Oh, I’m sorry, were you expecting some kind of seasonal greeting? Perhaps a friendly acknowledgement of the passing of the year? No. I think not. That’s not how it works here any more. Stew is gone. Off to visit his “family” so that they may huddle together against the cold. It’s just me and Marshall now. Do you know what that means? It means no capes. It means you’ll have to look at art made by artists instead of corporate slaves working in some kind of Batman-farm in eastern China. You’ll have to go elsewhere for your X-Man and your Spiderguy and your Wolferines. You’ll find none of that here. No sir.
Okay there is, like, one Superman comic in there, but it’s really good. We promise.
We Can Never Go Home
Two teenagers on the run. One has a gun. The other has superpowers. My favorite comic of 2015.
The plot of We Can Never Go Home feels vague and familiar, like it’s been picked from the bones of a dozen Midwestern road movies and mashed back together again, but endearing characters, tight dialogue and some of the crispest art I’ve ever seen makes the five-part mini-series a must read.
Let’s start with the art. And oh man, the art. All the sample pages below are linework samples I snagged from artist, Josh Hood’s, personal site. The actual comic is in color, and it’s a decent color job, but it’s the linework that stands out. It’s bold and expressive, yet controlled enough for fine detail. Hood isn’t afraid to bathe the entire page in ink if it gets his point across, but he can also rock a twenty-five panel (25!) page and still capture subtle facial detail. We Can Never Go Home wouldn’t just work without colour, I’d pay extra for a black and white version; That’s how good the linework is.
Like the art, the comics two leads are vividly defined. Popular-gal-with-a-secret, Madison, is an adorable snark-machine who can punch a car in half. It’d be easy for her to come off as smug, but Rosenberg and Kindlon nail that dichotomy of confidence and vulnerability that makes the gifted likable. Madison is a breakout character; The kind of self-aware heroine that’s selling gangbusters in Marvel’s lineups, but with that realistic bite you rarely find in cape comics. After accidentally killing her friend Duncan’s abusive father with her superpowers, the two teenagers go on the run.
While the series’ muddled ending ends up making the whole affair feel like an origin story for Madison, oddly enough it’s Duncan who gets the most meaningful character development. Twenty years ago, Duncan would be the hero of this story, no questions asked. The bullied outsider becoming an anti-hero, saving the girl and proving his worth? Classic. But in 2015, the age of the “active shooter,” there’s something much more sinister about the skinny white kid picking up a gun and turning it on his abusers. The discomfort is deliberate and We Can Never Go Home plays with that imagery a lot. Duncan is likable in an inept kind of way, yet we keep catching glimpses of his instability in the way he escalates situations that push Madison into violently using her powers. This bubbling undercurrent of unpredictability gives the comic a wonderful sense of tension.
At only five issues, We Can Never Go Home felt a bit rushed, and the late introduction of a lame villain made the final issue the worst in its far too short run. Still, I’m definitely on board for the second series that’s slated to hit shelves sometime in 2016.
Best Moment: “You love being doomed.”
The Sheriff of Babylon #1
The Sheriff of Babylon is my favorite new comic series of 2015. Yes, it’s a single issue released in December, but I still couldn’t get enough of it. After reaching the last page, I flipped to start and read the whole thing again. Then I repeated that process five times. Everything about this book just works, from premise to execution, and I cannot wait to learn more about its characters. Which just makes it all the more impressive that Sheriff of Babylon‘s first issue hasn’t even got to its central plot yet.
Sheriff of Babylon takes place in Baghdad’s Green Zone, 2003. American soldiers patrol the streets, but without an Iraqi police force, investigating crimes is a barely addressed challenge. So when an idealistic American contractor learns one of his trainees was murdered, his only option is Nassir – one of the last police officers remaining in the country.
This first issue sets aside the entire murder investigation to focus on standalone moments in the lives of central characters. Chris Henry attempts to talk a suicide bomber out of her chosen task. Nassir decides how to handle the grief of losing his daughters. And then there’s Sofia – an American-educated Iraqi connected to both the Iraqi Council and the Baghdad criminal underworld. Each story is brutally compelling, ramming home the point that even if Sheriff of Babylon‘s central crime is solved, Baghdad’s injustices are beyond counting.
If you only have time for one comic this month, make it this one. You won’t be disappointed.
Favorite Moment: Sofia’s arc. Every panel of it.
Airboy’s final issue came out in November, but there’s definitely a trade on the way, so it’s going on the list.
Including yourself as a character in your own narrative is masturbatory. Take it from me, I do it quite often and I’ve always got one hand down my trousers the whole time. But if you’re going to release a comic that’s essentially four issues of elaborate, tarp-and-essential-oils-level meat beating, you should probably throw in a few jokes. James Robison certainly does in his take on Airboy.
They’re bloody good jokes too.
So let’s get this out of the way first. If you’re looking for a faithful, reverent update of the golden age hero, you’re not going to find it here. Despite the comic bearing his name, Airboy doesn’t even appear till the end of issue #1, and he’s a supporting character at best. Instead, Robinson uses the license to write about himself writing Airboy. Stick with me. The whole “writer writing about writing” thing would be obnoxious if it wasn’t so raw. Robinson’s fictionalized version of himself is a cartoonish, burnout degenerate. He cheats on his wife, hates everything and abuses drugs and alcohol to distract himself from his ailing career. He’s brought on to write a reboot of 1940s, golden-age hero, Airboy, with the help of wide-eyed new-to-the-industry artist, Greg Hinkle (who also appears as himself). Instead, Robinson drags Hinkle out on a drug-fueled bar crawl which ends with them getting utterly smashed, snorting heroin and taking part in a threesome. Then Airboy turns up. The actual character. In the real world. It gets kind of weird from there.
The clash between Airboy(the character)’s 1940s sensibilities and Robinson’s modern cynicism fuels the second issue, and it’s genuinely funny, if crass, material. While the subtext of Robinson being unable to live up to to the 1940s, Naxi-fighting standard of traditional manhood that Airboy represents is obvious, it isn’t a straight-up “be the better man” piece. Despite his moral posturing, Airboy is just as flawed as Robinson and Hinkle, only in different ways. He’s brave and righteous, but also a bigot and a snob, and seeing the worst attitudes of his era crash up against the worst excesses of ours is as bitter as it is funny.
The comics’ debauchery is hilarious but often comes close to the bone. Robinson’s and Hinkle’s drug fueled bender is exciting and funny, but it’s also grotesque and mean. Hinkle’s art is the same, dense with disgusting detail. Technically great, but never beautiful. Always gross and sticky, stretched and exaggerated. He was a perfect choice for the project. He also draws himself with a massive cock, a move so immature it makes me laugh every time I think about it.
But while Airboy is crass and insensitive, it’s also smart. There’s been a lot of writers writing about writing lately, but none of it felt as relatable to me as Robinson’s brutal depiction of the despair of a journeyman writer. Robinson himself was an up and coming star in the early 90s, but he never quite became truly great. He’s been quietly putting out work for the big two for the past two decades, but he’s largely remembered for his (awful) screenplay for the disastrous movie adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Robinson reflects on that failure, as well as his many others in a somber, but hopeful final issue.
A fantastic mini-series.
Best Moment: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen gag.
“I haven’t understood a single thing you’ve just said. LXG? Is that a code for a rocket?” “No. A bomb.”
James Bond #3
How did I miss that Dynamite was publishing a James Bond comic book? Or that its creative team was Warren Ellis and James Masters? Or that it reimagines the Ian Fleming version of Bond in modern day? Or that it’s absolutely amazing? Somehow I missed all these details until this month, but there was one benefit: I was able to be surprised they existed and enjoy the first three issues in a single afternoon. And the end result absolutely lives up to your best expectations.
The first storyline, “Vargr”, follows Bond shortly after avenging the death of a fellow 00 agent. Now 007 has to settle his former colleague’s caseload, of which the most urgent mission involves stopping a new drug from gaining a foothold in England. Bond immediately heads to Berlin to stop the drug at its source, but finds a much bigger operation than expected – one eager to prevent a British spy from snooping in its business.
Dynamite’s James Bond does a great job handling all the 007 elements fans love – intense fight sequences, witty dialogue, eerie yet memorable villains, and more. But perhaps my favorite aspect of this Bond incarnation is how it balances the flawed protagonist from the novels with the cinematic action of the films. Fans of the movies will feel right at home, despite an investigative storyline that’s even more grounded than Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale seemed at the time.
Whatever kind of Bond fan you may be, Ellis and Masters new James Bond will have something for you. Reading with a drink that’s shaken, but not stirred, is entirely optional.
Favorite Moment: “Give me my bloody gun.”
Mia Goodwin’s Tomboy is a vigilante revenge thriller with a magical girl twist, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Guided by what may be a hallucination or an actual magical fairy, 16-year-old Addison Brody wreaks bloody vengeance on the corrupt cops and corporate conspirators responsible for the death of her boyfriend. Complicating matters are her dad, a cop who ends up investigating Addison’s murders, and her grandfather, who knows more about her violent tendencies that he initially lets on.
I’m only two issues into Tomboy, and while I’m disappointed it’s not the straight-up deconstruction of the genre I was expecting, I’m definitely hooked. Tomboy plays up its Japanese influences with obvious homages (There’s a Perfect Blue reference in issue #1 that you’ll struggle to miss) and covers that pull from various anime and manga , but at its heart, it’s a western tale. Goodwin seems far more interested in using the magical girl aesthetic for contrast that talking about the genre itself. And that’s fine, it’s a strong artistic approach and it catches the eye, but if you go in looking for something like Madoka Magica I think you’ll likely come away disappointed.
Which isn’t to say Tomboy doesn’t work on its own terms. The conspiracy stuff is cookie cutter thus far, explained away in a couple of panels so that Addison can have a supply of villainous victims to beat to death, but the mystery surrounding her mental state will keep you guessing. At first, it appears that the creepy magical girl prompting Addison to violence is a straight-up hallucination, but there’s just as many hints indicating her capacity for violence is an inherited trait, or even a bonafide superpower. There’s tons of characters (so many that Addison barely appears in issue #2) but Goodwin is clearly laying the groundwork for something interesting.
The art is strong too, with a nice, sharp modern style full of expressive faces and strong color theming throughout. Goodwin is at her best when she’s abusing pastels to sell the sweet magical girl angle, but her abrupt cuts to deeper blues and reds for the comics’ understated, but gruesome, violence are very effective.
Strong stuff. Bring on #3.
Favorite Moment: The creepy magical girl’s theory on violence. “It’s only wrong if you’re a bad person.”
The Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2
The Dark Knight III‘s first issue already surprised me by being rather good. Now the second issue managed to up its game with strong character development, action scenes, and a shift into superpowered violence that somehow blends wonderfully with everything that came before.
Former Robin Carrie Kelly has been arrested, bringing Gotham’s latest media controversy to a close. But it still raises a new mystery: What happened to Bruce Wayne? Carrie eventually reveals why the original Batman has been missing since the events of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and it’s certainly a good story – perhaps a little too good to be true. Meanwhile, the Atom finally discovers a way to free Kandor’s trapped citizens, only for a new Kryptonian villain to subvert the event for his own ends.
I’m impressed by how The Dark Knight III is balancing its varied plot elements. The book moves seamlessly from slow-paced character moments, to fast-paced vehicle combat, to the introduction of a terrifying Superman-level threat, giving every scene its moment to shine. That means Dark Knight III can introduce its larger world beyond Gotham City without feeling like it’s left the street-level storylines behind. (Much like Strikes Again did.) The next question will be how Dark Knight III handles a full-blown superhero battle – which you can almost certainly expect next month
One more thing: Carrie might be lying though her teeth, but you’ll be hard-pressed to imagine a more heartwrenching ending to Batman’s career than the one seen in this issue.
Favorite Moment: “I always thought I’d die alone.” “You’re not alone, boss. You’re not alone.”
Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat! #1
Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat! is the comic that angry young man on Twitter warned you about. It’s fun, diverse and saccharine. A superhero comic that’s more about friendship and day-to-day struggles than punching monsters in the face. There’s only one straight white guy in the first issue; He’s wearing a fedora and the main character hangs him from a statue for being a jerk. Make of that what you will.
Written by webcartoonist, Kate Leth, of Kate or Die fame and drawn by Brittney Williams (Legend of Korra and tons of cool tumblr shit), *Hellcat!* is another cute, self-aware and irreverent update of a classic character in the vein of Ryan North’s Squirrel Girl run. It doesn’t take Marvel’s complex world of inbred cape folk too seriously, using it as a backdrop for what appears to be an endearing slice-of-superhero-life comedy. It’s closer to Broad City than Daredevil.
Leth paints Hellcat as a goofy, hyperactive pixie, glossing over what I assume to be years of grimdark capeshit with a few single-panel nods to her apparently complex backstory. Is Leth’s take true to the character? I honestly don’t give a shit. This version is fun, endearing and perhaps just a little too eager to use her apparently legendary martial arts skills on unsuspecting not-quite villains. By the end of the first issue she’s moved in with a new roommate and resolved to get a job in retail. Like I said, cute stuff. I think I like this first issue so much because it reminds me of slice-of-life webcomics circa 2002. It’s the same kind of light, dramedy fluff you can gorge on for six hours at a time and still end up wanting more. It’s like popcorn. Or heroin.
Oh and Brittney Williams was a perfect choice art-wise. Her colour work is a little flat, but she can slip from cutsey abstraction to heavy black shadow work at a whim. She’s got a gift for fresh, modern takes on the golden-age aesthetics, as she demonstrates with this absolutely superb take on Superman and his daily planet crew.
So yeah, I think there’s definitely space for more comics like this among the forty issue epics about Venom eating children or whatever else is going on in capesville.
Favorite Moment: “You sleep in a closet?” “Uh, so did the world’s greatest wizard? So…”
Superman: American Alien #2
Remember that scene in Batman: Year One where Bruce Wayne tries to catch his first criminal, and it doesn’t go as smoothly as planned? How come Superman rarely has moments like that? Most origin stories depict the young Clark Kent gracefully saving the day without any complications, encouraging him to start his heroic journey. But he’s also an inexperienced teenager who’s barely tested his super strength and heat vision outside of his farm. That’s a potentially horrific combination – and the central premise of this month’s Superman: American Alien.
After Smallville experiences its most violent crime in decades, Clark decides to use his growing powers to find the perpetrators. There’s just one problem – he’s literally an invulnerable teenager who doesn’t quite know how to bring criminals in safely. I’ll let you read what happens for yourself, but it’s safe to say Clark did not think this through, creating one of the darkest scenes printed in a Superman comic.
But despite it all, this is still a Superman comic first and foremost. Instead of going for edgy, Dark Age-era “violence for violence’s sake” nonsense, Clark balances it with a strong sense of humanity. He stumbles through French lessons with Lana, gets teased by his friends, and is immensely embarrassed about the implications of X-Ray vision. And most importantly, he walks away from it learning something that will make him a better hero. (Not to mention explains why Superman insists on holding back when fighting enemies.)
Favorite Moment: “People’s bodies are all smushed by their clothes and they look… Stop laughing.”
We Stand On Guard #6
I’ve been loving We Stand On Guard from the beginning, so it’s no surprise that I immensely enjoyed its final issue. The climactic last stand of the Canadian Two Four against the American army was just as explosive and dramatic as I’d wanted it to be. But what I didn’t expect- but really should have, considering this is the last issue of a Brian K Vaughn book – was a morally ambiguous ending that left me questioning a lot of what happened so far.
Back in Issue 1 (wow was that really six months ago?), We Stand On Guard implied the United States believed Canada was responsible for the terrorist attack which killed its President. And when the vengeful Amber finally confronts “the American” tasked with defeating the Two Four, she also finds evidence that this theory was correct – and Amber’s mother was involved. But the American is also a master of disinformation. Could this be another trick to stop the Two Four at the last moment?
No idea. Much like Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina‘s finales, We Stand On Guard has no direct answers. And while this particular battle has a clear (explosive) conclusion, it’s the reader who decides whether the Two Four are heroes, or a terrorist group whose actions made things worse for Americans and Canadians alike. Or maybe both. Vaughn has teased that We Stand On Guard‘s story may continue at some point, but for now this is a solid ending to a great series. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to head back to Issue 1 and read it for yourself.
Favorite Moment: “You know what really happens when you blow up a kid’s parents? You don’t get some noble defender of Justice. You get me.”
Here’s a horrifying admission that will no-doubt offend your comic-loving sensibilities; I’m not entirely one hundred percent on board with Garth Ennis. The quality of his work is undeniable, but it’s always been just a little bit too mean for me. Preacher, The Authority and The Boys are brilliantly written and piss-your-pants funny but there’s a nihilistic edge to them that I’ve never really cared for.
So it’s always nice to see Ennis lighten up a little bit. The first issue of Code Pru would be a pitch black comedy by most writers’ standards, but for an Ennis-helmed comic that isn’t part of the big two, it’s practically serene. The first issue opens with a group of hapless goth girls trying to complete a magic ritual while the titular Pru, med student and resident cynic, makes fun of them from the sidelines. It’s typical Ennis stuff; Pru is the voice of reason and common sense, while her arch enemy and wannabe goth princess Lisa, is a pretentious loon there to be derided. It’s funny, but hardly ground-breaking stuff. The issue’s second plot thread; Which features a human jailor playing monopoly with a locked up Lovecraftian monster that clearly thinks he’s a bit of a prat gets most of the laughs. The writhing mass of tentacles and eyeballs has a very human character, and the contrast is inherently funny. There’s something absolutely hilarious about a tentacle monster squinting at a monopoly card while telling its opponent to suck its balls.
The art by Crossed: Badlands artist, Raulo Caceres, is decent, but I’ll admit I’m getting a little sick of Avatar’s chunky style. Still, Caceres is a good pick this time around. He’s a little overzealous with his hatching, but he’s a dab hand at detailing eldritch abominations and he’ll likely excell at the seemingly inevitable extreme violence Ennis’ work is known for. Keeping the comic in black and white was a great decision, giving it a wonderful 1980s, exploitation, schlock horror comic vibe.
I strongly suspect Code Pru is going to get a lot more gruesome as it goes on, but thus far it’s funny enough to keep me on board.
Favorite Moment: The twenty foot tall seething mass of tentacles breaking out the Monopoly board. “I want to be the little dog this time.”