Running late. Already into the second week of November. At any rate, here’s the rundown and commentary of the 19 comics released in October that I read. There a few new number ones on here so let’s see how they stacked up against the usual suspects.
1. Sex Criminals #8 (Image) 5.0 – SexCrimz never seems to disappoint and it’s undeniably my highest rated series since I’ve started doing the Fetish Favorites here, scoring 5.0 issues more than any other series I read. And it’s never earned a rating lower than 4.0 (out of 5) from me in all its eight issues-so-far run. Just as Velvet is Ed Brubaker writing at his best, Sex Criminals is easily Matt Fraction writing at his very best. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention Chip Zdarsky’s equal contribution to the greatness of this series as its artist (love the way he portrays Suzie Dickson). It’s amazing that despite its rather high concept SexCrimz manages to be a very grounded story thanks to its character-driven qualities. This is enhanced by Fraction’s decision to use multiple first-person narrators. In this issue we also get the internal monologue – and sexual-enlightenment backstory – of new character Robert Rainbow. Speaking of the fellow who maybe could’ve gotten lucky with Suzie, I must say there was a moment there where I thought this book was taking the Saga route with the implications of potential illicit relations, but – wait, actually it did do what Saga did since there actually wasn’t any illicit relations (yet). I’m not going to say more, only that I used this issue’s best line in my headline. Actually, there were other candidates, but I try to keep this program in that PG-13 range.
2. Saga #24 (Image) 4.5 – Another aggravating cliffhanger! Of course I mean that most affectionately when it comes to the comic that has mastered the art of the cliffhanger. I take comfort in knowing that the next arc should be sensational, given the revelations in this issue. The Will is still alive (having a sex dream about The Stalk), his sister The Brand has a reluctant alliance with Gwendolyn, and the clincher of all, Marko and Prince Robot IV had joined forces to rescue their children. No sight of Alana or Dengo, but we’ll see them. Likely in February when the scheduled hiatus ends and the next arc begins in #25.
3. Copperhead #2 (Image) 4.0 – Beautiful second issue (the coloring is fantastic) and a fast-paced plot-thickener. This series seems to be earning its early high praise so far. As I said after the first issue last month, it seems to show great promise. Certainly one of the more promising new series.
4. Lazarus #12 (Image) 4.0 – The intrigue of this series – its characters, its story/backstory, its world-building – continues to titillate a grander scheme than what we’re allowed to see on a mere single issue basis. Still one of the most unique comics in the market, I can’t recommend it enough.
5. The Multiversity: The Just #1 (DC) 4.0 – This third installment was a lot more fun than the previous one that focused on the Society of Superheroes (S.O.S), the old-school Golden Age contingency of characters. The characters of The Just (and Justice League) are all younger, legacy variants of the ones we know so well. Damian Wayne is Batman, Chris Kent is Superman, Alexis Luthor is Batman’s once secret girlfriend and whose dad had killed the original Superman – it all makes for awkward relations between the two “World’s Finest” best friends. Many characters abound here, as per The Multiversity usual standard. The running theme in this issue is that this new generation of heroes is bored due to a lack of interesting or even truly threatening villainy and activity. Batman is especially unimpressed, saying: “What this world needs is an old-school super-villain like my mom or my gran’dad to liven things up.” The overarching plot and meta-concept of the series thickens here as the comic books from our world are fully exposed to be sinister weapons in theirs. It’ll be real interesting to see where Morrison is ultimately going with this strange, twisted epic.
6. Brithright #1 (Image) 4.0 – It’s always good to get a debut issue of a brand new comic series that zips along like this. This intro and setup issue was very anti-decompression (suck on that, Marvel) as it really hit the ground running. While not altogether new, the concept is strong and shows much promise as an entertaining ongoing series. Judging by the widespread praise of this first issue, and the runaway success of Manifest Destiny, it seems Robert Kirkman and his Skybound Entertainment crew have quite the eye for finding hits. I’m along for the ride on this one.
7. Southern Bastards #5 (Image) 4.0 – Well…I guess I’m out. Fuck. I’m pissed off. Just like Game of Thrones with Ned Stark, my gateway character – in the case of this series, Earl Tubb, the sympathetic protagonist of the “Here Was a Man” story arc (a telling title), the apparent star of this series’ first four issues, actually *** RARE SPOILERS *** died in that fourth issue. Meaning he wasn’t even in this issue; hell even at his funeral it was a closed casket (y’know, given that hellacious beating he took in #4…). As of now, I’m undecided on getting #6. Maybe after the shock wears off, I’ll come around. But I don’t know. This dramatically changes the story for me – it’s less about one man and his awful plight and more about Craw County, its rival neighboring counties and all the bad denizens that live (and die) there. Minus one Earl Tubb, the whole reason I bought into the series. Damn you Jasons Aaron & Latour! Sigh.
8. Rat Queens #8 (Image) 3.5 – Glad to have one of my absolute favorite series back (after a three month layoff), but sad that it’s a single character issue starring Violet, the Dwarf member of the Queens, dealing with her family’s tradition at the gathering of eight families in the courtyard, as well as her well-groomed beard. Timing for this one-off is odd because the previous storyline is unresolved and judging by future solicits, that story is not over. This is a perfectly serviceable character-driven spotlight issue. However, with the long layoff between #7 & #8, I can’t deny I was a little underwhelmed. For such a delayed issue, it was surprising to see artist/colorist Roc Upchurch’s work not look as good as the previous seven issues. I imagine that plenty of the Rat Queens faithful will recoil at this critique (and I’m usually not one to complain too much about the lateness of comics), but when a series instantly becomes your new favorite, your expectations tend to rise. However, I see no reason why this series can’t bounce back into form next issue.
9. Goners #1 (Image) 3.5 – Wow. This first issue cooks fast and furious with its accelerated plot (and this is despite two flashback scenes). I dig monsters, so I’ll check out #2 after that monstrous cliffhanger.
10. Savage Dragon #199 (Image) 3.5 – Savage Dragon #199 is quite the spectacle. Cartoonist Erik Larsen has been drawing “twice up” (drawing on larger than standard Bristol boards) the last few months, and in this issue the approach is really maximized because this time he decided to do an all double-page spread issue (because, y’know, he already produced an all-splash page issue two decades ago in #7). The “widescreen” – no, IMAX screen – visuals look so huge on all the double-page spreads, popping right off the page like it’s damn near in 3-D. And as he is prone to do, he brought everybody to the party to join Malcolm Dragon – Super Patriot, Liberty, Justice, Daredevil (the public domain one), Barbaric – as they take on a huge horde of demons. Not much happening in the way of story here as it’s just one long spectacular battle with demons in the city to end all battles with demons in the city. In terms of visual style, I always recommend Larsen’s work those nostalgic for essence of 60s and 70s Jack Kirby bombast because Savage Dragon is really the closest thing to it in mainstream comics these days, probably since its inception in 1992. Note: there is also a Vanguard backup feature as well as a couple Funnies strips.
11. Wytches #1 (Image) 3.5 – In late 2011 I thought Scott Snyder’s throwback horror series Severed made a decent attempt. And so does Wytches here three years later. Since I’m well-watched and well-read in the genre and have even written in it myself with my own fiction, it’s easy for me to be jaded and hard-to-impress. Is Wytches well-written? I suppose so as I couldn’t honestly say it’s badly written. I’d argue that it’s better drawn by Jock (aka Mark Simpson). I can’t really put a finger on it to truly criticize it other than I felt it was average comic book fare. Jock’s art and storytelling ultimately earns this book its slightly above-average rating. However, I’ll close with a compliment: Wytches is better than Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta’s Outcast already, writing wise, while perhaps right on-par story and art-wise with the other horror (and now smash hit) series. That’s certainly counts for something.
12. Veil #5 (Dark Horse) 3.5 – Fifth and final issue (at least of this volume). Not a stand-out series, but a high compliment I can pay it is that I think it will (re-)read better in one sitting. For those of us who read it in the five chapters that were released a bit disjointedly, we had a reading experience that was…compromised. All in all, it was nice little weirdly horrific ride with writer/creator Greg Rucka (Lazarus) — and the new-found and uniquely-styled artist Toni Fejzula — as he experimented with a horror story for virtually the first time. I’m not sure how well this first miniseries did for Dark Horse, but I’ve heard Rucka say that he has more plans for Veil. The ending to this one was satisfying and it was opened-ended just enough for the story go on, if granted the opportunity.
13. Wayward #3 (Image) 3.5 – Its individual spin on magic and the supernatural aside, this series treads in the same strange waters as other series like Courtney Crumrin (Oni Press) and Image’s own Rise of the Magi (Top Cow). I think Crumrin did the awkward, misfit kid with strange goings-on motif better, while Magi does the crossing over of otherworldly monsters and creatures otherwise theme a bit better by this same point of progression. I will admit that as an early 40-something now, I’m hard to impress with teen/young adult characters and their stories (btw, in YA novels, look no further than books by author Neal Shusterman). Both have to be exceptional and standout among the commoners. Crumrin did that very well on a narrative level (perfect-pitch dialogue, for example). Obviously, time will tell with Wayward. It’s all nicely set up, though, so here’s hoping this strange stew starts simmering well, sooner rather than later.
14. The Wicked + The Divine #5 (Image) 3.0 – This is the second comic I’ve read in recent months where I’ve witnessed the demise of a comic’s apparent lead character (the other being Southern Bastards). I may need a re-read of the earlier issues because I don’t quite buy the other main character’s reaction, as if in so short a time some super-strong deep bond was formed. Then again, that character is young and impressionable with 15-minutes of fame goals, so I suppose that’s the point: idolatry. Her new larger-than-life, god-like idol was just executed before her eyes. I will say that writer Kieron Gillen’s heartfelt editorial address in the backpages helped curb my overall criticism of this series a bit. At 38, he claims to not be that 28 year old who wrote Phonogram a decade ago, and that unlike Phonogram, which was about being a consumer of art, Wic+Div is about what you do to become a creator or art. So beneath all the violence and foul language (The Volatile + The Profane?), there’s a deeper message to be had, I supposed. Speaking of cuss words, I must add a side note about Gillen’s dialogue, of which I noted I had major problems with in the third issue: I’m starting to think he has a minimum quota for at least one variation of the word “fuck” per every two pages. Or maybe it’s a per-panel quota – say, an average of every 5-9 panels? Each utterance lessens the impact of the next one. Again, I suppose that’s probably the point as well. At any rate, I’m still intrigued. But I may move to trades on this one.
15. Men of Wrath #1 (Icon/Marvel) 3.0 – I think the one thing that helped diminish this one for me is that it’s too similar to writer Jason Aaron’s other Southern crime series, Southern Bastards (with artist Jason Latour) and not near enough as good. There’s the father/son aspect, the revenge aspect and it also takes place in the backwoods and waters of Alabama (Aaron’s home state). Like Southern Bastards it also has the historic, generations-spanning culture and legacy of violence. I admit this is terribly unfair, but Southern Bastards struck first and does it better. Artist Ron Garney, a long-time collaborator with Aaron (see: Wolverine; Thor: God of Thunder) supplies some fairly fine art that is at different times both helped and hindered by the muted coloring. It’s a five-issue miniseries and it certainly has potential to be an improved, consistently good read, given its creators.
16. Black Market #4 (Boom!) 2.5 – Using a hopscotching narrative with flashbacks to various points in the timeline did not accomplish its intended goal of creating suspense. No, it created disjointedness and annoyance. The cool take on the superhero + crime genre was probably somewhat wasted on this miniseries. When Supers (they’re called) were on the page, the dialogue got dumber. If this story was a parody, that’d be fine. Otherwise it’s a major pet peeve of mine. There was also too much exposition and narration — a bunch of telling rather than showing. That would be the only reason this could have been expanded into five issues instead of four. Frank J. Barbiere (of Five Ghosts fame) and Victor Santos (who to me is Michael Avon Oeming-LITE) may have been an ill-advised pairing on this. I should note that this issue did provide a rather poignant statement on its first page: “Life is much more complex than simple notions of good and bad. Morality? It’s a spectrum.” Oh, and this nugget from page 6: “Society craves the narrative of heroes and villains.” Indeed.
17. The Fade Out #2 (Image) 2.5 – I’m very happy for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips on the success of the sold-out first issue and that others have taken a huge liking to the series. However, for me, I mentioned it with the first issue and now with #2 it’s hit me hard: my number one problem with this book is the third-person narration employed by writer Brubaker. It’s just too distant and contains too much telling. There’s a reason that overly exposition-y style is not en vogue anymore (unless you’re Chris Claremont, Neil Gaiman or Todd McFarlane). For the better part of two decades comics have largely (and wisely) used first-person narration because in a visual medium it keeps the narrative intimate and grounded in character.(more)
18. Trees #6 (Image) 2.5 – I’ve finally come to realize why I’m having so much trouble with this series. It’s perfectly plot-less – there is no obvious (or even discernable) plot that writer Warren Ellis (the comics legend) is working here. It’s not uncommon for an author to hold his cards close to his vest in a suspense story in terms of plot. However, I would say Ellis is playing Texas Hold’em with Trees. And he’s bluffing hard. The concept is cool – well, it seems like it could be really cool, there’s not really been much revealed about it when you really dwell on it. It’s coming out in dribs and drabs. It kind of has that scatter-shot mode of storytelling (that literary fiction and really arty films use) where it’s a collection of mostly disjointed scenes and events that do not necessarily intersect nor culminate into a bigger story pool. I’m also thinking this is Ellis’ most decompressed writing in a good long while (although the little bit I read of his webcomic FreakAngels from the 00’s seemed to hint at a similar approach as with Trees). Ellis has said this first story arc wraps up with issue #8 before taking a break. We can only hope the next two chapters pull back the curtain more to allow for more actionable plot to occur. It pains me to continue rating Uncle Warren this low.
19. Rasputin #1 (Image) 2.5 – Any comic cook that I can read in 5 minutes flat (perhaps less), will automatically get a failing grade from me. No matter how well the art is aesthetically or how well the art tells the story. I need a minimum of 800 – 1000 words for a comic to feel somewhat worthwhile. With words and pictures, I’d like to have a comic take up at 15 minutes of my time. This comic did not come close. The words that do exist on the pages are good. The visual action is fine too. We’re it not for those facts, the rating would be even lower. We’ll see if the next issue tips it in the other directions, or at least brings balance.
November brings: Tooth & Claw #1, Birthright #2, Copperhead #3…and yes, finally more Velvet. Should be a good month despite the absence of some of the usual fetish favorites.