I’m back! Are you back? I was in such a hurry to get this posted Thursday night that I didn’t throw it behind the jump and….wow. Until I get that “brevity is the soul of wit” thing down, it really is better I had some of this behind the jump, yeah? Maybe someday I’ll be a real live boy, able to have all of my opinions out here on the front page without it seeming like the site has been hijacked by a bot that makes wikipedia entries out of random comic book reviews…
Anyway, after the jump: Insufferable! Afterlife with Archie! The New 52: Future’s End #0! The grand finale of Jeff Becomes a Bot that Makes Wikipedia Entries out of Random Comic Book Reviews!
Grimm Fairy Tales Helsing #1: Zenescope’s Male Gaze Follies: The Steampunk Buffy Edition, written by Patrick Shand, drawn by Tony Brescini, colored by Fran Gamboa, and edited by Nicole Glade. Liesel Van Helsing’s better dressed than Witchblade, which is a good thing, and even with Shand scoring a double British Character Bingo, I found the whole thing inoffensive. Granted, that may be because the scene of our heroine lounging in a t-shirt and panties had her wearing men’s Fruit of the Looms tighty whities instead of the usual butt floss. (It may also be that Brescini had never seen tighty whities and Google Image search was down on the day these pages were due, and so he made due with a verbal description of them from an inebriated friend.)
But it’s probably also because the older I get, the more my tolerance of crappy comic books simultaneously gets higher and lower at the same time. Like…poorly drawn, fraudulently written, exploitive-but-cowardly adventure fiction hidden underneath a halfway decent cover? Those are what we think of as comic books, right? And maybe all of these dudes will go on to create something that matters more to each of them and, by getting this kind of four color scut work done now. And maybe when they do they’ll have enough experience that their reach will be somewhat commensurate with their grasp.
But until the day arrives—if that day arrives—I find myself more and more impatient with this kind of mediocrity. Maybe it works for you, female reader who is in the habit of going to the comic shop every week but is also starved for any kind of female characters to read? (I should say I now totally get why Lumberjanes is the source of so much acclaim, if this is the comparison baseline.) Maybe this is your kind of thing, male reader who is in the habit of going to the comic shop every week but is also starved for any kind of females to interact with?
I called it inoffensive and I did mean it as a compliment—it’s Male Gaze-y as hell but not actively misogynistic. But, seriously, apart from that, what does this have going for it, such that these types of books can continue to be cranked out? Because it seems to me the profit margins can’t be so amazingly high that just a minor boost in the readership’s diminished expectations would scupper the whole thing altogether.
Insufferable #1: I did not pick this one up since I’m a Thrillbent subscriber and I thought it might be more helpful to Mr. Waid and the Thrillbent crew to get this out to people who aren’t already on the Thrillbent wagon. (Although how much I’m actually on the Thrillbent wagon, and how much I’m on the “idea of Thrilbent” wagon is probably an entry for another time.) Anyway, to confuse matters more. I then did a 180° and figured if I was really interested in being helpful, I’d buy this issue and weigh it against what I’ve already read.
So. This is the first four chapters of Insufferable, separated into two chapters, with a short essay by Waid about the title’s genesis in back, the latter of which you’ve already read 20% of if you saw that one Bleeding Cool entry.
Like Anti-Hero, Insufferable is a superhero book with a good hook—what if Batman and Robin were father and son who were really on the outs? Unlike Anti-Hero, you’ve got Mark Waid writing and Peter Krause on art, so the caliber of the work is basically unimpeachable. (In fact, I’ll confess I’m not the biggest fan of Peter Krause but I thought his work here was terrific, especially in the flashback sequences which remind me of the ‘70s and early ‘80s period of dudes like Grey Morrow and Al Williamson.) For example, I appreciated how adroitly Waid stepped past the “What if Robin grew up to be a total douchebag?” angle and made Gallahad a sympathetic character.
Now, honestly, I’m not thrilled with where things might be going at the end of the issue—it’ll probably take another swerve or twelve but at the end of issue #1, it looks like there’ll be some paranormal shenanigans involved and there’s something about Waid’s paranormal shenanigans I don’t like—but that’s a pretty minor complaint. Further on down, I spill eleventy kajillion words about DC’s New 52: Future’s End #0 and (toward the end) adulthood. Unsurprisingly, Insufferable #1 is closer to what I want from a DC book than most New 52 titles (that I’ve sampled, anyway) so I’m looking forward to digging into the Thrillbent app and catching up.
Afterlife with Archie #1: I’d picked up this up long before this sale and enjoyed it at the time. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, whom I’ve always been coolish on, really hits his stride here in a way it would take a better reviewer than me could untangle. If pressed, I guess I’d have to say that his previous tendency of dialogue heavy writing is not only challenged by the inherent dynamism of his conceit (Sabrina’s spell to save Hot Dog goes horribly awry unleashing the undead upon Riverdale) but enlivened by it? In horror movies, well-done set-ups can use atmospherics and foreboding to bring a contrast to exposition and info-dumps.
I also think there’s something to the idea that Archie, the most vanilla of comics, being handled by Aguirre-Sacasa, a writer with very french vanilla charms. His work never quite fit in at the Cold Stone Creamery that was post-Millar Marvel—even the Fantastic Four seemed a bit too inherently gaudy for Aguire-Sacasa—but his work on Archie manages to be subversive because even at its most outrageous it’s deeply tied to a respect and a fondness for the characters that keeps it feeling appropriate and measured. (Compare the five issues of this to, say, Mark Millar’s Trouble mini for Marvel and you can immediately tell the difference…although I suppose comparing anyone’s subtlety to Mark Millar’s is pretty much giving that person a low bar to clear.)
But, as surprisingly good as I think Aguirre-Sacasa’s work is here, I think this book might have sunk like a stone without Francesco Francavilla’s artwork. As I mentioned in the Detective Comics review, I’m in the tank for Francavilla’s art, but I don’t think there’s any other published work I’ve seen from the guy—even his own Black Beetle from Dark Horse—that suits him as well as Afterlife with Archie. I love his oversaturated color palette and the way he really leans on the heavy blacks in his art, but his line weight doesn’t seem to have a lot of variation to me which can make his work seem (for lack of a better term) “cartoony.”
But of course, cartoony is what you want in an Archie book. Joined to the subject matter, the art and the colors—one part amusement park funhouse to one part Italian giallo—really nail that “We’re not joking—just joking/ We are joking—just joking/ We’re not joking” vibe the book’s premise has, even when scenes in later issues go for some serious melodramatic heft. (Oh man, that scene with Archie’s dog, man!)
(p.s. I miss you, Das Racist!)
Oh, but before I move on, there’s something I want to talk about in specific regards to this giveaway. Here’s a screenshot of the email I got announcing when this book was released as part of the Summer Reading List:
And here’s the screenshot from Comixology’s own blog during the time they were doing the Summer Reading List:
And here’s the regular entry on Comixology as it normally appears:
See what’s missing from the first two? That’s right—the phrase “For TEEN+ readers.” I mean, one would really hope that the people downloading this would be paying attention…but since either the publisher or the distributor clearly aren’t, why should they?
I mean, technically, I think this first issue would be deeply disturbing in a good way for kids from ten to twelve—I mean, if you want them to be traumatized in a way that may pay some really interesting obsessive dividends down the road (says the old dude who was twelve when Jaws 2 came out and just spent a good fifteen minutes at the beach the other day regaling his wife and a stranger on the history of great white shark attacks).
But people are pretty quick to hand Archie books to really little kids and that I think that would err too much on the side of “hey, let’s dose our unsuspecting friend and take him to the midnight screening of Pink Floyd: The Wall!” (Didn’t happen to me, but apparently happened to the person sitting right in front of me? Also,I’m pretty sure this reference will allow you to guess my age, if you don’t already know it, to plus or minus three years?)
Anyway…yeah. Good comic! And for free? Great comic!
Shutter #1: Another book Graeme and I talked about on the podcast, not too long ago. Frankly, we really loved the first half of the first issue, felt estranged by the second half of the first issue, and I at least have sort of ping-ponged back and forth on issues since. Issue #2 was yeoman work, but I thought issue #3 was stellar—writer Joe Keatinge and artist Leila Del Duca knocked it out of the park with that issue’s opening sequence where the Richard Scarry-style worm in his cheery little apple car ends up dragged into life as a hitman. That was really great. (For me: Graeme did not like it much at all.)
So it’s a good free issue in that I think there’s enough on display, but is also enough of a mix of stuff that readers would be tempted to at least pick up #2 to see where the hell things are going.
Even putting that aside, I think if Del Duca continues to develop as a storyteller, she may well end up being one of the year’s great discoveries. As a free book, Shutter #1 would get a recommendation from me just for that. Even with me not liking the second half, this is up in the mid- to high end for these twenty books, definitely.
7th Sword #1: Uh, whoops. Didn’t get this—one of the few times where my typically reliable hoarding instinct was stymied by both a busy day at work and an incomplete attention to detail on my part. (The book sat in my shopping cart for 24 hours.)
But in the interests of not short-changing those of you who expect my verbiage to come in bulk—and since this set of columns gives me a smidge more license to talk about old-but-recent comics anyway—let’s pretend DC was given the option to give away another book and instead chose The New 52: Future’s End issue #0:
[And before you people who like skewering the premises of other people’s Alternate History novels write in, yes, I do know that you can indeed still get Issue #0 of The New 52: Future’s End off Comixology for free and so therefore why would DC make it available for free? You have found me out, my clever imaginary arch-nemesis!]
On the one hand, I’m sure there’s nothing I can say about this that hasn’t been said by other reviewers when it came out. But I feel like it’s good for me to review for those of you still trying to calibrate my reliability as a reviewer, because I feel like a good chunk of this zero issue charts my progression from “guy who buys comics for the writers” to “guy who buys comics for the art.”
Which is to say—I dug the opening parts of this book drawn by Ethan Van Sciver and any successive parts where he popped up. I’m not really a Van Sciver fan—I can honestly say I’ve never gone out of my way to buy a book just because he was on it. But thanks to his frequent collaborations with Geoff Johns, I’ve apparently picked up enough of an appreciation or an appetite or, I don’t know, something that had me going, “oh cool, Brother Eye is a moon now,” or “oh cool, Captain Cold has interesting orthodontia,” or “oh cool, the Flash has my beard now.”
It’s an interesting paradox for me because I think most of what we get in this book is dumb and excessive…but with Van Sciver’s art, it’s enjoyably dumb and excessive? (Thinking about it, there’s some small part of me that was disappointed that Van Sciver didn’t draw all of Blackest Night because it just seemed so much in his wheelhouse. Not that I’ll bother googling confirmation, but I can’t help but feel Johns wrote Blackest Night with Van Sciver in mind.) I mean…I could barely be bothered to browse through the first issue of his Firestorm reboot so I don’t think of myself as a fan at all but when I got to the non-Van Sciver pages in this, I kind of went “What? No more? Damn.” I guess if you’re going to do a Texas Chainsaw Massacre version of the DCU, where superheroes are buzzsawed like so many homely teenagers, get Tobe Hooper, not Tom Hooper, right?
(Although let me be clear: the Tobe Hooper version of The King’s Speech? Where Lionel Logue teaches King George VI to overcome his speech impediment by hunting and skinning working class proles dressed as other members of the Royal Family? I would also watch that, just so you know what side of the Hooper Bread my cinematic butter is on.)
It’s no WWE Superstars, to be sure, but there was still something about just the crazy go-for-brokeness about this that tickled the blackened lump of charcoal where my heart used to be. That panel of robo-Constantine walking around with an unlit cigarette in his mouth? Wonder Woman spearing what I’m guessing is Lex Luthor and having him go “ARGHHH010101010101!” as the “Eye-Seed” gets implanted? Batman being attacked by a robot wearing a beret? It’s…it’s all kind of comical, isn’t it? That you can take professional creators—people who actually make a living doing this—and you get them to look at Days of Future Past, and Age of Ultron, and Alan Moore’s Twilight of the Superheroes pitch (and probably every DC story that ganked stuff from that pitch, whether that’s Armageddon 2001 or that Teen Titans thing Geoff Johns did), and somehow…these are the choices they made? I guess this is the thing about getting old: there’s more than a trace of sadness in the laughter, just as it can be easier to find the laughter in the sadness but…I laughed a little. God help me, I laughed.
Reading Graeme’s review of the next eight issues, it’s clear they steered things in another direction, focusing on the strange new near-present rather than this comically inept “terrifying” future. I mean, I don’t know for sure if they stayed away from any more visits but it would be prudent. I think it’d be okay to just have Terry talk about how terrible the future he’s arriving from will be, and then leave it to the imaginations of those un/lucky enough to have read this zero issue.
You know, my earliest memories of comic book characters have to do with Superman and Batman—probably watching cartoons rather than reading comics—and thinking back on it, I was young enough that the “man” part of their names was just as important, as alluring, as “Super” or “Bat”: the characters were men, adults, and I equated their invulnerability, their powers with those of adults. My dad was to me what Superman was to a normal human, and to fantasize about being Superman was to fantasize about having power over those who had power over me.
This is probably why Moore’s Swamp Thing, Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans, Wally West as Flash, and surprisingly large chunks of the post-Crisis DC comics worked for me—they were, in their way, about growing up, they were about how you became an adult.
So I suppose in my way, I’m hoping someone involved in this project has Terry come from his terrible future to teach the New 52 how to be young again.
I mean, Brian Azzarello is just about to turn (new) 52; the Dans (DiDio and Jurgens) are about to turn/just turned 55! Are they really this afraid of the future? I mean, I’m afraid of it, sure, but not in any way that remotely resembles this comic: to be afraid of technology really means to be afraid of the young, always the first to be borne on technology’s back. Me, I’m worried for the young, about their environment, about their world. And I suppose I’m worried about the lesson they’ve learned from Azz, Dans, and me—basically a variation of the Freelancer’s Credo: “Look out for Number One, kid, and remember who signs the checks”—and whether they choose to take that lessons to heart. Maybe the New 52: Five Years Later teaches Terry how to be young again? How to shrug off the lessons imparted by Bruce “Fear is Awesome” Wayne? Hell, I’d settle for that.
Anyway, New 52: Future’s End #0 is available free digitally at Comixology. It’s kind of a hoot.
Starlight #1: Like Shutter #1, talked about on the podcast and, again like Shutter #1, a very good deal as a free comic book. Because getting this much Goran Parlov art for free? I am definitely pro-that. In fact, it was a pretty book in print, but in digital the scenes on Tantalus practically glow with Ive Svorcina’s colors, using the palette to further the Moebius influence.
However, just as Afterlife with Archie #1 got a little bit better retroactively for me knowing how well it works with what’s to come, Starlight #1 works less well considering how much this issue’s droopy pacing has been the standard for the rest of the miniseries. The famed Mark Millar lack of subtlety does him no favors here: it can help him propel a narrative, but with so little going on here, reading this issue through once is exactly like reading another book twice through. Say what you will about Wanted—and there are things about it I find genuinely hateful—but that first issue moves like a sonuvabitch (and, of course, biting the style of Fight Club suits Millar’s nihilistic bent better than cribbing from even the most bittersweet of Pixar flicks).
Anyway, it’s got gorgeous art, and jesus now that I am old I am willing to put up with all kinds of weak-ass shit for gorgeous art. Fortunately—as I suspect Graeme has been yelling at his monitor since the first paragraph—Dynamite’s Flash Gordon currently packs art almost as lovely by Evan “Doc” Shaner, and Jeff Parker actually knows how to craft decent and heroic characters without making them uninteresting. So Starlight wins as long as it’s free, but when the two titles are evenly priced as they currently are on Comixology? It loses. Very, very badly.
Normandy: A Graphic History of D-Day, The Allied Invasion of Hitler’s Fortress Europe: The only other title I failed to snag, and I’m kicking myself because I think I would’ve enjoyed it. Also, while I think the free copy was only 40 pages instead of the full 105, that’s still a very nice deal considering the digital copy of this will run you $19.99 at Comixology, the same as retail—which seems fair, basically, as long as you ignore the fact that Comixology’s mothership, Amazon, sells this for $14.53 print, and $9.99 for the Kindle. The sample pages I saw make it seem, um, a little text-heavy? It’s the kind of thing I’d check out from the library but probably would not make time for otherwise?
Anyway, I’d planned to pull a goose-for-the gander and cover another book for Marvel but then I checked the word count on this bad boy. So let me instead just say—I am still a fan of Marvel Unlimited but the fact that issue #5 of Al Ewing’s and Greg Land’s Mighty Avengers still isn’t on there is killing me. Add to that the rumors of MA’s demise and I feel simultaneously ravenous for more well-written Avengers material, and guilty as hell.
Hinterkind #1: Last comic! I can do this! In a perfect world, it’d be a culmination of everything I’ve been talking about, something that encapsulates all of the push & pull I’ve had going on here with comics good, bad, and (mostly) indifferent.
But…nope. Just me bagging on another comic again.
It’s not terrible, Hinterkind, with its post-apocalyptic “mankind-struggling in the ruins of New York to survive, surrounded by predators old and new” .pitch Indeed, if you compare it to Lola XOXO, it looks pretty damn sophisticated. Although I couldn’t find a full name for “P,” she seems capable but far from perfect, attractive but not eye candy, and writer Ian Edginton and artist Francesco Trifogli efficiently sketch out her relationship with her best friend, her grandfather, and what she thinks of the village she’s in.
The book isn’t especially original, but I found it almost charming in the shamelessness of the material it’s ganking–“hey, remember those scenes of Will Smith hunting in I Am Legend? What if you did that but with Katniss Everdeen? But instead of being super-hot, her male best friend is growing a tail? So they leave the village to find…others like him who….uh….oh no, GIANTS! And a bad-ass chick with angel wings and a sawed-off shotgun! And she shoots a talking unicorn RIGHT IN THE FACE!!”
I‘m a guy what likes his video games, so of course I’m pro-unicorn headshot, and yet I think Hinterkind #1 is badly paced, especially if you contrast it with the first issue of Brass Sun by Edginton and artist I.N.J. Culbard with its similar “young heroine making her way in a strange new world” storyline. Of course, Brass Sun was originally serialized in 2000 A.D. so its five page increments have none of the leisure on display in Hinterkind’s extra-sized 27 page first issue. I’m not even talking about the rather deliberate pace with which the team sketches out the members of P’s village (though if they don’t ever pop up again, I’ll be pretty damn crabby), but that unicorn scene which already comes after our heroine and her sidekick have had things go from worse–it reads like the team got to the end of the original script, went, “Eh, this doesn’t feel very exciting,” and threw in an extra-flashy scene to try and drag the reader back for more. I understand that desire — believe me, after reviewing twenty books for you and closing in on four thousand words on this entry alone, I really want you to come back for more and keep contemplating some sort of showy “Oh, Vertigo, how the mighty have fallen!” elegy — but aren’t cliffhangers better when characters we actually know are involved? There are advantages to staying on point is what I’m saying, even with a free first issue or a review thereof. After all, we’re competing with summer here, and a sunny day is also free. It’s tough competition.