It’s October, so that means Halloween-themed everything which explains the uptick in horror books on the stands now. Fortunately, most of them were very good -Scott Snyder and Jock’s new creator-owned horror book from Image, Wytches, drops its first issue this week; the first issue of the Alien vs. Predator entry of the new Alien/Prometheus/Predator crossover hits; and 30 Days of Night‘s Steve Niles sees his adventure horror book The October Faction start. Elsewhere, Bravest Warriors hits a milestone issue, the closest thing to an Elmore Leonard comic out there moves along, Marvel’s new big crossover starts and Batgirl wants to talk to you about bespoke, locally sourced Kevlar capes.
Axis #1 (Marvel Comics)
Rick Remender is an absolutely fascinating writer at Marvel (his creator-owned stuff is also incredibly interesting and great, but we’ll get to that in the near future). He more or less proves the theory that the comics industry just repeats itself every 20 years, because his Marvel work is him mining ’90s stories to update them and actually make them amazing. Uncanny X-Force had callbacks to the “Age of Apocalypse” and Excalibur; his earlier Uncanny Avengers stuff had echoes of Avengers Forever; and now with Axis, he’s going to try and rehabilitate the genuinely atrocious “Onslaught” story, an almost impossible task. Seriously, even being the last boss in Marvel vs. Capcom wasn’t enough to make Onslaught not suck.
The basic plot of the crossover seems to be: Magneto, in killing Red Skull-with-Xavier’s-brain, unleashed the Red Skull-powered version of Onslaught, the monster created when Xavier shut down Magneto’s mind back in Uncanny X-Men #304 (ugh, I can cite that without looking it up), who will then cause some sort of opposite day to the Marvel U where the heroes become villains and the villains become heroes and holy crap that is ridiculous when you say it out loud. You read X-Men comics long enough, you think you develop an immunity to that sort of thing, but I guess it’s a testament to how much superhero stuff has invaded mainstream culture that I only occasionally notice how insane this stuff can be.
On its face, Axis isn’t that much more absurd than one of the most popular movies ever, about a Norse god who’s also an alien opening a portal so that Death’s boyfriend can send an army of flying jet ski-riding aliens to conquer Earth only they’re stopped by a guy throwing a shield, and an archer. Or Days of Future Past, which made hundreds of millions of dollars, and used Kitty Pryde’s phasing power for time travel.
Wytches #1 (Image Comics)
Wytches is a phenomenal first issue from Scott Snyder, Jock, and Matt Hollingsworth. This book was an easy sell very early on: Snyder and Jock previously worked together on the extremely well-regarded “Black Mirror” arc on Detective Comics, and again off and on since the reboot on Batman backups.
Snyder, when he’s not writing incredibly ambitious Batman stories (“Zero Year” was nuts, guys. Not just what happened in the book, but the fact that Snyder had the grapes to do it at all), also happens to be one of the best American horror writers out there right now, hitting just about every type from vampire to brutal, cerebral murderer horror to The Abyss played for terror.
The toughest thing about writing good horror isn’t the shock of the scares or the depth of the depravity of the horrific situations – it’s the mundaneness that needs to be there to set up the contrast with the horror scenes. It’s the idyllic, regular life that needs to absorb the reader so that the shock and depravity have a more powerful effect. Snyder does this really, really well, and Jock and Matt Hollingsworth on colors do an incredible job of conveying the atmosphere, moving easily between the quiet, personal, family bits and the scenes of a baby deer throwing up its insides in the occupied family room of a house. Hollingsworth really shines on the flashbacks and the rainy days: the color spatters on the night look almost like raindrops splashed on the camera that you’re looking through, refracting what little light is outside.
And even in the quiet moments, Snyder does a great job of peppering the script with references that let the reader know that something is about to go wrong – there are a handful of mentions of crow-like things (the first family name is Cray, the second Rooks) which always symbolize death, and even in the joking around that Charles does with Sailor to open their interaction, he screws up the description of the Hippogriff, a half-horse half-eagle that traditionally symbolizes love, by mistakenly saying it was half vulture. Jock nails the facial expressions and body language, investing you in the characters and communicating a ton about their backstory wordlessly in just a few panels.
(P.S.: I’m going to save some speculation for the comments, but there’s some pretty heavy…foreshadowing…in this issue.)
All in all, this is a very good, very well-made comic. Everyone involved is bringing their A-game, and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t hurt that they set the comic in the scariest state in New England – New Hampshire is terrifying.
Batgirl #35 (DC Comics)
This is the first issue of Batgirl with the new costume and new creative team of Cam Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, Babs Tarr, and Maris Wicks, and I’m very excited for this run, but its style is maybe a little particular. The word “hipster” gets thrown around as a slur a lot, but it’s also shorthand for a very specific style: very trendy, influenced by current pop culture with a tiny bit of “finding yourself” mid-20s ennui. With that in mind and no derogatory connotation intended at all, this book is hipster as hell. It’s more or less “What if Bryan Lee O’Malley made a Batman comic?” Barbara moves to Gotham’s Williamsburg, there’s a hint of a “complicated coffee order” joke, a random mistake hookup and coder references. And of course, there’s the costume.
This new costume redesign that they gave Batgirl is great, and it’s made me think: the diversity of women’s fashion in the real world combined with the new awareness on the part of Marvel and DC of the importance of inclusiveness is is going to lead to an explosion of really cool looking costumes for super heroines. The redesigned Batgirl costume and Spider-Gwen are very much attempts by artists to make their super-heroine costumes look like stuff women wear around right now. Unfortunately, I don’t think the opposite would be true. Trying to redesign male heroes’ costumes to reflect real-world men’s fashion would end up with everybody dressed like Conner Kent except for two guys in business suits (one of them isn’t wearing a tie, though! So cutting edge!) and maybe Superman in Zubaz or something.
Alien vs. Predator: Fire & Stone #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
Full confession: when I grabbed copies of the Prometheus and Aliens Fire and Stone books, I expected a thematic crossover and not an actual, f’rrealsies, things happening on the same planet at the same time crossover. So I was surprised to read both books back to back and feel the impulse to flip back and forth between the two to try and reconcile the timeline between them and the movies, particularly when Hadley’s Hope showed up.
Continuity nitpicks aside (“NEVER!” – my jerk of a subconscious), what we got were two very enjoyable books about the Xenomorphs and the Engineers. On this one, we get a crossover that somehow hasn’t worked as a video game in 20 years (but has led to some very enjoyable comics), and we get Ariel Olivetti, who is the best. The painted look should make for some very atmospheric monster comics.
Bravest Warriors #25 (BOOM! Studios)
This book is hilarious. It has everything you could want out of an all-ages book: a vaguely inappropriate Cards Against Humanity joke, grammar jokes, and the bad guy (Bugcat, or Mirror Universe Catbug if you will) talks in cursive. Cursive is the devil’s font.
Ex-Con #2 (Dynamite Entertainment)
Ex-Con is a fun but not perfect book. I’ve never read anything from Duane Swierczynski that wasn’t enjoyable – his Iron Fist was a great follow up to the Fraction/Brubaker run; I have a weird soft spot for Cable in general, and really liked his work on the book; Birds of Prey was a highlight of the DC reboot; and The Blonde and Severance Package were really fun novels. This book is him doing pretty straight forward ’80s crime noir. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it’s a solid read.
The art, from Keith Burns and Aikau Oliva, is mostly good, particularly the panel of the lambo heading into the sunset. But the quality does seem to trail off towards the end of the issue, like Burns was running out of time and had to power through the last couple of pages. If you like crime noir, this is worth picking up.
The October Faction #1 (IDW Publishing)
The October Faction, the new action horror comic from Steve Niles and Damien Worm, drops its first issue this week. The daguerreotype-looking artwork gives the comic a classic vibe that’s almost too on the nose, but doesn’t quite cross the line. The characters so far are interesting. It has a distinct “Aadams Family if they were also Van Helsings” vibe to it, with just enough lightness to let you know that it’s not taking itself too seriously.
There is still enough horror there, especially with Geoff and the dead jocks, to let you know that if Cousin Itt shows up, he’ll probably show up killing someone. Which I can’t believe didn’t already happen; that thing was terrifying. Itt, not Thing. Goddammit, now I’m all turned around.
Don’t forget to head below for potentially spoilerific Wytches conversation. That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?