By Molly Jane Kremer, Scott Southard, and Brandy Dykhuizen. Our 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.
X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever #1
Written By Max Bemis.
Art by Michael Walsh; colors by Ruth Redmond.
Letters by Clayton Cowles.
MJ: The X-Men comics have been in an odd place for the past couple years. That’s due in no small part to Marvel’s not-so-subtle attempt to shoehorn the Inhumans into what was once the Mutants’ great and storied wing of the House of Ideas. (Because movie and tv rights, of course.) In an attempt to fabricate a continuity that convincingly reflects this, Marvel’s Merry Mutants have been segregated more and more from the rest of their Marvel brethren. In the interim, the X-books have been sorely lacking of, well… fun. Not that they’d always been a sugar-fueled romp — we’re all familiar with the melodrama that flows through Xavier’s School for the Gifted — but when a book like Worst X-Man Ever comes out, its lighthearted positivity bowls you over.
WXE is about a painfully normal (unextraordinary, unastonishing, ununcanny) teenager named Bailey, overjoyed to be confronted with the life-changing discovery that he has the X-gene — something he’s over the moon about, potential racism and xenophobia be damned. Everything seems to be looking up, at least until Bailey finds out what power his genes have bestowed upon him (Worst X-Man Ever is the book’s title for a reason). Max Bemis has a great handle on the character (and on all the various X-Men who appear), and his love of the property is glaringly apparent, which is terrifically similar to his approach to the BOOM! Studios comic Oh, Killstrike — the delightful send-up of (and love letter to) Nineties comics and their be-pouched, testosterone-infused badassery, co-created with Logan Faerber.
It’s an X-Men book free of Marvel’s corporate agenda, and the comic’s lack of continuity is refreshing; various, classic X-Men from all eras are shown, all without due consequence or ramifications. Michael Walsh’s art looks gorgeous (as usual), and it looks and feels different than his work on Secret Avengers, partially due to the captivating colors by Ruth Redmond. All the coloring is slightly flattened (fitting Walsh’s art perfectly), and she colors Walsh’s typically heavy inks themselves, giving the art a stylized simplicity, almost like the work was done entirely in colored pencil. It emphasizes the rendering, storytelling, and emotion for maximum impact. Worst X-Man Ever is one of the most enjoyable, sweet, and funny books to come out of the X-verse in quite some time. This is a book that shouldn’t be missed.
9 out of 10
Pencil Head #2
Written by Ted McKeever.
Art by Ted McKeever.
BD: In the second big reveal of what it’s like in the mind of a comic book creator (or, at least, this one in particular), Ted McKeever brings Poodwaddle back to the drawing board to struggle with former creations, and observes some ominous writing on the wall. The creative process goes a bit cattywampus on us again, as even stripping his workplace down to the bare minimum cannot fend off all the somnambulic hallucinations and midnight head trips that plague his unique mind.
As the subtitle of this comic states, “What doesn’t kill you leaves horrible scars;” Poodwaddle finds himself free — finally free — of his freelance contract, but he still can’t seem to catch a creative break. The position at Cleverland Comics (provided by Luthais, ‘Waddle’s partner-in-crime) comes with little to no creative freedom (though we’re treated to a fantastically-named cast of coworkers). It would seem that poor Poodwaddle must once again admit defeat.
The take-home lesson of Pencil Head — from what I can glean from it so far, anyway — is that no matter how hard the world may try, you just can’t kill an artist. They will always rise, for better or worse, out of the detritus of their graphite and eraser bits to endure even more harrowing bursts of creative and critical abuse.
8 out of 10
Written by Justin Jordan.
Art by Juan Gedeon; colors by Tamra Bonvillain.
Letters by Rachel Deering.
SS: Reading as many comic books as we do, there are times when we can almost see the chaos endured by most publishers behind the scenes. And depending on the quality of certain books, we can almost feel the stress of their iron-clad deadlines, their oppressive bottom line, and even the conflicting personalities that all must converge in order to continue pumping out issue after issue and series after series. And certain books definitely provide a clearer periscope into that world than others. Unfortunately, AfterShock’s Strayer #2 happens to be one of those books.
I don’t want to rip apart the comic for everything it does wrong, but there is an overall sloppiness that conflicts with the book’s aim — which is to distill its havoc down to an effective, exciting, and coherent narrative. Much of the dialogue feels arbitrary or contrived; our characters remain undefined; the lettering is rudimentary, as is the art in many of the panels. And the quality of Strayer‘s art is a big issue here, because at times it can really detract from the importance of a scene. It’s hard enough to suspend disbelief and get pulled into a book, but it’s made even more disorienting when speech bubbles look MSPainted, leaving you to re-read particular sections, analyzing each panel to make sure you saw certain developments come to pass — like, for instance, that someone had been set on fire during a particularly chaotic skirmish, or even discerning who, exactly, is fighting who at any given moment. You can tell this is a small team with limited time to get an issue through the door, but it’s a bummer to feel their stress radiate off a book.
Even great comics often suffer from sophomore slumps. But it doesn’t do this (potentially cool) series any favors to slack off after a really solid first issue. But with the necessity of new character introductions and the laying of foundation for a (hopefully) long run into the future, it hurts Strayer as a title to put out a second issue that clearly needed more time to incubate. The character, Strayer, is undeniably cool and could be an incredible hero to his own series, but publishing rough drafts of his comic is not the path to get him there.
5.5 out of 10
The Goddamned #3
Written by Jason Aaron.
Art by r. m. Guera.
Colors by Giulia Brusco.
BD: Jason Aaron takes us back, all the way back, to the moments before original sin, in which Adam threatens to quiet Eve by shoving an apple down her throat. In a never-dull retelling of Western religion’s origin stories, we see through a contorted lens that our potty-mouthed, blood hungry forefathers were every bit as selfish and terrible as we are today. Cain can show us like no one else how one appalling decision can rip the paradise right out from under you, leaving you adrift in a sea full of savage beasts and cunning thieves.
The Goddamned is a gorgeously illustrated and pleasantly foul book that wants you to realize the distinction between animals and humans really isn’t all that great. That when push comes to shove, when all artifice is stripped away from our societal trappings, all we’ll ever really look out for is number one. Aaron & Guera don’t bother obscuring this truism, that when we survey an emerald-hued utopia from our ivory towers, we often daydream of jamming our blades deep into the throats of our enemy. The Goddamned takes care to remind us that our sense of entitlement will trump altruism on most days. Amidst the grit and grime, humanity does occasionally show its softer side, but you’re going to have to work pretty hard to navigate the muck in order to find it.
7.5 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.