The Fantasy of Fascism Hides Behind a Mask

This article was originally published at Your Chicken Enemy on January 12, 2017.


2017 was the year where superhero comics proved they were not up to the task of handling fascism. Their status quo of heroism, their need to please all possible readers, and their simple one-two solutions were exposed as farcical in the face of a genuinely daunting historical moment. None of this is news though. The superhero genre has always been a power fantasy, one that too often flirts with fascism. Fantasies like those dressed in capes are personal things and best expose our hopes, desires, and dreams, for better or worse.

That is the understanding Twilight of the Bat brings to the genre. This 20-page story, written by Josh Simmons and drawn by Patrick Keck, tells the story of a familiar hero named “The Bat” who is alone in the wasteland of G- City until he finds its only other surviving inhabitant, “Joke Man”. The pair resembles two of the most popular comic book characters of the past century exactly as their names suggest, and their personalities clash along similar lines when left to endure a barren hellscape together.

In spite of the obvious hook—something that might be spun as an Elseworlds tale by DC Comics—Simmons and Keck are largely uninterested in the idea of asking “what if” about Batman and The Joker. Rather, they are much more engaged by what this pair represents, even when read outside of the context of a 75-year-old ongoing series. The Bat is as much an archetypal superhero as a Batman analog, the same for Joke Man in his role as supervillain. If anything, the Batman comparisons more easily connect with the darker, more violent aspects of superhero stories than say those of Superman or Wonder Woman. Batman is defined as a vigilante, a seeker of justice, and a figure of fear. He is the popular superhero most easily associated with the fascist tendencies within the genre. Batman seeks to impose his worldview upon society, and he values order above all else. His methods are based in violence and fear in order to make Gotham City align with what he believes it ought to be — a fundamentally fascist fantasy.


In Twilight of the Bat, the post-apocalyptic wasteland detailed by Keck effectively ends The Bat’s raison d’être. It’s apparent in the first couple of pages that nothing else lives in the streets of G- City now, with every aspect of the city taking on the texture of burnt wood and its citizens nothing but soot-covered bones. How The Bat and Joke Man survived is beside the point; there is nothing else left in this world. So how does The Bat choose to live when there’s no more justice to inflict or criminals to frighten? The sad answer in Twilight of the Bat is that he doesn’t change a thing.

In a scenario where law and order have ceased to hold meaning, The Bat views Joke Man as an opportunity to recreate his mission. Everything Joke Man does is an opening for The Bat to summon his disgust and anger once more. In the context of a Batman comic, this might make sense as the villian would poison the reservoir or take children hostages, but in Twilight of the Bat, Simmons and Keck make it clear that the superhero urge is driven by an instinct to control not to protect.

Joke Man is the sympathetic foil required by this narrative. His face is that of a burn victim and his actions are regularly repulsive, but there’s nothing inherently evil about this human being. When examined carefully, Joke Man becomes the caretaker and empathetic soul of the story. Everything he does is as an action of love. Joke Man repeatedly tells The Bat that he loves him. He makes a fool of himself, painting lipstick with his own blood and smearing himself with feces, in order to make The Bat laugh. He even goes through a dramatic routine at night, baking cupcakes and putting footprints in the snow, to provide The Bat with hope. Like some deranged mother, Joke Man perceives and reacts to the needs of The Bat at every turn.

These actions are taken as affronts by The Bat, though. He handcuffs Joke Man at night, brutalizes and curses him, and even goes so far as to bite off a finger when angered by Joke Man’s dancing. Joke Man’s dance is not a moral misstep by any reasonable standard. The dance is simply an offense to The Bat’s understanding of order. Faced with the horrors of this world, The Bat’s only response is to remain stoic and dour with even the very hint of laughter causing him to grimace. The Bat does not want to dance or enjoy this moment, and he violently seeks to force Joke Man from doing so either.

In the end, Joke Man’s ultimate offense is his otherness. This can be seen as a homophobic “othering” at times, as The Bat is clearly disturbed by direct pronouncements of affection from another man. When Joke Man kisses The Bat on the nose or says “I love you”, Keck always leaves an open panel in which The Bat’s expression does not change. He appears incapable of processing or accepting any form of affection. This lack of response becomes disgust given enough time. When Joke Man carries on a monologue or dances for an extended period of time, Keck slowly warps The Bat’s face towards anger until he lashes out. This feeling of disgust ultimately boils over and The Bat murders Joke Man. He rejects his last opportunity to engage with any person or idea outside of himself.

And in this, Simmons and Keck suggest that the very concepts of life and personality run contrary to The Bat’s mission, offering, as they do, alternatives to the world he desires. His only true happiness come from an adult and child that exist only in his imagination. People are only pure so long as he does not see or speak with them. He can cry out with joy at the thought of them, but breaks the only living thing he encounters.

Twilight of the Bat is a final chapter. The shell of G- City is a place without people, without otherness; it is the world The Bat created through neverending battles with anything abnormal, specifically anything that does not fit The Bat’s definition of normal. Keck’s ruinous terrain and the final panels of a seemingly endless white expanse swallowing The Bat are visual metaphors for the fantasy of control taken to its furthest logical extent. An endless need for control, the shaping of society to reflect an individual’s single desires, ultimately negates the very concept of society. The Bat abhors anything unlike himself and, when given the choice between life with others or an eternity alone, he chooses the latter. That does not stop him from mourning the decision, but the decision was his and, once made, it cannot be taken back.

The personal fantasy of enforcing law and order, shaping society to be the thing we deem it ought to be is linked to The Bat’s vision of the world. He desires control without concern for diversity. His fascism is personal and destructive on an intimate scale. While the husk of G- City may not be his responsibility, his ultimate loneliness is. The twilight of this world is his construct, a dream of singular vision and absolute control. It simply cannot abide any other forms of thought or life.

Power, revenge, and control fantasies are ugly things even when wrapped in a cape. The superhero that seeks to control us cannot save us. A character like The Bat does not offer hope for all, merely a fascist fantasy for the reader who imagines putting the world in their own personal order. Terms like “criminal” and “justice” are tossed around to make the plot sound proper, but they are propaganda encouraging readers to embrace law and order above all else. So Twilight of the Bat transcends an indictment of this form of the superhero genre and strikes at the broader set of fantasies defined by these terms. The proselytization of law and order, rampant homophobia, and urge to suppress anything outside of an internalized “normal” are hallmarks of the modern conservative movement. Just as Batman’s fantasy has been normalized in popular culture, so have the fascist leanings of an entire political party. Their ugliness is exposed in absurdity here, but the truth of the ugliness remains. At the end of Twilight of the Bat, The Bat learns the fatal flaw of this fantasy when left entirely alone, a lesson first offered by Terry Pratchett in the pages of Mort: “There is no justice. Just us.”

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The Dangerous Idea of a Comics Meritocracy

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on January 12, 2017.

On Wednesday Erik Larsen, the creator of Savage Dragon and co-founder of Image Comics, began a conversation about the comics industry with a series of four tweets. He was responding to a fan’s request for comment on the nature of hiring in comics as a whole and allegations that Image Comics only hires individuals with an existing following.

Larsen ignored the specific argument regarding Image Comics, one which I have neither the research nor the interest to address, and opted to discuss the comics industry as a whole. His perspective on the manner is clear: Comics is a meritocracy.

Essentially, Larsen argues that those who garner work or power within comics do so based primarily on their talent. The talented get work and those left without work do not possess the necessary talent. This concept probably sounds familiar, even if the term meritocracy does not. It’s a foundational argument of the modern Republican Party brought out every time they want to argue against taxes on the wealthy or assistance for the poor. They believe we exist in a society where your status reflects nothing more than your skills and work ethic. Apparently, Larsen believes the same thing about the comics community.

This would not be worth more than a sarcastic tweet, if the idea Larsen is supporting were not actively dangerous. A belief that society is a meritocracy is not an opinion of the sort one might hold about the quality of Savage Dragon; it is part of a larger belief system that either reinforces or alters systems of power. So it is necessary for us to examine how a publisher or creator’s belief in the existence of meritocracy might impact comics.

If meritocracy exists, then the current system actively rewards those who deserve reward and refuses to acknowledge those who do not. While there might be some rare exceptions, as Larsen acknowledges, the current system is close to a steady-state in which almost everyone is close to where they belong. We only need to compare this theory to reality in order to see how dangerous the idea truly is.

The comics direct market lacks diversity. Whether we choose to discuss only the largest direct market publishers (i.e. Marvel, DC, Image) or all of those that comprise the majority of direct market sales, there is a massive gap between the population that reads comics and those that create comics. Race, gender, orientation, disability, and so many other key factors of human existence remain vastly underrepresented by a creative workforce that is predominantly white, male, straight, and abled. Some publishers are making active strides toward rectifying this problem while others are failing miserably. However, a belief in meritocracy insists there simply is no problem. Those who deserve jobs already have jobs. Those who do not have jobs do not deserve them.

It is certainly a reassuring belief for those with power in comics. It insists that they obtained their status entirely based on talent. Furthermore, there is no need for them to be concerned with analyzing or altering the system that made them who they are. Meritocracy insists that those with the most never need to engage in self-reflection or engage in the hard work of social justice. While it is unsurprising that a former publisher of Image Comics would want to hold this belief, it does not make it any more true. Understanding whether a comics meritocracy exists requires a comparison between the ideal and the real.

To combine reality with a belief that comics is currently a meritocracy insists on one of two possible justification: First, there are not many diverse groups of creators attempting to enter the industry. It is a lack of interest that leads to a lack of diversity as increased interest would result in greater diversity amongst creators. Second, diverse groups of creators are inferior and undeserving of the jobs reserved for “OUTSTANDING WORK”. After all, “If you’re GOOD–you WILL get work.”

The briefest scan of webcomics, social media, and other democratic forms of creation and sharing exposes the first justification as an outright lie. Diversity is much easier to find in formats where anyone can create. Therefore a belief in meritocracy must insist on the second conclusion, one best defined as white supremacy.

Let me be exceedingly clear, I am not calling Erik Larsen a racist. What I am saying is that he has propagated a racist idea, even if that was not his intention. Meritocracy is not simply a racist idea in an unjust society though, it is sexist, homophobic, ableist, and many other foul things. It is a message that states, “If you don’t have it, you don’t deserve it.” There are far too few diverse, talented people working in comics today. Insisting the system is a meritocracy tells them they simply do not belong in comics.

If Erik Larsen is seen as a leader at Image Comics, then it cannot be surprising that thousands of creators looking to break in are dispirited about their opportunities. No matter the intent, they are being told that the lack of writers and artists like themselves at publishers like Image Comics will not be altered as those with power do not perceive any problem. The myth of comics as a meritocracy insists that those who are not present are worth less; this is a belief that makes American comics worthless.

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5 Things We Need From Avengers: No Surrender

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 8, 2018.

Next week will see the launch of Marvel’s first weekly series in a very long time. That series comes from the pages of Avengers in a 16-part story titled “No Surrender”. While Avengers will carry the complete adventure, the tale will actually feature the three key Avengers teams, including both the U.S.Avengers and Uncanny Avengers. Together all of these Avengers, and others from the past, will be forced to confront a massive problem: the theft of Earth. With two sets of bad guys, Thanos’ Black Order and a new version of the Lethal Legion, there will be ample problems and mysteries to solve between January and the end of April. However, weekly series are still a difficult style of story to pull off.

If you look at examples from the past decade alone, for every great weekly endeavor there are two mediocre ones. DC Comics’ 52 still stands as a high watermark packed with intriguing storylines, top-tier talent, and plenty of story to fill all of its issues. Yet the follow up in Countdown is best not discussed. So we’re taking a look at the concept of weekly superhero series and providing five key things that “No Surrender” will need in order to succeed.

A Strong Writing Team

On a weekly series writers have to be in the driver’s seat. There’s no living artist who can handle the demands of 20-pages every week, even with a favorable amount of preparation. That means that the writers in charge of a series have to be well prepared for their own tasks and ready to collaborate seamlessly. Every individual issue needs to offer enough action and plot to satisfy readers, while also setting up future installments and delivering exciting cliffhangers. On top of that all of the individual issues need to read in a similar fashion. Character voices must be consistent and small details cannot be changed without readers noticing every 7 days. It’s a steep challenge to say the very least.

“No Surrender” has a trifecta of talent that should be up to the task though. Mark Waid, Al Ewing, and Jim Zub, the regular writers of Avengers, U.S.Avengers, and Uncanny Avengers, respectively, are some of the best the publisher has to offer right now. They’re all experienced Marvel writers and have shown the chops to handle big concepts in the past. The key test will be in how well they can blend their styles. Each writer has their own fandom for reasons unique to them, but now they will need to find the middle ground that allows them to bounce off of one another. However things turn out, there’s probably not a better trio at Marvel today to handle this particular project.

Well Scheduled and Well Selected Artists

Just because a weekly series relies heavily on writers doesn’t mean artists fall to the wayside. One poorly drawn issue can be enough to make readers give up on such a big commitment to an ongoing story. Even if the stakes are rising and all of your favorite characters are on the page, it means nothing if you can’t discern exactly what is happening or Captain America and Hawkeye look the same. We would mention some recent weekly series, but it’s best to not say anything at all if you have nothing nice to say.

Again, that doesn’t appear to be a problem facing “No Surrender”. Marvel Comics was confident enough about their planning to announce the complete creative lineup in October of last year and are only utilizing three artists: Pepe Larazz, Kim Jacinto, and Paco Medina. This makes two things exceedingly clear. First of all, the pages will be done on time and by a relatively select set of artists. Second, and more importantly, those artists are all great at what they do and provide a style and storytelling sensibility that won’t conflict between issues. Each of these three stand out on their own merits, but it’s unlikely that readers will be disturbed by changes on any given week. That consistency is key in this format.

A Satisfying Central Mystery

“No Surrender” already features a great question: Who stole the Earth? In order to pay off that concept the series has to explore the answer over the course of 16 weeks and make the answer satisfying after more than 320 pages. It’s a tall order, but a necessary one. In a series like Batman Eternal the core mystery was a whodunnit that was answered with a single answer and relatively minor conspiracy in the final pages of the series. To keep readers engaged the resolution should match the lengths required to reach it. That means it should be both complex and capable of being revealed over time. However “No Surrender” begins and whoever starts it, we hope the answers are every bit as interesting as the questions.

B-Plots Aplenty

16 issues are plenty to fill in a standard monthly schedule, but they feel like much more when delivered every week. In order to keep the story varied and readers interested, “No Surrender” will need a lot of subplots. These can be minor character conflicts, lesser mysteries, or just about anything else. The key is that subplots allow individual issues to remain important and provide ongoing arcs with their own introductions and catharsis throughout a much grander epic. If the complete focus of the series rests on the big adventure, then the middle will feel bloated. These smaller stories offer more flexibility and keep readers engaged in the very long haul between the first and sixteenth chapters.

Absolutely No Tie-Ins or Crossovers

While all of “No Surrender” is taking place in the pages of Avengers, it is already essentially a crossover between that title and U.S.Avengers and Uncanny Avengers on an accelerated schedule. Asking readers to purchase 16 comics in 16 weeks for a single story is a massive commitment. Asking anything more is unconscionable. Weekly comics feel like a lot, both for creators and readers. If the story and talent is there, then that should be enough to make the big endeavor worthwhile on its own. Readers willing to trust Marvel Comics enough to follow them down this rabbit hole should be rewarded solely within the pages of Avengers. Sometimes the key to making something big work is recognizing when enough is enough. 16 weeks of non-stop Avengers action ought to be plenty satisfying on its own. We can’t wait to see how these creators pull it off.

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5 More Batman Team-Ups We Need

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 5, 2018.

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Batman and the Signal debuted on Wednesday and shone a spotlight on one of the newest members of the Bat-family. Just 5 years after being introduced by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, Duke Thomas is now headlining this mini-series that will reveal his role within Gotham City. The 3-issue series is also written by Snyder who is now joined by Cully Hamner in  a very strong debut issue that focuses on the need for a hero that works in the daylight.

This concept of short mini-series showing off the excellent supporting cast of the Batman comics line is one that shouts for repetition. Duke Thomas and his new alter-ego are far from the only heroes surrounding Batman who could use additional definition. A 3-issue series provides the perfect opportunity for a great story featuring excellent talent without demanding too many resources. If a specific team-up really sparks reader’s interest, these sort of series could offer a sort of pilot season to B-list sidekicks ready to start their own series.

With any luck Batman and the Signal will find its audience and encourage more series in the same format. We’ve already imagined 5 different team-ups that would fit the concept perfectly…

Batman and The Orphan

One of the most exciting returns during the five-year New 52 period at DC Comics was that of Cassandra Cain. Her unique place both within the Batgirl line and the Bat-family played left a real absence at the time of relaunch and her return as The Orphan has been embraced by fans, new and old. Cain is essentially the same character, even if she has a new title. Her deadly training, lack of speech skills, and uncanny ability to bring out the best in companions all remain present and deeply endearing.

In the pages of Detective Comics, Cain has encouraged the rest of the team to be better by showing them just how much good she can do in spite of having an awful childhood and every reason to not be a hero. A team-up with Batman would focus on the paternal role he plays to so many heroes and how it is often his sidekicks that bring out the best in him. It would also offer a great change for Cain to take up more panels and make the case for another solo series filled with martial arts actions and a truly irreplaceable heroine.

Batman and Clayface

The other breakout star of the Rebirth run on Detective Comics has to be Clayface. Many readers were unsure why the longtime Bat-foe was part of the core family when the series began. Yet over the past couple of years writer James Tynion IV has shown Clayface has been overdue for a redemption arc. His abilities serves both as a perfect device to explain his criminal tendencies and a foil for his redemption.

Clayface is struggling with his slow loss of humanity and doing everything in his power to become (and remain) a hero. Batman sets a high standard for his companions and Clayface’s struggle is likely to elicit empathy from the typically stoic hero. More importantly, Clayface looks up to Batman and having the two teamed up provides an opportunity for the villain-turned-hero to push himself to his limits. He is both a visually and thematically versatile character deserving of more space on the page. We can only hope he sticks around as a hero and finds space beyond Detective Comics to grow.

Batman and Anarky

Anarky is a character that has remained great in concept, but never really spread his wings in execution. He was originally conceived to contrast Batman’s sense of law and order with a younger generation’s view of the world. While there’s still an element of detection and possible fisticuffs, Batman and Anarky conflict best when it comes to ideas. That concept is still packed with potential, now more than ever.

Anarky is an anti-hero and it is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which this pair would be forced to team up. Following that premise would allow creators to examine whether Batman’s idea of justice best serves Gotham City or if it needs to evolve (or at least be challenged). The two could foil in both a funny and meaningful manner. Ultimately a great Anarky team-up could provide the grounding for an Anarky series. If that’s the case, we just hope it’s drawn by Nick Derington who seems to have a real understanding of this underutilized character.

Batman and Batwoman

One of the key sources of tension in Detective Comics remains the different styles of leadership between Batman and Batwoman. Batman selected Batwoman to lead the team for her unique skills and worldview, elements he knew would differ from his own. It’s a great part of the series and one that could be fleshed out better in a single adventure.

In the right circumstances, the normally tight-lipped Batman might be forced to delve into why he trusts Batwoman and brought her into his confidence. She challenges him in a way none of his other companions do and serves as a peer much more than a sidekick. They bring out the best in one another, especially when they don’t agree on a solution. Batwoman may already have her own series, but this is a duo that simply deserves some solo time together.

Batman and Alfred

The indisputable highlight of Tom King’s run on Batman thus far is the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth. For every insane plan or absurd request, Alfred has a response that balances humor and love as well as a tray of freshly prepared sandwiches. He has become the humorous chorus to Batman’s life while remaining an inexhaustible source of support.

For all of the great Alfred moments in Batman, he has remained in the background of the series. It’s time to see King show off his obvious love for the character in a big fashion, and hit on the best elements of his run, sincerity and humor, in a story featuring this duo. Alfred has skills and experience that make him perfectly fit to headline a big DC Comics adventure and there has never been a better writer for the project than the one leading the line at this very moment. We need more of King’s Alfred, and we need him as soon as possible.

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Review: Exit Stage Left #1 Offers a Witty and Woebegone Beginning

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 3, 2018.

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“Monsters will come for you whether you believe in them or not.” Snagglepuss is warned by a victim of Cuba’s Batista regime in the early pages of Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1, but pays no mind. He lives in America, after all. This snippet provides a perfect encapsulation of the tone of this series, one that is strikingly similar and desperately different from writer Mark Russell’s previous comics satires. There is still comedy within these pages, but it comes with much greater waves of sadness and inevitability. This is a historical moment that any American reader already knows goes very wrong and the mountain lion living through it is equal parts lovable and doomed.

Fans of Russell from The Flintstones and Prez will recognize his wit, but Exit Stage Left offers a much different sense of humor. His prior politically-charged mini-series were based on the sitcom and absurdist qualities of their source material. This comic is much more steeped in the dramatic and historical sources it calls into its orbit than the cartoon Snagglepuss. Comedy here is droll, each witticism or aside coming with a caustic bite. Even the successful members of the cast have reasons to be angry, and the rest have ample reasons for bitterness. The world is brittle and preparing to break, and the comedy matches its setting.

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This feeling is perfectly matched by the pencils of Mike Feehan and inks of Mark Morales. They make even the most fantastical elements of this anthropomorphized Broadway feel mundane. There’s a flatness to their characters that is reminiscent of Jacen Burrows’ best work on Providence. They do not exaggerate any elements and that allows the absurd to exist in a much more poignant sphere. Mountain lions sitting in the back of the car is detailed as plainly as people doing the same. Emotions are natural, which is absolutely essential in this story. Sadness is subtle and most smiles are tinged by something else. It’s a masterful example of smallness making the story greater and should not go underrecognized.

The subtleties of the story come across in the framing choices of the issue as well. A couple’s choice of entertainment and discussions by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) build a world that is frightening and true to history. They parrallel Snagglepuss’s narrative in a fashion that is both revealing to the moment and foreshadowing of a darker future. While there is an urge to avoid spoiling any elements of this issue, it’s impossible for an awareness of American history to not scream in one’s head about the only possible outcomes for a closeted public person facing off against the Red Scare. Dread is overwhelming.

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Exit Stage Left feels essential at this moment. It is a story nominally about the past, but truly about the present—the best sort of historical narrative. Russell is pushing himself in a new direction, leaving playfulness behind for a more rigorous narrative, and he is perfectly matched with Feehan and Morales. Wherever this series leads cannot be good, but the comic itself seems bound for greatness. Prepare to laugh even while you know tears can’t be far behind.

Grade: A-

Written by Mark Russell

Art by Mike Feehan and Mark Morales

Colors by Paul Mounts

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Review: Rise of the Black Panther #1

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 3, 2018.

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I suspect that Rise of the Black Panther #1 will summon wildly varying opinions, many of which may differ from the final assessment of the series. That’s because this debut issue is essentially an extended prologue. The miniseries promises to promises to provide the story of T’Challa’s first year as king, but that year only begins on the very last page of this issue. Rather than utilize flashbacks or a crammed summary page, Narcisse has elected to provide a history of Wakanda here and the result is a mixed bag.

If you’re already a big fan of Black Panther comics, there won’t be much in these pages that surprises you. Between World War II and Ulysses Klaw’s invasion of Wakanda, this is the standard history. The value for the familiar is likely to be found in the small revisions and streamlining. Over 5 decades plenty of contradictions have arisen and this issue helps establish a clear stage. Even as a fan, I found myself enjoying the recap. There are strains of X-Men: Grand Design to be found in its dedication to clear synopsis and cohesion, despite a lack of that series’ incredible elegance. Nonetheless, it is still nice to find such a clear history of a character and country packed with backstory.

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That’s the element that reveals why this prologue approach might be necessary in order to make a Black Panther origin both comprehensive and enjoyable though. There is so much history that affects everything the Panther does that any new reader might need a tutorial. Narcisse’s approach is focused on the highlights with his dialogue and action sequences spotlighting the most essential moments. There are plenty of moments of sweetness and even more explosions that lessen the slideshow effect. Some pages are bogged down in captions and word balloons, but this is likely a necessary evil of a superhero history.

What really allows that history to function though is the return of Paul Renaud to a monthly schedule. Renaud’s work sings when offering the big moments of this multi-decade saga. The splash of T’Challa’s grandfather holding Captain America by the throat is a momentous opening page. Renaud’s character-focused scenes emphasize faces, playing up the intense romances and relationships that define this story through some excellent acting. Action sequences are often staged in montages in order to best utilize the limited space of a summarized story. Multiple villains and heroes roll through the panels to great effect. He makes the packed layouts required by this approach seem bigger simply through selection and staging of subject matter.

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As a one-shot history of Wakanda, this comic would be functional. As the setup for an actual story, it provides cautious optimism. Narcisse’s grasp of the key themes and elements of this saga are clear, but he has yet to start a real story. Renaud offers us glimpses of what makes this land and its monarchy so enthralling, but the characters themselves have yet to enthrall. It is good prologue, but the real challenge lies in the issues to follow. For now we have an excellent starting point for anyone preparing to read the comics or watch the film and that’s not a bad thing.

Grade: B-

Written by Evan Narcisse

Art by Paul Renaud

Colors by Stéphane Paitreau

Consulting by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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6 New Image Series We’re Excited to Start in 2018

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 3, 2018.

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Image Comics has reliably discovered and published many of our favorite new comics over the past decade and it doesn’t look like that will change in 2018. As we start the new year and start to look for some new stories to try, the Image Comics roster already appears to be stacked. Just within the first couple of months, they’re releasing a bevy of exciting new graphic novels, mini-series, anthologies, and ongoing series. The best part is that none of these releases resemble one another; there’s genuinely something for everyone.

We have selected six of the new comics coming from Image in January and February that we find to be the most exciting. These are comics that spotlight the immense talents and incredible array of stories being told today. Take a look below and you’re bound to find something you’ll want to check out for the rest of 2018.

Days of Hate

Written by Aleš Kot

Art by Daniel Žeželj

Colors by Jordie Bellaire

Release Date: January 17

Days of Hate confronts the current, deeply divisive status of politics in America. It proposes a future that is starting to resemble reality more by the day. Gritty, thoughtful, and nuanced, the story tackles difficult issues across a planned 12 issue arc. Both writer Kot and artist Žeželj are immigrants who fled the Balkans to America due to a massively destructive war. They bring that perspective to tell an intense and personal story about lessons learned and a future they hope to avoid. It’s apparent in Kot’s typically complex writing and Žeželj’s bloody, muddy landscapes (last seen on Starve). Together they make a perfect team to tell this story for anyone interested in exploring modern politics through the comics form.

Ice Cream Man

Written by W. Maxwell Prince

Art by Martín Morazzo

Colors by Chris O’Halloran

Release Date: January 17

Ice Cream Man might remind readers of a modern classic: 100 Bullets. The series is composed of individual stories trading in noir, violence, and tragedy—all of them strung together by a single element. In this case it’s not a briefcase of bullets, but an ice cream man who plays a supporting role in every story. According to Prince, the titular ice cream man will play as an unreliable narrator whose reality readers will have to question. Is he a god, a devil, or just a deeply unwell man? Whatever the answer it’s bound to be a fascinating journey played out along the deliciously detailed linework of Morazzo, no matter how ugly things might get.

Get Naked

Written by Steven T. Seagle

Art by Various

Release Date: February 7

If the title Get Naked doesn’t capture your attention, then nothing in comics will. This original graphic novel isn’t the pornographic experience its title suggests though. Rather than focusing on nudity, it emphasizes the experiences and stories of people who have to go through the act of getting naked. It’s a delicate line, but one that comics memoirist Steven T. Seagle is infinitely well equipped to tackle. If you have any doubts, just check out It’s A Bird in which he tells the story of being commissioned to write Superman. There are no capes and less clothes this time though in a total of 18 different stories from 18 different artists. It’s bound to be an engaging look at a topic we don’t discuss much and a great showcase of modern comics art.

Twisted Romance

Written by Various

Art by Various

Release Date: February 7

Twisted Romance is already looking to be one of the absolute best comics of 2018. Don’t believe us? Just check out the advance review here. Published on a weekly schedule in February, this anthology will include 4 issues each consisting of 48 pages and 3 stories (2 comics and 1 prose). It’s a lot of material and it’s all coming from some of the most engaging and diverse creators working at the cutting edge of comics today. While there’s a connecting theme of romance stories that weaves all of these unique contributions together, they also feature some very exciting genre elements. Vampires, wendigos, and even darker creatures lurk in the pages of the first issue, while future installments promise other fantastic additions. Twisted Romance is a pure delight to the eyes and the stories are perfectly bite-sized dark chocolates to delight readers throughout February.

VS

Written by Ivan Brandon

Art by Esad Ribić

Release Date: February 7

VS has been a long time coming, but it also looks to have been entirely worth the wait. It tells the story of a future in which corporations run the world and broadcast a war filled with incredible tech to the masses as entertainment. Part Lazarus and part Secret Wars, this series is the best to dystopian and blockbuster entertainment in a single package. There couldn’t be a better team to make it real either. Brandon has shown a real knack for science fiction comics in the pages of Drifter and Black Cloud. If you need an introduction to Ribić, then you’ve been missing out for the past decade in a big way, he’s simply one of the best artists for big action and grand settings in the business. Together they’re bringing a mega-sized adventure to comics stores next month.

Bingo Love

Written by Tee Franklin

Art by Jenn St-Onge

Colors by Joy San

Release Date: February 14

Bingo Love is the comic to buy this Valentine’s Day. There’s nothing twisted about this romance, the story of two women who meet playing church bingo in 1963 and begin a relationship that will last into the 21st Century. It is a story that plays with history, region, discrimination, and religion as it traces the story of two people across the tumultuos journey to LGBTQ equality in the United States. That doesn’t mean the comic isn’t also a lot of fun. The central pair are a delight, even more so as drawn by Jenn St-Onge who brings a vibrant sense of life to every page. Bingo Love is a comic about a whole lot, but it’s a story about two people in love at its heart. It’s just the comic we needed this year and this Valentine’s Day.

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Comics Person Of The Year 2017: Jay Edidin

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 2, 2018.

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Since 1927 the American magazine Time has printed an annual issue in which they designate a “Person of the Year”. In it they select a person, group of individuals, object, or idea that has had a significant impact on the previous year “for better or worse.” We began our own tradition at ComicBook.Com last year based on this worthwhile pursuit. In our inaugural selection for the comics person of the year, we selected the creative team of March for that many artistic and societal contributions to the medium. Now we return to select a new person who made a significant impact in 2017.

There were many worthy contenders this year, some of whom we comment upon later in this article as persons of note. However, after multiple discussions the answer was clear. This person not only made an impact on the comics industry, but consistently set an example for how to positively influence, change, and strengthen the world of comic throughout 2017. That’s why the 2017 comics person of the year had to be: Jay Edidin.

2017 will be remembered as the year of the #MeToo movement, the time when Silence Breakers came forward en masse to tell their stories and change a culture that had permitted sexual harassment and abuse for far too long. This movement affected politics, movies, television, and numerous other workplaces, including comics. That change began within comics largely due to the work of three journalists, Jay Edidin, Jessica Testa, and Tyler Kingkade, when they published an expose about ongoing misbehavior by a DC Comics editor on Buzzfeed.

Edidin was the comics insider of the team, having established his career within comics as a writer, editor and podcaster. He was familiar with both the unique business model of comics, and possessed the presence and relationships necessary to help with an investigation. Of the journalists involved, it was Edidin who was most closely connected to the world of comics and had the most to lose, besides the many victims who had already lost a great deal.

The final piece resulted in a quick and decisive response from within the comics community. Within days the serial harasser had been terminated by DC Comics. These results are due to the excellent reporting and diligent methodology of Edidin and his peers. The Buzzfeed article is a high watermark for comics journalism and sets a standard for future reporting on serious topics that affect the industry.

It is still too early to know how great the impact of the #MeToo movement will be on comics, but Edidin has begun a necessary and worthwhile process of reflection and change in 2017. This moment is only one of many within Edidin’s career though.

When you consider Edidin’s overall presence within comics this year, it is far greater than a single article, no matter how important it may be. Since beginning the #WeAreComics movement in 2014, a picture campaign designed to show the diversity within comics creators and readers, Edidin has been a popular and vocal personality for positive change. He has used this platform to draw attention to a variety of important issues, specifically queer and transgender rights and perception within comics.

Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men, Edidin’s podcast with co-host Miles Stokes, is one of the most popular in comics today. It is a chronological trek through X-Men continuity explaining and analyzing the complex franchise with an excellent sense of humor. The pair also interviews creators and highlights the best elements of the current X-Men comics. Any given episode of the show is a distillation of what makes Edidin a positive force for change within the world of comics. His embrace of the past, passion for his own interests, and celebration of new creations fuse together to make an hour-long listening experience that makes you want to read more comics.

This approach can be consistently found in Edidin’s many other projects and social media platforms. While a dark cloud may linger over the difficult work of exposing problems like sexual harassment, Edidin remains positive about the comics he loves and encourages others to continue engaging with the medium. It is a difficult, but necessary, balance and one that is driving the industry as a whole towards a better future.

The ability to simultaneously confront what is wrong and celebrate what is good is rare, and Jay Edidin encapsulates it perfectly. His hard work, dedication, and seemingly endless enthusiasm have made comics a better place in 2017. For all of these reasons, Jay Edidin is our comics person of the year.

Persons of Note

In addition to Edidin, there were a variety of other individuals involved in the comics industry who made a positive impact throughout 2017. Below we acknowledge the contributions of three other persons who were strongly considered for Comics Person of the Year 2017:

Gerard Way

Young Animal launched in 2016, but it was in 2017 that it was forced to show its staying power. Gerard Way continued to collaborate on multiple series within the line and guide the four current ongoings as an editor. He helped to design new releases including the mini-series Bug!: The Adventures of Forager and upcoming series Eternity Girl. His most important contribution though was to stand by his creators and devise methods to keep Young Animal afloat without losing sight of their mission. An upcoming event and changes to current titles that keep creative teams intact are sustaining Young Animal and its mission to craft more unique and diverse comics within the DC Comics brand. Way’s dedication to his mission and the many talented people involved deserves recognition.

Tillie Walden

Tillie Walden is one of the breakout stars of comics in 2017 and the recognition around her debut graphic novel Spinning reveals the start of an exciting new career. The past few years have been filled with a flurry of work from Walden though, including four smaller books and a webcomic. Her dedication to form and her own stories has established an already impressive body of work at a very young age. Spinning is one of the best comics of 2017, filled with sincerity, passion, and artwork that is as delicate and beautiful as the ice skating it details. Walden’s trajectory shows that personal stories and hardwork are still a path to success in comics, and provides an inspiration for other aspiring creators today.

Tom King

Tom King continued to assert his dominance in mainstream comics throughout 2017. He has guided Batman, a consistent bestseller, on a biweekly basis and established his prominence in the future of DC Comics. The publication of Sheriff of Babylon and The Vision in the book market, and launch of Mister Miracle were all by widespread praise as well. King has reinforced the opinion of 2016 and asserted himself as a future leader in the comics marketplace as both commercial and critical success continue to follow him.

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5 Reasons We’re Excited for Rise of Black Panther

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 2, 2018.

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Rise of the Black Panther #1, co-written by Evan Narcisse and Ta-Nehisi Coates and drawn by Paul Renaud, hits comics stands this Wednesday. The 6-issue mini-series promises to be reinvent and clarify the origin of the Black Panther for the many new readers attracted to the character by his upcoming live action adaptation. It will focus on the first year of T’Challa’s time as a king, including the assassination of his father and a variety of first meetings with classic Marvel characters.

We are incredibly excited for Rise of the Black Panther and not just because of the movie. It’s a comic stacked with talent and great ideas, coming out at just the right moment to kick off the new year. Whether you’re a long time fan of Black Panther and all of his Wakandan allies or someone just considering these comics for the first time, we think this new mini will prove a perfect starting point. Here are five big reasons why:

An Origin For All Readers

Black Panther’s origin from Fantastic Four #53 was straightforward. He is the monarch of a highly advanced African nation who rose to power after the assassination of his father. That much has remained consistent since 1966, but the details have changed quite a bit. Whether it’s the mutation of how the monarchy works, why King T’Chaka was killed, or who T’Challa knew in his youth, there’s not a lot of clarity at this point. Rise of the Black Panther promises to provide a new base for readers to work from regarding whether the Black Panther got his start.

This sort of reconstitution has been a regular occurrence within Marvel Comics, which operates with a sliding timeline. Reginald Hudlin offered several big changes to the origin in the 1990s, some of which have been ignored and others which ought to be. Now is the perfect time to provide all readers a sense of the Black Panther’s current origin, especially when you consider his big place in both Marvel Comics and the movies. Coates is also working with Narcisse to ensure the new origin will play into the key themes and ideas of the current ongoing series, so that they will work together no matter where readers begin.

Paul Renaud Returns to Interiors

Paul Renaud is a highly underrated talent in American superhero comics. The French artist offers detailed and lush pages with layouts that allow reader’s eyes to flow like water down a smooth hillside. Renaud last provided complete interiors for a Marvel comic book in 2015 when he worked on Secret Wars #0 and a couple of other issues. Now he returns for the complete Rise of the Black Panther mini-series.

The inclusion of Renaud on this series shows a serious amount of faith from Marvel editor’s who assigned top talent to the project. Based on the previews available, the complete story should be absolutely gorgeous and guarantee a long-life for the series beyond six months of single issues. We expect Renaud’s contributions to make this tale the go-to origin for Black Panther for many years to come and a standard in the book market as well.

Evan Narcisse Joins Marvel Comics

Journalist Evan Narcisse is making his Big Two debut as the co-writer of Rise of the Black Panther. Narcisse has been a regular voice within comics journalism for several years, providing a unique point of view along with his entertaining and engaging writing style. His understanding and love for Black Panther is obvious, and is probably why he was selected to work alongside Black Panther scribe Ta-Nehisi Coates to develop this story. Coates has been integral to finding talented new comics writers at Marvel Comics who have worked on a variety of spinoffs and mini-series from the core Black Panther title.

Narcisse has stated he has developed the core plot points of the series and is collaborating with Coates in order to make the origin cohesive with the current Black Panther stories. The series will emphasize T’Challa’s first big decision as ruler of Wakanda, when he ends centuries of secrecy to make the international community aware of Wakanda’s place in global power. Narcisse is also considering themes such as how someone moves from rebellion to become the status quo and how people handle undesired legacies. It’s clear from interviews Narcisse has put a great deal of thought into what the Black Panther means to readers and Marvel Comics, and we can’t wait to see what he has to say on the page.

Brian Stelfreeze Covers

The main reason to buy a comic should almost always be the quality and content of the story between the covers. That doesn’t mean covers don’t make for a great reason to buy a comic, especially when they’re painted by Brian Stelfreeze. Stelfreeze’s much heralded return to superhero comics in the page of Black Panther has provided the artist with a new fanbase who ought to be delighted by the three solicited pieces for Rise of the Black Panther so far.

In each cover Stelfreeze is taking a key figure from Black Panther’s new origin and filling their form with the history they embody. Characters, settings, and moments arise naturally in a wash of watercolors, with each cover fixed on a different palette. They are evocative of mood and story, and ought to look great framed for anyone who has a copy graded for preservation. Stelfreeze’s painting is stunning and we’re lucky to have 6 great new pieces from him in this series.

Return of the Black Panther/Namor Feud

The second cover for Rise of the Black Panther features Namor, which is exciting enough for any fans of Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers. While that series featured the entire Illuminati, the heart and soul of its 4-year run was the rivalry between Black Panther and Namor. It was a feud so fierce that the pair wound up decimating one another’s kingdoms and attempting to kill the other more than once.

While their fights may be legendary, there’s a more important reason to be excited. Namor and Black Panther bring out the best in one another, as well as the worst. Their similar roles within the world and immense wisdom make them perfectly suited to show who they are as people beneath all of the titles and responsibilities. The choice to introduce Namor so early in this series shows why the creative team is already well suited to craft a new Black Panther origin. We can’t wait to see what happens here and in all of the issues to follow.

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Why 2017 Was a Great Year for Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 1, 2018.

2017 Was a Great Year in Comics.jpg

While 2017 may have been a mixed bag, at best, for the world, it was a great year for the world of comics. As we review our “Best Of” lists and check them twice, the quality of mainstream and indie books from January to December is apparent. With new series like X-Men: Grand Design debuting at the last minute, it’s hard to complain. So we won’t even try to complain, instead let’s celebrate what made this a great year for comics.

There are lots of reasons to celebrate and we’ve picked out four of the best ones from the past year. They include new and returning talent, positive changes to how comics are published and sold, and a very important celebration. If you’re looking for a positive pick-me-up in the final days of 2017, then look no further. All of these reasons and more should serve as a reminder that we just had another great year for comics, and that’s cause to toast for more to come.

Break Out Successes

Each year there are new voices added to comics and some very exciting talents have risen to prominence in 2017. The most obvious example must be Emil Ferris, the creator of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. This massive volume containing spiral notebook pages of a young woman growing up in 1960s Chicago and investigating the murder of her neighbor has been buzzed about all year, and for good reason. It’s an immensely complex work that utilizes the medium in a unique fashion. Even incomplete, the story is enthralling and challenging, making it clear that Ferris will be celebrated for a long time to come.

Tillie Walden, another indie artist, also had a breakout year with the publication of her memoir Spinning. While Spinning is the first mainstream success experienced by Walden, fans of her work in small volumes like The End of Summer and I Love This Part already know she’s just at the start of a long career.

It was also a big year for David Rubín. His work with Jeff Lemire on Black Hammer and its companion series Sherlock Frankenstein & the Legion of Evil was honored at the Eisners and continues to be celebrated by fans. In the meanwhile, he had a strong intro and outro to 2017 at Image Comics with the publication of the OGN Beowulf and now the return of Rumble just a few weeks ago. He is one of the strongest emerging artists in the medium and comics is lucky to have him.

The Continuation of the “Pop-Up Imprint”

DC Comics has continued their new brand of pop-up imprints with the launch of a new Wildstorm brand and changes to their Young Animal line. Both collections reflect a unique approach to existing IP guided by clever individuals like Warren Ellis and Gerard Way. They are producing comics unlike anything else at the DC Comics line and are geared towards a collected market that is likely the future of comics. Young Animal specifically proved the company’s dedication as they maintained existing creative teams and announced new series while developing new methods to maintain and grow readership.

IDW Publishing also showed interest in this concept with the launch of Black Crown, a line of comics guided by former Vertigo editor Shelly Bond. This pop-up within the larger IDW brand is just beginning, but has already launched two series, one of which features the inimitable Gilbert Hernandez. Taken as a whole these brands are oriented towards developing new concepts with top-level talent and their continuation is a good sign for how the direct market can be improved and revitalized.

Christopher Priest Returns

Christopher Priest may have returned to comics in 2016, but he made it clear that he was sticking around in 2017. Deathstroke remains the creative highlight of the Rebirth line of comics as it builds on more than 25 issues of interwoven stories for increasingly impressive payoffs. While that title switching from a bi-weekly to monthly schedule may be disappointing, it has resulted in a broader swath of offerings from Priest.

Priest’s mini-series Inhumans: Once and Future Kings offered a thesis statement for the floundering Inhumans brand, making it clear that this concept could and should work. There are rumors of a sequel and Marvel Comics would be lucky to have the man return. In the meanwhile, Priest has taken over Justice League offering big adventures that utilize the complete team along with a very character-driven, human approach to them as individuals. Taken as a whole these three series show why Priest is one of the best writers working in comics today. We should consider ourselves lucky that he seems to have decided to stick around.

The Jack Kirby Centennial

One of the highlights of 2017 in comics was the celebration of its past. Jack “The King” Kirby would have turned 100 years old on August 28th of this year. Creators and publishers alike came together to honor his immense legacy, recognizing that comics would be unrecognizable without him and the superhero genre might not even exist. DC Comics assembled an impressive roster of projects, including affordable reprints of almost all of his work at the publisher, The Kamandi Challenge maxi-series, various one-shots, and relaunches of series like Mister Miracle. Marvel Comics offered up a wide variety of reprinted #1 issues and variant covers.

Creators and fans alike also spent much of the year celebrating the stories that Kirby was integral to founding. Tom Scioli initiated a biographical comics and a new edition of Mark Evanier’s essential biography Kirby: King of Comics was released. These are in addition to thousands of articles, blog posts, and other tributes all commemorating the incredible artistic output that reshaped an entire medium.

This celebration of the past offers good cause to anticipate the future, as well. The wide array of voices creating their own comics or discussing the legacy of Jack Kirby shows that the medium is still filled with inventive and ambitious creators. Those working on Kirby’s own superhero properties, like Christopher Priest, bring new ideas and angles. Others like Emil Ferris and Tillie Walden are crafting comics that Kirby would never have seen in his own lifetime. Smaller brands and pop-up imprints are helping these unique ideas find funding and an audience. While it’s important to honor the past, the best way to celebrate Jack Kirby is to make new comics.

And all of the fantastic new stories made this year are the reason 2017 was a great year for comics.

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