This week, Starlight draws to a close, something smells with Harley Quinn‘s annual, and Neil Gaiman puts out a dark children’s storybook.
When I was a kid, I used to collect comics every week from the local shop. After a while, I started focusing exclusively on trade paperbacks and graphic novels; following a handful of books and having to wait for weeks to get a payoff could be such a pain. Thankfully working with The Escapist‘s Comics & Cosplay team introduced me to a ton of new books and series that make the wait a little easier… and we’ll use this week’s Comics Collection to introduce you to some of our favorites.
This week, I checked out Batman in Arkham Manor, celebrity superheroes in The Multiversity: The Just, the students of Morning Glories, and the bastards of Southern Bastards. I even managed to squeeze in the dark children’s storybook Hansel & Gretel from Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti.
Meanwhile, Stew Shearer discussed the ending of Starlight, and the latest happenings of Copperhead, Superman, and Ragnarok.
Finally, Marla Desat sniffs out the scratch and sniff Harley Quinn Annual #1, before bringing it home with The Wicked + The Divine, Inhuman, and the Legends of Baldur’s Gate series.
But first, let’s take a look at:
The Multiversity: The Just #1
The Just continues to show that Grant Morrison’s Multiversity is at its best focusing on individual parallel universes. After last months Secret Society of Super-Heroes, we move to an Earth where superheroes aren’t public defenders, they’re obnoxious celebrities. If you enjoyed Powers “superheroes are pop culture” approach, but want a DC twist, this issue is one to look at.
The premise: Several years ago, Superman constructed a network of Super-Robots to defend the Earth from crisis events and maniacal supervillains. The problem is they worked too well. Now the latest generation of superheroes, led by Chris Kent and Damian Wayne, have nothing meaningful in their lives, and fill the time with celebrity culture and re-enactments of past battles. But when a fellow hero commits suicide, Damian suspects something finally is threatening their sheltered little world, perhaps even from another dimension.
It’s an incredible achievement that The Just is engaging when every single one of its characters are insufferably shallow. Part of that is the novelty of seeing DC characters as Real Worldesque “celebrities”, but Morrison’s meticulous references are another. The new Wonder Woman is Artemis. Shilo Norman’s kid sibling is Sister Miracle. Even the Alpha Centurion shows up, and he hasn’t appeared in comics for a freaking decade. Like other Multiversity books, picking up on the references is a pleasure in itself.
Outside of that The Just is an incredibly meta read, with past and future Multiversity issues appearing as in-universe comic books. On the whole though, that shows The Just locks into place with the rest of the series while looking absolutely nothing like its peers in any way.
Favorite Moment: “What Sandman? The Sandman? Neil Gaiman’s Sandman?”
Morning Glories Deluxe Edition Vol. 3
Remember when calling something the comic book version of Lost was supposed to be a good thing? After the disappointing finale, not everyone feels that way, but Morning Glories really scratches that Lost itch in a way few series can match.
The downside is that even if spoilers weren’t an issue, I can barely grasp what’s happening half the time. Starting from a private school where teachers torture, traumatize, and even murder students, Morning Glories has slowly added elements like time travel, religious mythology, quantum mechanics, and psychic powers without telling the reader how everything fits together. This volume collects half of Morning Glories‘ second “season”, resolving cliffhangers in ways that raise more questions than answers.
And maybe there are no answers, and Morning Glories will also disappoint. But right now, if you love stories where the fun is creating your own fan theories and seeing how they hold up, Morning Glories is the series to get into.
Favorite Moment: “No it’s fine, I just – Just let her apply to the school.”
Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti’s Hansel & Gretel
Did you ever hear those really dark fairy tales as a kid? The older ones, where the Grandmother is eaten and stays dead instead of being locked in a closet or rescued by the Hunter? That’s the dark spirit this version of Hansel & Gretel harkens to, where children try to survive in a world of dark forces seemingly beyond their control.
Now, would you read this tale to your kids? Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti seem to hope so, since they’ve crafted Hansel & Gretel as a chillingly dark children’s storybook. Gaiman’s text adds several historical details and flourishes, like a war and famine that instigated the need to “lose” children, while Mattotti’s art portrays everything using black-and-white shadows. In keeping with the realistic tone, the witch isn’t technically even a witch, just an incredibly dangerous old woman who took to cannibalism to survive. She still has a gingerbread house, though.
The core lesson, as with Gaiman’s other children’s books, is that kids can absolutely defeat the darkness of the world. But even if you’re not a child, you’ll find a well-written examination of one of our most enduring fairy tales.
Favorite Moment: “He’s not coming back for us.”
Southern Bastards #5
Southern Bastards last story arc ended in the worst possible way…. and in the long run that’s great for the series. Just like how untimely deaths in Game of Thrones keep moving the story in a better direction, Southern Bastards opens the door on a whole new world simply by letting the bad guys win. And while I’m certain they’ll get their comeuppance eventually (they’d freaking better) in the meantime you’ll get some Southern background with the origin story of Coach Boss.
Southern Bastards #5 flips back and forth between the coach’s early days on the football team and the fallout from last issue. There’s a lot to like here: Most of the town wants to forget the last story arc, and Coach Boss’ part in it, ever happened. Meanwhile, there are glimpses of how the “never-give-up” attitude of Coach Boss actually made things worse, especially since he wasn’t originally wanted on the team.
But the best hints of the future come near the end, when Boss reveals all the different characters and organizations, illegal and otherwise, that he has ties to. There’s several years of storylines between each of these figures alone, and that’s not even getting into a certain Tubb who we saw in the previous arc.
Saying much more would be getting into spoiler territory, so let me just say that Southern Bastards is among the best comics on the shelves right now. You should absolutely check it out.
Favorite Moment: “Holy shit, he ain’t even cleaned the blood off.”
Arkham Manor #1
I haven’t been reading too much Batman outside of Year Zero lately, so returning to modern-day Gotham was a bit of a shock. For example, not only is Bruce Wayne living out of an apartment after losing his fortune, Arkham Manor practically collapsed into a sinkhole. These problems certainly have strong implications for Gotham’s crime rate, but the Mayor has combined the problems into one clever solution: Turn the repossessed Wayne Manor into a new institute for the criminally deranged.
When the story opens, Batman knows this is the best temporary answer, but still struggles with his childhood home being shared by Gotham’s criminals. Regardless, he seems prepared to continue with his usual crimefighting (after sealing the cave as a precaution), until a prisoner is murdered in unexplainable circumstances. That alone is enough to prompt Batman to return home for good, but not as a Wayne; this time he’ll be Arkham’s latest inmate.
Outside of that, most of the story is just setup for the rest of the arc. There’s a few good moments highlighting how Gotham reacts to the loss of the Asylum, and it’s amusing to see how Bruce and Alfred now operate from an apartment building. But for the next few issues, this story looks like it’s going to live up to its title by focusing squarely on Arkham Manor and its secrets. With the intro out of the way, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next.
Favorite Moment: “I left that on there just to make you laugh.”
I started reading Superman because I enjoy John Romita Jr’s art style and was looking forward to seeing it applied to the Man of Steel. I was very much pleased with the results. That said, with the issue 35 of the book, I’m finding myself also increasingly impressed with the actual story. For those not in the know, the series is currently in the middle of the Men of Tomorrow storyline.
When it began, a new super powered being name Ulysses emerged from another dimension. Endowed with abilities fairly equivalent to good ol’ Supes, it was revealed that Ulysses was originally from Earth but wound up teleported to a world of peace loving aliens after an accident involving his scientist parents. Hoping to get to know his homeworld, he tags along with Superman on a mission to take down the Machinist. This leads him to the revelation that the Earth, unlike the world he grew up on, is still embroiled in blood and often petty conflicts. Rebuffed by Superman after suggesting they use their powers to destroy all of Earth’s weapons, he launches a new plan to bring millions of deserving peace-minded Earthlings back with him to the other dimension.
What I like about this idea is the somewhat morally grey area it places Superman in. I always love stories that explore his role in the world and the potential good/harm he could do if he were to ever just cut loose and use his powers to force the world to be a better place. Both his refusal to do so and Ulysses’ resultant frustration are understandable and I’ll be waiting eagerly for issue 36 to see how the brewing conflict between the two men proceeds.
Favorite Moment: “My parents… Everything they said about Earth. Why they wanted to leave it… Maybe they were right.”
It’s here! It’s here! It’s… over?
Starlight has been probably my favorite read since the book debuted earlier debuted earlier this year. That being the case, I’ll go ahead and admit that I had no idea this was only going to be a six issue mini-series. With issue 6 now here and the series done, in turn, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to harboring at least a little bit of disappointment. The concept, writing and art in Starlight have been so consistently fantastic that I could have easily read a hundred issues without getting bored. Sadly that won’t be the case.
Regardless, Starlight 6 is still is a fine read and closes the space opera of Duke McQueen on a note that’s fun, action packed and heartwarming all at the same time. It’s old school space opera at its absolute finest. I’ll put it out there that I didn’t leave the book feeling 100 percent satisfied. But that mostly has to do with the fact that this series could have been so much more than 6-issue run.
Favorite Moment: “Starting to wish you’d stuck a few doors on this place?”
Copperhead was probably the new series that left most excited last month. I mean, come on. Who doesn’t love a sci-fi western space opera? Even so, I always worry that the second issue of a new book is going to bomb and ruin the whole thing before it ever really gets out of the gate.
Luckily that isn’t the case with Copperhead. Issue 2 picks up where left off both in terms of story and quality. The newly hired Sherriff Bronson and her deputy Boo are investigating a house full of dead bodies, looking for clues as to who might have been behind their brutal murders. Meanwhile, her young son and his new friend meet a mysterious, armed-to-the-teeth stranger roaming the wastelands. He helps them in a moment of danger, but what was he doing out there with all those guns in the first place?
Plain and short, if you enjoyed Firefly at all, you should be reading Copperhead. It’s grimy, dirty, worn out and wonderful.
Favorite Moment: “No, I’ve never seen anything like this. Not since the war.”
Ragnarok‘s concept is so cool that it pretty much had me hooked from the word go. Taking place in a post-apocalypse world based in Norse mythology, it opened with a single dark elf recruiting warriors to join her on a quest to destroy the remains of an unnamed dead god. We were left with some pretty in-your-face hints in issue 1 as to who this god actually was. That being the case, issue 2 confirms it in a fast-paced and bloody battle that demonstrates exactly why you don’t mess with the God of Thunder even after he’s supposedly already dead.
What’s most interesting about Ragnarok to me is the fact that, at this point, I still can’t quite figure out where it’s going with things. If issue 2 is any indicator, we might be looking at the beginnings of a new non-Marvel Thor book. That said, considering how quickly it removes one protagonist from the picture, it might still too early to tell. Regardless, Ragnarok continues to be an excellent read in its second issue and I’d definitely encourage fantasy fans to give it a look see.
Favorite Moment: “This place has been my tomb. Its ruins shall be your monument.”
Bodies #4 of 8
Bodies gets stranger by the issue. The sci fi horror series follow four timelines, each illustrated by a different artist, as the mystery of identical murders is investigated by an amnesiac in 2050, a Muslim detective in modern day London, a crooked cop in the 1940s, and a dedicated inspector in the 1890s. Halfway through this series, the four timelines are beginning to intersect, sometimes subtly (through overlapping dialogue) and sometimes overtly (through apparitions). There’s a bit of a Lovecraftian feel here, particularly around the mysterious Longharvest, but also some strongly hinted at possibilities of time travel. Very little has actually been revealed about the mystery of the bodies, but given that the series is limited to eight issues it doesn’t worry me yet.
The four distinct art styles really make this book stand out. It makes it especially obvious when the lines between timelines are blurred, and it adds an extra element to the characters. The dialogue feels stilted at times as it tries to also maintain the four time periods, sometimes feeling excessively stereotyped for the 1890s and disconcertingly exaggerated for the 2050s characters. The art does a fantastic job of communicating the different time periods, and the whole thing would likely work as well or better if the dialogue didn’t try to work so hard. Despite that, the mystery is keeping me curious enough to keep coming back to this Vertigo series.
Favorite Moment: “At least we’re English thieves.”
Harley Quinn Annual #1
I’m a big advocate for digital comics. The ability to buy digital (particularly in large piles for binge-reading) helped get me back into reading comics. But, for an issue like the Harley Quinn Annual, nothing beats a paper copy. This standalone Harley Quinn comes sealed in a plastic bag to seal in fresh scents. Throughout the issue, pages are suffused with scents, little scratch-and-sniff forays into Harley’s olfactory world. It’s a gimmick, but it’s a fun one, and besides, scratch-and-sniff seems right at home with Harley. The little pieces of fourth-wall-breaking commentary from Harley herself on the smell-dimension of the comic are perfect. It’s off the wall, negligently homicidal, and pure mayhem.
In addition to being a really fun issue, the art is superb. Artist Jon Timms is joined by Stjepan Sejic, Joe Quinones, Ben Caldwell and Kelley Jones to illustrate Harley’s hallucinations as she tries to bust her good friend Poison Ivy out of Arkham Asylum. I haven’t picked up any other issue of the series, but the annual was funny enough and just spot-on-Harley enough to get me interested in picking up the ongoing series.
Favorite Moment: “You know that form you signed? That makes sure I am not liable for your death. No matter what happens. “
The Wicked + The Divine #5
You know when you start reading something and everything just seems to resonate with you, but you’re worried that you might just be loving the superficial, surface level stuff because you haven’t gotten to any of the core plot? And that once it gets there you might be even more disappointed because it hasn’t met your own hype? With issue #5, The Wicked + The Divine has obliterated that nagging doubt in my mind. When I recommended the last issue, I expected to just keep quietly enjoying the series, but this finale was too fantastic to not recommend it.
Writer Kieron Gillen knows when to lay on the dialogue and when to back off and let artist Jamie McKelvie’s art take over the page. This issue # 5 wraps up the first arc of The Wicked + The Divine with a violent climax and sets up superfan Laura to delve much, much deeper into the lives of the gods. We’ll have to wait until December for the next issue and the start of the second arc, “Fandemonium”, but between now and then the trade paperback collecting the first five issues is due out, making getting caught up easy.
Favorite Moment: “I’d rather die than go back.”
With The Inhumans movie planned for Marvel’s Phase 3 of superhero movies, the Medusa and the Inhumans are getting a lot of attention. A longtime Avengers and Fantastic Four staple, the latest ongoing series centered on the Inhumans is really starting to get good. With New Attilan established, Medusa finally decides to send her remaining security to search for Black Bolt, the king of the Inhumans. While most believe Black Bolt to be dead, Medusa knows that he is simply missing. Black Bolt’s ambitious and cruel brother, Maximus, is keeping the King in thrall for his own ends.
Inhuman smoothly introduces a pair of new characters with Frank McGee, a Nuhuman detective rejected after his transformation, and Attilan’s one remaining guard, inspector Auran. After stumbling a little with its growing cast, Inhuman has found a good balance between recurring characters and building a world that is packed with new Inhumans. Inhuman is also integrating itself with the rest of the Marvel universe, so you’ll get a bit more out of this issue if you’re also following New Avengers, but nothing is indecipherable if you’re not. This issue begins artist Pepe Larraz’s run on the series, and I love his take on Medusa and the depth that Auran and Frank’s conversations get from his choice of expressions. With only seven issues, this series is a great place to get to know the Inhumans, though I’m most excited to see more of Auran and Frank.
Favorite Moment: “Things were real sad all around.”
Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate #1
Set generations after the events of Baldur’s Gate, a young mage named Delina is under assault by a pair of gargoyles. Desperate for help and wielding wild magic, her spell goes awry, animating a nearby statue of Minsc. The legendary ranger (and his miniature space hamster, Boo) are suddenly reborn from stone into flesh, and is thrown right into the troubles of Baldur’s Gate.
Minsc is perfect in this issue, and any fans of Baldur’s Gate will instantly hear his voice clearly jumping off the page. Writer Jim Zub is spot on with Minsc’s dialogue, but the writing is a little weak in some places. Some panels would have a lot more impact if left without any words. It’s a decent debut issue, with Max Dunbar’s art really shining in the full page spreads and large panel fights. Delina’s magic looks suitably fantastic, brought to life by John-Paul Bove’s colors. If you’ve spent nights with a flashlight under the covers tearing through Forgotten Realms novels, or long days replaying Baldur’s Gate, Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate is a fun indulgence in that nostalgia. If you’re looking for a fantasy world with a little more depth and polish, you’re less likely to be satisfied with Minsc and Boo.
Favorite Moment: “A turbulent stewpot where man and hamster may find grand adventure!”