By Molly Jane Kremer, Scott Southard, Stefania Rudd, 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.

GOTHMIN-Cv8-4ff7bGotham by Midnight #8

DC Comics/$2.99

Written by Ray Fawkes.

Art by Juan Ferreyra.

SS: What began as a serialized procedural has turned into something of vastly larger importance to the greater Gotham universe. Now that we’ve moved past the first arc’s episodic critique of imperialism and the sins of one’s father, Ray Fawkes has forced us to confront the problems of the present. In its eighth issue (this series has sunk it’s claws in, hasn’t it?), we take a look at the twenty-four-hour news cycle and the massive influence of mass media, and Gotham by Midnight establishes itself as something with far more critical thought than we might have estimated.

As our understanding of Agent Corrigan’s relationship with the creature that is God’s Judgement has grown, we’ve seen his inability to control The Spectre become a bit of an encumbrance in times of desperation or chaos. It seems Fawkes has grown along with the book, as he starts playing with the concept in a way that comes off less as an expository occurrence and more as a natural surprise of divine punishment. (I chuckled at a scene in which Corrigan arrives at the newsroom to confront the riot-inducing broadcast team on GNN, and upon entering, we immediately see The Spectre explode from his chest, enraged at the evil within the room. It’s the kind of thing that would regularly occur if you happened to be a guy that housed the fists of God somewhere inside your being.)

Maybe you’ve noticed, but Gotham by Midnight relies heavily on visuals. Monsters are all slime and tentacles, not only in their looks, but in their movement. Vines slither beneath floor boards and horrors solvently drip as they haunt the corners of Gotham City (the news anchors are revealed to be a Faustian monster made of fingers. It’s gaggingly disgusting in its forthrightness and also pretty perfect). And when something happens, it happens big. The action in fight sequences or monster displays overwhelms the panels meant to contain it. It lends these scenes a sense of magnitude you can only find in the supernatural.

Besides the excitement of the metaphysical, the series has evolved from a somewhat disjointed group of individuals to a core unit of detectives, and this is largely due to the work of Juan Ferreyra. Brilliant scenes depicting the question and answer back and forth of a numinous crime scene investigation are laid out within the framework of an three-flat apartment or a ramshackle office building. It also should go without saying that the representation of Gotham’s Times Square-esque city center is vibrant and beautiful, laden with big screens looming like deities as riots ensue beneath them. The scene engenders a sense of sobriety and humility that I wish translated as simply to real life.

The eighth issue remains built firmly on the grounds of Christian theology without straying too far into its world of angels and demons. It’s that kind of weighty stuff that doesn’t always fall into Batman’s jurisdiction, but it manages to fit in the world of Gotham City anyway.

The closest thing DC has to The Twilight Zone, Gotham by Midnight is consistently strong with its criticism of societal progress, or more accurately, the manner in which we brandish it. We know the headlines we read are sometimes bogus, and Fawkes forces us to reexamine how much we trust what gets spewed into the public hivemind. It’s a fun and spooky run through territory we’re all familiar with, and it manages to punch above its weight with it’s meaningful content. If I’m ever up for a good ghost story, I’m always down to pull the Midnight Shift.

8 out of 10

zodiacZodiac Starforce #1

Dark Horse Comics/$3.99

Written by Kevin Panetta.

Art and lettering by Paulina Ganucheau; color assists by Savanna Ganucheau.

SR:By the power of Astra, Zodiac Starforce lights the way!

I will not lie, once this project was announced earlier this summer — described as a Sailor Moon meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer-type magical girl squad book — I knew I was in. Months leading up to the August 26th release date of the first issue, social media feeds, Tumblr sites, and blogs were full of interviews with the creators, sneak peeks of character artwork, initial pages of the book, and naturally the creators themselves were bombarded with fan art and cosplay photos. There was a big buzz around this series.

Once I finally got my hands on this book, I knew it would not disappoint.

For those of you familiar with anime or manga, this should feel like coming home. Both Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau are not only huge fans themselves, they’re inspired by the tropes found in those genres. And yet their use of these tropes in this premiere issue (and from what I have seen of upcoming issues) shouldn’t alienate those who are unfamiliar. Instead, it’s a fun book with a contemporary vibe.

The premise surrounds four high school girls who live in Alexandria, Virginia (one of my former homes!) who were given magical powers during their freshmen year by Astra, the Goddess of Light, to help protect the world. When each girl transforms into her superhero self, she assumes a sign of the zodiac: Emma is Gemini, Savanna is Pisces (my sign…whoo hoo!), Kim is Taurus, and Molly is Aries. Once assembled to fight the dark forces of Cimmeria (and thoroughly trouncing it), the group had since parted ways in an attempt to move on from their mutual experience for two years. However, a series of events have forced them back together to form their team once again. (As “series of events” typically do.)

Though they are magical superheroes they are also teenagers, and the story does a lovely job of showing that side of them as well.  Themes of friendship and loyalty are very strongly woven into the plot. (We quickly learn that there is nothing more vicious than a pack of mean girls one can encounter at a party, not even giant, hideous monsters.) Panetta’s dialogue is finessed and natural, giving the book a juvenile and enthusiastic vibe. The character interactions feel so familiar in places it’s as if you’ve experienced them before. (A good dose of humor is also present: when Diana, leader of the mean girls, calls Kim “Supercuts”, I just had to giggle.)

The artwork in the book is both vibrant and youthful. The cover art (done beautifully by Marguerite Sauvage) is just the tip of the iceberg (it seems that each issue will feature a different artists like Kevin Wada, Jacob Wyatt, and Babs Tarr). On each page, Ganucheau fills every panel corner to corner with detail and intentionality. There is a lot of action, but it never looks too busy or overcrowded.  You can also see the strong anime influence in her work, in that the characters have larger eyes than normal, shimmering hair color, and long, athletic, but still feminine, limbs. I also appreciate that the clothing for them (as normal teens and then as superheroes) are age appropriate and show their personality.   

Overall, I reeeeeally enjoyed the first issue of Zodiac Starforce. I look forward to upcoming issues, where we’ll see how the plot unfolds as the characters grow and interact with one another. It’s a very fun read that I highly, highly recommend for all ages. (Trust me; I know what I’m talking about.)

9 out of 10

unnamed (9)We Can Never Go Home #4

Black Mask Studios/$3.99

Written by Matthew Rosenberg & Patrick Kindlon.

Art by Josh Hood; colors by Tyler Boss.

JJ: Take care of yourself, Madison. People get hurt in the real world. Even people like you.”

Even though that piece of advice was offered to her only two issues ago, Maddie ought to know through enough experience that her father was likely not just referring to physical pain. Considering the heartrending, but no less tantalizing, plot twist found just three pages into this issue, there’s probably more at play when it comes to this seemingly innocuous fatherly advice. *pauses* But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s easy to get carried away when recommending We Can Never Go Home to friends or complete strangers (or, in this case, friends and complete strangers). But that’s part of the fun in discovering the best kept secret in comics: you get to be the cool kid who tells everyone else how great a comic book can be. Enthusiastically. Emphatically. This is what it felt like when Saga first punched us in the throat. This reminds us all that it’s okay to maintain our wary faith in comics.

It’s a road trip of achingly poignant proportions, one that recalls at once Sex Criminals and Preacher, Clark’s Another Day in Paradise and Malick’s Badlands. It’s totally familiar and completely alien at the same time. It contains memories we never knew we had while creating brand new memories we never knew we needed. As recognizable as the paths taken by We Can Never Go Home can be sometimes, it feels at once immediate and essential. Like the press releases say: it’s a story that never gets told anymore. So let’s let it get told.

And let’s let Black Mask Studios do it their own way. Because the publisher has a rightfully severe tendency to foist its artists to the forefront, I’ll bite: artist Josh Hood and colorist Tyler Boss have a serious J.H. Williams III/Mick Gray thing going on, and everything they throw at We Can Never Go Home has the lyrical and romantic gut-punch you’d find in the nigh-legendary duo’s work on Chase. Their diligence gives the antics of Duncan and Maddie a heft not dissimilar to what Fiona Staples brings to Brian K. Vaughan’s written words. This is a collaboration that makes every single poignancy given over by writers Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon feel like they mean that much more. “Teenage kicks right through the night” never felt so dire.

So hold on. Windshields shatter, bones are broken, kisses are stolen, lies are told, and if you can keep up you’ll find what most who have already discovered We Can Never Go Home know all too well: the next chapter can’t come soon enough. So pour one out for that busted-ass Caddy, because — with issue #4 — things just got worse for Maddie and Duncan. With every single knee to the groin (which effectively drops assholes to the ground while they puke their nuts up), this whole crazy game of theirs grows weirder and weirder. The more information we receive, the more we’re left in the dark. But it’s cozy here.

So, are you caught up yet? Because this is better than TV.

9.5 out of 10

unnamedYoung Terrorists #1

Black Mask Studios/$6.99

Written by Matt Pizzolo.

Art by Amancay Nahuelpan; Colors by Jean-Paul Csuka.

SS: I don’t know what drew me to pick up Young Terrorists on a whim this past week. Maybe it’s the beautifully crafted cover and large format issue that screams quality. Maybe it’s the “edgy” title that just sings to the rebellious little punk in me that real life hasn’t managed to squash just yet. Maybe it’s the bulk of Black Mask’s recent new releases that have been nothing but stellar.   

In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter what brought me to the book. What matters more is what will keep people coming back. The real pull to Young Terrorists is its exasperated aura, one that teeters between a hammed up in-your-face teen angst and a social commentary on capitalist America and the implications that affect our everyday lives. A big ol’ middle finger pointed at trickle down economics and the prison-industrial complex. I’m coming back for the no-bullshit, no-apologies approach Pizzolo takes at tackling a lot of difficult and complex problems. Because while it might be important to work within the system to make the small changes, sometimes more drastic measures need to be taken for people to take notice.

The title itself is a fairly blatant grab at cheap attention and headlines, but it’s also very apt: We are following a group of young terrorists around. Think The Weather Underground armed with Adderall and the internet. What’s most striking about this new book is the understanding Pizzolo seems to already have about his characters and storyline. They all come from living worlds and have potent backgrounds that play into their individual personalities.

The layout of the issue is smart and well organized (anything that opens with a Nas quote is ok with me), partly due to the dynamic work of Nahuelpan and Csuka. Their world-building is consistent and a blast throughout, with characters always in motion, constantly drawn mid-action. It gives the reader a sense of really seeing things as they happen, rather than watching set-ups and come-downs. It’s a shotgun blast to your senses, but that’s kind of what the book is all about.

Which brings us to the size of this thing. It’s big for a single issue. 80 pages of explosions and naked butts crammed together to make a palpably pleasing artifact. There’s a note from Pizzolo at the end explaining the thought process behind opening the series with a non-traditional format, and it makes sense. If they truly are starting a new long-running series, it’s important to give readers some firm ground to stand on. There’s a ton going on here, and I don’t know if I’d have the patience to follow this along for three or four months just to get to where we are now. But now that we are here, and we’ve got a load of exposition under our belts, I’m happy to get immersed in this jacked up activist lifestyle.

Even with the enormous first issue, it’s still a bit tough to follow all of the storylines and cast. Luckily we have the loveably inept Alex Jones-esque narrator to display an absurd right wing fanaticism while also maintaining the role of a narrator who lays out a solid, physical map of personalities and organizations, and the motives of everyone involved. It’s a notably smart rhetorical technique that really helps, especially in this whopper of an inaugural issue.

Yes, it’s big, it’s fearless, and it’s gory, but thoughtfully so. Young Terrorists is as bloody and vicious as the world it mirrors. It’s got realistic dialogue, believable characters, tough commentary, but most of all, it’s got guts. The guts to take on a big, frustrating behemoth of societal structure with the spitfire audacity of someone that believes what they’re saying is good, honest, and true. From here, we’ll see if it can maintain the resolution to move forward with smart, violent criticism without falling to senseless viscera and simple, anti-everything epithets. If Young Terrorists can toe the line, the series could be a great political statement, found in the unlikely space of a comic store shelf.

9 out of 10

1450083_xlRumble #6

Image Comics/$3.50

Written by John Arcudi.

Art by James Harren and Dave Stewart.

MJ: Image’s publishing schedule has become a crowded and massive thing to behold, boasting almost as many monthly comics as the Big Two— only these books contain more genre diversity than DC and Marvel could ever dream of in their corporatized sleep. Admittedly, a good 75% of Image’s roster is science fiction-dystopian or otherwise, but quite a few titles still happily defy most attempts at categorization.

Take Rumble, for instance. The closest approximation to a simple description could be “Hellboy-esque”—supernatural occurrences; incredibly weird and creepy creatures; meaningful human interactions (not necessarily with humans) in between bouts of saving the world—but that classification might be due more to this team’s previous acclimation to Dark Horse’s Mignola-verse. This week’s issue, Rumble #6, is the first released since its collection saw print, and with it the series has met an almost introspective interlude. The suspense that imbued the first volume of the series has abated, leaving everyone with some breathing room to consider both lingering repercussions and next steps.

The first five pages serve as a recap for the story so far (Bobby recounts past events for his comatose mother), while half of the issue continues with Bobby at his mother’s bedside, or with Timah, working through the trauma and guilt acquired during recent events. The other half of the issue consists of a flashback/lesson on the consequences of violence, courtesy of hulking scarecrow Rathraq. Writer John Arcudi parallels the two narratives, with both Bobby and Rathraq’s confessions providing the comic’s momentum. Rathraq’s plot is certainly the more thrilling, but the human drama of Bobby and Timah’s interaction is a different shade of compelling.

Artist James Harren’s art is, again, the star of this show, with Dave Stewart’s colors making it shine all the brighter. While the issue sees little action, the few instances of it are visceral and purposefully contrast the serenity of the rest, even as that thoughtfulness is a reaction to explosiveness of the last few issues. Harren’s art has a dynamism that recalls the energy of Tradd Moore’s work, and he knows how to steadily pace his pages for maximum impact, whether it’s a bloody battle with a gargantuan bug or a quiet conversation in a gloomy cellar.

More is revealed about Bobby, but it’s not exactly an epiphany-level exposé: small glimpses of his family and hints at his past amid a crisis of (guilty) conscience continue to flesh out a one-time cypher, and end up posing further questions, adding more intrigue. Relationships are solidified, and we learn more about how these characters were affected by battles both ancient and fresh, and how prepared they are for those in the future.

In a medium that has a tendency to glorify violence, this issue calmly reflects on the toll all that punchin’ and killin’ might take, on both a human and a colossal level.

8.5 out of 10

4529614-hank_johnson_agent_of_hydra_conner_coverHank Johnson, Agent of Hydra #1

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by David Mandel

Art by Michael Walsh; Colors by Matthew Wilson

SS: When I (apologetically and embarrassingly) defend the merits of Kevin Smith’s Clerks, the citation that everyone can agree on is the delight of the Death Star political debate. Randall and Dante’s argument over the ethics of independent contractors working on the construction of the Imperial Death Star is a thing of beauty and a consistently relevant speaking point when watching the wanton havoc found in action movies or TV shows.

While not exactly following the Imperial argument to a T, Marvel has brought us into the life of an average Hydra employee, and the result is pretty damn funny. We follow Hank Johnson — who is in fact an agent of Hydra — through his daily life as an agent but also as a human who wants to take care of his family, hang out with his friends, and just get a moment to take a break from the day to day life that won’t leave him any room to breathe.

David Mandel’s heavy credits on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm frame him as an unusual candidate for writing comic books, but seeing him tackle the tragedy of the mundane through another format is a surprisingly smooth transition. In fact, the story moves pretty similarly to an episode of Seinfeld, with a secondary storyline revolving around a set of basketball tickets and who deserves them most. While funny on its own, this back and forth takes place in the middle of a Hydra workday, which is seemingly comprised of all rank and file soldiers standing in line, yelling “Hail Hydra” over and over. The jokes stack on top of one another in the subtle way that makes you want to let everyone else know that you noticed them. It seems like Mandel feels at home in comics, and the book flows in a naturally familiar way.

Which is to say that Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra is full of inside jokes and self-referential webs (two of my favorites were M.O.D.O.K. eulogizing a funeral by singing Amazing Grace and Hank’s children attending Wolfgang von Strucker Elementary). It’s nice that this book has an enormous sandbox to play in rather than attempting to build a mythos of its own. We already know the epic narrative of Hydra, now we just need to see the average things juxtaposed against it.

Michael Walsh does a great job of portraying Hank as a pathetically normal man in every frame. The cover has Hank with a steak on his eye while the opening page has frozen peas ON HIS OTHER EYE. Throughout the issue, there are moments of sadness tucked in each facial expression and each slouched step. Hank is so unceasingly beat up and beaten down by his life, it’s incredible.

Hank Johnson is a nice breather from the Secret Wars gauntlet without actually breaking the continuity. It’s not groundbreaking or game-changing. It’s a simple, introspective “what if.” We get to take a look at the regular guy in the evil empire. And what we’re really looking at is ourselves as we would be in a world of superheroes and villains. Hank is us, and he’s trying his best. All Hank is guilty of is taking a government contract that came his way. He’s got a wife and kids, a two-story in suburbia, and along come these militants that blast everything in a two mile radius. Hank didn’t ask for that. Hank had no personal politics. Just trying to scrape out a living.

He’s a casualty of a war he had nothing to do with. At least, that’s what Randall would say, and it seems like Mandel agrees.

8 out of 10

Agree? Disagree? Which comics do YOU want us to cover this week? Let us know in the comments below.

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