The news hit a little bit too late for me to get it into last week’s column, but you may have seen me on Twitter blubbering about the announcement that Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the most talented, thoughtful writers working for any publication right now (and out and proud geek) is going to be launching a new Black Panther series with Brian Stelfreeze. That’s a hell of a team. Stelfreeze is great – Day Men was a lot of fun, and his early ‘90s trading cards are as responsible as the X-Men cartoon for my fanboyishness. And regardless of what you may think of the conclusions Coates draws, you cannot read anything he’s written and then try and tell me that he doesn’t know how to tell a story. Sure, the comic medium is structured differently, but putting him with a pro like Stelfreeze means even if there is an adjustment period to the new medium, we won’t notice in the end product.
Speaking of the X-Men cartoon, this week in comics, holy cats, did you see this?
X-Men ‘92 #4 (Marvel Comics)
The first print issue of this series sold 100,000 copies.
No bullshit. Almost a hundred thousand people bought print copies of a digital-native book making fun of on an old cartoon. That’s astounding, and that there’s enough nostalgia to justify a jokey book like this getting extended post-Secret Wars into an ongoing and yet we still can’t get a Thundercats show to last more than a season and a half really chaps my ass.
I’m not really being fair to X-Men ‘92 here. Scott Koblish’s artistic chameleon work is everything that’s good about nostalgia. We can crap on the ‘90s all we want, but those costumes, the vibrancy and energetic and over-the-top art and colors, even if they weren’t really realistic, were still more than enough to hook me for the rest of my life, and Koblish takes everything that was good about the art from back then and doesn’t fall into any of the traps or shortcuts that plagued cape art from the time. As for the writing, it reads like a couple of friends MST3King the cartoon. If you’ve ever read anything Chris Sims has written about the show, you’re pretty well prepared for what you’ll find here: broad, absurd comedy with a few inspired jokes (“It not you, it Gambit” was brilliant) and solid action.
Airwolf: Airstrikes (IDW Publishing)
This is the other side of the nostalgia coin – whereas the X-Men cartoon was the cornerstone of a generation’s love of of comics, Airwolf was just there. Honestly, I’ve never had someone say “you know what I wish they’d bring back? Airwolf.” And I have friends who got excited about a Go-Bots revival. Sure, they tried to mask it with ironic hipster detachment, but they were really psyched for it. Anyway, despite it being Knight Rider with better guns – and every Knight Rider revival has been a disaster – hey Airwolf is back! And it’s pretty pointless.
Don’t get me wrong – the comics are competent, sometimes even pretty good. There’s a lot of solid talent doing good work here: Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman have a story that’s fun, and Jack Jadson draws a pretty good helicopter-fighter jet dogfight. But I don’t really get why this was made. If you’re looking to relaunch Airwolf as a property, to hook people into the Airwolf story, an anthology book makes your job infinitely harder. Instead of having an ongoing series and one overarching story to tell, you’re chopping it up into smaller chunks and making sure that there’s no consistent voice through the series. And it was a high enough bar to begin with. It’s a comic based on a show that was on for four seasons 30 years ago. Hell, even when Rick & Morty went there they only made fun of Jan Quadrant Vincent 16.
Batman Annual #4 (DC Comics)
I’ve had some friends grumble about the changes Scott Snyder is making to Batman – nothing serious, no fire-eaters shouting about how they’re boycotting DC and starting a Bring Back Bruce Wayne (BBBW) Facebook group (gonna get a lot of people signing up and then quitting in a huff after a half an hour of not finding what they thought they were getting). Just assuming a lack of permanence about Gordon being Appleseed Bats, and how they’re looking forward to the telegraphed return to the status quo. I’m not really that bothered by the changes, though.
Everyone who comes into a long-running story like this doesn’t add to the whole story so much as they add a few threads or take a closer look at one part of the big picture. What I’m really enjoying about Snyder’s time in the Bat-universe is where he’s focusing – he’s not really telling a story about Bruce Wayne, or Marine Hair Jim Gordon or Alfred. I mean, he is, but they’re not the point of what he’s examining. He’s telling a story about Gotham itself, about the flow and the history of the city, about why it is what it is and how it shaped the people who live there. That’s right up my alley. There were flashes of it in Morrison’s run – there was an extended riff on how Gotham works in “RIP,” and it was an underlying theme in the lead up to Batman’s death – but the best place I’ve ever seen it done is Soule’s Strange Attractors, one of the best secret Batman stories ever.
But Snyder’s gone deep in-universe, and it’s great. Here, James Tynion (who is an incredible talent, might I remind you) spends some more time on the impact not being Batman has had on – hot Ryu – Bruce Wayne. Sean Murphy drew the cover and should really draw more (all) Batman stuff, and Roge Antonio is on interiors and he’s great – like a manga Patrick Gleason.
Universal War 1 (Titan Comics)
I’m prone to gawping at pictures of space. I wouldn’t call it a personal failing, but I have disappeared for hours into those space porn slideshows that the Internet epidemiologists periodically unleash on Facebook as a benign study of clickbait vectors. So I’m a pretty obvious mark for Denis Barjam’s French comic, translated and released in the US by Titan this week.
It should come as no surprise that I was initially SUPER into this book. It’s a hard sci-fi story about a war in our solar system between Earth and the outer colonies, and Barjam’s art is stunning. It’s huge and intricate. His ships are all kinds of cool, sleek but craggy and realistic feeling. Everything that happens in space in Universal War 1 is great. And all the science stuff! The time dilation and wormhole stuff is awesome.
I’m not really sure about how I feel about what happens on the ships, though. Specifically, I’m talking about Amina, a member of “Purgatory Squad,” a group of military criminals who lead the way past a mysterious black “wall” that has enveloped much of the outer system. She seems to exist just to be a victim of repeated sexual assaults. It took me right out of the book, because it was unnecessary, like Barjam was trying to give her tragic motivations but just ended up being insensitive. I can’t remember where I saw it, but someone posited a rule about rape as a woman’s motivation in comics: “if you’re thinking about putting a rape in your comic, don’t.” Seems like pretty good life advice. But for that one problem, UW1 is a great book, and one that I would recommend with that caveat to most sci-fi fans.
Anibal 5 (Humanoids)
This is a bizarre old sex comedy written by Alejandro Jodorowsky and drawn by Georges Bess that originally came out in the ‘90s in Europe, but is being made available in the US for the first time this week by Humanoids, and it’s pretty funny. It’s a far future, absurd sci-fi where a sex-addict secret agent has to fight to protect Earth from all sorts of crazy shit. And instead of the suave, debonair, tuxedo wearing sociopath we’re used to, we meet Anibal as an undercover, bronze age native who has to vomit up a gun to complete his mission.
It’s pretty funny, and Bess’ artwork is awesome. The attention to detail is great, and he does the grotesque and absurd just as easily as he does intricate sci-fi design and gorgeous landscapes. And it’s Jodorowsky – you know what you’re getting with him if you’ve seen any of his movies. I liked this one a lot.
From Under Mountains #1 (Image Comics)
This is the 8house adjacent series from Marian Churchland, Claire Gibson and Sloane Leong that was announced at Image Expo. Arclight significantly raised the bar for this book, and I was really happy that it delivered.
Churchland and Gibson developed the story, while Churchland handled some design work and layouts, Gibson scripted, and Leong did the finished art, but the working partnership was absolutely seamless. Leong’s art is similar to Churchland’s in that it thrives in quiet moments, using facial expressions and body language expertly to tell the story. From Under Mountains is hard fantasy, with a rogue, a noble, a warrior and a mage all playing significant roles in the first issue, and an evil specter floating around doing some damage already. It’s really good, and Leong’s art gets better and better the more time you spend with it. It’s really subtle, but also capable of beautiful weirdness and sweeping elegance at the same time.
Vinland Saga vol. 6 (Kodansha Comics)
I know it’s beside the point to rave about production values, because who reads a comic for the way the hardcover feels in your hand? But still, man, I really love the way Vinland Saga feels in my hand. Also, the story is awesome.
Vinland Saga starts out as a story about a young boy seeking revenge for his father, and slowly morphs into a story about how revenge has hollowed out Thorfinn over the years. It’s all set against the backdrop of Viking raids and Danish/English politics, and dressed up in some of the best, goriest action sequences in all of comics, but in the end, it’s actually pretty personal. It’s been one of my Year of Reading More Manga favorites, which might culminate at NYCC next week when I try and hunt down all of Pluto. Wish me luck.
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 the Ignatz Award-winning Sex Fantasy by Sophia Foster-Dimino. The Ignatz Awards honor small press and indie creators for “challeng[ing]popular notions of what comics can achieve,” and viewed through that lens, Sex Fantasy deserved the award.
That came out backhanded, and I didn’t mean it that way. What Foster-Dimino has done with her webcomic is create a smart, thought-provoking work of self-examination that, taken as a whole (there are six “issues” spanning more than two years) is a diary of how she’s changed as an artist and storyteller. The first three issues are narrated in the first person, almost as a confessional – “I’m a gift,” “I can lend you an allen wrench,” “I like your smile” – each accompanied by an artistic expression (or sometimes subversion) of the text. The fourth issue flips to second person and has the narrator (or at least that’s how I read it) from the first two issues taking emotional abuse from someone close to her, and ends with her waking up in tears on a couch. The last two are windows into uncomfortable, honest conversations between two characters.
Foster-Dimio’s art starts out simplistic and uncomplicated, but thoughtfully composed and very expressive. You can almost watch her gaining confidence as the series goes on as she starts to add more detail to each panel and gets a little more abstract in some of her panel constructions. Sex Fantasy is a bit of a misnomer – I’m not really sure whose sex fantasy it is, since I didn’t see a single clown getting stepped on by a woman in high heels – but whatever it’s called, it’s a great comic, and I can’t wait to see more from her.
You can read Sex Fantasy online at Sophia Foster-Dimino’s web site.
That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?