Columns, Comics

New Comic Book Day: The Road to New York

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By the time you read this, I’ll probably be packing up my car for the great trek down to NYC for con. I’m excited, but I’m also a little bit terrified: this will be my first con where I can’t stagger into my own bed at night. Thanks to the generosity of a few friends, I’ll have to stagger to their bathrooms instead.

I’m probably most excited for the Daredevil/Jessica Jones panel. The DD panel last year was fantastic, and the show was somehow better than the previews, so I have ridiculously high expectations for the new ones. I’m also looking forward to reliving one of my first con experiences, only instead of getting my ass beat at Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance by some random 8 year old who had never played the game before, I’ll get my ass beat at Street Fighter V by some random 8 year old who had never played the game before. Yes, I know how to block. No, I don’t care to use it, Mother.

This week in comics, Mike Carey comes back; Jack Kirby communicates with the world through Alexis Ziritt’s acid trip; Ben McCool turns Garfield into a sadist; Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon give us hints about their relationship maybe question mark; Shane Davis gets creative; everyone who ever wrote a Batman book jumps on a weekly; and Brian Bendis spoils Secret Wars. But first, we watch Chip Zdarsky go an entire issue without making a single dick joke.

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Archie Comics

Jughead #1 (Archie Comics)

I don’t know why, but for some reason I was surprised that I loved Jughead. I guess I wasn’t surprised that I loved it, but more at how happy it made me. And even still, I shouldn’t have been.

I can’t think of a single thing that Chip Zdarsky or Erica Henderson have done separately that I haven’t really enjoyed – I have Howard the Duck and Squirrel Girl on my pull list, and Henderson’s work on Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures was excellent. I don’t think I really need to go into Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals. But for some reason, despite having read pretty much their entire CVs, Jughead still felt fresh and new and fun in an entirely different way than I’m used to. The absurdity that you would expect from Zdarsky from Howard and Sex Criminals and Kaptara is still there, but molded into the world of Archie around the pillars of Jughead’s character. There are still hints of the apple-cheeked characters and dynamic storytelling flow that Henderson brings to Squirrel Girl, but the smart, fun fashion design that isn’t front and center there is played up to great effect here, and instead of relying on action and patter to keep the panels moving, she uses posture and her talent for convincing, slightly exaggerated facial expressions to help the humor land.

This is the second book in the Archie modernization/reboot, and so far it’s been a smashing success. I really can’t recommend this comic highly enough. Also, hey, the cover that I posted with this review is the Francesco Francavilla variant – if you’re at NYCC this weekend, Archie has copies of that variant available, so go grab one.

You can pick up Jughead #1 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.

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Black Mask Studios

Space Riders #4 (Black Mask Studios)

I’ve been doing this for a year now, and I think the hardest thing I’ve had to do was try and describe this issue of Space Riders. Partially because I dropped in late – I haven’t read the first 3, but I scanned some preview pages and I had seen the covers, so I knew I wanted to look at it for the column, so there were gaps in my knowlege when I was reading the issue. Mostly, though, Space Riders is tough to describe because it is abjectly insane.

The book, created by Alexis Ziritt (who also does the art) and Fabian Rangel, Jr. (who also does the writing), follows Captain Peligro and his crew (a talking baboon and a lady robot) as they sail around space in a ship shaped like a skull called the Santa Muerte. Rangel’s script is grindhousey as hell, with loose cannons and a knife fight on asteroids and a skullship that destroys other spaceships with eye lasers. Ziritt’s art is just bonkers: the colors are aggressively disorienting (but intentionally so), and his pencils look like Jack Kirby drawing a Heavy Metal scene, but less subtle. I liked it the first time through, and reading it again, the ambition and creativity of the book made me like it even more.

You can pick up Space Riders #4 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.

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Dynamite Entertainment

The Misadventures of Grumpy Cat (And Pokey!) #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)

Ok, real talk time: I kind of rolled my eyes when this got announced. The realities of a comic book publication schedule mean that if you try and adapt a meme into comic form, the meme will be 3,000 internet years old by the time the book comes out. Seriously, Rickrolling is kind of like web Zoroastrianism at this point.

So I was…I guess “cautiously pessimistic” is the right way to put it. I knew I’d give it a shot, but a big part of me expected to pass on talking about it, and a small part held out hope that it would be so bad I’d get to thrash it.It’s cute. Neither one happened, though. It’s not going on my best of 2015 list or anything, but the Grumpy Cat book was a pleasant, if insubstantial, surprise.

It’s really light, but that’s (I think) because it’s aimed at kids – not early readers, but not YA fans either. The issue has four stories. The first, from Ben McCool and Steve Uy, is about Grumpy’s brother Pokey finding a treasure map and convincing Grumpy to go with him to a haunted house to retrieve the treasure. The second, from Ben Fisher and Michelle Nguyen, has Grumpy trying to show Pokey and  fellow pet Dog how to turn on the TV. The third is Grumpy and Pokey as super heroes, by Ken Hauser and Royal McGraw. The last one is a two pager from Elliott Serrano and Uy about the cats at comic con. The unifying theme behind all four is that Grumpy Cat isn’t just grumpy, she’s also a sadist constantly trying to get Dog and Pokey to hurt themselves, and that’s where a lot of my enjoyment came from. It’s fun and quick, and probably a good book to give to a kid in your life. Especially if that kid hates Man of Steel like me and Grumpy Cat do.

You can pick up The Misadventures of Grumpy Cat (And Pokey!) #1 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.

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Image Comics

Axcend #1 (Image Comics)

So I probably should read more from Shane Davis. Actually, I think I just wish he would write more, because the first issue of his new comic from Image, Axcend, was surprisingly good.

His art has always been good. Solid enough where I would consider flipping through the Superman: Earth One comics despite my problems with the writing, but I wasn’t expecting his writing to be this skillful. He takes a tired premise kids get sucked into the video game that they’re playing – and turns it just enough that it’s still recognizable, but is different enough to be really interesting. He’s got an eye for ridiculous game set design, and a willingness to experiment with his own work in a very ambitious way: he switches gears to watercolors for a dream sequence, and even though the idea of a style change is obvious for a dream sequence, it works, and it looks fantastic. Eric, the main character, is subtle and sad in how he’s portrayed. Davis does a great job of not going over the top with Eric’s dialogue, trusting his art and dialing back what might have ended up sap. And I genuinely did not see the last page twist coming. I really enjoyed this comic.

You can pick up Axcend #1 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.

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DC Comics

Batman & Robin Eternal #1 (DC Comics)

A new weekly Batman title starts this week, and as hard as it is to get excited about having $4 a week drained from my bank account, look at all the people working on this comic. Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV are “showrunning,” and they’ve brought in Steve Orlando, Genevive Valentine, Tim Seeley and Ed Brisson (among others) to script individual issues. That’s pretty much everybody doing good work on a Bat-family, and the Batman comics are really good right now. Tony Daniel adds art on this first issue, and he puts in the same work he’s been doing on Batman for more or less 8 years (JESUS almost a decade) now: the action looks good, the faces are expressive, the inks are a little heavy, but all in all he’s doing good work.

I really hope that the creative team isn’t saving story beats that should happen in other books for Eternal, but that aside, I’m actually looking forward to a weekly series for the first time since like, halfway through 52.

You can pick up Batman & Robin Eternal #1 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.

Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics

Invincible Iron Man #1 (Marvel Comics)

These Secret Wars delays are killer. Last week, a New Avengers preview showed that Ultimate Reed Richards made it off of Battleworld. This week, the point one book shows the remnants of the world, and the last page of Invincible Iron Man…well, it’s a pretty massive spoiler, but I’m sure some less reputable corner of the internet is going to have it up by now, so go ahead. I’ll wait.

You back? It’s not terribly surprising from a meta-comic-industry perspective, but for the end of Secret Wars, it’s pretty disappointed to find out, right?

Anyway, setting that aside, I find it fascinating who works well with Brian Michael Bendis (who takes over Stark’s adventures with this issue) and who doesn’t. I think it might be artists who keep the page interesting either through their facial expressions or the mood they set. So people like David Mack or Michael Gaydos kill it because they click with him instantly on tone, while Sara Pichelli or David Marquez can do the comic equivalent of Abed monologuing and make the page look exciting. He’s with Marquez here, and so far it looks fantastic. Bendis always does great worldbuilding, so I think this book should be solid.

You can pick up Invincible Iron Man #1 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.

BOOM! Studios

BOOM! Studios

Rowans Ruin #1 (BOOM! Studios)

I cut a bunch of books when I made the move. Like, 3 long boxes full of trades. And my selection process was kind of slapdash: my Robo trades went to the library because I’ve got the Kickstarter hardcovers coming in a few months, whereas I had a bunch of books that I looked at that I hadn’t read in a year and had no burning desire to reread, so they went. When I got to the bottom shelf, where, like all right-thinking Americans who shelf their comics alphabetically by title or character family then chronologically according to that character’s timeline, I got to Mike Carey’s X-Men, even though I hadn’t read it in a bit, there was never any question in my mind that it was coming with me. Carey has a way of writing characters that are instantly familiar, and working on serials like an X-comic, he uses that as a way to really dig deep into long-running staples like Rogue.

His work at Boom has been as good, but wholly his own. I really enjoyed Suicide Risk, and this week, he gets to work with Mike Perkins again on Rowans Ruin, a haunted house story. Comics like this, slow-burn horror over multiple issues, are really difficult to do well, but Carey and Perkins nail it. The issue opens at (presumably) the end of the series, with Katie, the main character, running from unseen monsters. It then jumps back to show how she got there – a house swap with a random Brit leads to her vacationing in Rowans Rise, and Carey and Perkins spend the rest of the issue slowly building the creepy factor into the story. Andy Troy does a great job of using the colors to help with the horror atmosphere. Perkins and Carey instantly mesh, and the result of all three is a very good first issue of what I expect to be a very good horror comic.

You can pick up Rowans Ruin #1 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.

ONE THAT uh…won’t GET AWAY

Every week there are way too many comics for me to read and keep track of. And SOMETIMES, I get a peek at a book that’s still a little ways out that’s so good (or so bad, but I haven’t got one of those yet. I’ll keep you updated) that I need to talk about it.

Dark Horse Comics

Dark Horse Comics

That was the case with Two Brothers, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s comic adaptation of Brazilian novelist Milton Hatoum’s book, The Brothers. Hatoum’s book is an internationally acclaimed piece of literary fiction, and Ba and Moon’s adaptation of it is so good that it should win the same praise.

I keep hammering this, but when something is being adapted into (or out of) comic form, the creators need to have good reasons for the adaptation. Moon and Ba answer that question almost immediately: I read the comic, and I’m about halfway through the novel, and they already did me a solid by changing up my reading pattern. My last 5 books have been hard sci-fi, hard sci-fi, star wars, a deconstruction of American Idol as a tool for normalizing neoliberalism, and hard sci-fi in that order. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets bogged down in genre fiction and class work, so expanding their fans’ reading tastes is important and helpful. But beyond that, they show why this should be adapted almost immediately: the art adds emotion that wasn’t really there in the book.

The story is presented almost exactly the same, with lines of dialogue and narration sometimes lifted word for word from the original story. But the artwork is so stylized and full of dark shadows, cartoony and yet weirdly sexy at the same time, that the mood of the comic is completely different. There’s a scene about a third of the way through where a woman dances in a silver dress at a family party that is such a dramatic improvement in the comic over the novel that there’s no question in my mind that this book was worth making.

Two Brothers is artistically stunning; sad, beautiful, exciting, passionate, and one of the best comics I’ve read all year.

You can pick up Two Brothers next week (October 14th) at your friendly local comic shop or online via Dark Horse.com.

That’s what I’m reading this week. And hey, if you’re at NYCC, leave a note in the comments, maybe we can throw together a TRV reader meet up on the fly. What are you picking up?

About Author

Jim Dandeneau is many things: motorcycle tech, plastics executive, accomplished Highlander. But above all else, he is a comic book fan, and has been reviewing comics and covering cons for TRV since 2014.