Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/07/2019 – 07/13/2019

Another week, another mess of first issues — even if one of ’em is from last week. What can I say? My LCS got shorted on the title in question and so I didn’t get a copy until this past Wednesday. But we’ll get to that in due course. First we’ve got —

Second Coming #1, by Mark Russell and Richard Pace, was originally slated to be a Vertigo title until the suits at DC got cold feet, and I’d say it’s all worked out pretty well for the creators in question given that Vertigo is being shuttered and its “new” publisher, Ahoy Comics, appears to be on something of an upward trajectory. The premise here is that bored Jesus gets sent back to Earth by an even-more-bored God and takes up residence with a painfully obvious Superman analogue for reasons that I guess will become more clear in the fullness of time. I dunno, I got a kick out of it and everything, and Pace’s workmanlike “super-hero standard” art is pretty much pitch-perfect for the material, but I guess I was hoping for something a bit more sharp and incisive from the normally-quite-reliable Russell. As is, his “peace is the answer, not violence” messaging comes off as too obvious by half and the only actually interesting character is God himself, who is portrayed as the foul-mouthed and perpetually-disappointed old curmudgeon he probably would be if, ya know, he actually existed. I’m game to give this another issue or two simply due to my confidence in the abilities of these creators, but there’s nothing in this debut installment that would compel those unfamiliar with their work to stick around for more.

Black Hammer/Justice League : Hammer Of Justice #1, co-published by Dark Horse and DC, may just be the title that finally gets me off the BH “universe” spin-off bandwagon. Black Hammer ’45 showed signs that the franchise was finally being over-extended, and this proves it, as Jeff Lemire turns in a tedious script that sees these disparate groups of heroes teamed up under the flimsiest of pretexts and relies on rapid-fire expository to dialogue to bring everyone up to speed on who his (as opposed to DC’s) characters are, while Michael Walsh does his level best to at least make things look interesting — but can only do so much in that regard when the story is strictly “been there, done that” stuff. I don’t know what I was expecting from this comic — the concept screams “obvious cash-grab” and “so crazy it just might work” in equal measure — but it’s certainly fair to say I wasn’t expecting anything this out-and-out lousy.

Batman Universe #1 is a reprint collection of the Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Derington Bat-stories from those giant-size “specials” that DC puts out through Wal-Mart — and since I don’t shop at Wal-Mart and never will, I hadn’t seen the stuff and decided to give this first issue a go despite its absurd five dollar cover price. Lo and behold, it wasn’t bad at all — Derington’s a natural for the Dark Knight and should probably be drawing the regular series, and Bendis actually turns in one of his most solid scripts in years, a fun all-ages Riddler yarn. The only problem here — that outrageous price. I enjoyed this a whole hell of a lot more than I was figuring to, but if subsequent issues continue to go for five bucks a pop, I’ll be sitting the rest of this thing out on principle. I dunno why DC is over-charging for a standard-length book that contains no new material apart from the cover — hell, I don’t know why they’re making any of the moves they are these days — but fuck ’em and the horse they rode in on. With no more Batman ’66 on the racks, this is precisely the sort of antidote that’s needed to the grim, overly-dour shit that the other Bat-books have devolved into, but it’s almost as if they’re determined to dare you to be stupid enough to pay too much for it. Don’t be.

Space Bandits #1, is the book from last week I less-than-subtly made reference to at the outset and is the latest from the Image Comics/Millarworld/Netflix trifecta of corporate cash-gobblers — and it also continues the welcome and entirely out-of-left-field trend of these admittedly generic genre works being a hell of a lot better than they probably have any right to be. By my count, this is the fourth series that Mark Millar has cranked out since cashing in with his new paymasters, and with the exception of the risible Prodigy, they’ve all been surprisingly solid. There’s nothing new happening here, of course — two female intergalactic outlaws get screwed over by their partners/lovers, end up in jail, bust out, and join forces to get revenge on those who wronged ’em — but the dialogue and characterization are razor-sharp, the story’s just plain fun, and Matteo Scalera’s artwork is, of course, absolutely freaking gorgeous. We’re talking even more absolutely freaking gorgeous than his Black Science stuff, if you can believe that. Every instinct in my brain and body tells me not to get my hopes up, that this is just more ready-made-for- Hollywood IP, but the same was true of The Magic Order  and Sharkey The Bounty Hunter, and both of those exceeded all expectations by a country mile. Or a light year. Or whatever. Here’s another, I think. I can’t believe I’m saying this — much less that I’m saying it for the third time this year — but I’m “all in” on a freaking Mark Millar comic. Hell just keeps on freezing over, it would seem.

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Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/17/2019 – 02/23/2019, Starts And Stops

Two notable debuts and two equally-notable finales were among the “big stories” in the world of the “Wednesday Warrior” this past week, so let’s take a look at them all and see how they either kicked things off or wrapped them up —

Sharkey The Bounty Hunter #1 (Image/Millarworld) from Mark Millar and Simone Bianchi isn’t exactlyHeavy Metal for the whole family” (Sharkey has sex with a hot half-robot chick, after all), but it’s pretty close, as our hard-ass-with-a-heart-of-gold hero takes it upon himself to escort a kid he just made an orphan halfway across the galaxy (or maybe it’s the universe) to the home planet of his closest living relatives — until a big payday “score” falls into his lap when the most-wanted criminal in the universe (or maybe it’s the galaxy) gets a price put on his head that’s high enough to send every freelance scalp-chaser scurrying in his direction, that “everyone” including Sharkey’s mortal enemy. This isn’t taxing stuff by any means — Millar’s books never are — but it is a surprisingly likable mash-up of genres that was enjoyable enough to get even my cynical ass to overlook its calculated (again, a Millar specialty) nature and just go with the flow as it ticked every box on the list. Bianchi’s Eurocomics-influenced art is flat-out gorgeous and detailed “AF,” as the kids say, the colors rich and lush, and who knows? Between this and The Magic Order it seems that the oft-derided Millar may be on a bit of a roll following his big Netflix payday. There are a million and one reasons to turn your nose up at this book, sure, but I’ll be damned if I could remember a single one of them while I was reading it, and I expect to stick around for the rest of the ride.

Considerably more thematically ambitious is Phil Hester and Ryan Kelly’s Stronghold #1 (Aftershock), a “cosmic horror” that’s part The Matrix, part The Omen, and altogether interesting, if a bit jumbled out of the starting gate. Still, I dig the set-up : ancient apocalyptic Lovecraftian alien force of destruction lives amongst us as an unassuming insurance agent, his true nature unbeknownst to him thanks to the efforts of a secret society with global reach dedicated to keeping him in check. Turns out he’s got company in the delusion department, though, as none of us know that the Earth itself is just one big prison designed to hold this guy down. All that starts to change, however, when — nah, you should just read it for yourself. Hester’s a damn good artist but up and down as a writer — fortunately, he’s mostly “up” here, the only pitfall being that he’s playing with almost too much concept for a single issue to handle. I’ve no reservations about Kelly’s art, though, as his trademark thick and “syrupy” line and keen attention to even the littlest of little things has rarely been put to better use. This may just be the book he was born to draw, and again, I expect to be strapped in for the duration with this one.

Sticking with Aftershock but flipping the script to the final chapter, Eliot Rahal and Jorge Fornes’ Hot Lunch Special comes to a very pleasing end with issue #5, a nice mix of high-octane action and solid characterization that puts a nice bow on the package but still leaves the box-top ajar just enough for a potential sequel if the creators were to feel up for taking things in a very different direction. Yeah, this series was basically “Fargo The Comic,” but what’s wrong with that? Rahal’s scripts have been well-paced and loaded with a mix of bloody noir violence and gallows humor, and Fornes’ art is gritty, stylish, and basically pitch-perfect for a crime book like this. If you’ve been passing on this one in singles, rest assured that it’ll read great in trade. Speaking of which —

The Lone Ranger by Mark Russell and Bob Q has been a fun and reasonably thought-provoking ride that’s been a blast in singles, sure, but will be absolutely great collected. Russell refuses to “mail it in” on these Dynamite licensed titles (see Red Sonja), and while I highly doubt the term “human resources” even existed in the Old West, when one line of dialogue is my only gripe, shit — that’s small potatoes. The Ranger, Tonto, and Silver make their final stand against the corrupt Texas land barons out to partition the land with barbed wire here in #5’s (no lie) thrilling conclusion, a bold double-cross pays off, and a cannibalistic dandy bounty hunter gets his pound of flesh, plus we get some solid social commentary and even a few laughs. Tonto was the real star of this series, sure, but that’s cool with me, and there’s plenty of room here for a follow-up, which I certainly hope to see — provided the same creators are on board. Yeah, the writing was the big draw on this title, but the art’s definitely solid, too, and truth be told I kind of admire Bob Q’s commitment to craft over “flash.” The trade should be out fairly soon, and if you pass on it, you’re crazy. This is the best Western comic since the days of Lansdale and Truman.

And that’s it for this week — just enough time to remind you that this column is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I offer thrice-weekly exclusive rants on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and even politics. Your support not only enables me to keep things going there, it also allows me to continue providing plenty of free content both here and on my trashfilmguru movie site. Please consider joining up over at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse



Weekly Reading Round-Up : 06/10/2018 – 06/16/2018

If it seems like Image Comics is rolling out a new series (be it limited or ongoing) every week — well, that’s because they are. But even by their standards, four in one week is a lot —

Bloodstrike : Brutalists #0 is the one everyone’s been talking about (although that fact was apparently lost on my LCS owner, who ordered precisely one fucking copy — and it was the godawful Rob Liefeld variant, as opposed to the awesomeness shown above), as it brings the punk ‘zine/”alt” comics sensibilities of the great Michel Fiffe (most notably of Copra fame, although my favorite of his works is unquestionably Zegas) crashing headlong into the mercifully-shuttered world of the aforementioned Mr. Liefeld’s Extreme Studios line-up circa about — I dunno, 1996 or some shit. From the book’s numbering to its purposely-stilted dialogue to its admittedly lame core premise (undead heroes who bear more than a passing resemblance to a bunch of Marvel characters fight equally generic villains for reasons never apparently thought through all that completely) there are any number of deliberate “call-backs” to a late and decidedly un-lamented era of comics history on offer here, but Fiffe isn’t content with some basic-ass exercise in nostalgia, instead allowing his inventive page layouts and inherent sense of visual “flow” to propel the narrative along in a manner that Liefeld (goddamn, there’s that name again!), with his clunky, static, over-rendered-yet-still-hopelessly-sloppy “Hollywood blockbuster on bathtub PCP” imagery never could. This story is apparently a continuation of one left abandoned in the wake of Extreme going belly-up, but it doesn’t matter : no one who was working on the book “back in the day” had any idea what was going with it, either.

Fortunately, Fiffe does, and despite the rather annoying fact that you really do need to read the backmatter here (which comes complete with some hijinks courtesy of Paul Maybury, Benjamin Marra, Charles Forsman, and Ed Piskor, so you won’t regret spending time on it in the least) in order to fully grasp the scope and intentions of the project as a whole, to say nothing of this issue’s narrative specifically, it seems that the characters are given far more meat on their bones in a handful of pages here than they ever were in the sum total of however many issues this series ran for in the past. In short, this is fun stuff with a reasonable amount of thought put into it, especially aesthetically, and since it’s gonna be a brief run (three issues, I thought I heard?), there’s almost no way you won’t get your four bucks’ worth every time. You certainly do here.

Proxima Centauri #1 kicks off a new six-parter appropriate for all ages from the always-interesting Farel Dalrymple, and it’s as utterly charming as it is visually striking. I defy anyone not to take an immediate liking to teen inter-dimensional adventurer Sherwood Breadcoat, and while the “quest across the universe to find our hero’s brother” story is pretty standard as far as plots go, the people, places, and things he encounters along the way are anything but. Rendered with a pleasingly loose line that makes the pages breeze by in something very near to stream-of-consciousness fashion, this is intricately-woven stuff cleverly designed to look and read like it’s literally being made up as Dalrymple goes along. Once in awhile a book hits the stands that is so obviously inventive it literally hurts — this is one, and you don’t want to miss it under any circumstances. Another one well worth forking over $3.99 a pop for.

And while you’ve got four singles out (wait, sorry, that’s eight so far), grab another four and fork ’em on over for The Weather Man #1. Jody LeHeup flexed his comedy “chops” writing Shirtless Bear-Fighter!, and while he’s not toned down the absurdist humor in the least for this one, artist extraordinaire Nathan Fox does his part to ensure that the belly-laughs are matched with an admirably ambitious futurist tour-de-force of, dare I say it, mind-blowing proportions, all colored with uncharacteristically garish aplomb by likely-best-in-the-biz Dave Stewart. Earth has been destroyed in some sort of mass catastrophe, what survivors there are have colonized Mars, and the beleaguered masses are kept entertained by an asshole TV weather guy who seems to have more in common with a morning radio “shock jock” than he does with an actual meteorologist. Except, ya know, there’s a lot more to him that we ever suspected if the implications of the absolutely jaw-dropping cliffhanger are to be believed. I figured I was gonna like this book, probably even like it a lot — turns out I actually freaking loved it.

One that I didn’t expect to care for, though, was The Magic Order #1. Yeah, okay, Olivier Coipel’s art is always lush, evocative, and magnificent, as it is (and then some — I mean it, this is absolutely gorgeous work) here, and Dave Stewart (hi again, Dave!) absolutely kills it with his understated, cinematic (is this guy versatile or what?) color scheme, but let’s be brutally, painfully honest : when was the last time Mark Millar actually wrote a comic that was any fucking good whatsoever?

Well, I’m pleased to report that drought (however long you think it may have lasted) is over. This first Millarworld title to be published since Netflix bought the imprint lock, stock, and barrel is the surprise hit not just of the week, but maybe of the month : a simple premise (family imbued with magic powers going back generations battles otherworldly monsters to keep us mere mortals safe — and we never even know about it!) admittedly ready-made for Hollywood exploitation (hey, Millar is still Millar, right?) needn’t necessarily be a bad thing, and here it’s not : the protagonists are all immediately likable to one degree or another, the story moves along at a solid clip, the “ground rules” are laid out succinctly, and the “fight scenes” are equal parts trippy and fun. Mostly, though, the whole thing is just breathtaking to look at and I’d happily shell out $3.99 for Coipel’s art even if the story sucked — which, in this case, it actually doesn’t. In fact, it’s really damn good — and no, I still can’t believe I’m saying that, either.

So there you go — four great reasons to hit the comic shop in one week. I had a huge smile on my face after reading every single one of these books. Will next week prove as bountiful, dear readers? Only one way to know, of course — join me back here in seven days!