Four new number ones stood out on LCS racks this week, all from DC, and all from the new(-ish) Black Label imprint. Did someone say something about diluting the market with too much product? Well, that’s what the “Big Two” have been doing for decades now, and we’re all still here, so why the hell would they stop? Marvel’s doing it with their X-books, and DC’s doing it with this ostensible successor line to Vertigo, so let’s see what they’re giving — or, more accurately, selling — us:
After three failed relaunches featuring a watered-down iteration of John Constantine, DC finally realized what they used to know : people want the real thing, and so here we finally have it with the one-shot special The Sandman Universe : Hellblazer #1. There’s a bit of irony at play here in that Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series spun out of the “dark corner” of the DCU that Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer run helped make so popular, and now the tables have been turned with the new Hellblazer spinning out of the Sandman line, but whatever : it’s just good to have John, as we knew him, back. There’s a brief sidebar with Tim Hunter that I guess ties into something that’s going to be going down over in Books Of Magic, but by and large writer Simon Spurrier — who proves himself to be a pitch-perfect hire — is setting the stage for his new monthly Hellblazer title, which won’t be “presented” by anybody, but will be carrying the Black Label — uuuhhhmmm — label. The most-referenced past run in this particular story is that of Garth Ennis, but stylistically, thematically, this is Delano redux all the way, with more than one version of John loose upon the Earth and a classic casual-betrayal-of-a-friend premise. Marcio Takara’s art is suitably gritty and grimy, as is John himself, thankfully, so the only question that I guess remains is : seriously, DC, if you knew how to publish good Constantine stories all along, why the hell did you ever stop?
The new Hill House sub-imprint within Black Label kicks off with Basketful Of Heads #1, and it’s the kind of thing that would make writer/line “curator” Joe Hill’s dad proud : a supernatural story set in early 1980s Maine featuring strong, relatable characters, an easy-to-grasp premise, and some fairly compelling, if obvious, chills and thrills. Leomacs’ art is pretty stylish for a DC publication, reminding me more than a bit of Leandro Fernandez, and if you dig stuff like Stranger Things and It, odds are better than good that you’ll get plenty of enjoyment out of this thing — I know I certainly did.
Way off the beaten path is The Last God #1, the opening salvo of a sprawling new fantasy epic called The Fellspyre Chronicles created by writer Philip Kennedy Johnson, a relative newcomer who proves his mettle quickly with some strong and comprehensive “world-building” that paints an intriguing picture of the old school swords-and-sandals society he’s looking to draw us into complete with slaves-turned-heroes, asshole royalty, weird religious beliefs, and brutish, nasty monsters. The real star of the show, though, is artist Ricardo Federici, who channels just a little bit of Vallejo, more than a little bit of Frazetta, and plenty of Eurocomics stylishness in what can only be called a visual tour de force. If you’ve been missing this sort of thing in your comics reading, you’re gonna be happy indeed, and if fantasy isn’t your usual bag, you’re at least gonna be pleasantly surprised.
Lastly, we’ve got the only member of our foursome in the usual deluxe Black Label format (all the others being standard-issue “floppy” comics), Joker : Killer Smile #1, from the Gideon Falls creative team of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino. The premise of this three-parter is one we’ve seen before — “how long can you work with a madman before his madness rubs off on you? — but Lemire’s shrink protagonist is is generally likable enough, a nice short-hand accounting of his perfectly lovely home life is provided, and The Joker himself comes off as relatively menacing in a Hannibal Lecter sort of way. It’s Sorrentino’s art that you’re really here for, though, and the oversized presentation really does it proud, inventive page layouts popping right out at you with gusto and fervor, and detailed faces and figure drawings showing every well-placed line and brush stroke. This is kinda what we’ve come to expect from this team : competent, if unspectacular, storytelling elevated greatly by a visual presentation that just plain sings. I’m down to follow this one for the duration.
And that’s “Black Label Week” over and done with. I’ll be taking a brief hiatus from the Round-Up as the Mr.s and I will be out in Seattle for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival next weekend, but will be back with a new column in two weeks’ time. In the meantime, I do intend to crank out my long-form reviews at the usual two-or-three-per-week clip, and of course, the best way to support my continuing work is to subscribe to my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Please take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention toward https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse