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.

Tokyo_Ghost_Vol_1_2Tokyo Ghost #2

Image Comics/$3.99

Written by Rick Remender.

Art by Sean Murphy; colors by Matt Hollingsworth.

SS: In comics, it’s tough when that hype machine starts rolling. When an inaugural issue comes out to general praise, and the creator has a bit of clout, and Twitter goes bonkers about the characters, and the comic store guy looks down at your Wednesday stack and says, “Oh yeah, that one’s good,” the pressure (and inevitable critical eye) on the second issue is drastically amplified. It’s the make or break moment for hot new properties, and not everyone makes it out alive.

That said, creators Rick Remender and Sean Murphy have ignored any fears of a sophomore slump and decided to put their hearts and minds into this series as a whole, and it has paid off.

Tokyo Ghost #2 is the best single issue I’ve read all year.

Halfway through reading the book, I realized this fact as unquestionable. The blend of stunning art, compartmentally perfect storytelling (both macro and microcosmically), characters you not only relate to but feel as if they’re your own (but really, you’re theirs), and an endless assembly line of dick jokes tucked in for good measure adds up to an incredibly cohesive work of art that holds itself together in an echelon above the rest. There are certainly intangibles that elevate its status that would take thesis-level inspection to parse out, but the fact that Tokyo Ghost merits such studiousness is a testament on its own. The fact that this is only the second issue of a (hopefully) long-running series only adds to the enjoyment. Knowing that there is more to come and that it could all be this damn good is an endorphin rush in itself.  

The true depth of the series lies in the multi-dimensionality of its characters. I’m a sucker for a decadent neo-capitalist villain, so when Flak uttered the phrase “… consumption gives human life meaning,” those little giddy bubbles ran through my veins and an entirely new dimension of love was opened up for this fresh series. Because not only is Rick Remender exploring addiction and the collision of human and technological evolution, but now he’s offering the nuances of an ultra-commercialist society and the consequences that come tethered to it. There’s a depressingly normalized sense of apathy spread throughout society that we see through sharply conceived and emotionally matured lenses. Think The Fifth Element without Korben Dallas being kind of a creep (but with just as much Ruby Rhod).

And as technologically lush as Remender and Murphy’s world is, there’s a well-timed interlude of heart-charged prose that fill two pages in the middle of the issue. We’re told the story of childhood romance-turned codependent relationship in a truly realistic and empathy-inducing way. Led and Debbie are not only loveable and relatable, but we can observe that they’re also tragically doomed. The exposition makes the natural urge to hope against hope all the more heartbreaking to endure.

Tokyo Ghost could be broken down panel-by-panel. We could inspect the subtleties in every character’s posture and facial expression toward each other, in the glimpses of setting buried in the backgrounds full of lush detail. Or we could break down the complexities of drug abuse, singularity, man vs. machine narratives, and modern capitalism in an age that can’t support it. It’s really just so overwhelming to take in the amount of subject matter Tokyo Ghost tackles, and the way that it overflows from the panels on the page is the stuff of greatness. At this point, I need to stop gushing and just implore you to buy into the hype. It’s well earned.

10 out of 10

1470058_xlKarnak #1

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by Warren Ellis.

Art by Gerardo Zaffino; Colors by Dan Brown.

SS: I never thought the world needed a comic about an angry monk, but Karnak, the new Marvel entry from Warren Ellis, makes me think that the world has always needed a comic about an angry monk.

It’s taken 50 years for Karnak to get his own series, and while it’s completely understandable that the meekly-talented hero has been passed over for years, things are finally coming together in a much more sensible way than anyone could ever imagine.

Warren Ellis sets a heavy mood immediately with a silent Karnak sitting in the Tower of Wisdom amid stark desolation. This smoothly transitions into 22 pages of allegory that illustrate the meaningless of human existence and the uncaring coldness of the universe. That current runs throughout the entire issue, but it’s not to say that there isn’t some comic relief peppered in to break things up. In a few moments, where it’s necessary, deep existential soliloquies are punctuated by wisecracks and toilet humor. It’s charming in an “I see what you did there” way and gives everyone a chance to breathe.

As far as plot goes, there isn’t much. We’re presented with a seemingly inconsequential storyline of a missing child and some anti-governmental conspiracy that Karnak mildly dismisses as trivial, but agrees to work on anyway, because Karnak’s got to get paid. While the plot is downplayed, it does a great job of exposing us to Ellis’ vision of Karnak as the sullenly enlightened recluse who does good in a world he recognizes as meaningless in order to forward his own personal interest. It’s an interesting narrative move, as it negates any plot progression in favor of extrapolating on the protagonist’s character. (But we won’t know whether this technique is successful or not until we’re deeper into the run.) Karnak comes off as a prudent, ultra-rational demagogue whose cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor leaves everyone around him in a state of awe.

One of the more striking things about the new series is the scratchy humanized visuals presented by Gerardo Zaffino. While Karnak’s traditionally had the inherent silliness of that big ol’ skull and the shiny metal outfit (which didn’t do anything to make him look less phallic), Zaffino’s managed to strip away anything nagging details that would otherwise detract from his position as a force to be reckoned with. His new hoodie and jeans fashion sensibilities are surprisingly fitting, and the piercing closeup cover of Karnak’s rasterized headshot is undeniably badass. If we’re talking about All-New, All-Different Marvel (and I guess we should), Karnak is one of my favorite revamps as far as looks go. He went from an undersized, underpowered goofball to a scruffy monklike zen-beast, and the makeover absolutely justifies the existence of the series.

The worth of this opening issue will be determined by the work that follows. When we look back, Karnak #1 could be a slow-played set up to truly thoughtful superhero work, or it could easily be a plodding start to a continuously plodding series. My money’s on the former, because if Ellis gets enough wiggle room to turn this into an abstract meditation on universal existence, it could turn into one of the standout titles of the year. I could watch Karnak break bullets, livers, and bones with his fingers all day, and if Ellis can stack some being and nothingness on top of it all, we’re in for a violently beautiful taste of nirvana.

8 out of 10

1470186_xl (1)Cognetic #1

Boom Studios/$4.99

Written by James Tynion IV.

Art by Eryk Donovan and Juan Manuel Tumburús.

MJ: Halloween is just around the corner, so naturally opting to increase your fiction’s creep factor is an impulse most of us succumb to. And while it isn’t the typical variation on classic monsters or knife-wielding dudes in hockey masks, this week’s Cognetic #1 is horror of a different sort: unsettling and thought-provoking, with ambitions well-beyond the usual psychological thriller.

Cognetic is the fourth outing from the creative team of writer James Tynion IV and artist Eryk Donovan, and Tynion’s third creator-owned property at Boom Studios. It’s a spiritual successor to Memetic—Tynion and Donovan’s first Boom series—and the second installment in what they’ve called their “Apocalypse Trilogy”. The format is similar to that of Memetic with its three oversized issues, and the contents and themes are similarly provocative and lingering.

Tynion continues to push himself and his work into deeper and more intriguing realms than most comics would dare to venture. He easily mixes in fascinating and disquieting concepts and lets them simmer within the panels: the revulsion (and attraction) inherent in surrendering free will; the easy use of fear as a force to unite (and manipulate) humanity. His dialogue is quick and smart, and much of it is made up of texting – a form of communication less filtered than speech, and an astute way of getting a bit deeper into what makes these characters tick than we might find in a normal conversation.

The comic is tensely paced, and feels like the work of a focused and confident team. The lead character is again queer—and married with a child—and though such diverse representation happens more often in comics nowadays (well, slightly more), seeing positive portrayals like this, in any fiction, is gratifying as hell.

Donovan’s great talent for drawing the more ghastly, grisly bits isn’t utilized to its fullest capacity (at least not to the level reached by Memetic’s horror-filled first issue), but this series reaches more for the psychologically-visceral than the visually-shocking. Donovan instead focuses on establishing characters with expressive reactions and exchanges, thus subtly heightening the dread throughout the comic. Ominous imagery of skyscraper gives a lot of us auto-anxiety (something that is specifically pointed out in the narrative), and Donovan utilizes an entire double page spread, angled at an impossible degree, to rip that reaction from the reader.

With an oversized thirty-two pages and five more of extras, Cognetic #1 is an enveloping and extremely unpredictable story that leaves you with a palpable uneasiness, one that has more questions than answers. It’s a perfect reading choice for a season defined by spookiness, but will linger in your brain long after you’ve finished the last page.

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.