Not much more than a week after DC canned a bunch of books, the powers that be out in California turned around and uncanceled one of them, the critically acclaimed and loved-passionately-by-Jim Omega Men. Of course, a bunch of people complaining about something online has only worked as a problem-solving tool like, twice in the history of human society, but that shouldn’t prevent me from ignoring all past results to take credit for the book’s successful reinstatement. If history is any guide, that means that I should probably go start my own site full of shoddily sourced rumors, inane speculation and EXCLUSIVE solicit reveals for a niche publisher. The punchline of this joke is there’s more than one comic site I could be making fun of here.
This week in comics, we get a book about a Spotify playlist; a book about an emo princess; a book that should be about an awesome dog; a book that is about an awesome dog; a book where you shouldn’t get too attached to the dogs; and a book about the worst class trip ever. But first, a book about Dick.
Grayson #12 (DC Comics)
I got Absolute Batman, Inc. for my birthday, and then I got the first Grayson trade a week later and they made me so happy. Absolute Batman, Inc. for the obvious reasons: the Absolute editions are the best. Expensive, but worth every penny. I liked Grayson for different reasons, obviously. Normally when people follow Grant Morrison on a comic, their job is to take a giant eraser to the prior few years of stories. Grayson not only rolls with it, but it uses Forever Evil to dig around in the wacky espionage corner of the DCU.
Seriously, what’s most impressive about Grayson isn’t that Tom King (reminder: we continue to accept applications to join TKTRVFBs) and Tim Seeley are using the same toys that Morrison set up. It’s that they manage to hit the same tone – my favorite part of Batman, Inc. was how it was the ‘60s TV show played as a spy thriller. Grayson is a ‘60s spy show – The Avengers crossed with The Prisoner and peak-Connery Bond – dressed up in superhero clothes. Mikel Janin delights in Dick’s acrobatics, drawing his motion so fluidly and energetically that it’s hard not to get excited by the art. This issue (and Batman: Eternal year 2) pull Dick back into Gotham, but this book is so much fun that it could go anywhere and it’d still be a great read.
Ricardo Cavolo’s new comic isn’t a graphically presented story as much as it is an illuminated travelogue through music history, but it is pretty great, and like the best comics, aggressively interactive.
Cavolo lays out at the start of the book that he’s not trying to push his music on anyone else, or declaim the superiority of his tastes or anything like that. He says he’s trying to open a conversation about what people love and why they love it, trying to use the passion people have when they hear their favorite songs to help them connect. Trying to induce a little backdoor compassion. He does conveniently include a link to a Spotify playlist at the back so you can listen along, but again, this is more a conversation piece.
Saying “it’s not really a comic” isn’t entirely fair, either. Cavolo talks less about the technical accomplishments of each artist and more about how their music makes him feel, and pairs each text entry with a full page illustration hitting most of the points he raises. They’re all very thoughtful, some with potentially uncomfortable insights about Cavolo as a teenager. The production quality of the book is fantastic, too – this is the kind of book with a subject that you should want to leave on a coffee table, to generate conversation when you have friends over. Nobrow made the packaging perfect for that. And oh yeah, I call dibs on “Backdoor Compassion” as the title of my biography and/or sex tape.
You can pick up 101 Artists To Listen To Before You Die at your friendly local comic shop.
Princeless: Be Yourself #4 (Action Lab Entertainment)
I totally get why people have been raving about Princeless now. It’s smart, self-aware, fun fantasy that twists tropes around to surprise the reader, with really fun art from Emily Martin.
The Princeless books are the story of Princess Adrienne Ashe, on a quest to free her six sisters from various prisons. It’s explicitly about taking down stereotypes about women in fantasy stories, and the joy Jeremy Wheatley takes in subverting these tropes is where a lot of the fun of Princeless comes from. Be Yourself is about freeing Angoisse, the “middlest” of seven sisters, a goth with self-esteem issues who fell in with an abusive, smooth talking vampire trying to kill Adrienne. Wheatley and Martin address the self-esteem issues without being too after-school-specially, and Martin draws a goblin poolside bar, which, if I rated books on stars, is at least a 3 star bump on its own.
Inhumans: Attilan Rising #5 (Marvel Comics)
I’m starting to put together my NYCC preview (2 WEEKS oh god where am I gonna sleep), and I made a startling discovery: in addition to writing like, 35 different comics each month AND being a practicing attorney, Charles Soule also apparently plays Rock and or Roll. Seriously. My jaw hit the floor when I saw that. I can’t find the time to do this, a day job and occasionally go to the gym, so big thanks to Charles “da Vinci” Soule for making me feel GREAT about myself.
Attilan Rising ties in as much to what Soule was doing on the regular Inhumans series as it does with Secret Wars, and the biggest thread he’s pulled through here is the conflict between Medusa and Black Bolt. Blackagar (I love typing that name) was the leader of an underground resistance to Doom, and as the regent of one of the countries of Battleworld, Medusa was charged with tracking down that resistance. She captured him and interrogated him last issue, before listening to his accusations and ultimately (spoilers) joining the resistance. We find out in this, the series finale, whether they’re successful (and whether they survive).
If I HAD to complain, I’d probably have to nitpick. John Timms draws fun, pretty superhero art, and Soule does a good job of continuing to tell his story even when he’s forced into a giant crossover, something a lot of creators weren’t able to do in the face of Secret Wars. I guess I could whine about the scheduling and lateness on the main series making it so the tie-ins are wrapping up just as the big story feels like it’s getting going, but like I said, nitpick. This is a good comic.
Wild’s End: The Enemy Within #1 (BOOM! Studios)
Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard are quickly becoming one of those creative pairs where I’ll buy anything they do, up there with Morrison and Quitely or Fraction and Zdarsky or Fraction and Aja. They are seriously that good. New Deadwardians took like, four different washed-up tropes and combined them into a comic that was intensely fun to read, and I have yet to hear someone say something bad about the first Wild’s End series (and PS: the trade is out October 14th, and you should all buy that. It’s excellent). The last story, a mash up of The Wind in the Willows and War of the Worlds, saw an exceedingly competent Doberman, a veteran of some undisclosed foreign war, defending the village of Upper Deeping from a Martian pod. The new series picks up with the survivors held by the Army and two science fiction authors brought in to consult on what they might be facing, as the Army worries that one of the survivors may be an alien in disguise.
I don’t really need to go too deep into how great Abnett is as a writer. I have the entire Marvel Space collection in trade from Annihilation to The Thanos Imperative, and in a week or so, I’ll have finished my first single-issue run collection ever (DnA Legion). Culbard, though, is less of a known quantity, and a phenomenal talent. In this and the previous series, he’s drawing talking animals who feel buttoned up and emotive at the same time, going from quiet talking heads panels in a locked room to drawing a Martian pod chasing a turn of the century car with a cat firing a shotgun at it. His art is deceptively complex, and he’s one of my favorites.
The biggest problem with telling stories set in Victorian/Edwardian times, even with anthropomorphized animals or vampire detectives, is how unavoidable class issues are. They either end up as screeds against the unfairness of the system, or they’re Julian Fellowes giving a gummy beejer to the concept of social betters. Abnett and Culbard sidestep all of that by focusing on their plots and building such immersive worlds that you can’t focus on anything but the story they’re telling. The first Wild’s End series was incredible, and the new one started just as good.
The Golden Compass volume 1 (Random House)
Here we have a perfect case study for the second principle of adaptations (the first being “Why does this need adapting?”): When transferring a story from one medium to another, it will ultimately be remembered by the quality of the one in the broadest medium. The average public knows almost nothing about The Godfather or Gone With The Wind as novels, and Fellowship of the Ring wouldn’t have become the cultural phenomenon it did without Led Zeppelin IV. But this rule is a sword that cuts both ways YES like Isildur, Robert Plant. Jesus, man, dial it back for a second.
For those of you who haven’t read them, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books are intense; dense and thoughtful storytelling with a veneer of “kid’s story,” but with genuinely scary parts and, if you squint not very hard, a clear ideology. They have, like all great kid’s stories, something interesting for everyone hearing it, and the rich, steampunk but not annoying world that Pullman created for his characters is precisely the answer to the “Why adapt this?” question.
The heavy lifting on adaptations like this falls on the artist, and I’m sure there was a temptation to half-ass it and lean on Pullman’s source material. Fortunately, and what makes this version worth buying as much as the novels themselves, Clement Oubriere handles it extremely well. The characters look like something out of a children’s book, but the backgrounds are every bit as intricate and gorgeous as the ones I made up in my head. If you haven’t read the source material, these graphic novels are a good place to start.
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 No Mercy volume 1, an inexpensive entry point to a great series by Alex de Campi, Carla Speed McNeil and Jenn Manley Lee. I know I talked about how much I liked the first issue, and even with a good first issue, No Mercy got a lot better as it went along.
Teenagers are annoying. This is an indisputable fact. They were annoying when we were them. We were annoying when we were teenagers. (Accept this.) Which speaks to one of the underlying problems a writer faces when trying to create good teenage characters: How does one make them believable and still entertaining to read? De Campi does a great job of finding that sweet spot: despite the fact that this entire series is about 19 year old know-it-alls making terrible survival decisions, I never once cringed and shouted at the book. It’s mostly because she keeps the story moving quickly and gave each character a distinct, interesting story and voice. Also the emoji dialogue. McNeil and Lee’s art is very good HOLY SHIT I just realized that it looks like a more polished, more graphic-storytelling style Magic School Bus and now No Mercy somehow got even better.
That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?