The worst part about getting older is when hair of the dog stops working. I’m right now on the tail end of a crippling, wedding-related (not mine) two day hangover that, once upon a time, would have been halted in its tracks by a hearty, pork-heavy brunch and those 4 bloody marys that I did on Sunday. Instead, I’m slogging through forced human contact, trying toOH I bet it’s only supposed to work in moderation. Dammit, this would have worked fine 3 years ago. DAMN YOU, WRONG SIDE OF 30.
Anyway, forming coherent thoughts makes my brain feel like it’s crawling over muddy glass, so please forgive any brevity. With that in mind, this week’s comics are very good, good, good, ridiculous, great, and hilarious.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT’S NOT ENOUGH? Ok, first, one comic was very bad.
Altered States: The Shadow (Dynamite Entertainment)
I read this on a 3 hour flying bus ride in a seat not meant for a man of my…generous carriage, with a screaming child two rows in front of me, a toddler kicking the back of my seat saying “I’m naughty. I’m naughty.” over and over again, and beside me, some kind of dessicated, shambling mummy who spent the flight humming and/or complaining about the crying baby. This comic was without a doubt the worst part of the flight. I went in expecting the Shadow in some kind of cyberpunk hellhole, and what I got was the Shadow in a couple of weird colors and a story that meant literally nothing – it wasn’t an exploration of the Shadow’s personality or powers in a different time, it was a set up for a comic that won’t happen.
This book would actually be less objectionable if it were the first issue of an ongoing. Slightly. The art was adequate and the colors were…colorful, I guess. The colorist took “future Shadow” as a concept, slapped a few pinks and shiny whites on a checkerboard and called it futuristic. The story was inexplicable, though – it’s 22 pages of setup, and ends with the main character psychically rushing off to fight some cyborgs or some shit. I can forgive a lot of failure in comics, but meaninglessness is one thing that drives me insane. At least try and do or say something interesting.
I read this issue again after a half a bottle of Advil, a gallon of water and a nap, and this still felt like the most pointless comic I’ve seen in months. Unless you’ve got some kind of completist’s compulsion for all things the Shadow, I suggest you stay far away.
You can pick up Altered States: The Shadow at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.
Jem & The Holograms #1 (IDW Publishing)
Jem was the one Sunbow show I never really got into, and I feel like there’s benefit to me coming in fresh on this. I know next to nothing about the show and the characters, and I can’t help but look at this in comparison to that disastrous Shadow book and recognize a great first issue when I see it.
Campbell and Thompson do such a fantastic job of getting everything important about the characters across in a handful of panels. Jerrica is shy but brilliant, Shana is the glue, Kimber is going to be trouble and Aja is the one who’ll take Kimber’s bait every time. Campbell’s art is typically excellent – different body types, expressive faces, impressively implausible fashion on Jem and subtle but clear body language cues that do as much to characterize as the plot and dialogue. Seriously, my first experience with her art was on Glory, and while it was great there, it is much, much better here. And Kelly Thompson’s writing shows who each character is through their interactions, not through thought balloon diktat. She sets up the conflict in the first arc really well.
I am a little disappointed that there are 700 million variant covers and not a single one from Kevin Wada or Kris Anka in there, but I expect that will be rectified soon. I feel like they’re twin robots, sent tumbling through time from a 1980s record label into today, destined to save comic costume design from the horrifyingly impractical. That disappointment aside, this is a textbook first issue that longtime Jem fans should adore, and people looking to make their own comics should read to see how it’s done.
You can pick up Jem & The Holograms #1 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.
Adventures of Superman vol. 3 (DC Comics)
This week is the third (and final) collection of Adventures of Superman, the digital-first, continuity-agnostic Superman book that brought in different creative teams to play around with their iconic character, often times producing the best pure Superman stories out there.
The standout in this volume is from Ron Marz and Doc Shaner, an extended Iron Giant riff about a giant Kryptonian robot coming to Metropolis and fighting crime with Superman. It’s a very emotional tale, and Shaner’s art is outstanding, going from big, citywide fights to little shrugs with ease. It was an incredible story, and should be required reading for anyone coming onto the Superman books – not that the current team needs much of a refresher, what with last week’s exceptional Superman-as-regular-dude story.
My preference isn’t to review collections of reprints of digital-first stuff here – I’d rather go over stuff that’s a liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittle newer. But that Marz/Shaner story is absolutely worth the cost of the full book just by itself, and you’re getting 3 other stories in here, at least one of which I can vouch for as being also very solid – the Keatinge story it closes with is a lot of fun. This series was such a great distillation of Superman’s universe that you really should take a look at it.
You can pick up Adventures of Superman volume 3 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.
The October Girl #4 (Monkeybrain Comics)
The October Girl is a series from Matthew Dow Smith about Autumn Ackerman, a girl who discovers that her old imaginary friend is real, and that discovery sends her tumbling into a fantasy mystery that, as of this issue, gets a couple of decent sized revelations out.
The art is very strong. It’s got big, thick, heavy inks from Dow Smith – it looks like a cross between Mignola and Oeming, but black and white. The story is very slow burn, but Dow Smith plays with the structure of his scripting in a way that I really enjoyed: the first page of both issues I read is almost prose, with text down the left half of the page and panels down the right. Then there are some tricks that, while I’m not certain that they were necessarily intentional, I liked a ton. The camera angles on a couple of the middle pages looked like they were inversions of each other, adding an interesting sub-layer to the reading experience.
It could probably stand to pick up the pace a little, but I like how Monkeybrain and The October Girl are messing with the conventions of what a comic is with their stuff. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.
You can pick up The October Girl #4 online via Comixology.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #1 (Marvel Comics)
Is it weird that I’m excited for a comic that ties into Disney World’s second shittiest roller coaster? I had the same reaction to a Big Thunder Mountain comic as I did when a Pirates of the Caribbean movie was announced – “what the actual hell?”
I know I could read the solicit and probably find out more about this book, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by it. I do know that Dennis Hopeless is writing, and he’s usually pretty solid. I have to assume that it’s going to include at least one runaway train, and I’m setting the over/under on toothless prospectors at 1.5. And there’s probably a train robbery. And a moderate but not quite uncomfortable amount of sideways G-force.
Quite frankly, I hope they run this “let’s turn rides into media” trend into the ground. I can’t wait for them to change Thor to Epcot’s The Norway Ride and have Thor fight his greatest villains: damp feet and unjustified hype.
You can pick up Thank God It’s Not That Aerosmith One, Because Those Guys Are The Pits at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.
The Valiant #4 (Valiant Comics)
This is the series you give people if you want to get them into Valiant books. The Valiant wraps up this week with an absolutely terrific final issue, with moving, meaningful stuff from Lemire, Kindt and the Riveras.
Paolo and Joe Rivera’s art is just fantastic. The action is all clear and crisp, and there’s genuine horror in his depiction of the immortal enemy – there were a couple of panels where I stepped back for a second and thought “oh wow, that’s some serious nightmare fuel right there.”
And I’m not the only one who geeks out over process stuff, right? A lot of Kodansha manga has in the back translator’s notes that explain some of the decisions they made bringing it to an English-language audience and the subtle differences a Japanese reader might pick up, and I spend almost as much time pouring over that as I do the stories themselves. The same thing goes for Dave Lanphear’s process pages at the end of the final issue of The Valiant. Even before I saw the process conversation in the backmatter for the book, I was impressed with how much the lettering looked like something pulled from a classic comic strip, but hearing his step by step guide for why he made the lettering choices he did made me go back and reread the whole issue again. I’m not the kind of guy who shamelessly geeks himself over the minutiae of a comic production, but nevermind I totally am and this book was the total package.
You can pick up The Valiant #4 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.
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.
This week, it’s Sexcastle, which I was mildly disappointed to learn wasn’t softcore Nathan Fillion fanfic. It is, however, Kyle Starks’ Kickstartered homage to ’80s action movies that made me laugh harder than any comic since the first volume of God Hates Astronauts. Sexcastle is magical. It parodies every single thing about those movies, uses ridiculous sound effects, has BOTH Jean Claudes Van Damme (from Double Impact, of course) and makes fun of the bad guy for smoking cloves. I’m like, 93% certain that this comic was pulled from dreams I’ve had about action movies and sarcasm. So while I’m going to read Sexcastle again and again, I hope that Starks stays out of my brain for his next book. It’s terrifying and cobwebby and smells like vodka.
You can pick up Sexcastle at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.
That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?