By Molly Jane KremerScott 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.

STK685907I Hate Fairyland #1

Image Comics/$3.50

Written by Skottie Young.

Art by Skottie Young/Colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu.

SS: Skottie Young is back in action, authoring one of the most secretly frightening and hilariously  brutal comics we’ve seen in awhile, fantastically merging the fairytale with the reality of how a Grimm’s-esque situation would actually play out. I Hate Fairyland is a fairly easy concept to explain (it’s about a girl who ends up in a land of fairytales that isn’t as lovely as it would seem), but the intricacies and nuances of it are the wings that elevate it above the level of a mere clever joke.

The series opens with us watching young protagonist, Gertrude, dragged from her safe and cozy bedroom to an unknown black pit of a world while the narrator gives us the whimsical version of her story, peppering the violent surprise with words like “wonder,” “magic,” and “grand adventure” as she screams in terror for anyone to help her. It’s a cute and clever maneuver to temper the audience’s expectations while briskly moving the story to the point of Gertrude’s inevitable corruption.

Young’s fanciful, Cartoon Network art style is starkly juxtaposed with the ruthless carnage of exposed bone and the blood of an innocent child. We watch the incorruptibility of youth wash away in a flash as the story progresses from infancy to adulthood. As soon as the essential initial exposition has finished, Gertrude literally murders the narrator, who just happens to be something comparable to the man in the moon.

(As is becoming painfully obvious, this is the type of comic that commands you to pass it on. I’m having a hard time holding back here. It’s the kind of thing that you show to friends and lovers with posits like “Look at her shoot all of those stars with a machine gun!” or “Oh my God check out where she starts biting the heads off policemen that are also psychedelic mushrooms!”)

What’s beautiful about Fairyland is the depth of its backstory. This easily could have been a cheap freak-out series, based on the humor of a child inflicting brutality and cursing like an escaped convict. Instead, a mere 6 pages of prologue (and 27 years of painstakingly searching for a way out of this sugarsweet hellhole) give Gertrude the hardened gristle of a war veteran on her 8th tour of battle, caring little for anything or anyone but the mission at hand. She just wants to go home, and has seen enough to do whatever it takes to get there.

The back pages give us a little autobiographical glimpse at Skottie Young’s childhood dream to write for Image, which makes this book all the more magical. Besides being a super enjoyable goof-off, we can see the culmination of years of writing and an entire career in comics. I Hate Fairyland is a hell of a first issue, stripping down the exposition to the necessary components and backloading the rest of the issue with ridiculous situations and a quantity of ultra-violence that would make any good horror fan cringe. Every panel is inventive and every line of dialog is biting. If there was ever an embodiment of delight, Skottie Young has found it with his first creator owned comic. At the risk of sounding redundant, I love I Hate Fairyland.

8.5 out of 10

Radioactive-Spider-Gwen-1-CoverRadioactive Spider-Gwen #1

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by Jason Latour.

Art by Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi.

MJ: Now on its second week, Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” universe-wide relaunch continues to spurt out new number ones among the continuing deluge of remaining Secret Wars tie-ins. Most of these debuts—victims to the discordant hastiness of a blockbuster reboot amidst a still-current crossover event—have been too uncomfortably familiar to be called either “all-new” or “all-different”. So it’s funny that Spider-Gwen, the character with the least need for a new first issue (or of any modification whatsoever) has one of the best “All-New, All-Different” first issues.

Radioactive Spider-Gwen #1 is the third introduction to the eponymous character within the past year or so. Assumedly, her newness—and previously-established rampant popularity amongst the younger, more diverse readership this relaunch is partially aimed at—means there’s no need to redefine the character or her surroundings (or even superficially attempt to do so, as most of these relaunches have). The comic functions well as a first issue, continuing the story that’s already been set up while bringing readers quickly up to speed on what’s already happened without excessive or unnecessary exposition.

Writer Jason Latour flexes his world-building further in this issue, with a flashback to the cast’s high school days, replete with relevant glimpses of the late, lizard-y Peter Parker. Even the breadth of Earth-65 (if we’re still calling it that, post-Secret Wars?) gets some satisfying expansion, with a surprising (and awesome) version of a familiar character: the last page promises unexpected new twists beyond Marvel New York’s street-level denizens.

An off-beat sense of humor continues to imbue the series, with stressful personal lives and melancholy reminiscences balanced by just enough goofy quips and silly references. (The profusion of corn dogs throughout the issue will probably leave you craving one, just to warn you.) Gwen’s relationship with her dad, who’s now aware of her hoodied alter-ego on top of his professional relationship with Spider-Woman, gets deserving panel time, as does her financial woes, continuing the time-honored Marvel tradition of grounding a superhero with relatable real-life problems.

The script and the art keep the pace hopping despite a lot going on, and artist Robbi Rodriguez’s energetic style is partially responsible for the fast tempo. Few artists communicate movement as well as Rodriguez, and his wide-screen dynamism and exciting angle choices keep the plot going at an exhilarating clip. Rodriguez’s light, intricate lines combine beautifully with his expressionistic backgrounds and speed lines, while streaks and swirls of colorist Rico Renzi’s bright neons and bolds—amid letterer Clayton Cowles’ well-placed (and colored) organic sound fx—ensure Spider-Gwen’s instantly recognizable aesthetic, and impossible-to-replicate visual chemistry.

As the first of the “All-New, All-Different” series to feature a solo female lead, Radioactive Spider-Gwen #1 thankfully stands out from the rest of the boys, eschewing “same ol’, same ol’” characterization and representation (and repetitive use of title adjectives—really, there’s yet another Uncanny something-or-other?) to create a fun and engaging comic book for both continuing and new readers.

9 out of 10

1469926_xlSuperman: Lois and Clark #1

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Dan Jurgens.

Art by Lee Weeks and Scott Hanna; colors by Brad Anderson.

JJ: There’s a primary reason why I chose to review Dan Jurgens’ Superman: Lois and Clark #1 this week, and it’s because, yes, I loved the Nineties.

Don’t roll your eyes at me. I’m being completely sincere.

As many people who began to read comics in the early Nineties know all too well, comics were serious business in those days, where Frank Miller and Alan Moore and Denny O’Neil and other like-minded creators took the characters that had been known and loved — and ultimately dismissed, due to their apparently silly four-color origins — and made them grimmer. Darker. Of course, this dire path ultimately turned on everyone when the first incarnation of Image Comics had infused the industry with the mindset that every X-Man and Batman needed a ridiculous amount of thigh-patches and just enough levity to fill a thimble. But no matter what happened during that topsy-turvey decade, one character remained — more or less — precisely the same: Superman.

Sure, things got weird for him too (there was the mullet era, and how DC signed off on this, I will never know), but the core of Superman — where he fought earnestly for Truth and Justice — remained pure, and he did it all while balancing a private life as Lois Lane’s boyfriend, fiance, and then, as these things do have a tendency to progress, her husband. And that was another wonderful thing about reading characters like Superman back in those days: the stories stuck. They grew incrementally month after month, with most of the creative teams (if they worked well enough together) staying on books for years. Can you imagine that? Years. And they didn’t have to sell Snyder/Capullo numbers to do it, either. What a time, I tell you.

And with Convergence in our collective rear-view mirrors, we have witnessed a rather severe transformation for our Man of Steel — we’ve watched the earnest and noble character writers like John Byrne and Roger Stern and Louise Simonson worked so hard to establish go from an unmistakably timeless hero to a metal-plated Wildstorm nightmare (with an attitude to match). And though we have writers like Gene Luen Yang and Greg Pak putting in overtime to make this sassy, brassy Superman work in the 21st Century (and mostly succeeding, despite a narrative convolution you’ll just have to read to believe), Superman hasn’t felt like Superman in years.

Enter Superman: Lois and Clark #1, here to remind you that the Superman we remember (well, remember) from our childhoods has been with us all along. We just didn’t know where to look. And it scratches that nostalgic itch so well, I can almost hear Shirley Manson cooing at me all the way from 1995.

It’s one of the better plot developments that spun out of Convergence: that ultimately the infinite possibilities of DC’s Multiverse had been reinstated, meaning, as Dan DiDio loves to tell us, “everything matters.” And so, Lois and Clark continued to grow as a couple in a pocket universe (which used to be DC’s focal point for nearly twenty-five years), taking on each successive challenge as a unit — as equals. And as they bounced around universe to universe — succinctly mirroring their Earth-2 doppelgangers in Infinite Crisis — they’ve found themselves in a position to once again make a difference. Hopefully it works out better this time.

Because right now, we have Lois and Clark just as we remembered them — sure, they’re a bit older than they used to be, and there’s a little black-haired, blue-eyed boy named Jon running around their kitchen — but Dan Jurgens has somehow confronted the past editorial decisions of DC Comics and our rampant nostalgia head-on, and won. Coupled with his work over on Batman Beyond, this is the most assured (and brave) I’ve seen the writer in years.

Bringing in his Superman: Convergence co-creator Lee Weeks, who does stupendous work capturing the gravity of Lois, Clark, and Jon’s situation with shrewd, Kubert-esque artwork, Jurgens has brought back the power, majesty, and yes, mystery we once associated with the Man of Tomorrow. And the sonofagun went and injected it into the grim and shoddy world DC set forth back in 2011. There’s so much to fix in a post-New 52 world. It looks like a job… for…

… Well, you know.

9 out of 10

Phonogram-Immaterial-Girl-3Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #3

Image Comics/$3.99

Written by Kieron Gillen.

Art by Jamie McKelvie; colors by Matthew Wilson.

SS: Ever since I saw that late-80’s hair salon decal cover of the first issue of Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl, I’ve been smitten. The unabashed sore thumb on the racks of the indie section at your local comic shop, Phonogram’s revival has made waves by undeniably being it’s own entity. I didn’t catch on to the first two volumes while they were new, but the comeback has made retreading through the old stuff a blast. And hot damn, are Gillen and McKelvie on fire right now.

Just look at this thing. The blend of sharp, modern comic visuals with the aesthetics of early music videos and album cover art is haltingly magnetic, as it’s been for quite some time now. Jamie McKelvie messes with perspective and adapts seamlessly to the styles of whatever music video is beckoned, tossing the characters around the set as if it’s a physical entity and not something he has to work overtime to properly conjure. It’s astounding work, made moreso by the fact that it’s cohesive and continues to fit the look and story of the book.

The Jekyll and Hyde fable of Emily and Claire continues, dutifully balanced between academic brilliance and convoluted disorder, but that’s what’s always been so loveable about the trademarked style (at this point, it is certainly a definitive style) of Gillen and McKelvie. In the course of one issue, you’re teetered back and forth between utter confusion and universal understanding, and it seems to poignantly parallel the ethereal themes the creators deal with. It’s impossible to ignore the heady subject matter, and that alone gives each issue a semblance of greater worth than “just another indie comic.”

The full-frontal pretense is a bit of a chore to deal with mid-text, but Gillen acknowledges it sympathetically with the handy little glossary at the end of each issue. He rounds up any loose ends or musical references that aren’t quite straightforward, and provides any backstory that might be necessary. It’s a perfect tool to marry natural, conversational language in the text with readers who have no contextual knowledge of the lingo or nomenclature of the characters. It’s helpful without making the reader feel dumb, and that’s not always the easiest task to accomplish.

But the real guts of this issue, as with any good mixtape, lies in the track selection. Have you ever given a listen to Total Eclipse of the Heart ? Like a real listen? That song is meaningful, man, and Gillen’s inclusion of it as the featured track of the issue is a testament to his shameless love of pop music and the depths he’s willing to dive to for an earnest love song. Spotlighting Bonnie Tyler (on the cover and during the climax of the issue) is an emblematic move for Phonogram, and it’ll get the most epic love song of 1983 stuck in your head without even listening to it.

I can’t say enough good things about this issue or this series en toto. It’s culturally smart, academically playful, and it’s immersive to boot. I want to join the Phonogram coven, play the next track on the record, and get wrapped up in MTV’s warm, static embrace.

9 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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