The Escapist‘s Comics and Cosplay team looks at this week’s heroes, villains, mutants, and superpowered cartoon characters from the comic book multiverse.
When I was a kid, the only comic shop was a 20 to 25-minute drive away, meaning I didn’t always get to swing by every week if my parents were busy. On the plus side, when I did go, I always came home with a massive haul. Our Comics Collection is a little bit like that to me, gathering a stack of comics every other week to give you a taste of what’s on the shelves.
And this week, we certainly have no shortage of good options. Stew Shearer brought us to Marvel’s mutant corner with X-Men, Wolverine, and Magneto, with a little Starlight pulp sci-fi to mix things up. Marla Desat went into space with Captain Marvel, into sewers with Storm, and into sexy bank robberies with Sex Criminals. Meanwhile, I cracked open Multiversity and Sensation Comics, said goodbye to Gail Simone in Batgirl, reminisced about a new printing of Batman: Earth One, enjoyed the film noir-inspired The Fade Out, and found some dark parallels between Ferguson and Genius.
That’s quite a few recommendations this week! So let’s start with:
Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl is coming to a premature end, and while that’s disappointing for her fans, it’s a great time to throw in a gripping ending. The misguided Knightfall is finally carrying out her grand plan: Kill every criminal in Gotham in a single evening. Batgirl, naturally won’t stand for that, but she’ll need help to stop her, specifically a who’s-who from DC’s superheroine community.
And since Simone was also well known for her work on Birds of Prey, it’s a great opportunity to bring in familiar faces for the finale: Black Canary and Huntress teaming-up with Batgirl to take out Knightfall’s cruise ship. Sure, Barbara isn’t Oracle anymore, but it’s always nice to see the team working together. And yes, I know Huntress has a different alter ego in New 52. My answer to that: Shut up. It still looks fantastic.
Unfortunately, since Simone herself hadn’t originally planned to end her run here, the conclusions feels a little sudden and anti-climatic than it might have otherwise. But it’s not inappropriate either, closing with a tender moment instead of the usual “then I punched the bad guy in the face and saved the day”. Regardless, it leaves an opening for Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher to take over in a few months. Meanwhile, if you really need more Simone on Batgirl, she’ll be treating the Batgirl: Future’s End crossover book as an epilogue that I’m sure won’t be wiped out by time-traveling shenanigans.
Favorite Moment: “Show off.”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
Batman: Earth One (Softcover)
Okay, you got me: Batman: Earth One isn’t a new book at all, just a softcover reprint of the original hardcover. So why bother mentioning it here? Because it’s a damn fine book, that’s why. It’s certainly the most unique Batman origin retelling in over a decade, even counting the New 52’s official canon.
Earth One‘s Gotham is perhaps the darkest version of the city we’ve seen yet. Oswald Cobblepot is Mayor, a child-killing serial murderer works for the mob, and James Gordon has been forced into borderline corruption. It’s a city that desperately needs a Batman to set things right, except this version of Batman, well, kinda sucks. Remember that scene in Year One where an inexperienced Batman got knocked off a fire escape? Imagine that for the entire book. Batman is constantly falling from rooftops, getting ambushed by thugs, and suffers injuries every night he wears the costume… but he refuses to back down from the city that murdered his parents. And the more he resists, the more his legend takes hold among Gotham’s city streets.
The book veers dangerously close to becoming another far-too-gritty reboot, but Batman’s new characterization really gives Earth One legs. And that’s not the only change it brings to the table: Alfred isn’t a butler, but a former soldier from Thomas Wayne’s unit. Harvey Bullock isn’t an angry drunk, but a starry-eyed TV cop looking to crack Gotham’s biggest unsolved case. Martha Wayne’s maiden name is Arkham, tying Batman to the breakdown of Gotham’s mental health services. The changes to Batman lore are extensive, but eventually, it loops around until we discover a Gotham we’re more familiar with. That’s a brilliant achievement on DC’s part, and I can’t wait to read Volume 2 in 2015.
Favorite Moment: “I get it now. This is Gotham City. It’s Bad Cop, Bad Cop.”
The Fade Out #1
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have carved out a pretty solid film noir niche in the comics world. They’ve done film noir superheroes in Sleeper, Lovecraftian film noir in Fatale, and straight-up film noir crime stories in Criminal. You’d think film noir would be played out by this point, but here’s the thing: Brubaker and Phillips make really good film noir stories. So with a five-year Image Comics deal in the bag, naturally the pair are turning their focus on the touchstone of film noir: Hollywood itself.
The premise? A 1948 Hollywood screenwriter wakes up hungover and discovers the corpse of a rising starlet, strangled to death in the next room. Fearing murder charges he flees, only to learn someone rearranged the scene to look like a suicide, protecting the studio from investigation. Since no one else knows a murder occurred, the writer must seek his own answers, hoping that he won’t ultimately be implicated for the crime.
Beyond the engaging premise, The Fade Out is a biting critique of 1940s Hollywood. A woman’s death is clearly less significant than keeping the movie business running, making Hollywood culture itself the enemy to overcome. There’s also a certain amount of irony in seeing film actors and producers as a literal film noir cast, deconstructing the genre just as quickly as it’s presented. All told, Brubaker and Phillips are off to a great start yet again, with a book sure to become a critical hit.
Favorite Moment: “I threw my back out trying to deck Bob Hope.”
Genius #1 & 2
While reading Genius, it’s really hard not to think of the events that are still unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri. While Genius was conceived and developed well in advance, now any discussion about its content will have a real-world police action hanging overhead like a bloody specter. Whether that can actually help the conversation remains to be seen, but it certainly makes the book all the more relevant.
Genius posits that the next great military leader of our age, our answer to Napoleon or Alexander the Great, is a black teenager from South LA named Destiny. Raised in an environment torn apart by crime, violence, and an overzealous police force, Destiny sees only one solution: Use her brilliant tactical mind to secede a three block neighborhood from the United States. As the first issue opens, she’s already won her initial victory and united gangs against the police. But as SWAT teams prepare their inevitable response, Destiny must ready her soldiers for a war no one else could ever prepare for.
Destiny isn’t necessarily the hero of this story, which Genius‘ own creators have implied. But if Destiny is a villain, she’s a sympathetic one, especially with Ferguson so raw in everyone’s mind. The series is being published as a weekly five-part series, so it’ll be very easy to catch up and see where Destiny’s battles lead.
Favorite Moment: “I think… I think I like this game.”
Multiversity is the latest universe-defining project to come from DC scribe Grant Morrison, and it’s already looking to be one of his most imaginative. Similar to Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory, each chapter of Multiversity tells a standalone story as interlocking scenes combine to form a greater tale. Unlike Seven Soldiers, which focused on individual characters, Multiversity deals in dimensions, exploring lesser-known universes from the New 52 as well as our own.
In this first issue (also the first half of a bookend storyline) President Superman of Earth 23 is summoned to aid the champions of the multiverse after Earth 7 is invaded by a powerful evil. Forming a recon squad with Captain Carrot (no, really), Aquawoman, and an especially geeky Flash, Superman finds himself on the next world about to fall under threat: the suspiciously Marvel-esque Earth 8.
Multiversity #1 will soon be getting a full review from The Escapist, and you can read specific details about the book there. But I’ll say this much: If you enjoy pouring over every single panel for obscure comics references, from DC or otherwise, you will enjoy Multiversity immensely.
Favorite Moment: Baby Wonder Woman and Baby Steel. Not joking.
Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #1
Sensation Comics was originally a 1942-1952 anthology book specializing in Wonder Woman stories. It’s in that spirit that DC is bringing back Sensation Comics with a series of rotating writers and artists, each presenting their own take on the popular Amazon. It’s a welcome addition to Wonder Woman’s line-up; while the core New 52 Wonder Woman book is critically acclaimed, it heavily changed Wonder Woman’s backstory in ways not everyone appreciated. Sensation Comics gives readers a chance to experience a different Wonder Woman every month, even versions from other continuities.
Case in point, the feature story “Gothamazon”. Set in what appears to be a pre-New 52 world, Oracle summons Wonder Woman to Gotham after Batman is defeated by Arkham’s united criminals. Upon arriving, Wonder Woman immediately sets about dispatching the Man-Bat, Mr. Freeze, and Two-Face, while a surprise twist suggests Diana has a very different approach to Gotham’s criminal element. The story itself is pretty basic, essentially a loose framework to let Wonder Woman punch her way through Gotham. Still, it’s an amusing page-turner, and I’m happy that Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver brought the classic Diana back.
It’s worth noting that Sensation Comics has different content in different formats. For example, my digital copy from comiXology only includes the first half of “Gothamazon”, while the print copy includes the full story plus a bonus feature from Amanda Deibert and Cat Staggs. In other words, print is where you want to go if you want that full anthology feel, at least for the moment. Either way, it’s hard to go wrong with more Wonder Woman content on the shelves. Now where’s that standalone movie?
Favorite Moment: “Oh, believe me, I’d love to… But I can’t. So drive.”
Captain Marvel #6
The relaunched Captain Marvel ongoing series from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick puts Carol Danvers into space. Suffering from amnesia after the events of The Enemy Within crossover with Avengers Assemble, Captain Marvel decides to take up Iron Man’s suggestion that The Avengers need a presence in outer space. Issue #6 wraps up the first major story arc of the relaunch, with Cap standing beside a displaced people fighting for their rights against the shady motives of the Spartoi Empire and its emperor J’Son.
Captain Marvel’s foray into the wider Marvel galaxy features a diverse cast of aliens that make the book feel alien enough without leaning on the more gross-out levels of Rocket Racoon’s dramatis personae. DeConnick explores what it means for Captain Marvel to try to be an ally to an oppressed people, and when she sticks her nose in the middle of a problem she knows nothing about, she discovers the limits of her ability to practically assist.
This arc is all about power, political and physical, and it plays out on the galactic stage with Danvers in the middle, struggling to do go good with her particular set of skills (which largely revolve around punching or flying). This issue is a satisfying end to the six issue “Higher, Further, Faster, More” arc, and it’s beautiful too. David Lopez’s art gives the book suitable galactic grandeur and scope, and consistent feel.
Favorite Moment: “What was that?” “The Avenger.”
Sex Criminals #7
Okay, wait, don’t go, let me explain. Sex Criminals is about Jon and Suzie, two people who can stop time when they orgasm. They discover each other, hook up, and decide to use their power to rob a bank (to save a library!). They have sex and then are criminals, okay? And let me be clear that this is, of course, an adult book, and though it’s not particularly titillating, it is graphic.
Having narrowly escaped a group of orgasmic-time-stopping vigilantes called the Sex Police, Jon and Suzie begin to settle into a routine. They seem to have gotten away with their robbery and saved the library, until the bank suddenly decides to foreclose. Jon hits a breaking point and takes his anger to the Sex Police. The art, dialogue, and fourth-wall-breaking commentary combine to tell a really satisfying story. Creators Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky continue to amaze me with this series. These two have managed to create a book that can deliver a dick joke and a double-ended dildo fight in one panel, and touching commentary on love, loss, and medication in your twenties in the next.
Favorite Moment: “Promise you won’t be mad.”
On just the first page it feels like Greg Pak and Victor Ibanez have found their comfort zone with this book. Storm here is confident, powerful, and struggling to balance her desire to act with being certain that she’s doing the right thing. Storm’s got a heart that feels deeply for others, and we see it here as she investigates the case of a missing young woman. Wolverine makes an appearance, and the playful chemistry between the two feels comfortable and romantic.
The pacing here is a very welcome change from the over-stuffed feeling of the debut. Storm’s motivations are much clearer in this issue. Large panels give a sense of Storm’s power, and the way Ibanez chooses to show her weather control shows her as a force of nature. Ibanez uses the settings to show how Storm’s lightning crackles on the subway tracks, and how her command of wind makes a door burst open. This is a promising second issue and I’m hoping that Pak sticks to this slightly more contemplative pace, but I’d like to see some longer storylines for Ororo soon.
Favorite Moment: “I remember what it is to be trapped.”
Back when Marvel’s female fronted X-Men series first launched I was excited about it simply because it would be another book that I squirrel away and give my daughter at someday, perhaps after schoolyard bully had just told her that comic books were just for boys. Unfortunately, the book itself just wasn’t all that good. While I enjoyed some of the humor surrounding Jubilee’s adopted son Shogo, the bulk of Brian Wood’s run on the series just fell very flat for me.
I was delighted, in turn, to open up Marc Guggenheim’s first issue with the book and find myself reading a story and dialogue that had me engaged and laughing throughout. Granted, the plot is just your basic X-Men in space stuff, but it feels fresher and more entertaining that the plots of the past.Here’s hoping this represents a turnaround for a comic that I’d like to be great.
Wolverine Annual #1
If there’s one thing I’ve been a bit disappointed in when it comes to Wolverine losing his infamous healing powers, it’s been how little the various X-books have really utilized. Sure, he’s gotten a fancy new armored costume and there’s been countless throwaway lines about how he has to “take it easy.”
Overall though, I’ve been very underwhelmed by how Marvel has been utilizing Logan’s new mortality, even as it builds up to his supposed upcoming death. Wolverine Annual #1, in turn, basically hits all the notes I’ve been wishing other books would. It sets the cliché action he’s know for aside for an introspective look at the mindset of a man who’s been invincible forever but now has to deal with death the same as everyone else. It’s introspective, gorgeously illustrated and I loved it.
Favorite Moment: “The pack goes too. That’s when I realize they weren’t following me. They were following her.”
I’ve already recommended Magneto’s solo series on a couple of other occasions and even today, with Marvel having released several other high quality solo series centered on individual X-Men, it’s still the book that consistently impresses me the most. Because it just gets it. Whereas the other mainline X-books seem to be all but entirely absorbed in thrusting their heroes into the wackiest, most action packed adventures they can, Magneto has grounded itself in that key X-theme of prejudice.
Every single issue just hammers home how horribly mutants are treated by the world at large and does it so well that I can’t think of a single moment where the story failed to keep me from rooting for a character who’s current favorite past time is slaughtering drug dealers selling power reward growth hormones refined from murdered and tortured mutants.
Granted, if you enjoy the dimension hopping, time travelling shenanigans that define a lot of the mainline plots at the moment, I could see Magneto being a bit too grim for your tastes. In my opinion though, it’s the best X-book running right now and you issue 8 should be on your buy list for this week.
Favorite Moment: “The weight of their decision is not lost on me. That these agents only gun down these killers when they look like mutants.”
Starlight is the comic I hope to get when I pick up my subscription each week. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s the best tale of space opera I’ve experiences from any medium in a long time. The visuals, the writing, the action; it just strikes this wonderful balance of silliness and sincerity that’s simply infectious. Let me put it to you this way, when I reached the final page of issue 5 and saw the book’s hero climbing out of the water and vowing to save his friends despite the odds being very much impossible, it made me feel like kid again watching the Battle of Yavin in A New Hope. Read Starlight for your own good.
Favorite Moment: “…I won’t let you down.”