By Molly Jane KremerScott Southard, Arpad Okay, and Brandy DykhuizenOur 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.

BlackMagick_03-1Black Magick #3

Image Comics/$3.99

Written by Greg Rucka.

Art by Nicola Scott; color assists by Chiara Arena.

Letters by Jodi Wynne.

MJ: It takes a lot to stand out amid the startlingly great publication roster at Image Comics, but at only its third issue, Black Magick is poised to take its place among the company’s illustrious top tier. Writer Greg Rucka writes with his usual realism—in plot construction and in character development—and his symbiosis with Nicola Scott’s gorgeous, lifelike artwork creates a grounded authenticity that’s all the more enjoyable when you consider we’re reading a book about a magic-practicing witch operating within a police procedural.

Greg Rucka, at the top of his game (though he could be considered an industry vet at this point), keeps the issue well-paced with fluidity, tension, and genuinely likeable protagonists. As with all of his works, the incredible research he puts in can’t help but show. A couple pages towards the end are full of dialogue in untranslated German—a technique Brian K. Vaughan used in the recent We Stand On Guard miniseries—and the conversation includes enough homonyms that hint at the exchange’s context, but without the aid of Google translate, the average reader is thrown a bit off balance (which was, assumedly, the point).

Nicola Scott’s art in this series has yet to dip below revelatory, even three issues in. She doesn’t go in for fancy, elaborate layouts because her art doesn’t require it; and with a book this elegantly understated, any such extravagances would look… off. Her expressive faces, and incredibly detailed, lived-in interiors give this world measurable substance. From Rowan’s home (full of gorgeous art-nouveau flourishes, all curves and spirals and arches) to her precinct house, to their cop bar, to the last pages’ castle and its skull-lined walls, the visuals in this comic can’t help but pull you inside.

The noticeable lack of color throughout the comic–and the delicately shaded black and white art–allows for a naturalism that’s often missing from comic book interiors. Color only occurs when there’s magic afoot, yet even when that appears (in a soft, icy and shimmery blue), it isn’t with bombast–it’s with a delicate glimmer. Black Magick has subtlety woven into its very fabric, in all its blacks and whites and greys. That’s more than appropriate in a comic about discovered secrets and centuries-old traditions.

8.5 out of 10

Dreaming-Eagles-1Dreaming Eagles #1

AfterShock Comics/$3.99

Written by Garth Ennis.

Art by Simon Coleby; colors by John Kalisz.

Letters by Rob Steen.

BD: Three cheers for AfterShock and Garth Ennis for punctuating 2015, the year in which the Black Lives Matter campaign grew to a fever pitch, with a thoughtful and gorgeously rendered comic centered around the oft-overlooked bravery of the Tuskegee Airmen. Two parts history, one part family conflict, all parts reconciliation with the past, Dreaming Eagles provides a ruminative story for a nation still reeling from the fallout of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray (to name but a few).

Reggie Atkinson, a former active-duty airman and current barman and father, still suffers from nightmares and flashbacks from the horrors of war. He disagrees with his son’s enthusiasm for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose rabble-rousing Reggie views primarily as an invitation for trouble. Indeed, we find our protagonist stuck in a modern metaphor, as an airman who once fought to vanquish a racist dictator’s regime now prefers plunging his head in the sand to forget the past. In weaving a war story about a segregated division of WWII airmen into a tale of the frustration and violence of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement, Ennis has created a very relevant work on the need to keep fighting for equality, no matter how much the battleground changes.

“… He’s going to leave home one of these days and all he’ll have to live his life with is what he’s figured out for himself.” Reggie’s wife drives home how much history is doomed to repeat itself without a meaningful dialogue with the next generation. Amidst the narrative of our fictional airman, Ennis sprinkles factoids of black American history. The history Ennis drops throughout Dreaming Eagles never seems stale or irrelevant, though it does occasionally have a gathered-‘round-the-campfire feel – but one would expect a small soapbox to be present in order to properly secure an audience’s attention, instilling the necessary agitation for change. As we heard from Abe Lincoln: “We cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow this ground… it rather for us here to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us.”

8 out of 10

306110._QL80_TTD_Jughead #3

Archie Comics/$3.99

Written by Chip Zdarsky.

Art by Erica Henderson.

AOK: Okay. Confession time: I think I could read just about any comic book if it featured art from Erica Henderson. Her snappy indie comic style is silly and serious in turn, which is just what is called for an adventure in Riverdale. I imagine this is what reading Archie was like for young people back in 1950, wholly familiar yet completely ridiculous, a new look for a new day. I dig everyone’s style; Henderson’s eye for fashion. And I like that no matter what she draws, be it teenage boredom or super-spy intrigue, you can tell it is undoubtedly Henderson holding the pen. She is versatile and distinct and her talent is integral to refreshing an overworked classic.

Chip Zdarsky’s story also revitalizes the retro by infusing it with modernity. I like this new Jughead with brains. He is transformed from the unfathomable dirtbag Wimpy-as-a-teen of yesteryear to a likeable but inarguably weird nerd with a passion for burgers. Zdarsky’s casual, relatable writing (“new phone who dis”) does not lack the zaniness one should expect of Jughead. So when I say modern, I simply mean the stories are more like the soap opera baby drama of Spike and company in Degrassi Junior High or the punk rock high school antics in Blue Monday.

The combined strength of the two creators becomes truly apparent when we get lost in Jughead’s dream of Point Break heroics, backflips and potshots pulled off by the Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. Humor in the style of The Avengers, but rather the 1967 Steed and Mrs. Peel Avengers, deadpan with a hint of smile. Jughead continues its history as a gag comic in a semi-sophisticated way, lancing teenage action movie wish fulfillment by executing it with a reverence for jumpsuits and ninja kicks and what inspired them in the first place. This issue really ended up being a delightful and unexpected surprise. For the first time in my life, I have had an opinion on Betty vs. Veronica (BETTY). Unexpected. Decapitation by freeze gun. Unexpected. The smooth transition from high school stuff to fantasy story in Jughead erases the distinction of the gang as teens, and the book as a teen book. It’s an All-Ages title where the invitation is extended to both the young and the old. For nerds by nerds.

8 out of 10

Ringside_02-1_1Ringside #2

Written by Joe Keatinge.

Art by Nick Barber; Colors by Simon Gough.

Letters by Ariana Maher.

SS: The hefty story of life’s denouement continues as Mickey Rourke–er, I mean, Dan Knossos–works through the aftermath of a glamorous career in wrestling and the coping with reality that comes afterward. The real-life soap opera of working relationships, old friends, and new enemies is spiderwebbed together by Knossos’ time in the pro wrestling circuit, and the whole ordeal is an illuminatory experiment in the universality of how work life and personal life overlaps.

The second issue suffers from the sophomore slump that afflicts many #2s, but it’s nothing truly off-putting or detrimental to the core of the title. It moves slower, unsure of it’s footing, especially compared to the banger of a first issue Ringside opened with. We follow Knossos to the hospital after last issue’s brutal assault, but more than that, we see how he socially functions with old friends. In the process, the weight of his original mission loses some momentum (who, exactly, is he saving again?), but as a whole, the exposition of #2 will hopefully prove to be an essential portion of the story.

Ringside assures us that it’s incredibly grounded and self-aware, while it subsequently flies off to perform outlandish, parallel-worldly stuff that we covertly wanted but couldn’t cop to, due to a snarky inability to suspend disbelief. The simple acknowledgement of absurdity (“I’m a damn responsible gun owner,” is a rebuttal to Knossos’ attempt to plunder his friend’s stash of assault rifles) allows Ringside to wink at the reader, gently prodding us all to follow along. Ringside introduced an element of over-the-top action (in the form of a garage full of guns), then calculatedly backpedaled (to a handheld taser) to give the gravitas of a mundane situation just that much more weight. When life or death stakes are introduced, basic essentials like relationships become more meaningful.

What we’re left with is a very good structure with a bit less substance than desired. I have faith that this series will remain good (now and into the future), and Ringside #2 does nothing to disprove that. We’ll have to wait until next month’s issue, where we can climb back into the squared circle to really see what this series is made of.

7.5 out of 10

4968142-sqdsup2015002_dc11_lr-0Squadron Supreme #2

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by James Robinson.

Art by Leonard Kirk & Paul Neary; Colors by Frank Martin.

Letters by Travis Lanham.

SS: Coming off of a (quite literally) world-shattering first issue, Squadron Supreme continues at a shotgun pace, introducing new concepts and establishing a world in which the Squadron exists as a controversial peacekeeping ensemble in a constant state of flux. We get glances at each of the members as they settle into their roles within a unified world. What’s more, we get glances at the world itself, and how it reacts to superheroes and the cost of security.

Following the shocking murder of Namor, The Sub-Mariner, the Squadron has been catapulted into the limelight (it certainly didn’t hurt that Hyperion lifted an entire city over his head just before the deed was done), but now the country is unsure of their intentions. We see the sacrifices each member has to make (and the sometimes-objectionable decision making processes behind those choices) in order to maintain their (problematic) positions as America’s protectors. We watch Hyperion romanticize the open road of a highway truck driver and Power Princess unabashedly murder to maintain strength and virility. Everyone’s warts are exposed and no one comes off as particularly loveable, but Robinson does a wonderful job of keeping the audience rooting for the Squadron as a whole. You believe in their cause and want to see them succeed.

This project has a lot of blunt-forced anger and large quantity of passion behind it. You can feel the creative team’s political beliefs and emotions working themselves out on every page, and the fun of it all is that it’s clear that there aren’t pre-determined truths to which we’re being led. As much as Squadron Supreme’s fate is in flux, so too is the team’s raucous story.

It’s great to see Robinson taking the baton of the Squadron, questioning vigilantism and its perceived separation from “legitimate” authoritative force. What is the role of security, be it military, police, government, in our world, and how can it function in a just and effective manner? How do we determine who are the good guys and who are the bad? What does America truly stand for? At the rate they’re firing out these issues, we might actually come across something that resembles an answer sooner rather than later.

8 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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