs. Thor”, and I simply cannot wait for January.

9 out of 10

Agree? Disagree? What books are YOU reading each week? We want to know! Tell us all about them in the comments below.

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