Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/17/2019 – 03/23/2019

One more week, four more first issues — there’s patterns, there’s trends, then there’s ways of fucking life. In any case, enjoy this one ‘cuz for the first and probably only time in the history and future of this column we’ve got two — Marvel books this week? I shit you not. But we’re gonna save ’em for the end. First up —

You know that feeling when you just know you’re getting in on the ground floor of something great? Doesn’t happen often enough — I’m thinking Saga #1 had it, certainly Sandman #1 if you wanna go way back, but you know it when you see it — a book that hits the scene fully-formed, with a clear vision of what it is , where it’s going, what it will become in the future, all that. A completely-realized world  from top to bottom, everything thought through, from small details to big picture.  Invisible Kingdom #1 has it, and is immediately and probably from this point forward the crown jewel in Dark Horse’s Berger Books line. G. Willow Wilson spins a bifurcated tale of interstellar corruption linking two female protagonists, a religious order, and an evil Amazon-esque corporation. Christian Ward kills it on the art, his watercolor-influenced (I say “influenced” because I assume it’s a digital approximation and not actual watercolor) futurist illustration just getting better and better from project to project. I’m hoping and praying and maybe even sacrificing a goat to the Comic Book Gods for this series to have a years-long run, and if you’re wondering if Karen Berger still “has it” as far as picking great projects goes, wonder no more. Between this, She Could Fly, and The Girl In The Bay, her label is finally starting to fire on all cylinders, and you know what? None of these feel like Vertigo books, do they? Nor should they. That was then — this is now.

Speaking of The Girl In The Bay, Corin Howell is eveywhere these days, and that’s a good thing. We took a look at Calamity Kate #1 last week, and this week she turns up at Aftershock, teaming up with writer Tim Seeley for Dark Red #1, a decidedly un-sexy and un-romantic look at a working-class vampire in middle America that reminded me more than just a bit of an updated version of George Romero’s Martin in redneck MAGA country. Which is to say, I loved it, and see some real opportunity here for biting (sorry, I couldn’t resist) socio-political commentary within a popular genre framework. Seeley did much the same with Revival and the criminally short-lived Effigy, and I’m catching that same vibe here, while Howell’s an amazingly versatile talent who can tailor her finely-honed illustration skills to suit the atmospheric and tonal needs of just about any project, this being no exception — hell, kids, what I’m saying is, buckle in and enjoy this ride because I think it promises to be a good one.

So yeah, the Marvel stuff, here we go : popular current Spider-scribe Chip Zdarsky and long-time favorite Spider-artist Mark Bagley bring us Spider-Man : Life Story #1, sub-titled “The ’60s,” and the conceit here is “what if Peter Parker aged in real time”? There’s a heavy Vietnam subtext running throughout this that I found interesting and that lent something of a  “real-world” imprimatur to what’s essentially an exercise in nostalgia, but while the art is pleasingly “old-school,” the story never seemed to progress beyond the “interesting gimmick” stage. Now, that might change as things move along here — after all, this Peter Parker is essentially the age we’re used to and it’ll be interesting, I suppose, to see what he’s like in his thirties, forties, etc. — but not five bucks an issue interesting, if you get my drift. The cliffhanger at the end was cool enough that I might give this five-parter one more chance to gets its hooks in me, but it was a cliffhanger centered on Captain America, not Spider-Man — so, like, what’s the point? I dunno, there’s an opening here story-wise to blow the lid off the damnable lie that Vietnam was still keeping all kinds of our POWs after the war (a slice of fiction cooked up by the government, with a huge assist from Hollywood, back when we didn’t want to pay the Vietnamese any reparations, didn’t want to normalize relations with them, and damn sure didn’t want to admit how many of our guys essentially ditched out on the war and/or went over to the other side), but I don’t see ’em going in that direction even though it’d be useful because tons of people still believe that bullshit. But I digress. Zdarsky and Bagley have one more month to win me over.

What won me over right away, though, was Meet The Skrulls #1, which I grabbed on a lark when I saw that #2 hit the stands — and that was good, too, but I’m only going to talk about the first one. Family of Skrulls living in disguise as humans trying to re-launch their empire with a nice, tidy conquest-from-within number on planet Earth. Except the younger daughter may not be willing to play along. Snappy and sparse prose from writer Robbie Thompson, cool and distinctive-for-a-Big-Two-book art from Niko Henrichon, not sure how long this one’s slated to go for but it feels like the start of a nice, self-contained story that might break a bit of new ground by means of an old premise a la Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s The Vision — which everyone is still talking about. Maybe this one’ll stand the test of time, too? The signs look good so far.

And so we come to the end of another week, which is my cue to remind you that this column is, as always, “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, it’s been a lot of politics. Your support there not only allows me to keep it going, but also ensures a steady stream of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please take a moment to check it out and consider joining at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/10/2019 – 03/16/2019

First issues : they’re what we do around here. In fact, it seems like nothing else even comes out anymore. Here are four more from this past Wednesday alone —

Image’s Little Bird #1 kicks off a five-part epic of dystopian sci-fi (one that’s not slated to be collected in trade — which is remarkable given that’s how most Image creators get paid) with some Native American folklore around the edges about a child soldier on a post-apocalyptic Earth fighting on behalf of indigenous peoples vs. an oppressive religious totalitarian state. Screenwriter/director Darcy Van Poelgeest handles the scripting duties with superstar artist Ian Bertram of House Of Penance providing the illustration and colorist extraordinaire Matt Hollingsworth on hues. This opening salvo has terrific “world-building,” breathtaking action sequences, stunningly detailed art, and beautifully evocative colors. It also boasts a higher-than-usual page count, slick paper, and heavy-duty cardstock covers. A superb value at $3.99 — hell, just a superb comic altogether. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Also from Image in general, and Robert Kirkman’s Skybound label in particular, we have Assassin Nation #1, the opening salvo in a new ongoing written by superb-cartoonist-in-his-own-right Kyle Starks and drawn and colored by popular former Unbeatable Squirrel Girl artist Erica Henderson. A smart and fun “piss-take” on the “ultravioelnce” subgenre that focuses on the formerly number-one-ranked assassin in the world hiring as many of his previous competitors as possible to protect his own ass when he comes under threat,  we start out with 20 world-class assassins here (current rankings are displayed on the opening title page), but end up with a lot less after a gloriously over-the-top bloodbath. At first I thought that Starks, specifically, was punching well below his own weight class with this one, as he’s best known for both writing and drawing his own stuff, but I’m happy to say that assumption was entirely off-base as he and Henderson make for a great team and have produced a comic that wrings plenty of entertainment value out of each of the 399 pennies you’ll spend on it. Well worth getting in on this from the jump.

Writer Magdalene Visaggio is a positively ubiquitous presence on LCS new-release racks lately (we just talked about her new Oni Press series Morning In America last week), and while her stuff can be hit-or-miss for me, Calamity Kate #1, the first chapter in a four-parter from Dark Horse, was her most direct “hit” yet, offering a delightful mash-up of banal relationship drama (protagonist has just been through a painful break-up and is overstaying her welcome crashing on a long-suffering friend’s couch) with monster-hunting. This world feels every bit as workaday and bog-standard as our own, only there’s dragons and Kaiju and shit everywhere. The Girl In The Bay (another Dark Horse book I absolutely love) artist Corin Howell turns in more of the supremely confident and highly eye-catching illustration that we’re quickly becoming accustomed to from her in this one, and colorist Valentina Pinto eschews the flashy in favor of the wholly functional, resulting in a comic that looks every bit as good as it reads. Another four dollars very well spent.

Finally, DC brings us a cash-grab (and a $4.99 cash-grab, at that) one-shot called The Batman Who Laughs : The Grim Knight #1, a spin-off of the current The Batman Who Laughs mini-series which is itself a spin-off of Dark Nights : Metal. If you can keep up with all that, you’re doing better than me, as I couldn’t make head or tail of Scott Synder and James Tynion IV’s story about some “alternate universe” Batman who uses guns and spy-camera technology to not just “protect” Gotham City, but basically take the place over and prevent any and all crime by preventing any and all freedom. I wasn’t here for the story, though — I was here for the art, courtesy of the legendary Eduardo Risso and best-in-the-biz colorist Dave Stewart. Lush, cinematic, and gorgeous, this book looks like a million bucks, so I guess it was worth spending five on, but I wish DC would put this first-rate tandem to use on better projects than one-off continuity circle-jerks like this. Which, I guess, is my way of saying that this is a pretty shitty comic, but sure doesn’t dress the part. I can ogle over just about any page in this thing for hours.

And that should about do it for another Weekly Wrap-Up. Just enough time left to, of course, remind you that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon page, where I offer exclusive thrice-weekly ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, it’s been a lot of politics. Your support there allows me to keep things going and also ensures a steady stream of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Check it out and join up today at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/03/2019 – 02/09/2019, Four Firsts

It feels like it’s been awhile since we looked at “Wednesday Warrior” stuff in our Weekly Reading Round-Up, but given that I sampled four new series this past week, now’s probably as good a time as any to steer the focus of this column to the LCS new release racks —

The Girl In The Bay #1 is another “something old, something new” creative team combination of the sort Karen Berger and her protege, Shelly Bond, throw together for their imprints. Dark Horse’s Berger Books line is the imprint in question this time out, and the team is veteran (and consistently undervalued) scribe J.M. DeMatteis and relative “newbie” artist Corin Howell. The premise is intriguing — “hippie chick” gets murdered in 1969, comes back to life 30 minutes later, finds it’s 2019, and  that she didn’t actually die at all but is living out a fairly picturesque dotage in the Long Island suburbs. This is vintage DeMatteis, you can tell right off the bat, a skillful combination of weird mystery, strong characterization, and some Eastern mysticism on the margins, and Howell is an absolute goddamn revelation, serving up gorgeously detailed imagery reminiscent of Bryan Talbot’s finest hours but with a smoother, more fluid line. Probably the single-best comic I read this week, maybe in the last several, and well worth its $3.99 price tag. At only four issues, no long-term commitment is required, so pass on this at your peril.

Vindication #1 is the latest topical mini-series from the one-man “idea factory” that is Top Cow “suit” Matt Hawkins, and for this one (published, as always, under Image’s auspices) he’s “farmed out” the actual work to a trio of new creators of color, writer MD Bright and artists Carlos Miko and Dema Jr. The basics seem solid  enough : DNA evidence clears wrongly-accused black convict, but racist white cop doesn’t buy it, and when a murder similar to the one the target of his ire (and harassment) was charged with happens within days of his release, he’s gonna do anything to pin it on the poor guy. I liked the art fine, it’s got a crisp and polished look, but the script was so poorly-paced and deliberately OTT, and the dialogue so clumsy and heavy with info-dumping, that no amount of good intentions or pretty pictures are up to the task of saving the day. This book looks good, but reads like an “amateur hour” submission, so you’re better off hanging onto your four bucks.

Female Furies #1 seemed to piss off all the “comicsgaters,” so I figured it must be doing something right — and, indeed, it does several. I never imagined Kirby’s Fourth World to be ripe for re-purposing as feminist metaphor, but writer Cecil Castellucci proves me wrong in this tale of the Furies’ struggle for recognition and respect within the Apokolips war machine, with Granny Goodness taking center stage as sci-fi suffragette. Some of what she and her charges are subjected to is admittedly and brazenly satirical in nature, but much of it is downright horrifying, so the notion that this book is “throwing shade” at its source material by somehow turning it all into a comedy is a very hollow one, indeed, and mostly seems to be coming from a bunch of limp-dick (and, for that matter, alt-right) incels, anyway, so who the fuck cares? Artist Adriana Melo is channeling her inner George Perez in all the best ways possible, and the end result is a timely, relevant, smart read with seriously stunning illustration. $3.99, in today’s market, for work this thought-provoking (if unsubtle, but who has time to beat around the bush in the midst of Trump’s American Nightmare?) represents what passes for “value,” so this is another one I can safely recommend jumping on with more or less no hesitation.

Daredevil #1 is yet another Marvel re-launch bearing yet another $4.99 cover price, but writer (and backup strip artist) Chip Zdarky packs his script pretty densely with dialogue and detail, and Maro Checchtto’s art is perfect for the sort of “gritty urban crime drama” that’s on offer here. Apparently Matt Murdock’s recovering from some very serious injury or other, but the specter of Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. The Kingpin, being the new mayor of New York is more than enough to convince him to give the costumed vigilante gig another go, and that’s completely understandable — what’s not understandable is the utter lack of dramatic tension in Zdarsky’s wordy story. He does a great job of introducing all the cast, particularly a new supporting player who looks poised to take on a large role, and everyone sounds like an actual human being, but the cliffhanger is in no way particularly enthralling, nor is the standard-issue series of events that leads up to it. I dunno, I wasn’t really expecting much here, but that’s also precisely what’s delivered, so you might be better off sitting this one out and waiting for the next inevitable DD re-boot in a year or so.

All in all kind of a mixed bag, then. Two definite “winners,” two flawed “also-rans.” That’s probably about the best “batting average” you can hope for in any given week when it comes to mainstream titles, though — and that’s why I mainly stick to the small press.


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