This was one stacked month of comics. Consider: our #1 book from last month (Silver Surfer), despite another strong outing, didn’t crack the Top 5 this time out. Also, only one of the titles below has been featured on our hallowed list before (having been, at different times, praised and damned – see below). This speaks to the veritable title wave of new, quality work being produced in this, the New Golden Age of Comics.
#5. Bodies #1 (DC/Vertigo): Brit scribe Si Spencer–whose ambition is clearly as vaulting as a well-known Shakespearean Thane-in-the-neck–has brazenly pieced together a primo pastiche of disparate eras and artists–including a Murderers’ Row of Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay, and Phil Winslade–and in doing so has Doyle-d up a Holmes-ian mystery multiplied by four. Sure, the transitions from one time period to the next are as harsh as a head on collision, but it’s entirely understandable because so is the seemingly singular homicide that links one Longharvest Lane crime scene to the next. Lee Loughridge’s colors, too, help to both draw a distinction and create a connection among the settings, the latter established by his use of a clichéd shade of red, which is hinted at by the blood splatter on Fiona Stephenson’s vintage–and ironically vivacious–cover. Bodies #1 is a killer first issue that executes an experimental exposition that could’ve easily succumbed to redundancy, but instead rises effortlessly to the level of required reading. (SC)
#4. Cap’n Dinosaur (one-shot) (Image): MORE! FUN! COMICS! Cap’n Dinosaur is just what any jaded comic book reader needs: sublime silliness distilled through a love of classic super hero tropes. A synopsis of the plot would be futile, and pointless besides (just take a gander at the cover!) Suffice it to say that writer Kek-W and artist Shaky Kane have cooked up a kooky confection of pure comic-y goodness. Kane’s absurdist Silver-Age aesthetic seems to bring out the best in his collaborators (as evidenced by another recent Image one-shot, That’s Because You’re a Robot, with writer David Quantick – also worth a look). In particular, Kane seems to inspire writers to release their buried id in order to keep up with his lunatic visions, in much the same way that Mike Allred does. In fact, with his timeless, retro style, anarchic non-sequiturs and surreal approach to pop culture, I’d say that if Mike Allred and (comic genius) Michael Kupperman had a baby, it would be Shaky Kane. So I guess what I’m saying is: Mike Allred and Michael Kupperman should have babies….Oh, just buy this book! (DM)
#3. Thomas Alsop #2 (BOOM!): The Mage. The Mystic. That mysterious Master of the Dark Arts, guarding the thin veil that protects our reality from the nefarious nether-worlds. Such figures have constituted their own archetype in comics since at least Mandrake the Magician. Curious then, that they have been underrepresented in the current comics scene since the demise of the venerated Hellblazer (What’s that you say? There’s a comic called Constantine featuring the same character? Sorry, never heard of it.) Poised to step into those considerable loafers is one Thomas Alsop. And by “step” I mean “stagger, covered in his own vomit.” Conjured from the aether by writer Chris Miskiewicz and artist Palle Schmidt, the titular magician (and voracious abuser of all sorts of substances), possesses a nice insouciance, equal parts debounair and depraved, that provides a necessary (gin and) tonic to the severity of the grave matters at hand (all puns and in-jokes are very much intended). Calling himself a “Supernatural Detective”, he shills his skills on his own reality television show (what else?). This however, is largely a cover (albeit one that pays handsomely) for his more serious work as protector of New York City. But that is not all the creators have up their sleeves; adding complexity is the story of Thomas’ ancestor Richard, the first magical protector of New York, and the dark secret that links past and present. And more still: this being very much a tale of New York, Miskiewicz has, very bravely I think, interwoven the 9/11 tragedy into his story. No small risk that, especially amidst all the fun and games. But he and Schmidt have, so far, accorded it the respectful tone it requires. All in all, this brew, seemingly light and frothy, is a lot more heady than at first it seems. Another round! (DM)
Thomas Alsop #2
#2. Life With Archie #36 (Archie): Paul Kupperberg and Co.’s chocolate soda brought all the boys and girls–including yours truly–to the comic shop, and damn right it’s better than than all but one of July’s releases. Yeah, this book–with the help of mainstream media coverage–absolutely blew up. And I–like many other non-Archie readers–was caught in the blast radius; so even though I hadn’t touched as much as an Archie Comics Digest in 30-plus years, I just had to have it! Mind you, this was no ordinary ordinance; this was a nostalgia bomb–one that made me feel welcome in Riverdale despite my being, for all intents and purposes, a complete stranger.
Writer Kupperberg and artists Pat and Tim Kennedy (pencils), Jim Amash (inks), and Glenn Whitmore (colors) put Archie on a path through his past, present, and future–in a lead up to the not-so-shock ending–and as I followed I was struck by just how good Archie is; in, fact, he’s not unlike Superman in his Boy Scout-ish goodness. In the end, however, he is simply a man: he can’t fly or see through walls; he’s not bulletproof; and his sacrifice leaves us all lamenting the death of that perfect innocence embodied by Archie Andrews–which is made more affective not by the amount of blood about Archie’s body but by the final image of a chocolate soda with three straws having been knocked over during the fracas, its figurative innocence–established on a playful first page–left to melt and spill to the floor.
More that that, really, I was surprised by how good the journey through Archie’s life made me feel. Gosh, it made me wish more than once that we could all be Archies and Jugheads and Bettys and Veronicas–that all joy could be shared and problems solved over a chocolate soda with three straws. What a world it’d be! It was an experience I did not expect. I had initially planned to thumb through the thing and stick it in a bag. Who knew that “every bit of it [would] just [feel] like home”? (SC)
Life With Archie #36
#1. Zero #9 (Image): Sonuvabitch. As you might have surmised, we here at I&N read a LOT of comics. With so much new product coming out each month, we not only have to decide which titles are worth our time, but also which titles are no longer cutting the mustard. Zero, Ales Kot’s minimalist gut-punch of a spy thriller, in particular has been quite the roller coaster ride, and not always in a good way. After naming it one of our Top Ten Books of 2013 for its innovation and unpredictability, it promptly took a nosedive, as unpredictability gave way to incoherence. In fact, it was only a couple of months ago that the previous issue (#8) was named our Biggest Dis(appointment) of the month. So yeah, this book was on the chopping block.
And then Kot does this. Set in the midst of the Bosnian War, Zero #9 tells a tale from Roman Zizek’s past. Zizek is Zero’s mentor, an American black ops agent, and a war profiteer. Unsurprisingly, he’s a double-dealer of the first order. Already knee-deep in subterfuge and complicit in some of the worst atrocity in recent history, he also has a Bosnian girlfriend who is pregnant, victimized by the war. And things go from there.
Artist Tonci Zonjic deserves special mention as his storytelling manages to be atmospheric, clean, and cartoony (in the classic sense), perfectly setting the tone with a style reminiscent of early Mazzuchelli. And Jordie Bellaire’s muted hues, perfectly navigating between harsh reality and precious memory, are, as always, flawless.
A cursory look at the news will tell you that the world is rife with new, terrible things happening every day. So much so, that the horrors of even the recent past quickly get buried. Rare is the comic that can successfully mine such tragic events for its own fictive purposes, while also shining a light on those so easily forgotten or ignored (Joshua Dysart’s Unknown Soldier comes to mind). Rarer still, one that can do so with such spare, awful beauty. With this issue, Kot and Co. have not only banished any thought of dropping this vital book; they’ve produced one of the most powerful, resonant stories of the year. (DM)
The Biggest Dis(appointment): Robin Rises: Omega #1 (DC): I’ve been pretty vocal in my support of Peter J. Tomasi’s Batman and Whoever, especially in light of its being overshadowed by the over-hyped and underwhelming Snyder books. (I even told Mr. Tomasi as much when I met him at the 2013 NYCC. He seemed mildly appreciative.) Tomasi did a commendable job of following in Grant Morrison’s footsteps, when it seemed that others had no use for them–until now, that is. Ah, and therein lies the disappointment. This book, which starts off well enough with a Damien-Robin retrospective, descends into a chaotic disaster of day-old dialogue and stumbles–despite some solid work from Andy Kubert, Jonathan Glapion, and Brad Anderson–into a terminally anemic battle scene–an epic game of casket keep away–that only ends because it eventually reaches its $4.99 price-point page limit. To make matters worse, it turns out that Batman’s going to have to go BOOM! if he wants to get Robin back; that’s right: he’s headed to DC’s dark side–and, boy, I’d punch Tomasi in his pursed Mother-Boxing Apokolips if I were to ever see him again for going so against the Wayne with his choice of settings for the next rung on the way toward Robin’s return. (Heck, whom am I fooling? I’d probably say, “Hey, Mr. Tomasi! Love your work! I can’t wait to see what you have in store for…Superman/Wonder Woman!” And he’d probably be mildly appreciative.) The New God-darned piece of shard is so distressingly disappointing that I’m seriously considering giving up entirely on Batman and Robin–no, seriously–which would leave me Bat-less for the first time since I jumped into The New 52. Well, there’s always Moon Knight…(SC)
Robin Rises: Omega #1
Derek & Scott