The Escapist‘s Comics and Cosplay team checks out Fairest, All-New X-Men, and even one Teen Dog.
Whoever says there’s such a thing as a slow comics week? Twice a month, we at The Escapist‘s Comics and Cosplay team put together a selection of the latest releases, and every time we find something new and exciting. Today has proven no different.
Marla Desat looked at superheroes with Captain Marvel and Ms Marvel, the reimagined deity pantheon of The Wicked + The Divine, and the hilariously silly adventures of Teen Dog. Stew Shearer dug into Batman: Future’s End, the latest Nightcrawler and All-New X-Men issues, and the female Thor: God of Thunder. Even The Escapist‘s Ross Lincoln left his top secret Editor-Cave cave to provide his two cents on the latest Fairest collection.
Meanwhile, I humbly submit Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Forever Evil, Leaving Megalopolis, The Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes, and Superman/Wonder Woman for your reading pleasure. But before that, let’s take a look at:
Fables: Fairest Vol. 3 – Return of the Maharaja
Ordinarily, a spinoff is never essential reading to fully understand the parent series. Fables, however, isn’t an ordinary comic series.
Notable for an extremely complex and constantly changing story that doubles as an examination of literature and narrative, series-creator Bill Willingham has frequently used its spinoffs as what amounts to enormous supplemental material to further flesh things out. That’s not boring, mind you. Jack of Fables was a mostly hilarious picaresque about a sociopath than managed to explain just how the main characters of Fables even exist. And now with Fairest, the second (and still-ongoing) spinoff from Fables, Willingham (and the other writers working on the series) have created a complementary narrative to the soon-to-be-concluded parent comic that illuminates as much as it entertains.
With Fairest‘s latest volume, Return of the Maharaja, we finally see the reemergence of a concept that hasn’t factored into the main plot since the shocking recovery of Snow White after her brains were blown out of her head nearly a decade ago: how a character’s popularity can potentially make them immortal.
The Maharaja in question turns out to be Prince Charming, last seen seemingly killed off for real back in issue 75 of Fables. We meet him again when a girl called Nalayani (named for the character from the Mahābhārata, though not remotely similar to her namesake) seeks out his help dealing with supernatural creatures tormenting her village. Now firmly established as the ruler of an India-inspired fantasy world called “Indu”, Charming agrees to help Nalayani and embarks with her on a meandering quest that, true to the character’s roots, involves a lot of trying to get into her pants.
Amid the attempted bedtime escapades, we learn just how Charming survived, reencounter the rebellious brothers of Bigby Wolf, and see even more of how the fallout from the destruction of Geppetto’s empire will have long-lasting, and frequently unpleasant side effects for the people left to pick up the pieces. It’s a trifle, at least when compared to the increasing dread of the parent series, but it’s also as charming – sorry – as the Maharaja himself, and it expands the reader’s understanding of the Fables-verse at the same time.
If you haven’t yet checked Fairest out, you’re in luck: experience with the previous two volumes is not required for it to make sense, and it just might make Fables even better.
Favorite Moment: The battle of wits with a giant talking crocodile.
Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #2
Having only recently caught up with Doctor Who‘s televised adventures, I’m still undergoing a period of mourning for Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. Thankfully, that’s where comics come to the rescue: Titan Comics is publishing new stories about Eleven to fill the void. Given that this version of the Doctor was supposedly around for hundreds of years, there’s lots of potential stories to still cover, and this one pairs him with all-new companion Alice Obiefune.
In Issue #2, the Doctor brings Alice to the Rokhandi, a pristine planet renowned for its staggering natural beauty. Unfortunately, the TARDIS overshot his destination time period by a half-century, where Rokhandi has been turned into a highly commercialized theme park planet. What’s worse is that unhappiness is literally not allowed on Rokhandi, as those who criticize the planet or display unauthorized creativity never end up leaving the planet’s surface.
It’s a serviceable Doctor Who story, featuring an alien world, bizarre enemies, and even a tidy moral at the end. But there are also hints of issues yet to come; one villain even claims the Doctor defeated him previously, but Eleven has yet to meet him. (Isn’t time travel fun?) But mostly, this series is a boon to fans who weren’t ready for Matt Smith’s adventures to end.
And that’s not all: Titan Comics is publishing an ongoing series about the Tenth Doctor as well. Be still, my beating heart.
Favorite Moment: “But I am also doing special Time Lord meditational thinky stuff. Really!”
Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Power Couple
Of all the series to come from DC’s New 52, the most surprising would probably be a romance book. Although I hesitate to call Superman/Wonder Woman a romance book, because it seems they have very little time to, you know, actually go on dates. Between Justice League duties and dimensional incursions, Superman and Wonder Woman don’t get a lot of downtime. Still, that just means Superman/Wonder Woman is the most action-packed romance comic I’ve ever read. And while we’re at it, their chemistry isn’t so bad either.
After starting a secret relationship in Justice League, Superman and Wonder Woman are getting used to each other as the world’s first superpowered couple. Unfortunately, their secret gets a lot more public when an unknown figure sends photos of the partners to aspiring news blogger Cat Grant. But there’s no time for Superman and Wonder Woman to worry about that when the Phantom Zone barrier starts breaking down, pushing Doomsday and General Zod to Earth. The couple must now work together to prevent an all-out invasion, all while figuring out where their relationship now stands.
I don’t really read a lot of romance stories, but as far as it goes, Superman and Wonder Woman are fine as a couple. It’s actually kind of refreshing to give them an explicit partnership, as opposed to having her compete with Lois Lane for some reason. But as an action comic, Superman/Wonder Woman‘s first storyline works very well. Between well-paced fights with Doomsday and Zod, and even a hilariously brief fight with Apollo, Superman/Wonder Woman is proving to be a solid entry to the New 52. Also, if more romance stories ended with alien invasions and nuclear explosions, I’d probably end up reading more romances.
Favorite Moment: “You hit me with… sunlight? You don’t know very much about me, do you?”
Full disclosure: I backed the original Leaving Megalopolis Kickstarter back in the heyday of 2012. It was a pretty easy choice for me: It was a creator-owned book from Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore, the creative partnership behind DC’s Secret Six. That it also presented a dark tale of ordinary humans fighting insane superheroes certainly didn’t hurt. Now Leaving Megalopolis has a new reprint published under Dark Horse Comics. After re-reading the graphic novel, I have to say, this is a story that holds up remarkably well.
Leaving Megalopolis is set in a world every superhero has gone completely insane. The once-peaceful city of Megalopolis is now an apocalyptic wasteland where ordinary humans are tormented and murdered at the hands of former protectors. For a small band of survivors, the only possible hope is to reach a bridge that leads beyond city limits, where the superheroes cannot follow. Reaching that bridge is easier said than done however, as the group must face these homicidal beings and the humans who made an alliance with them.
Leaving Megalopolis is a violent and gory comic book, even darker than Secret Six before it. But Megalopolis isn’t mindlessly dark; the finished story does a great job of balancing character development with the fantastic elements of its universe, using the civilian-vs-superhero underdog premise as a compelling hook. There’s also a surprising streak of humane optimism running underneath the surface, but to say more would be telling. Be sure to check out The Escapist‘s upcoming review for more details.
Favorite Moment: “I am Overlord. And I come from the bones of the Earth. Runnn!”
The Multiveristy: The Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World #1
When I read the first chapter of The Multiversity, I thought it was a great concept that would probably work better once it got into focused, standalone stories. Now the first Multiversity special has reached bookstore shelves, with a heavy focus on pulp stories of comics’ Golden Age. As I expected, it certainly didn’t disappoint.
This chapter takes us to Earth-20, a DC Comics parallel universe living through its 1930s-40s Golden Age. Five years earlier, Doc Fate formed a Secret Society of Super-Heroes to combat evil, but instead of Nazis, these heroes face Vandal Savage’s Earth-40 invasion force. As the enemy approaches Fate’s citadel for a final battle, the SOS must survive long enough to open a dimensional portal and summon reinforcements from other worlds.
Like The Multiversity #1, Conquerors of the Counter-World is filled with references to parallel worlds, but this story fully supports its own weight. The action is fast-paced, and will gleefully engage anyone who enjoys pulp-inspired tales. The issue still ends on a slight cliffhanger, presumably leading to a crossover with other Multiversity books. But it’s also a more satisfying read overall, and has me looking forward to upcoming universes even more.
Favorite Moment: “Abracadabra.” “Hey, presto!”
You know what DC Comics hasn’t had for a good long while? A crisis event. The company used to roll them out on a regular basis, but since Flashpoint, the New 52 has only done small-scale crossovers for three years. That finally seems to have changed with Forever Evil, the first large-scale crisis of The New 52, now collected in a hardcover format.
Spinning out of Justice League‘s “Trinity War” event (which you thankfully don’t have to read to follow this book), the Crime Syndicate has broken into the DCU from a parallel universe. Their victory is seemingly absolute: They quickly defeat the weakened League and break every single supervillain out of prison, creating their own army. But not everyone is on board with the Syndicate, especially Lex Luthor, who forms a team of dissatisfied supervillains to overthrow Earth’s new dictators.
Perhaps the best feature of Forever Evil is how well it humanizes several DC villains. This isn’t just bad guys pounding on other bad guys (although that happens a lot); characters like Captain Cold and Bizarro are complex enough to make them the heroes of the story. Lex Luthor in particular steals every page by being utterly ruthless and deeply sympathetic all at the same time. I gotta say, Luthor is a fantastic hero, which makes me all the more excited to check out his recent Justice League stories.
That’s not to say Forever Evil is perfect. The story gets a little unfocused near the end as several climatic battles happen at once. Most of the Syndicate isn’t especially developed outside of its “Hey, look, an evil Justice League” novelty. But in the end, I’d say the positive elements of Forever Evil outweigh the bad. If you’re looking for an entry point into the New 52, this is a good collection to check out.
Favorite Moment: “But he was my monster.”
Teen Dog #1 (of 8)
Writer and artist Jake Lawrence’s Teen Dog from BOOM! Studios is an eight issue series about, well, an anthropomorphic teen dog. The character is a spin off from Lawrence’s web comic, Time Cowboy. He’s very cool, he loves the arcade and he might go to the video game regionals. The art is a cross between late night cartoon and half-remembered acid trip, and the writing nods to television tropes, winks at its anthropomorphized protagonist, and, after a few brief introductory pages, the issue is a loosely connected series of short vignettes, many of which are single page. Puns abound. There is character named Thug Pug. I am not making this up.
I feel so conflicted about recommending this to you. Should you read this? Yes. Will you enjoy it? Maybe. Did I enjoy it? I think so? I am so confused. All I know is that Teen Dog is the raddest kid at school, and I keep giggling over this silly, absurd high school adventure. It feels like Welcome Back Kotter, Saved by the Bell, Boy Meets World, Student Bodies, Doug, and Happy Days wandered around at a dog park for a few days and this is what followed them home. It’s oddly fun.
Favorite Moment: “What did you do with Eisenhower?!”
Ms. Marvel #8
After teaming up with Wolverine to fight giant, technologically-ehnanced alligators in the sewers of New Jersey, Ms. Marvel is determined to track down The Inventor and rescue the missing teens that he is using as a power source for his inventions. Wolverine told Medusa, Queen of the Inhumans, that he suspects Kamala is an Inhuman, and Medusa sends Lockjaw, the teleporting bulldog-like being, to look after her. Believing Lockjaw to simply be an oversized dog who (as his tags say) loves hugs, she quickly takes him in. When he reveals his teleporting powers, the pair team up to take on The Inventor. Kamala is confident, but as she gets closer to The Inventor’s hiding places, she encounters heavier resistance than ever before. Issue #8 sets up a new four issue story arc, and the tension ramps up throughout the issue like a rollercoaster ready for a dive. Kamala has bought into her role as superhero, but she hasn’t quite managed to balance her heroics with her normal life, and The Inventor has no issues blurring those lines. Lockjaw and Kamala are a perfect, if a bit goofy, fit, with Lockjaw easily steeping into the role of sidekick for Kamala, and setting the new hero up for more integration with the world of the Inhumans.
Favorite Moment: “Who’s a good bizarro doggie?”
Captain Marvel #7
After wrapping up a six-issue arc where Captain Marvel found herself in the middle of a politically complex problem on the planet Torfa that required both delicate negotiation, cunning investigation, and a careful application of fists, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick is giving us a bit of a breather with issue #7. Cap is dealing with problems on a much smaller, cat-sized scale in this issue. Artist Marcio Takara is doing interior art for this issue and for issue 8, taking over briefly for the series’ regular artist, David Lopez. The change in art style and in the scale of the trouble that Captain Marvel is dealing with give this issue a much different feeling from the first six issues. Captain Marvel is handling her own self-doubt and an unapologetic stowaway, Tic, who seems nearly as stubborn as Carol herself. She has a rendezvous with Rocket Racoon, who has been taking care of her ship for her, and making a few modifications. Her ship’s computer, Harrison, has had some dubious upgrades, and Rocket remains convinced that Carol’s cat, Chewie, is a dangerous egg-laying species known as Flerkin. Carol’s ship is suddenly attacked and probed by an alien ship, and then things get really weird. This light-hearted issue, which features some spot-on bickering between Carol and Rocket, and ends on a high-energy cliffhanger, is a great little pause in what has been a pretty heavy series.
Favorite Moment: “Make the coffee and I might let you live.”
The Wicked + The Divine #4
Issues #1 and #2 of The Wicked + The Divine reached into my chest cavity and pounded my heart like the bass at too-loud punk rock show. The fourth issue is no different, as we ramp up to the end of the first story arc in issue #5. Jamie McKelvie’s art continues to impress, with a regal two-page spread introducing us to Woden’s Valhalla, the retreat of the Pantheon. Laura, a huge fan of the pop star gods of the Pantheon, has been trying to solve the mystery of who framed Lucifer. In Woden’s Valhalla, she realizes the scope of the mystery, and learns why the other gods have stayed aloof. Luci doesn’t take the news well.
Laura’s inner monologues continue to carry the series forward, as she gets deeper and deeper into the world of the Pantheon. She began as a fan, worshipping these artists like gods, and as she slowly gets to know them, revealing their fears, their reservations about being a part of the Recurrence, the illusion begins to fade. Of course, the Pantheon are gods, so they retain a certain magnificence, but Laura is becoming privy to all their petty, private, and very human realities. This series has an end date (writer Kieron Gillen expects the story to play out over 30 to 60 issues), and I think this will be my last blurb for a while, otherwise I’m just going to be a recommending it every month. This is a deep series, exploring the relationship between creators and consumers, fans and artists, and the nature of inspiration.
Favorite Moment: “I’m not afraid of who I am.”
Batman: Future’s End #1
I have absolutely no interest in the Future’s End event and honestly, from what I’ve seen in other DC books leading into it, that’s probably not going to change. That said, Batman: Future’s End 1 is still a great read. This owes, in no small part, to the fact that it actually works well as a self-contained single issue story. Taking place several years in the future, Batman is finally succumbing to the weight of his many wounds. Characteristically unwilling to give up however, he decides to take on one last, desperate mission that will ensure that Gotham never has to be without a Batman. What this amounts to is twenty pages of Batman doing what he does best: going up against impossible odds and being a total bad ass. Add in clever dialogue from Lex Luthor and you have yourself a thoroughly entertaining comic. It might not do the trick when it comes to convincing you to dive head first into Future’s End, but it’s still a lot of fun.
Favorite Moment: “Hmm. Resourceful, brilliant, and tragically misguided. I’m going to guess you’re Batman. Am I right?”
Nightcrawler hasn’t been my favorite of the ongoing X-Men solo series. Mind you, it hasn’t been bad by any means, but it’s never quite grabbed me as its counterparts have. Issue 6, however, is such a joy that I couldn’t not recommend it. Picking up immediately after issue 5, Kurt and one of his students, the scorpion-like Rico, are sent on a mission to rescue a newly empowered mutant from a band of space pirates. This results is a book filling action-packed bout where the titular hero gets to partake in some glorious swashbuckling. As fun as Nightcrawler himself is though, the surprising highlight is Rico, a side character who really comes into his own as a young but emerging superhero. Watching a seasoned fighter step into the fray can be exciting. Seeing a scared young man take his first steps toward something greater, however, is just plain enthralling. If you haven’t been reading Nightcrawler, let this be the book where you start.
Favorite Moment: “Was Nightcrawler crazy, what could he have been thinking? This is way out of my league. But there’s no one else to even try.”
All-New X-Men #32
All-New X-Men #32 is a book I was primed to hate. For the record, I don’t like crossovers and I’ve stringently avoided all past couplings of the Marvel 616 and Ultimate universes. God damn if Brian Michael Bendis isn’t good at his job, though. Is All-New X-Men mind-blowing? No. Is it a fun, light read that lays down the groundwork for an entertaining story arc, thoug? Yes. The book begins where issue 31 left off. The time displaced X-Men have been teleported to the Ultimate Universe by the powers of a new and budding mutant. Scattered around a world that might be even more hostile to them than their own (the Ultimate Universe kind of sucks for mutants), they need to find each other and figure out some method of returning to home. The highlight of the book, ironically, isn’t the X-Men themselves, but rather Miles Morales (a.k.a the Ultimate Spider-Man). Early in the issue he runs into Jean Grey and offers to help her. While the rest of the characters are well-written, Bendis just seems to have a knack for writing snappy Spider-Man dialogue. The best parts of the book, in turn, are when Miles is jabbering away (as Spider-Men to do) and making a fool out of himself. Put shortly, if you can muster the patience for an other unnecessary crossover, All-New X-Men looks to be on the cusp of a halfway decent one. Give it a shot.
Favorite Moment: “The big purple guy? There is no way you forget a giant purple guy who tried to eat the world!”
Thor: God of Thunder #25
The big news with everyone’s favorite Asgardian as of late has, of course, been that he’ll soon be replaced by a new female Thor of such intense awesome-itude that Mjolnir itself will be changing to suit her needs. I’m a bit mixed on this. On the one hand, yay for a new bad-ass female superhero. On the other, Thor: God of Thunder has been such a wonderful series that I hate to see it end under any circumstances. In the least, Jason Aaron and company are seeing it off with a “god-sized final issue” that delivers some nifty bits of villain back story as well as some healthy doses of Viking-laced deific action. There’s also just something about the book’s framing device (King Thor’s granddaughters reading stories in Asgard’s library) that I found incredibly charming. I hope we get to see more of them in the future and sincerely encourage you to pick up this final issue and the rest of the series while you’re at it.
Favorite Moment: “I’m tired of reading about everyone else fighting elves and giants! I’m ready to kill some for myself!”