So I got Battlefront. I haven’t really got too far into the game yet – I’m mostly just doing the tutorials still, what with me having to write for here, pretend to do a day job, and finish a master’s final project by the end of the week ::HEAVY, PANICKED BREATHING:: but I think my favorite part so far is the Wes Anderson mission title cards.
This week in comics: a lesbian hobbit on mushrooms goes sledding; Star Wars cross branding goes too far; Valiant shows the Eternal Warrior where he can put his happy ending; Andre the Giant gets canonized; we see Jim Lee’s best art in a decade; and Silent Hill gets turned into The Deer Hunter. But first, when is a debut comic not a debut comic? That’s not a riddle, sometimes comic publishing schedules get weird.
Curveball (Nobrow Press)
I have to get this out of the way first: I loved loved loved the production design on this book. I’m not going to buy a comic just because it looks nice on my shelf, nor would I keep something for just that reason, but speaking as the guy who ran a giveaway for the coolest looking shelf displays, I will DEFINITELY move a book to a position of prominence if it’s good enough to keep and it looks wonderful, and Curveball fits both bills. The neon orange pages sound gaudy when I describe them now, but I had a copy of this sitting on my table for a week and a half before I got a chance to read it, and me being the dork that I am, they looked so cool that they hyped me up for the story.
It was totally worth the hype, too. In what’s billed as Jeremy Sorese’s debut work (though I think a couple of Steven Universe comics got to shelves first), we see Avery, a waiter on a cruise ship in an almost retro sci-fi future, trying desperately to have a relationship with Christophe, a charming, selfish, indecisive piece of shit that you can instantly recognize from the real world, the kind of guy who floats between groups because he can never commit to being friends with just one, and he’s always hunting for someone better to hang out with. It’s a story that takes its time: the book is long, but can be a breezy read because of how much time Sorese put into sketching out the world of Curveball. There are dialogue-dense pages, but a lot of the book is sprawling, risozined retrofuture.
Sorese is a gifted cartoonist. His lines can be confusing, but only because of how intricate his backgrounds are, and his characters look like they could fit in late ‘60s/early ‘70s Disney shorts. And as you can probably tell, I think he’s a very effective writer. I don’t think I’m capable of having that visceral a reaction to a character unless he’s familiar and believable, but everyone in the book is. Jacqueline, Avery’s roommate, was so well established that I wanted her to be my best friend, too, and Avery was wonderful, sweet, funny or shakably self-pitying and pathetic at varying times in the story. Honest to god, I don’t think I’ve had this passionate a reaction to a relationship in fiction in a long time. I think it speaks very well of Sorese’s writing that I just wanted to shout “GODDAMMIT GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER! YOU’RE BETTER THAN THIS” at Avery and then hug the book. It was outstanding.
Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #1 (Valiant Comics)
Book of Death, like every Valiant crossover I’ve read so far, was excellent. It was good, high-stakes action that made it tough not to be invested in the Eternal Warrior and his relationship with the new Geomancer. And when it ended, it felt like they were giving him a shot at a happy ending.
In Wrath of the Eternal Warrior, his happy ending is being transported to some distant [time/alien planet, it’s not clear yet] and partnered with some kind of talky Sugar Man looking monster, while [bouncing/flashing: again, not clear yet] back and forth from an earlier time when he was happy and had a family. I’m a little upset that they’re twisting him away from being able to be content with his life, but that’s kind of how comics go. There’s no story in giving the Eternal Warrior a happy ending. It’s a strength of Robert Venditti’s script (and a sign of how deep into the Valiant universe I am now) that I was upset that Gilad didn’t get his happy ending, but I’m happy to have more of this series to check out.
Batman: Europa #1 (DC Comics)
Very little else is needed to get me to buy a comic: put Batman in it and have Jim Lee draw it and I’m pretty much there. You’d think I’d have learned by now, after “Hush” and the first arc of Justice League, but it doesn’t matter. The guy is still one of the most exciting, dynamic artists in all of comics. Hell, I can make fun of it, but the watercolor stuff in “Hush” was excellent and different and showed an experimental side that I think I appreciated more than anything Lee’s done since.
While this isn’t as dramatic a departure from his regular work as painting, Batman: Europa is probably the first time in 25 years that Lee is drawing over someone else’s layouts (Note: the only thing keeping me from talking 100% out of my ass here is that “probably,” so if you know I’m wrong, tell me in the comments). Giusseppe Camuncoli did the layouts, and I have to be honest, this book looks incredible. I would be just as likely to pay full cover price for an art book of this. The words are unnecessary. As long as it wasn’t black and white – Alex Sinclair’s colors look amazing here. And it’s really astounding to see how good Lee’s art looks without heavy inks over it. It’s probably heretical to say this, but I think I almost prefer it this way.
Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven (IDW Publishing)
It’s been a banner couple of years for Andre the Giant bio comics – no surprise, considering how many similarities wrestling and comics have, and how many fans of the squared circle work in the game. Box Brown’s critically acclaimed Andre the Giant: The Life and Legend was last year’s unauthorized version, and Closer to Heaven, by Brandon Easton and Denis Medri, is the latest. It was made with the blessing of Andre’s mostly estranged daughter, and that’s my only quibble with an otherwise excellent book.
Easton writes the story in the first person, as if Andre was directly narrating it, and as little as I know about the man, it did feel like he captured his voice very well. Andre was gentle and sweet and mostly beloved, and you feel that reading this. Medri has a very stylized, angular art which keeps the story moving through the behind-the-scenes parts and really shines during the matches. I have to imagine that it’s difficult to draw real people and real events without resorting to caricature or photorealism, but with Medri, everyone is recognizable, but everyone is his own sharp style, too.
Like I said, the story feels a little sanitized – not like rough edges were taken off of Fezzik, but like they were sanded out of the world around him. Vince McMahon is a scumbag in real life, but he’s presented here as a guy who was only looking out for Andre’s best interests (even though Vince encourages him to wrestle long after it’s clear that the game is killing Andre, a storytelling move that I think is actually subtly subversive). Even still, though, this is a very good, very sad tribute to what seemed like a pretty good guy.
Rat Queens #13 (Image Comics)
I’ve wanted to write about Rat Queens since I finished the first trade a few months ago because it is SO GOOD, but it kept getting bumped because there was something more “newsworthy” to cover, and it’s not like this would ever not be good, right? In retrospect, this was a needlessly ominous intro, since this issue of Rat Queens continues to be SO GOOD.
Rat Queens does two things exceptionally well: action and comedy. Kurtis Wiebe and Tess Fowler do great work balancing sword-swinging fantasy and absurd, ridiculous comedy. This latest issue is a bit of a breather after the Queens ended #12 trapped and unconscious in a blizzard. The team is at Mage University recuperating and picking up new gear – Dee runs into her brother; Violet and Betty go sledding, and Hannah dips into her past. It sounds like not a lot happens, but really, who’s reading this for the plot? There’s something snide or sarcastic or absurd or dickish on almost every page. I’m being dismissive of the action here, but that’s only because Wiebe and Fowler sell the jokes so well that I primarily think of this as comedy, and I read and love Rat Queens because it’s so damn funny.
Star Wars: Vader Down #1 (Marvel Comics)
It still amazes me, 13 issues into Darth Vader (counting this one), that it’s the Star Wars EU story that I like the most out of all of them. I’ve read a ton of post-A New Hope books that now only exist as echoes in our memories, the actual books cleansed in the great Disney Reboot Riots of 2014, leaving us as a collective post-Crisis Psycho Pirate, chattering about a world that never existed (Note: this did not happen).
Anyway, Darth Vader is the shit. Jason Aaron’s Star Wars is only slightly less the shit. Vader Down is NOT some kind of officially licensed The Force Awakens sex act, but the official kickoff of a story that Kieron Gillen built to over the last couple of issues of Vader: the titular Darth gets trapped on a planet, and some backstabbing turd leaks his whereabouts to the Rebellion, who promptly sends everything they have to try and kill him. Spoilers for those of you who haven’t seen Empire Strikes Back: what are you doing reading this column right now? You know he lives, right?
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 10th Anniversary edition of Elk’s Run, a messed up story by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon that’s basically “What if a bunch of Vietnam vets lived in Silent Hill?” I mean, it’s obviously more complicated than that – instead of turning into a horror movie version of itself where the walls bleed and giants with pyramid heads try and chop you in half every night, Elk’s Run (the town) turns into a horror movie version of itself where the Vietnam veterans who built and maintain the town as a secluded safe haven use cars to cut people in half who are trying to leave every night.
I’m exaggerating, but only a little. There’s something really creepy about this, a story about a town where people can’t leave, that I didn’t expect and still can’t quite put my finger on. I suspect that’s a ringing endorsement of the atmosphere that Fialkov and Tuazon created in the story. Tuazon’s art is sketchy and loose, and gets looser in flashbacks, giving the whole thing a dreamlike quality. The story is really tense and the town pretty messed up – on the whole, Elk’s Run is a supremely creepy comic well worth picking up.
That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?