By 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.

STK689050Batman: Europa #1

DC Comics/$4.99

Story by Matteo Casali and Brian Azzarello.

Layouts by Giuseppe Camuncoli with pencils and finishes by Jim Lee.

JJ: Not since the door closed on Grant Morrison’s now legendary Batman run has the Caped Crusader risked a jaunt to the countries that lie east across the ocean from Gotham City. With a killer virus coursing through his body, it appears Batman’s first visit to Germany in who knows how long won’t be under happier circumstances. But as it usually is with Bruce Wayne, “happier circumstances” need not apply.

In fact, the Batman’s latest adventure has our stalwart Dark Knight stalking ever closer towards the worst-case scenario.

That’s the clever allure surrounding Batman: Europa, the latest prestige miniseries from DC Comics — yes, the one that’s long languished in DC’s production hell for still-undisclosed reasons (according to this, there’s now an Earth out there in the Multiverse that has read Europa to its completion, and did as such over four years ago). But never mind about any of that; because Europa had the added time to properly collect itself within DC’s catacombs, it has the look and feel of a proper pre-New 52 Batman yarn, the likes of which I haven’t read since the days of Barr, O’Neil, and Moench.

Batman: Europa #1 is prestige DC at its very finest. Waiting for the superstar team of Brian Azzarello, Jim Lee and Italian creators Matteo Casali and Giuseppe Camuncoli to get their creative ducks in a row has put the onus on their publisher to provide their patient readers with a book that’s as thoroughly enjoyable to behold as it is a pleasure to read. To put a finer point on it, Europa is never once interrupted by an advertisement (be it in-house or otherwise); the entirety of this gripping thirty-pager is kept whole by placing all of its ads in the back of the book, which, holy moley, makes any comic that much more of a delight to absorb. (Image has been doing this since the dawn of time, so it’s nice to see DC finally following suit, if for only this series.) It’s the level of care found within Europa that makes it feel like DC is tapping from a more ancient well of comic book greatness.

As for the story itself, Batman: Europa is a tightly-spun tale that pits Batman against a nameless, faceless foe. That’s standard fare in a post-Snyder Batverse, but there’s a primal simplicity to Europa that sets it ahead of any Batman book I’ve read in a good while. Casali and Azzarello are all business here, propelling the story to a deliriously satisfying cliffhanger that promises continued narrative might throughout this mini. (As a four-act book, the close to Act One gets a standing ovation from me.)

More troubling is the knowledge that Camuncoli and Lee’s excellent alchemy will be lost as the series progresses: here, the two artist’s collaboration gives us a tantalizing glimpse at what’s possible when a seasoned vet like Jim Lee is allowed to play fast and loose over the terrific layouts of a promising talent. There’s a Kubertian zeal to the action, and Lee and Camuncoli’s introductory panel for The Joker is easily the spookiest we’ve seen him since Death of the Family. Whatever comes next from Camuncoli (and later, from artists Gerald Parel and Diego Latorre) will no doubt be fantastic, and I’m holding out hope that the shifting artist lineup doesn’t give Europa a case of the narrative hiccups.

10 out of 10

IHateFairyland_02-1I Hate Fairyland #2

Image Comics/$3.50

Written and illustrated by Skottie Young.

Colors br Jean-Francois Beaulieu.

SR: Writer and artist Skottie Young continues to take us on “Miss Gertrude’s Wild Ride” (which probably won’t be a Disneyland ride anytime soon) with the second issue of I Hate Fairyland. Queen Cloudia receives the news that her first henchman, Bruud the Brutal didn’t do the job of knocking off our violent heroine, and so she employs another minion to take care of her, Horribella, the resident Fairyland witch.    

Issue #2 finds Young beginning to establish how the flow of the series will more than likely go (unless there’s a big twist stuffed somewhere down the line proclaiming otherwise). Gertrude and her sidekick Larry remain on the quest for the key that will get her home (while murdering everything and anything in their path until they find it). Queen Cloudia, who is proving to be not entirely good herself, will proceed with the dispatching of foes to stop her. It’s simplicity itself.

Gertrude has been stuck in Fairyland for 27 years and refuses to play the game as Alice or Dorothy would, both of whom eventually found their way home after waking up from a dream. For Gertrude, this is a nightmare. And one she doesn’t care about destroying from the inside. I love that: it takes the well-recognized fairytale trope and puts it on its head, or rather, its bloody, bloody head. Young uses humor and sarcastic wit beautifully in his writing — before long, his fluffy, lyrical utterances (“muffin fluffer” and “gobding’d” being highlights) become less silly and acquire the bite of a true insult. The banter between the characters is also really fun — like when Gertrude is mockingly cooing into the eyes of a decapitated Bruud on how they could have been besties or when Larry calls out Gertrude’s double entendre language when she addresses the zombies. Young’s artwork beefs up the narrative nicely, and Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s coloring truly brings the grotesque to a phosphorescent life. Combined they give the impression that this could have once been a sweet children’s book, but then the vibrant slashes of blood and bubbling boils remind you otherwise.   

I Hate Fairyland is proving to be a really fun ride. It’s the kind of adventure adults who grew up on fairy tales can appreciate, especially after they’ve realized that the world can’t be fixed by a prince or a song. I look forward to see where Young will take our 37-year-old-trapped-in-a-10-year-old’s-body next, and know that no Fairyland creature is safe, especially those who mean to do her harm.

8 out of 10  

PhonogramIG_04-1Phonogram #4

Image Comics/$3.99

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Jamie McKelvie; colors by Matthew Wilson

SS: A step-by-step method to reading through Gillen and McKelvie comics:

  • Read through comic once (utterly confused)
  • Perform internet research
  • Watch pertinent music videos
  • Read through comic again (utterly confused)
  • Gush about it to friends and on the internet as if I have any idea what I’m talking about.

This routine is highly recommended, especially if one is both trying to learn more about bygone pop culture, and to pick up minutiae that will be completely inapplicable in casual conversation. If followed correctly, you’ll be quoting early 90s UK art-rock lyrics in no time!

The newest iteration of the highly vaunted Phonogram has been absolutely stellar. Gillen pushes forward his pop cultured sensibility by ditching the series’ Eighties nostalgia to revel in mid-00s nostalgia with a touch of Scott Pilgrim (and, yes, more Eighties nostalgia). McKelvie ditches convention by harkening back to the black and white formula, until recolorizing for maximum effect halfway through the issue. These two could be phoning it in with Phonogram (their secondary series next to WicDiv), but instead, they’re thoughtfully messing with the formula and keeping everyone delightfully confused and enthralled.

To tell the truth, I couldn’t care less about Scott Pilgrim, but I found the tender letter of devotion meaningful and enthralling. The way these folks care about their passions forces you to pay attention, because you can tell Gillen and McKelvie love the things they love just as much as you love the things you love. And just like the times when you begrudgingly sit and watch football or The Notebook with your significant other (because you’re a good person and you love them), I’ll take a seat with these two and read through a volume of Scott Pilgrim while Dexy’s Midnight Runners plays in the background.

I’ll always praise the beauty of Gillen’s glossary. It makes the kind of hyper-pretension he’s so good at function in a way that’s not only not infuriating but can be rewarding and educational. It allows him an avenue to dig deep into some niche tunnels without alienating his entire audience or coming off as a complete boho dick. Plus, when you happen to have the highly compartmentalised knowledge of, say, Los Campesinos’ latest output and then skim the term descriptions, you feel like a damned genius.

Phonogram’s high-concept-low-culture trademark is a perfect encapsulation of modern intellectualism. It simultaneously covers high-brow philosophy and telenovella-esque love circles. Gillen made me melt with a distilled discussion of Jean-Paul Sartre without force feeding an existentialist malaise to the audience, and in the same issue, in-depth looks at Nirvana and My So Called Life instilled the same extent of connection and purpose. If Phonogram does anything right (besides everything else it does right), it’s the tactical melding of thoughtful academia and sugar-sweet mainstream culture. It’s the bridge where the two meet, and the one we all perpetually run across.

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.