By Molly Jane Kremer and Jarrod Jones. 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.

25317Conan/Red Sonja #1

Dark Horse/$3.99

Written by Gail Simone & Jim Zub.

Art by Dan Panosian; colors by Dave Stewart. 

JJ: It’s such a no-brainer to pit the She-Devil With a Sword against the legendary Cimmerian, and yet Red Sonja and Conan haven’t shared a single comics panel in almost seventeen years.

Fortunately, Dark Horse Comics (who holds dominion over Conan’s four-colored exploits) and Dynamite Entertainment (who claims ownership over the comic book escapades of Red Sonja) have decided to play together, and here they play very nicely indeed: their sumptuously executed premiere issue is everything a fan of both characters would want to see. There’s plenty of exposed skin and meticulously applied bloodletting. There’s also quite a bit of fun.

In uniting our rambunctious redhead with the gallant, smirking barbarian, Dynamite and Dark Horse have laid out a fine spread of talent: with Gail Simone (who is responsible for not just Red Sonja, but the perfectly fine New52 Batgirl – and let’s not forget about Secret Six) and Jim Zub (who may as well just pitch a fantasy novel series to Bantam Books already and get it over with) on writing detail, the book is freeing and enjoyable for both established fans and new readers alike. And with Dan Panosian providing artwork that more than recalls Frank Miller’s better days, Conan/Red Sonja is easily one of the more gorgeous books released this week. (Dave Stewart’s incredible – that’s incredible with italics, mind – colors help matters considerably.) It may have taken the better part of a generation for these two to cross swords again, but when the final result is this terrific, the wait is more than acceptable. With this much care put into a comic as good as this, the wait feels almost deliberate.

8 out of 10

Lazarus_14-1Lazarus #14

Image Comics/$3.50

Written by Greg Rucka.

Art by Michael Lark with Tyler Boss; colors by Santi Arcas.

MJ: Of the many fictional, dystopian futures that exist in all our various forms of media, I find Lazarus’ to be one of the most believable, and therefore the most unsettling. Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, who notably worked together on the acclaimed DC Comics series Gotham Central, have crafted a world in which corporations have become the ruling class, their families governing sectioned-off chunks of the world in a neo-feudal society. Its use of ruling families (“Family Above All” is Rucka’s sign-off for every issue), and the strict loyalty that’s applied to them definitely recalls Game of Thrones, but Lazarus remains is its own beast, and it’s certainly one of Image’s most consistently great dramatic series.

It’s worth mentioning that the world-building in this comic rivals that multiple-volume, high-fantasy novel series. Each issue details one of the families, their history, lineage, and even their credo. The back-cover “ads” are typically fake advertisements for one of that family’s products or companies. Each family has a Lazarus, a head-of-security/bodyguard to defend (and obey) them absolutely, and this comic series focuses on Forever, the Carlyle family’s Lazarus, genetically modified (and otherwise pharmaceutically assisted) to nearly superhuman levels. It’s all immersive and compelling stuff.

Greg Rucka has always excelled in forging strong and multi-faceted female characters within a gripping story, and Forever (or Eve) is no exception. This issue sees Forever discovering facts about herself and her family, and the temptation to defy her father’s commands. The story is riveting and tense, Rucka’s expert plotting only allotting narrative bits we need to know at the moment, leaving the rest for speculation. Michael Lark’s art is expressive and beautifully rendered without too much artifice: it feels organic, full of emotion without sacrificing either the tension or the action. Lazarus continues to be one of Image’s strongest and most fascinating titles, and its characters and world will linger  – disquietingly so – in your mind long after you’ve finished the comic.

8 out of 10

batgirl-38-coverBatgirl #37

DC Comics/$2.99

Written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher.

Art by Babs Tarr; colors by Maris Wicks.

JJ: As anyone who works online will attest: being on the internet can get plenty exhausting. The incessant prattling, the ceaseless stream of cute puppy/kitty/baby/broccoli photos, the self-aware online lingo (the “lols” and “rofls” and whatnot)… it all gets very tiresome after a while. The province of comic books often acts as a refuge for me when I’m not busy hustling reviews on social media and the like. When I set the phone and the computer aside, I typically want the world that goes with it to melt away. Perhaps that’s why I generally dislike the present direction Batgirl has taken.

Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart’s decidedly hip Batgirl takes our culture of social media, Instagram posts, and desire for accumulated ‘likes’ to such an extreme that it has become the very impetus of the comic. That kind of approach for a superhero book is certainly a fresh one, but its nagging desire to always be “plugged in” has -for this reader, anyway – diluted Barbara Gordon’s potency. (I often wonder – because I’m so achingly dull – what the pre-New52 Oracle would think of her hardly-of-drinking-age Twittering avatar.) With issue #38, Fletcher and Stewart wisely approach the effect social media has had on Barbara’s festering vanity: Babs’ burgeoning popularity within Burnside is having an adverse effect on her personality, so much so that her temporary roomie Dinah Lance has had it and takes a powder early on in the book. Dinah says everything that Barbara desperately needs to hear, and some of the constructive advice actually gets through – for the rest of the issue, Barbara bounces the concepts (passively or otherwise) off of various people in her life, like her roommate, her classmate, and her would-be matemate. (Who just so happens to be an anti-Batgirl police officer, one who is very prone to casting all kinds of shade on our protagonist right to her unmasked face.)

Barbara Gordon’s “I’ll do whatever the hell I want, thank you very much” attitude – in lieu of this latent narcissism – becomes too insufferable to bear for most of the issue. (The dialogue-heavy word balloons certainly don’t help matters, either.) But Babs Tarr’s wonderful renderings (over Stewart’s breakdowns) give #38 a visceral kick, and the comic’s singular action sequence gives the book some much-needed breathless excitement. But moments like those are easily dismissed when the rest of the comic is littered with clunky, panel-filling word balloons (here’s an unedited excerpt: “… the lights are on — Frankie’s probably still up working. She’s having a really tough time lately, I don’t want to disturb her. Thanks for walking me home. Text you tomorrow?“). It’s hard to read Batgirl when I’m constantly rolling my eyes.

5 out of 10

4318442-silvsurf2014008_dc11-0Silver Surfer #8

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by Dan Slott.

Art by Michael Allred; colors by Laura Allred.

MJ: It’s very easy to see Doctor Who in Dan Slott and the Allreds’ Silver Surfer. A space-faring nigh-immortal decides to brighten up the dark monotony of his galactic travels by bringing along a friend – or perhaps a… companion? – to experience his adventures with him. There are differences to be sure: the hero uses a surfboard instead of a police box, there’s no time travel (as yet), and of course there’s the fact that all this takes place squarely within the Marvel Universe. Using the famed BBC TV series as a model really does work, however, and that makes for a very endearing and entertaining comic.

Most of the issues thus far have been episodic done-in-one stories, which in these days of decompressed plotlines stretched to fill out a paperback collection is a joy in and of itself. This issue seems to be the start of a longer story, but it is thankfully easy enough to pick up and read without much need for preparation. Also, it addresses an issue that hasn’t been brought up yet in the series: that of the Surfer’s famed and dreaded ex-employer/master Galactus, and the implications of Norrin Radd having been his Herald for so long – especially easier to point out when our hero is on a planet full of “last known survivors” from all the worlds Galactus decided to nosh upon.

The art by Michael and Laura Allred is up to their typical (very) high standard: they beautifully render dozens of fantastically unique alien races and keep them visually striking as well as relatable and sympathetic. (They also draw an insanely good Devourer of Worlds.) Endlessly fun and engaging, and apparently flying under the radar, Silver Surfer is a joy to read no matter which issue you decided to start from… but issue #8 comes highly recommended.

8.5 out of 10

Agree? Disagree? Which books did YOU enjoy this week? Let us know in the comments below.

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