We’re getting to the end of October, and that can only mean one thing for comics:
pumpkin spice scratch n sniff Harley Quinn covers horror books. Lots of horror books. There are also spy books and fantasy books and sci-fi books (oh my!), but most of this week’s comics are about monsters, murders and scaring the hell out of you.
Infinity Man and the Forever People #4 (DC Comics)
Bat Cow, the hot new character find of 2012 is revealed to be Magnar, sent undercover by Highfather to monitor Earth-0 for signs of the pending conflict with Earth-33. To protect his cover, he is forced to repeatedly kick the Infinity Man and Mantis in the chest*.
*Please note that the only part of this that’s remotely accurate is that Bat Cow will appear at some point in Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen’s very good Kirby New Gods tribute, and my suspicion that this book is secretly extremely important to the overall story being told in the DCU right now. Bat Cow is probably not Magnar, and this issue will only cross over with Multiversity in my wildest dreams.
Dungeons & Dragons Legends of Baldur’s Gate #1 (IDW Publishing)
Created as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations for the popular RPG, Legends of Baldurs Gate #1 is a pretty straightforward D&D-type fantasy story. The art, from Max Dunbar, is good. The story, from Jim Zub, is exactly what you’d expect from the guy who wrote Skullkickers. Meaning it’s also good. Zub clearly loves D&D, and he puts that love and the care and craft he usually does into what ends up being an amusing fantasy comic.
It features the return of Minsc, the very popular Baldur’s Gate character, and Boo, his miniature giant space hamster partner. People get kicked, heads are bitten off, unpredictable magic is cast, and the hamster remains the looming threat behind all the action. I liked it, and if you’re also a fan of hamsters of unbelievable mystic power, you probably will too.
Letter 44 #11 (Oni Press)
Of the two comics Charles Soule has out today, I think I like this one better. This isn’t to take anything away from his work on She-Hulk (RIP), which has been outstanding, but I feel like the degree of difficulty on Letter 44 is higher. Writing smart office comedy about She Hulk and Hellcat’s law firm is a piece of cake compared to writing a story that follows both the crew of a spaceship examining an alien artifact in the asteroid belt AND the President back on Earth who’s trying to manage his career and the mission. It’s not too surprising that he can pull this off, given his previous work on stuff like Strange Attractors and Red Lanterns, but the politics stuff is so easy to get wrong, and he manages to make it work.
My biggest pet peeve in genre work is embarrassingly nit-picky: any time politics is a focus of the work, it has to be at least remotely plausible or I get furious with it right away. Ex Machina did a great job with it; on the other end of the spectrum was the truly atrocious (from the start people! Don’t fall for it again!) Heroes. The most ridiculous thing about that show wasn’t the fact that a guy running for public office could fly. It was that a guy running for public office flew himself out to Vegas to ask for $4 million for a House race. That’s twice what he would have needed last year, and that show’s ten years old. Also, he would have sent a staffer, rather than ask for a bribe himself. See? Nit picky. I’m also probably the only person alive who hates House of Cards, but that show is ridiculous. THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES HAS NO FOREIGN POLICY POWER THE ENTIRE PREMISE OF YOUR SHOW IS STUPID.
Memetic #1 (BOOM! Studios)
This comic is excellent. James Tynion IV, Eryk Donovan and Adam Guzowski have put out a genuinely disturbing comic book, which is not something that I find often.
To start with, the opening half is really funny. The quick gags are great, especially the tweet from @jamesthefifth and the “Secret Invasion” joke on the first page. And I think the fact that the sloth picture that the story hinges on is so goddamn funny just heightens the effect when the book turns at the midpoint from snarky critique of social media and Reddit to an end-of-the-world horror show. It doesn’t change the fact that I laughed at it every time I scrolled past. The humor and the effective-but-not-overdone critique of technology is part of what makes the tone shift when the meme starts going wrong so very, very well done.
When things do go south, the little touches put in by the creative team really help to sell it. From the look of the crazy people, to the little dialogue touches that Tynion put in for the President to the panel flow, it’s incredibly creepy, and incredibly well-done.
Also, great job by the design team choosing to present the bonus material as Facebook pages. It’s a little touch, but one that adds a lot to the overall ambiance. This comic was awesome, and everyone involved should be really happy with the work they’ve done. I can’t wait for the next issue.
Arkham Manor #1 (DC Comics)
The beauty of the Batman universe is that it lends itself to as diverse a variety of genres as the X-Men universe does. It seems like the Bat-office is really embracing that idea now. Batman is big, smart superhero action; Detective is the mystery book; Batman & Robin is sci-fi revenge; Grayson‘s a spy comic; Batgirl is the trendy, accessible series. The two newest entries follow that pattern as well. Gotham Academy is a fun, all-ages book, and this, from Gerry Duggan and Shawn Crystal, looks like it’s going to be a locked-room mystery/horror comic.
Duggan and Crystal both make entertaining non-Batman books, so I’m fairly certain I’m going to like this. Plus, crossing horror off the genre list means we’re one step closer to the comic I really want: a gritty, Mature-rated Legion of Super Pets, starring Bat Cow, Ace the Bat Hound, Beppo the Super Monkey, Wonder Woman’s kangaroo Jumpa, Aquaman’s seahorse and a two-days-from-retirement G’nort.
Goners #1 (Image Comics)
This book was frustrating as hell. The Latimer family, according to the story, has been the world’s only line of defense against hordes of paranormal baddies going back to the dawn of America. The current generation has monetized that history, hosting a reality show about their paranormal fights that they, when we enter the story, are murdered on.
The plot hook isn’t overly complicated, and it’s an interesting enough premise to have been worth reading. My problem is with the execution. The tone is all over the place. It is at various points through the issue, trying to be:
-A clever, witty modern take on the monster hunting family.
-A send-up of the vapid culture of reality television (the dad seems kind of douchey before he and his wife eat it).
-An emotional look at how tough it is to grow up the children of monster hunters.
-An all-ages monster adventure story.
-An edgy, f-bomb dropping monster adventure story.
The overall effect is that it feels confused and a little forced. The art and colors are very good, though the cartoony style of the pencils does contribute a little to the tonal confusion. There’s a good book in here, but the writing’s just not quite there yet. Hopefully it gets better.
X-Force #11 (Marvel Comics)
Simon Spurrier is one of the three best writers working for Marvel right now. He’s a year out from writing my favorite X-Men comic of all time (Legacy was beautiful and hilarious, and such a HUGE leap in content and tone and style from typical x-book fare), and he’s back working on Dr. Nemesis, who he made absolutely hilarious in the grossly underrated X-Club. With X-Force, he’s writing a twisty, dark sci-fi spy comedy. It has been very good from the start, but it’s been really picking up steam over the last few months. It’s now at the point where Spurrier and Rock-he Kim are weaving it in and around the rest of the MU, using their hook of “the espionage team for the x-peoples” to bring in other x-folks, to bring back Strikeforce Morituri, and to crank up the internal intrigue.
If you want some weirdness in your x-books, this is for you. If you want a story that features coffee so strong it lets the drinker see quantum superpositions, this is for you. If you want to encourage Marvel to give more work to a guy who once built an entire series around getting a Hulk analogue to say “You wouldn’t like me when I’m horny,” buy this book now.
ONE THAT GOT AWAY
Every week there are way too many comics for me to read and keep track of. So in every column, I’m going to take a look at a book that came out in the last few weeks, but that I only just had a chance to read.
|First Second Books|
This week it’s The Rise of Aurora West volume 1, from First Second books. This is an eagerly anticipated follow-up to Battling Boy, Paul Pope’s graphic novel from 2013 about a teenaged god coming to a city infested with monsters. The world Pope created was vivid, beautiful and classic, and it was one of the best comics I read all last year. So as I mentioned in the NYCC preview, I was really looking forward to picking this up. It didn’t disappoint.
The selfish part of me wants to see this series adapted into every possible different medium, even though I know it wouldn’t work. Most of the reason is David Rubin’s outstanding artwork: Battling Boy, drawn by Pope, hit the sweet spot that he usually does between the fantastic and the practical, while here, Rubin has panels and characters that look like they’d fit perfectly in the pages of MAD or in an episode of Superjail. This volume focuses on Aurora West’s time training to fight monsters like her father, and with that much time spent with those monsters, having an artist who can move back and forth between grotesque, tentacly monsters and understated emotions from a teenage girl trying to figure out who killed her mother is the book’s biggest asset. The writing is brisk and a lot of fun, making Aurora clever and inventive without making her seem overly competent for someone still learning how to be a hero.
Hilary Sycamore’s colors on Battling Boy were a highlight, and while Aurora West wasn’t missing anything by being in black and white, I liked Sycamore’s work enough that it would have been cool to see it applied to Rubin’s art here. But that’s a tiny quibble: finishing this made me want to rush home for the next volume like I was 11 and waiting for the next episode in the Dark Phoenix Saga, only with The Rise of Aurora West, I know I’m still going to love it in 20 years.
That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?