By Molly Jane KremerScott 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.

CQNXfzbUkAAteN0The Amazing Spider-Man #1

Marvel Comics/$5.99

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Giuseppi Camuncoli; Colors by Cam Smith and Marte Gracia

SS: What is it that we love about the millionaire superhero? Maybe the more apt question should be, what is it about millionaire superheroes that creators love to write about? Is it the inevitability of comic’s primal power fantasy? While the truth is probably something far less profound, the prevalence of the trope is inarguably prolific. The biggest name in each of the Big Two’s canon is a money-spilling, philanthropic do-gooder, and Peter Parker (who, with his newly christened Parker Industries, can’t avoid the comparison to a “poor man’s Tony Stark”) has been built up to become the next rich white guy to don tights in order to save the day.

In the traditional mold of the moneybags hero, Peter Parker is a true altruist, upping the ante and out-humanitarianing his contemporaries by not only using his business as a means to fund his heroics, but also molding that business into an unselfish entity to benefit the entire world (civilly, environmentally, monetarily; pretty much every way a business ought to do good). I know that it’s silly to question the plausibility of comics, but it’s just not a believable template anymore. We’ve suspended our disbelief enough with Bruce and Tony, and to suggest that Peter is even better at being a good, rich guy than they are is too much to bear. Because we now have to accept three major Forbes-list making superheroes in our comic periphery, it’s become apparent that the trope is… well, it’s kind of boring.

But veteran Spider-Writer, Dan Slott, pens a solid Spider-Man. He gives Parker the trademark one-liners without the overdone groaners that other Spidey writers fall back on. Peter’s believably smart, kind, and sort of annoying, and his dialogue exudes his struggle with the weight of the interpersonal complexities caused by the lifestyle of a masked superhero immersed in the depths of a corporate lifestyle. The kid’s got a lot on his plate, and Slott allows us to see him sweat about it.

The five page previews tucked in the second half of the oversized issue are a nice touch, and they offer readers a reason to give a damn about some of the #1s coming out of Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” initiative. Plus, it’s cool to get snippets of Silk, Spider-Woman, 2099, etc. thrown next to each other to give us a cohesive vision of the Spider-verse.

This relaunch has every critical eye fixed squarely on Marvel. That means the pressure is on many of its creators to do something sensational and impactful, and it’s here where I think Slott mostly plays it safe. What bugs me the most is Amazing Spider-Man‘s lack of innovation, especially when it’s already been firmly established that Peter Parker has incredible superpowers coupled with an immutable boyish charm. He doesn’t need money to enhance his top-tier status, nor does he need it to make him more believable as a character. But what allows Spider-Man to endure will always be his ability to overcome. He has persevered through decades of the mundane and the wildly misguided. I guess that’s what’s most amazing about Spider-Man: at his core he always stays the same and a part of me will always like him because of it.

7.5 out of 10

1426994_xlSpace Riders #4

Black Mask Studios/$3.99

Written by Fabian Rangel, Jr.

Art by Alexis Ziritt; lettered by Ryan Ferrier.

JJ: It doesn’t matter if you prefer most of the workhorse superhero yarns that pour out of the Big Two, or if you prefer to patiently wait for the piecemeal genius from Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly. I don’t care who you are, or where your sequential proclivities lie. If you don’t read Space Riders, no matter how much you profess to love comics otherwise, I don’t want to know you.

Because Space Riders taps into that primal core which lies in every single human being, the part of us that just has to let loose from our cultural microcosms from time to time. It’s a book that understands why people run off to the desert with a pocket full of peyote, or quit their menial day jobs in order to better control their own destinies. Space Riders comes from a place deep within us all, the one that just wants the confines of reality to melt away in a mind-bleed of uncontrolled catharsis. Also, it’s fun as shit.

Black Mask Studios — home to my other most-favored book of 2015, We Can Never Go Home — holds the keys to those aesthetic pleasures, those that must never be mentioned when in mixed company: Alexis Ziritt, Fabian Rangel, Jr., and Ryan Ferrier’s Space Riders is the perfect tonic for Marvel and DC’s convoluted capes dramas, one that emulsifies itself in your bloodstream with enough confidence and respect that it doesn’t cram hideous, distracting advertisements in your face while doing so. It’s unfiltered havoc, given to you without polish or commentary. There’s no agenda attached to Space Riders, no nagging corporate bottom-line that needs to be met. In fact, I enjoy how antithetical Space Riders is to how the comics industry works today that I would be perfectly happy if the only way I could read it if it was pasted, page by page, against a brick wall outside a train station. Perfectly happy.

Presented without an ounce of obligation, Space Riders has been a solid piece of work made by an assemblage of people who just fucking love comics, and it shows: there’s plenty of cosmos-faring Kirby Krackle, there’s a methodically random pacing that recalls Gilbert Hernandez, and it boasts the most balls-out killer space Capitan this side of “no one you’ve ever seen before”. (I’m going to really, really miss lines like “only thing itchin’ is my trigger fingerold friend,” you don’t even know.) There’s enough reverence to the craft and its history that you feel that it should have been published decades ago, found today in yellowed pages of 2000 A.D. or even Heavy Metal. That’s how good this was. And now it’s come to an end.

So go to your comics retailer and ask politely if they carry Space Riders. If they peer up at you with bleary, bloodshot eyes from some ponderous Marvel Essential volume with “no” as an answer, it is your duty to Willem Dafoe Jesus the shit out of that shop until they do. (Or maybe just keep asking nicely; they’ll totally get it for you.) And find your favorite pocket of solace — the one place in the world where society waits on you for a goddamn change — and pickle your brain with Space Riders. Because it’s vital that we all remember to loosen up, especially when we’re reading comics.

10 out of 10

Jughead1RegCvr-666x1024Jughead  #1

Archie Comics/$3.99

Written by Chip Zdarsky.

Art by Erica Henderson.

SR: Gonna be honest with you… after all the buzz surrounding Jughead #1 in the past few months, I bought in, and… it was totally worth it! We get yet another series in the ever expanding modern Archie universe, only this time the central figure is the food-loving, video gaming, loyal pal, Jughead.

In issue #1 the setup is confidently established: Jughead may have a new contemporary sheen about him, but he’s still the lazy skeptic we’ve always known, and the loveable lug still just wants to help his friends with his well-intended schemes, especially when outside forces impact what he values most (hint: it’s food).

As Betty tries to get the students of Riverdale interested in the diminishing green space being taken over by Lodge Industries, Jughead gets riled up (and blacks out not once, but twice!) over the change in cafeteria food. Gone is the tasty lasagna and oh, boy, here comes the gruel. (I had to laugh; is this Oliver Twist? There is actually gruel in the cafeteria!) This is the kind of humor we’ve come to expect from Chip Zdarsky. It continues with a Game of Thrones blackout dream sequence (or: Game of Jones) where our characters take on personas just like those found in Westeros, complete with barbs like “You know nothing, Archie Andrews” and, yep, dragons. This is where Jughead draws inspiration to deal with the cafeteria food issue, thus making the rift between him and his new villainous principal even greater.   

The dialogue is entertaining and playful, and yes, it’s also surprisingly thoughtful. Zdarsky does a great job with character interactions, giving everybody natural conversational tone. Zdarsky liberally sprinkles words collated from our modern lexicon to keep the story feeling fresh (Jughead calls his Home Ec teacher “Miss Groupon” instead of Miss Crouton, which is pretty damn funny), and Henderson compliments the writing with her reimagined versions of these iconic characters. They’re angular, contemporary, and expressive. (I also appreciated the choices she made in keeping a youthful look for the characters, like sticking Betty in a romper and modernizing Jughead’s whoopee cap—yup, that is what it’s called—by making it sleeker).  

I think Jughead will fit nicely into the Archie universe, and will be a good companion to the Waid/Staples paradigm. When you have built a world that surrounds teenagers’ daily lives, it’s easy to have multiple stories going without tearing away the underpinnings. The future for Riverdale looks very bright indeed.

9 out of 10

Batman-and-Robin-Eternal-Cover-1-720x1093Batman and Robin Eternal #1

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder.

Art by Tony S. Daniel and Sandu Florea; colors by Tomeu Morey.

SS: With the 75th birthday of the Boy Wonder upon us and Robin War on the December docket, the convergence (no pun intended) of nearly a half-dozen Robin storylines begins: the excellent We Are Robin has established itself as a cops vs. Robins pileup, Dick Grayson’s has finally returned to Gotham, and here we are with the majority of former sidekicks quickly coalescing into a long overdue team-up.

In Batman and Robin Eternal #1 we’re given a quick “greatest hits” introduction to all of our Kid Wonders, complete with tongue-in-cheek descriptors doled out as if they’re company policy. (“Red Hood aka Jason Todd: Died on the job. Got better.”) Our saga starts immediately, with three former Robins dispatching quick justice and conversing on a Gotham rooftop to begin the exposition of the real story. Not only was this a great little moment of comic unification, but it promptly gave the opening issue the feel of a heavyweight boxing match. We just know this series is going to be huge.

It’s hard not to get excited about the prospects of Batman and Robin Eternal. As a sequel to the well-received Batman Eternal, Tynion & Snyder are cranking out weekly issues again, seemingly in an attempt to cohesively alter the current status quo of Gotham City. And in a time when the landscape of the Batman universe is tenuously uncertain at best, this could be the start of something truly exciting.

The plot hasn’t been fully divulged, but there’s enough going on already to make it feel worthwhile. It does all of the things that add gravity (the return of a villain, a warning from Bruce, a homecoming to the Cave) without coming off as cheap or empty. That gives this book the weight of real importance (as if the creative names involved didn’t do that already) and it makes me grateful this is a weekly series I can devour at a freakish pace.

And since it is weekly, the artists on each issue will vary by necessity. The first one opens with some serious firepower from Tony Daniel. Simply put, he’s a classically brilliant comic artist. His big, sweeping pages are breathtaking, and often overshadow the comparably beautiful small panels of expository action. That’s not to say he’s doing anything wrong, just that it’s all so damn pretty it’s easy to miss the little things he does with pencils. I’m interested in seeing the way that the various artists fit together as the weekly series moves forward. Daniel’s set an impossibly high benchmark, but there’s always room for growth.

I can’t say enough good things about the preliminary stirrings of what seems to be the last big thing of DC’s 2015. If it isn’t going to be groundbreaking, it at least has the makings of a damn fine superhero arc, especially considering the ultra-muddled state of this Bat-union. The inevitable fun of watching an all-star lineup of creatives and characters (plus a few fresh faces to keep things compelling) is palpable at this point, and I can’t wait to see this round robin (pun-definitely-intended) play out.

9 out of 10

4831429-0+invimcov2015001_dc11_lr-0Invincible Iron Man #1

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by Brian Michael Bendis.

Art by David Marquez; color art by Justin Ponsor.

JJ: It should come as no surprise that Invincible Iron Man #1, arguably the flagship issue that launches Marvel Comics into its “All-New, All-Different” initiative, would be a technical marvel to behold. Everything about the presentation of this book — from its stupendous wrap-around cover (on sharply-cut cardstock) to the wondrous digital sheen provided by Justin Ponsor — screams to the potential reader, “hey… you need this.” And with Marvel’s ace Golden Boy (or maybe Decorated Vet?) Brian Michael Bendis, its marquee is just another thing the publisher can brag about. Invincible Iron Man #1 is Marvel at its most big-time.

Now if only it felt new. Or different. In any way.

Invincible Iron Man has everything a hardened Marvel Zombie could ever want in an Iron Man comic. Run your aesthetic analytics against Bendis, Marquez, and Ponsor’s A-List offering, and you’ll find that it meets all the expectations one would have for an adventure with Tony Stark — so much so, in fact, there’s a nagging feeling that all this superficial gloss is here to somehow bolster Marvel’s Hollywood endeavors (as if they needed it any more): Tony’s still an arrogant bundle of raw nerves, he woos an impossibly perfect woman who (wait for it) won’t be charmed so easily, and yep — he’s got a brand new suit of armor, one that’s so crisp and tailored that it may as well have been designed by Domenico Dolce.

But that’s not all. There’s even a Disney-mandated tie-in introduction, in the form of Age of Ultron‘s own A.I. innovation: Tony’s new girl, Friday. (She’s given a shimmering, colorful hue that, coupled with her omnipresence, easily recalls Tinkerbell — and, strangely enough, DC Comics’ Firestorm — if you look for the parallels.) If this book didn’t burden itself with nemesis du jour Madame Masque (who conducts all her business without ever once encountering ol’ Shellhead) or a final splash appearance by a dramatically (and eye-rollingly) prettied up Marvel baddie, you would swear you were reading a sequential draft for Iron Man 4.

Brian Michael Bendis has been writing for the House of Ideas for so long now that it’s almost routine that his very presence makes any book he tackles “one to watch”. We’ve walked down the red-and-yellow brick roads laid by the likes of Matt Fraction and Warren Ellis; marquee writers compliment Tony Stark, and Bendis does just fine by him. He makes Tony feel just like he always has, and since Iron Man is technically still Marvel’s “It Boy”, Bendis is careful to make sure that nothing too subversive — or even remotely upsetting — infiltrates this “new” take on the Golden Avenger. There’s a #1 on the book, but it feels like this has been going on for years.

And with its prohibitive four-dollar price tag, it’s a wonder if Marvel is serious about enticing an entirely new generation of fans, or if they’re just finding all-new, all-different ways of diminishing the expectations of their long-time readers. One thing’s for sure: it’s going to take a lot more than a tune-up to make this book matter.

7 out of 10

pZdo3euDoctor Strange #1

Marvel Comics/$4.99

Written by Jason Aaron.

Art by Chris Bachalo.

SS: So we’ve made it to yet another comics relaunch (it seems as if the time between these is exponentially shrinking), and that means it’s time for yet another disquisitional exploration of our old favorites. Today we’re privileged to witness the unveiling of good ol’ Doctor Strange as an axe-wielding conquistador, complete with hipster facial hair and a pretty-boy haircut. As soon as he wrapped his cloak into a cute little scarf, he transformed into a true New Yorker; his Greenwich Village Sanctum finally made perfect sense, and we began to perceive Stephen Strange as a tangible human being. (Or the closest thing to it.)

Jason Aaron builds playful, honest monologues that remodel Strange from the stoic, untouchably deistic sorcerer that he’s always been into a doctor making house calls, just trying to finish up the workday to go out for a drink with his friends. We see him romance a soul-eating woman, stumble through the Manhattan streets, and receive the friendly chastising that occurs when anyone shows up late to a bar. Unveiling the humanity of any superhero inevitably adds some complexity to a comic, but to do so to someone as hallowed and sober as Doctor Strange is refreshing at the very least.

But boy, do I have an axe to grind with this one (insert self-aware groan). The problem is that Doctor Strange #1 doesn’t seem to know what it is yet. Sometimes Strange is flirting or mugging for the camera (there are a few moments that push the Wade Wilson boundaries a little more than I’d like, but that’s another story), while other times he monologues us towards very intimate moments of dark introspection and personal weakness. I’m all for a proper multi-dimensional character, but this is all happening within the first issue of a relaunch, and I’m not quite sure who Stephen Strange is (a humble altruist? a pervy, coercive sleeze?) or if I even like this All-New, All-Different version of him at all. First impressions, after all, are key.

(There’s a wonderfully apt comparison of microscopic bugs and the invisible world of mystical soul parasites. It gives you that same squirmy feeling that the health class videos of eyelash mites and mouth bacteria did, which is an impressive feat on it’s own. But it’s a perfect example of what this series is seemingly trying to do and is clearly capable of. It displays regular life in conjunction with the fantastical and surreal. I just wish it could remain dependable in its efforts during the rest of the issue.)

If nothing else, Doctor Strange #1 remains consistent in its inconsistencies throughout the issue. Chris Bachalo’s trippy art works great in the quiet scenes of New York mundanity, but loses its grip (and consequently, so do we) once the action begins. It’s hard to keep up with the fight sequences, and I found myself powering through under the assumption that Doctor Strange would inevitably win whatever fights in which he found himself embroiled (this is the first issue, after all). That’s not a particularly strong showing for an action narrative, especially when the action is contrasted with beautifully illustrative panels showing huge vistas of urban existence. It’s just a bummer to see something look so great on one page and simply acceptable on the next.

I suppose with any character re-work, the wrinkles and discrepancies take some time to iron themselves out. In theory, I love the idea of seeing a real Stephen Strange who feels the chilly, autumnal air and puts on a scarf as much as he sees vicious, nether-realm psyche-leeches and pulls out a magical axe. We need to get to a space where Strange can be both of those people and feel like a consistent, cohesive being. I suppose we just need to see Doctor Strange be normal for a while.

7 out of 10

4631097-1+archie#3Archie  #3

Archie Comics/3.99

Written by Mark Waid.

Art by Fiona Staples, Andre Szymanowicz with Jen Vaughn.

SR: Issue #3 of Archie starts out with bang — or rather a VAROOOM — as Veronica Lodge makes her debut on Riverdale’s campus. Archie is too distracted reminiscing about their meeting to even notice of course. But dear Jughead is not amused. And he remains the critic and the skeptic throughout the issue.

When Veronica steps out into our world for the first time, Archie is there to be her one-man welcoming committee to Riverdale High. Just like in earlier versions of the comic, Veronica is beautiful and glamorous, only this time she’s been given a 21st century veneer. It’s hard to believe that she’s supposed to be in Riverdale (or even high school, for that matter), but as soon as she opens her mouth to bark orders to Archie we see her maturity level reduced to the entitled, spoiled girl that she is. Move over Regina George, you have nothing on this mean girl.

The story is told in four chapters that begin at the start of Veronica’s first school day to the end of it, chronicling her interactions with each of the main characters as well as the supporting cast. We also learn that prior to coming to Riverdale, “Ronnie” (as Archie is allowed to call her) was on a reality TV show, and so the excessive media buzz around the new student makes more sense. Jughead is still not amused and snaps at her when he can’t take the disrespect she shows Archie by not evening knowing his name (she calls him “Andy”) as he follows her around like a love-sick puppy. Jughead then tries to engage long time pal and Archie’s now ex, Betty, to help save his friend, but she is doing her best to stay out it. It’s not until Veronica personally slights and mocks Betty that she agrees to join Jughead to take this new threat down.

This Veronica is different from the past versions that have graced the pages of Archie. Even though we have always known she was wealthy, spoiled, and expected only the best of the best, she never felt fully out of touch, and she was still somewhat relatable. With this Kardashian makeover, she appears to be very out of touch, like in moments where she is confused by the silverware bin in the cafeteria or the smell of sloppy joes. The one time she almost connected on a genuine level with a classmate, Sheila Wu, she ruins it by showing how she doesn’t know how to properly interact and instead insults Sheila with her perceived superiority. It’s also evident when she calls her dad while crying in the bathroom and begs for him to send a car (or, y’know, a helicopter) for her. It has me question why she is even going to school there at all. With all that wealth couldn’t Mr. Lodge have sent her to boarding school? In any case, she is at Riverdale now. I’m hoping that as the series progresses she mellows out a little and becomes more friendly and less bratty.

Overall the story is smart, funny, and lays a sturdy foundation for the shenanigans to come. It’s easy to enjoy seeing these familiar characters in a new way with stronger personalities than in past versions, and that makes this book entertaining. The artwork by Staples is gorgeous and modern, and continues to complement the dialogue Waid has written. She is good at having the characters show emotion even when there is little to no dialogue in a panel and it seems to give the characters even more life. It’s rather easy to admit; reading Archie is cool again.

8.5 out of 10

Agree? Disagree? What books are YOU reading this week? We want to know! Tell us about those feelings of yours in the comments section below.

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