Last Week’s Comics 7/9/14

Stray # 1

thumbnail-3(Full Court Press – writer: Vito Delsante; Art: Sean Izaakse)

Stray is the story of Rodney Weller. Born the son of a superhero, Rodney took on the identity of Rottweiler, sidekick to his father, the Doberman. The first issue introduces Rodney, gives us a glimpse of the time he spent with his father and his super powered pantheon, the Aegis, and starts setting up how his world has fallen apart. Delsante and Izaakse do an incredible amount of world-building and kick their plot into high gear by the final page. It’s a helluva first issue!

The story is told in the present day and in flashbacks. In the past, Doberman gives his son a code, not unlike the code Batman gave Robin in Legends of the Dark Knight #100 or Batman: Dark Victory. In the present, a shadowy figure fights Doberman, resulting in the hero getting tossed out a window a la the Comedian in Watchmen. One of the clever things about this comic is how they use two different colorists. Simon Gough colors the present day material, while Ross Campbell serves as colorist in the flashbacks. Gough’s colors are darker, more muted. The present is a gritty place, yet it’s too present to be nostalgic. The only superhero we see in the present is Doberman, and he gets murdered. In contrast, Campbell’s pallet is brighter, full of primary colors and a glossy finish.

Stray’s pedigree is impressive. While these characters are new, the influence ofWatchmen and the greater pre-Flashpoint DC Universe is easily felt. While it feels familiar, it’s also exciting – and more than the sum of its influences, which is why I can’t wait to see how Delsante and Izaakse unravel the mysteries they’ve set up. Who killed Doberman? What path will Rodney Weller will choose once he’s found his father’s killer?

Full disclosure, I backed the Stray Kickstarter campaign, which is how I got my hands on the first issue. I was already familiar with Delsante’s work from Batman Adventures, World War Mob and Savage Tales, among others. I was not as familiar with Izaakse, but one look at the art previewed on the Kickstarter page and I was sold. Stray #1 is a love letter to superhero comics. Dear Reader, I am so glad I backed this project. The book is due out to the general public in early 2015, and I know I’ll be blasting the pre-order info once it hits Twitter.

– Ian Gonzales

Moon Knight 5

thumbnail-2(Marvel – writer: Warren Ellis; art: Declan Shalvey)

The latest issue of Moon Knight is basically Ellis and Shalvey’s take on The Raid and it is friggin’ awesome!

The story begins when Moon Knight shows up to a seemingly abandoned tenement. He’s in his Mr. Knight persona, dressed in his white suit and mask. It seems a high ranking criminal’s teenage daughter is being held hostage by a rival group; Mr. Knight doesn’t like anyone being kidnapped in his city, so he is going to find the girl and lay a beating on anyone in his way.

It’s a six-story building and the girl, Scarlet, is on the fifth floor. The comic’s pacing feels like a platform videogame. As Mr. Knight ascends to the fifth floor, he’s like a hyper violent Mario in Donkey Kong – only he’s leaving a bloody and splintered trail behind him rather than just a heap of discarded barrels.

Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire create a dingy atmosphere that feels so run down, the apartment would have to be somewhere in New York’s outer boroughs. The color pallet is all brown, black and gray. Then there’s Moon Knight. As much as his surroundings absorb the light, he reflects it. He is pure negative space encroaching on the underworld, and he’s breaking a lot of criminals’ bones in the process.

This creative team has one more issue on the book and then they’re gone. I’m going to miss these magnificent bastards and their visceral tales of vengeance. At least we have one more coming to us, though.

Ian Gonzales

 

Lazarus #9

thumbnail-1(Image – writer: Greg Rucka; art: Michael Lark and Brian Level)

Lazarus has proven to be a brutal comic, and not just in terms of blood spilled. Its dystopian vision of capitalism gone wild and its no-holds-barred depiction of the people that such a system leaves behind have made for some painful reading (full disclosure – issue #7 made me weep like few other comics have ever done before).

So when three increasingly tense plotlines seemed to end in the best possible way in Lazarus #9, the conclusion to the five part arc called “Lift,” my first reaction was delayed surprise. Then a weird sense of disappointment. Then guilt at my disappointment. Thank goodness Marisol and Casey didn’t die, and that Casey and Michael got Lifted for service to the family. I’m pretty sure I’m even happy that revolutionary’s bomb didn’t go off, since that would have hurt Forever’s standing with her (cruelly oppressive) family, the Carlyles.  These are all good things in the lives of theses characters. What’s wrong with me?

I blame Game of Thrones. It’s gotten us hooked on the painful high of abrupt character death. But I think my Lazarus reaction is more than just post-Red Wedding withdrawal. Throughout the Lift arc Greg Rucka and Michael Lark have clearly been building tension, using tried-and-true dramatic tropes to set up one possible eventuality, only to subvert it at the last moment. The result is that these characters will be around for a bit longer, but readers still get a sense of the fragility of their positions in the violent world they occupy.

I’m impressed at how subtly Michael, Casey and the rest of the Barrett family have risen from abrupt side story to co-main characters with the semi-titular Forever Carlyle. The Barretts’ increased prominence doesn’t take away from Forever’s story, either: moments such as the accidental run-in between Forever and Casey let us see her through other characters’ eyes. And this changed perspective for the reader also serves to parallel Forever’s slowly changing perspective on herself and her role in the Carlyle empire.

Lark’s art continues to be both understated and striking. The characters’ faces and bodies are always expressive, realistic and consistent. Both Lark and colorist Santi Arcas never try to oversell the issue’s most intense moments with typical comic book visual cues, instead letting the characters’ words and expressions speak for themselves. (Though it is always worthwhile to pay attention to the subtle background colors from panel to panel.)

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in this issue. As Casey recovers in a hospital bed in the book’s last scene, a screen in the background shows an advertisement featuring Emma, the vulnerable young revolutionary that Forever sort-of rescued (but mostly arrested) in issue #7. Looks like Emma took Joanna Carlyle up on her deal: she gave up information on the other revolutionaries. If that screen is to believed, she’s already releasing a song called “Compromises” on an album entitled “Lifted Up.”

And that is the end of the Lift arc. I can’t recommend Lazarus enough.

– Jill Scharr

Earth-2 #25

MAY140205(DC – writer: Tom Taylor; art: Nicola Scott)

I adore Earth-2. I have from the start. It has consistently strong writing and art, a diverse ensemble cast (including my personal favorite superhero, Hawkgirl), and, due to the fact that it takes place in an alternate universe separate from the rest of DC Comics continuity, it can basically do whatever the hell it wants, resulting in some genuinely surprising plot twists. But issue #25 took every reason why this comic has been great, and did them one better, all wrapped up in one extra long issue.

With more main characters than you have fingers, Earth-2 has always been a plot-heavy comic, and the plot often overshadows individual characters’ development and personality. Honestly, people who don’t like ensemble cast stories will probably have a hard time with this book. But in issue #25 plot and character development dovetail in all three main plotlines: Hawkgirl and Green Lantern’s rescue of The Flash, Lois Lane’s visit to the Kent family farm and Jimmy Olsen’s efforts to get young Kryptonian expatriate Val-Zod to stand with the other heroes against the evil Superman.

In this latter plot the resolution feels a bit rushed: Val simply puts on Dr. Fate’s helmet, says “Oh, I get it,” and busts out the boxing gloves. (He also conveniently fixes Dr. Fate’s helmet in the process – hopefully Khalid will be able to have dialogue that amounts to more than prophetic non-sequiturs now.)

The other two narratives are far stronger, partially because they involve actual combat instead of preparation, and partially because the fighting is deeply enmeshed in the characters’ personalities and desires. In these scenes, Tom Taylor’s dialogue not only conveys the fast-paced plot, but also retains each character’s voice, particularly Lois, Hawkgirl, Flash and evil Superman. Plus, my girl Hawkgirl mouths off to an actual Apokalips god, saves her boy Flash, and gets to boss new-Batman around a bit, so I’m delighted.

Nicola Scott’s art style is perfect for a story about characters that put both the “super” and “human” in “superhuman.” For one, everyone has the body of a Greek god, but unlike some other superhero comics, these gloriously proportioned figures are actually that: proportioned. They look more or less like realistic people, if ridiculously cut people. I could quibble about some small things, like the magical disappearing bandage on Hawkgirl’s wing or Flash’s rogue buttcheek (you’ll know it when you see it; I stared at that butt for a while and I really don’t think butts are supposed to do that), but, much as I like to quibble about wings and butts, I really don’t want to. I really like this art.

I think I’ve made clear that my baseline affection for Earth-2 is pretty high, but in Issue #25 I gasped out loud three different times and “awww’d” at least once. Guys, read Earth-2. Then tweet me about it so we can geek out over it together.

– Jill Scharr

Big Trouble in Little China #2

thumbnail(Boom! Studios – writer: Eric Powell; art: Brian Churilla; colors: Michael Garland)

I must admit that I enjoyed Big Trouble in Little China #2 much more than the opening issue. Maybe It’s because Eric Powell had the nasty job of continuing a storyline that’s almost 30 years old, and finding a way to get the introductions out of the way so that the ball can get rolling. While it was done quickly and in a somewhat clunky manner now we’ve got a fun supernatural adventure on our hands. Jack Burton, Egg, and the demon Pete hop aboard the Pork-Chop Express. Their destination? The Midnight Road.

One thing this issue does in spades is quickly convey how much larger the universe of this world is. The movie didn’t bother with too much exposition, so why should this comic? Jack Burton is the kind of lunkhead that would drive into a wall, believing what the Chinese mystic Egg says about it being a portal to another world. (By way of flashback we learn Burton doesn’t seem to realize his third ex-wife was a vampire, so pretty anything passing him by is fair game.) So far the supernatural world that the Midnight Road exists in has talking monkey trolls, crones and guys riding giant terrapins. There’s also a being called the Seven-Faced Widow, who may literally be a woman with seven heads. And this is only the beginning of the adventure. It’s hard to say how much input John Carpenter has in this but judging from all the crazy supernatural elements I’d say at least some. There are dark elements at play here that are more at home in Hellboy than The Goon.

Brian Churillo’s art really works in this issue, as he gets to be a little wild with some crazy characters and monsters. Michael Garland’s colors complement the cartoony creepiness well, too. At some points this combo actually brings to mind Eric Powell’s art, since there are a few gags and action scenes that are very much his, and who is more of a master of cartoon creepiness than Eric Powell? I laughed out loud at a number of the gags and Jack’s somewhat moronic John Wayne demeanor. What’s even funnier is when Burton has random moments of cleverness, and lines like “By the way, nice terrapin,” to a random guy riding a giant turtle. I can safely say that I’m onboard, after my cautiously optimistic thumbs up last month. This series has started to settle into a good groove after a somewhat rocky first issue.

– Michael Edwards

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