Our foray into the wonders of Elijah Brubaker’s Reich these past few weeks has put paid to the idea that these Weekly Reading Round-Ups are all about looking at new stuff that was actually released during the seven-day span in question, but I don’t think we missed much. We would, however, be missing out on a smattering of noteworthy first issues this time out if we set our view-finders backwards, so let’s not do that this time, shall we? Stuff worth talking about new on comic book shelves this past Wednesday, then, listed in order of how well I liked ’em —
Who better than a delightfully cantankerous old man to weave a tale of the decidedly un-delightful, but definitely cantankerous, old men, as well as the constantly put-upon young men whose labors they exploited, that built this benighted comic book industry we all know, love, and loathe in probably-equal measure? He pissed off a lot of well-meaning folks I respect about this same time last year with The Divided States Of Hysteria, but fuck it : I still love Howard Chaykin’s work, and Hey Kids! Comics! #1 is a perfect example in microcosm of why — shithead characters with shitty attitudes mired in ethically shitty situations with nowhere to go but down. This issue runs $3.99, like pretty much all Image books these days, but it’s probably worth twice that if you’re as finely attuned to the “Chaykin wavelength” as yours truly. We jump timelines a lot in this opening installment and get to meet a character who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Siegel and Shuster both, another who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Flo Steinberg plus a requisite amount of adolescent male fantasy, several chronologically-appropriate versions of someone who’s pretty clearly a Kirby stand-in, only one chronologically-appropriate version of a guy who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Chaykin’s mentor, Gil Kane, and at the end of the book the “Big Bad” making everyone’s lives miserable is revealed to be a seedy, smooth-talking huckster who’s pretty clearly a Stan Lee stand-in. It’s all more than a bit obvious, sure, but it’s just as obviously all kinds of fun and I’m truly curious to see whether or not this project turns out to be an homage of sorts to the business its creator has made his living at for getting on five decades now, a giant middle-finger to everyone in said business that said creator never could stand, or a little of both. Throw in some truly eye-catching color work by Chaykin’s regular huesman of recent vintage, Wil Quintana, and the usual superb lettering and effects work of the perpetually-a-couple-decades-ahead-of-his-time Ken Bruzenak and oh yeah, we’ve got a winner here. Let’s just hope releasing this on a monthly basis in the short-term (what is this slated to run? Five or six issues?) doesn’t further delay the long-anticipated third volume of Time Squared too terribly much longer.
One thing I’m truly baffled by is the fact that comics haven’t tried to do “the Fargo thing” before, but writer Eliot Rahal, artist Jorge Fornes (who also does the coloring), and Aftershock Comics are determined to make up for lost time, at least if the evidence presented by Hot Lunch Special #1 is anything to go by. An Arab-American family that runs a veritable empire centered around those disgusting microwaveable sandwiches you get (assuming you do, in fact, get them — which you shouldn’t) in vending machines and at gas stations from the frozen hinterland of Ely, Minnesota, finds themselves on the receiving end of some fairly typical mafia intimidation schemes when they grow too big for their britches and decide they don’t want to cut the Italians in for a piece of the action. Nothing supremely original or anything, but certainly perversely charming, side-splittingly funny, and even damn dramatic when it needs to be, with killer modern-noir illustration by the astoundingly talented Fornes, this is unquestionably a series worth keeping an eye on. Hell, both eyes. As is ever the case. $3.99 ain’t cheap, but count me in for the duration on this one, barring some unforeseen turn toward the cataclysmic.
The popular and successful team behind the just-concluded Grass Kings is back at Boom! Studios with something entirely different in Black Badge #1, a tale of “Top Tier” Boy Scouts who so impress the old-timers that they’re sent behind enemy lines into North Korea for the purpose of carrying out an entirely-undisclosed assassination. Kindt keeps things moving along at a very pleasing clip in this one after making all necessary character introductions, Jenkins’ art is just a bit tighter and more formalized than previous efforts, and his colorist/wife, Hilary, adds the final touch by swapping out watercolors for what I take to be some sort of digitally-approximated gouache effect. The final result? A comic that looks and reads really effing well, even if it’s a bit of a mess tonally, unable to decide whether or not it wants to be “appropriate for all ages” or “suggested for mature readers.” I’m cool with that, though, because at least it means I don’t know what to expect on the next page throughout. This one’s getting a bit of a shorter leash than the two previously-mentioned publications, but not by much : I’m more than happy to give Kindt and and Jekins at least two more issue — and eight more dollars — before deciding whether or not I’m on this one for the long haul. Given the track records of the principal creators, both separately and together, it seems a fairly safe bet that this’ll just get better as it goes along, and in point of fact it actually stars out of the gate remarkably well, which is always a good sign.
Lastly, we set out sights on DC/Vertigo’s $4.99 one-shot, The Sandman Universe #1, which basically employs the same conceit as the DC Rebirth Special of using a character that’s been getting pretty dusty to act as our “eyes and ears” as we get ourselves up to snuff on everything that’s been happening in our (or, in a pinch, his) absence. This time it’s Matthew The Raven as opposed to Wally West, but it’s still an effective storytelling technique, if an over-utilized one. This is sheer set-up material all the way, clearly designed to get readers interested in the forthcoming quartet of Sandman spin-offs coming out over the next few months (really? Another new Lucifer series?), all “curated” (whatever that even means) by Neil Gaiman himself, who’s credited with same here. I’m not normally a fan of the “committee approach” to crafting comics, but writers Simon Spurrier, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, and Dan Watters do what they can in the face of a truly cumbersome editorial remit, and ditto for artists Bilquis Evely, Dominike “Domo” Stanton, Tom Fowler, Max Fiumana and Sebastian Fiumara, as well as cover artist Jae Lee (although the landscpape is littered with variants), who all have their own unique looks that they bush aside in their pursuit of something akin to a “house style,” Okay, good enough, as long as it’s done with an eye toward quality as well as unifornity, and colorist Mat Lopes also gives the book more of a consistent visual ethos, given that he’s aboard for all 40-some pages. This was by no means an Earth-shattering debut, but it was a plenty good for— well, what it was , as is also true of the “writer’s room”-crated story. I’m sufficiently intrigued to give all four of these new books a month, at least, to see where they’re headed, so that’s at least something.
And that’ll do it for the Round-Up this week. Next time out we’ll turn our attention to — whatever we turn it to. Join us here in seven as we reveal what the heck that even means!