Doing DiNK 2018: Chase Magnett and Daniel Elkin Take A Look Back At The Denver Independent Comics And Art Expo

This article was originally published at Your Chicken Enemy on April 24, 2018.

The third Denver Independent Comics & Art Expo (DiNK) took place on April 14-15th. Located on all three floors of the McNichols Civic Center. The expo filled the top two with artists from every stripe of the comics industry in North America and the bottommost floor with panels and special exhibitions. Chase Magnett and Daniel Elkin, longtime convention buddies, comics fans, and critics of small press and self-published comics, were in attendance for their first time. After a long weekend of great comics, food, and friends, they’re finally prepared to debrief their DiNK experience.

Chase Magnett: I’ve begun to divide comics conventions into two distinct categories: work conventions and self-care conventions. The former are ones I attend primarily to provide coverage and collect interviews. They’re ones that tend to attract publishers, big announcements, and large crowds—the San Diego’s and New York’s of the world. The latter are the ones I attend to remind myself why I love comics. They remain focused on the art and craft of comics and seem to attract a much more eclectic set of creators. Neither version is bad; they both tend to be busy, packed with socializing, and offer opportunities. I enjoy both styles of convention for different reasons, but I’m so glad that DiNK fell firmly into the category of self-care.

Over the past four months I have fallen down a rabbit hole after making comics writing my only source of income. I really love the work I do for big entertainment sites, but it’s easy to lose perspective in the weekly flurry of pitches, reviews, and interviews along with the neverending news cycle of new comics and superhero movies. A couple of days in Denver allowed me to step back and remember why I started working in comics in the first place.

Comics are an artform that we can still touch and interact with on a human level in the United States. All you need to do is attend one of those work conventions to realize that even television shows or movies with minor followings are impossibly obfuscated from the public eye. Stars and writers are goods, packaged into photo sessions and carefully planned panels. They are not artists most people can interact with as much as they are commodities. That might be true for a handful of creators in comics, but they’re the exception to the rule.

There was no one person at DiNK who you could not have a conversation with, and the convention possessed some real star power. Joe Kelly wrote the film adaptation of the recently released I Kill Giants, but he made time to engage with everyone that swung by his table. It’s clear that he’s still firmly grounded in this weird, niche of an artform we love and that has kept him grounded as a human being.

Our friend Jason Sacks is likely to give me some side-eye for not conducting any interviews, but it was super nice to wander and make chit chat without any agenda. The range of talent on display was truly remarkable and I want to dig into some of the people we met or reconnected with later. Right here I just want to note what a unique opportunity it is to meet the creators of your favorite indie strip right alongside some impressive names from the biggest American comics publishers. We might have had press badges, but we certainly didn’t need them to take advantage of the intimate nature of DiNK.

That’s my big picture take away from the weekend. I have a lot of stories and moments still rattling around in my brain, but first I want to hear what you thought of DiNK.

Daniel Elkin: DiNK was a self-care convention for me as well, Chase, though, perhaps, for slightly different reasons than it was for you. The small puddle in the larger lake of comics that is the small press and self-publishing niche is all about humanity and connecting the artist to the work and the work to you. DiNK was not about shepherding corporate IPs or huckstering plastic baubles and gewgaws or high-priced photo ops with hungover has-beens who still can’t believe that this is their lives now (though John Leguizamo was there?). Up and down the aisles of DiNK there were the myriad of soft souls offering up their work which was themselves, which was you, and me, and all of us.

When you have just let go of something precious, you need to find something real to hold on to.

These small press conventions give those of us in the know the opportunity to band together in that which we love. They also give access to the outsiders to come on in and join the jubilee. It’s all about the positive, the moment of linkage, the aesthetic saturnalia that occurs when groups gather around a common connection to art.

Because it is art first at DiNK. Yes, money exchanges hands from audience to artist, creators gotta eat after all, and, sure, cash is a motivating factor for standing behind a table all day as people casually stroll past making personal judgements on your merit. But I like to think that the true purpose of a show like DiNK is to reinforce community — to gather, to share, to experience, and to celebrate.

Comics tends to be a culture that exists in isolation. Books leave their creators and float into the vapor, only to land later in the small rooms of the houses of others, consumed alone. The bridge that this art constructs is long and the wind drowns out the calls from other side. An occasion like DiNK turns that expanse into a handshake and eye contact and the free flow of words. The connection can become a conversation, and the art is there to envelop us all.

Oftentimes, when speaking about these types of self-care conventions, I feel obligated to quote one of my favorite comics critics out there, Keith Silva, who said of SPX 2015 “People over product, always.” It is what I love the most about these things.

Chase Magnett: Let me just start by defending John Leguizamo, who was there with a comic he created. While he stood out as the celebrity presence of the weekend, he didn’t arrive just to sign off autographs. I’m giving DiNK a big thumbs up for requiring even a movie star to bring their own comics.

What you were saying about our unique place in comics, often inter-mingled with fandom, media, and creation, makes me think about the experience outside of our heads. We’re veterans at this sort of thing who can quote favorite observations from friends and sort conventions into categories like work and self-care. I don’t think we’re pretentious, but we’re certainly at risk of crossing that line if we don’t remain self-aware. As much as I love the opportunities that any comics convention, but especially a convention like DiNK, affords us, I’m much more interested in how those outside of the industry engage with it. At the end of the day, the two of us can e-mail a publisher or creator for copies of these comics or an interview, but for many individuals this is a unique opportunity to engage with the form.

That’s what made observing the evolution of my wife’s sketchbook over the weekend such a thrill. Alex has been going to conventions with me for many years now, but comics remain my thing as much as video games are hers. There’s some overlap, but she has no interest in the sort of work we do. Conventions are as much of an excuse to take a small vacation when we go together as anything else. This year she decided to start her own sketchbook to meet more artists and essentially craft her own scavenger hunt for these weekends. It’s themed around our dog, Tetra (who is an angel), with artists drawing their interpretation based on Instagram photos.

She collected a really stunning set of new sketches from artists Morgan Beem, Box Brown, Chuck Forsman, Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, Jim Mahfood, Sarah Stern, and Leda Zawacki. I honestly tried to narrow the list down to three examples, but it felt wrong to exclude any one of those individuals. Together they represent such a large range of talent covering the largest publishers in American comics to some of the most impressive self-published comics of today. It is already a very impressive looking little book, but what struck me more was the consistently positive experiences Alex had talking to artists she had never met.

Every creator she approached was friendly, happy to share their time, and interested in discussing dogs. I’ve interviewed some of them before, like Brown and Lemire, but was often busy with other things when Alex went seeking these sketches. She recounted a story to me about the sketch Lemire had done and followed up by asking if any of his comics might appeal to her. We’ll see how Sweet Tooth goes over (pitched at The Road, but slightly less depressing and with more animals), but the thing that struck me from this and many other interactions was how they created additional interest in comics art.

It goes to the heart of why these conventions exist? Outside of the purely capitalist answers behind autograph mills, it feels like there has to be a bigger reason behind so many people getting together to share their time and energy, especially when most of us are out money by the end of the weekend. I think it boils down to the human connection. Comics can be an all-consuming career where everyone you interact with, editors, co-creators, friends, and, sometimes even, family, are also engaged with comics. A comics convention can ironically be a place to put some perspective on that placement. The people who come to meet new and favorite artists are inspired by their work for reasons outside of the medium itself. These creations have the power to do something as simple as remind us of our love for dogs or get us through the most difficult periods in life. There’s a symbiotic value in recognizing that connection between artist and reader, providing the former with understanding of their work’s impact and the latter with chances to reaffirm that impact and discover new opportunities.

Daniel Elkin: Well said, Chase, and, yes, Tetra is a wonderful dog. I, too, loved seeing how all the sketches that Alex collected over the weekend not only brought out all that was Tetra about Tetra, but also displayed the range of possibilities that each artist brought to the task; each sketch was as much about the cartoonist as it was about your dog.

And that’s another piece to this conversation about conventions, Chase, so I’m glad you brought it up. These small, art-focused, self-care conventions have, at their core, spectacular examples of the myriad of possibilities this medium offers for artists and audience alike. From the quiet to the bombastic, the expansive to the personal, from the mythology of the autobio to the mythology of the grand design, all these ideas and styles and nuances are on display, all in one place, for you to wander through and digest. It can be overwhelming as much as it is comforting, always on the precipice of aesthetic overload.

I mean, just look at the diversity of themes and approaches to be found in the books I brought home from the show:

If you haven’t read Cait ZellersNimue yet, please correct that oversight in your life right this moment (then come back, thank me, and read the rest of this piece). This “re-imagining of the Camelot legend from the perspective of Nimue, the Lady of the Lake” is a powerful work of feminist literature that features some of the most stunning use of the basic bones of comics I’ve seen in quite some time. Zellers’ use of panel layouts displays an intuitiveness to its construct that pushes its possibilities to places I’ve never seen.

Just take a look at this page and you’ll see what I mean:

 

Through just the use of panel breaks, Zellers expresses time, action, and emotion in a profoundly communicative way, There is so much happening on this page in, what is for all extents and purposes, a single image, just through her ingenious use of panel breaks, playing on the expectations inherent therein and using how we read comics to further her narrative, character, and theme.

I also picked up Volumes Five and Six of Denver-based cartoonist Karl Christian Krumpholz’s 30 Miles of Crazy, a series I have written about a number of times already. Krumpholz’s art and storytelling have only gotten better in his later work. This series, mostly focused on the people he has encountered in the various bars and back alleys that dot one of Denver’s most celebrated and notorious streets, Colfax Avenue, continues to be about the people who make up a place told with empathy, admiration, and a basic humanity that is revelatory about the kind of person Krumpholz is. Krumpholz’s table at DiNK was almost always packed with people sharing stories, admiring his books, and, above all else, laughing in such a way that made you want to be part of this community. This may be partially because of Krumpholz’s notoriety as a local cartoonist, but I also suspect that it is because his work speaks that core of our shared humanity.

Another stand-out book I brought home is the latest collection from Coin-Op Books, Coin-Op Number 7: The Doppler Issue. Brother and sister cartoonists, Peter and Maria Hoey, are creating interesting, detailed, surreal, and delightful books through their publishing entity, and this issue continues to demonstrate that they are some of the best and most inventive creators out there. The Hoeys are forcing the framework of the form to open wider into uncharted territory with a deft hand and a certainty of purpose, and I, for one, am overjoyed to be taken along. With each Volume coming out, the Hoeys just seem to be getting better and better.

Other books of note that I packed in my suitcase were Inbetweiners by Amalia DeGirolamo, a deceptively simple book about “Somewhere between what is and what will be is the mysterious and sometimes terrifying space of uncertainty” that, for all of DeGirolamo’s all-ages cartooning style, delves into some significant and substantial musings about place, purpose, and person; The Octopus by Leda Zawacki, ostensibly a book “about a young girl who gets possessed by an octopus, but is about self-determination, creativity, and acceptance, which features the graceful linework that is a hallmark of Zawacki’s work; A Picture of Me written by Lilah Sturges and drawn by Andrea Shockling, a poetically beautiful book both in the the lyricism of Sturges’ writing and the wonderful artwork of Shockling, that presents all of the emotional challenges around acceptance of and within an individual and their gender identity in a very raw and cogent manner; Mixtape #3, another collection of diary comics from the enormously talented Jamaica Dyer; and finally, RM by Josh Bayer, which is sort of a reimagining of Bill Mantlo’s amazing work on ROM for Marvel Comics, but also follows Bayer’s recurring character (and, perhaps, author stand-in), Theth. Finding this book at the Tinto Press table at DiNK was a complete surprise, as I had no idea it was out yet. This book is all I hoped it would be — messy, weird, reverential, and complex.

Finally, though, the work that most captured the spirit of a self-care convention like DiNK, is this totally off-the-wall, bonkers, depraved, offensive, puerile, and jaw-dropping series by Denver artist Jake Fairly called This Is Heavy Metal. I’m still not sure if there are really any merits to this work in and of itself (though Fairly is a pretty amazing cartoonist) — it drips with the toxic masculinity of teen white boy’s power fantasies on almost every page. What sold me on this comic was the fact that Fairly was unabashedly, audaciously, and unhesitatingly ALL FUCKING IN on this thing. The obvious joy and enthusiasm emanating from Fairly as he talked about his comics was so authentic and genuine that it was almost hypnotic. As tone-deaf as his work appears to be in today’s society, his motivation for creating was so pure, so celebratory, so FUCKING METAL, that my interactions with him were some of my favorite moments of the entire show.

I’m not lauding his comics, but I am lauding what is behind them. The glee and elation of creating and sharing that Fairly represented encapsulated so much that is great about the world of small press and self-published comics to me. As bonkers as his books were, they came from his heart and his desire to celebrate and, most importantly, to share this bat-shit insane thing that he loved with me, with you, with anyone who would walk by. The guilelessness of Fairly was so clean that it washed away so much of the burdens I was feeling coming into the weekend, and it was so refreshing and honest that all the heartbreaking garbage that can be found in the world of comics was, at least momentarily, set aside, and all that was good about comics shone through once again.

So, yeah, Chase, DiNK was a self-care comics convention. And having that experience with you and Alex and all of our other friends — why, it was just what I needed.

Chase Magnett: Honest to god, I think you wrote a fine conclusion to this reflection right there, but you’re the boss and I want to be sure you get your money’s worth of my thoughts. So I’m going to take a crack at an epilogue.

 

I did, in fact, have an opportunity to read Nimue already. I read it on the walk between the convention and our hotel, and again on the long ride home. Everything you noted about this short volume is true and it served as a significant reminder of how easy it is to miss great work in comics. After reading it I became aware that several people whose taste I trust were already big fans of the comic. It was our mutual friend Mark O. Stack who first pointed me towards it at DiNK, and I’m glad we happened to pass Cait Zellers’ booth together for that exact reason. The cover is gorgeous, but I don’t know if I would have made the leap to purchasing it without a strong recommendation.

That makes me think of the purpose of conventions like DiNK and other elements surrounding small press and self-published comics. Looking at all of the comics you discovered and the ones I brought home, it’s clear that DiNK is successfully curating a collection of talent that encourages comics readers to discover new things. Thinking of the arrangement this year with invited guests on the top floor and many new tabling artists below, the convention was purposefully crafted to expose attendees to as much as possible. Reaching Joe Kelly or Jeff Lemire required attendees to walk through lots of talent they might not be exposed to otherwise. We are there to explore as much as possible, but even the most dedicated autograph hunter will be compelled to interact with new work.

Reviewing the guest list for the show, it’s clear that a lot of thought went into how they could best curate the space. Diversity occurred on multiple levels. There’s the obvious mix of new artists and more popular draws, but that’s only the surface. Looking around at who was creating these comics it was clear that the convention had purposefully sought out artists who could reflect a wide range of experiences. It was one of the most diverse artist’s alley arrangements I have ever witnessed. That is reflected in the work as well with the subjects, styles, and formats really showing off the many possibilities to be found within comics.

That’s why I love well-curated conventions like DiNK. The self-care aspect evolves naturally from the passion and care put into presenting the comics medium. It doesn’t matter who you are walking into DiNK, whether you’re a veteran of the weekly superhero grind or just discovering your first comic book, it wants to show you more. That makes shows like this precious, as I’ve only encountered a handful that really pull of the task.

It also reminds me of why I’m grateful for a site like Your Chicken Enemy where people can encounter a similar level of curation and care, especially if they can’t afford to travel. There’s very little space or money in the already cramped and poor world of comics journalism, so any site that can boost comics like Nimue is just as precious of a gem as DiNK. They both require dedicated and passionate individuals willing to put some skin in the game to push interesting work. Those people are the reason I’ll keep traveling to small press conventions and clicking on this site.

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Mini Reviews for 4/25

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 25, 2018.

DC

Batman and the Signal #3

It’s clear that at least 6 issues of ideas were stuffed into a 3 issue miniseries as this story reaches its conclusion. There’s a big final battle, some guest stars, and at least one notable revelation, but the comic itself is paced in a fashion where none of these elements stand out. Every page is composed of an overwhelming combination of narration and dialogue, both serving to explain the plot and themes of the story. The effect ultimately undercuts even solid action sequencing as panels pile up with words. Far too much was pushed into a “one crazy night” style of story, leaving ambition to destroy whatever potential existed in the premise. There’s no real tension or drama to a story that insists on explaining itself, and that’s what leaves this entire arc best left forgotten. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Doom Patrol #11

Doom Patrol has consistently been the best ongoing series from Young Animal, but it appears to have fallen victim to the imprint’s hubris as this finale is robbed of drama by the crossover event “Milk Wars”. It focuses on delving into ideas about entertainment and storytelling that make for fascinating staging and fantastic visual sequences. There are so many great ideas spinning that it hits a level similar to Morrison’s classic run. However, the ending sputters in a truly dissatisfying way as it attempts to simultaneously end and deliver a to be continued for an event that already occured. The result is a jumble where it’s best to focus on the promise and ideas than what was finally delivered. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Demon: Hell Is Earth #6

It’s all fireworks for the finale of this miniseries. In a battle that has reached the most epic of proportions, it’s clear that the fallout will actually be pretty minimal given the nature of superhero continuity. However, that doesn’t stop the comic from delivering some of the bloodiest, well muscled, and explosive action to come from DC Comics’ version of Hell. There’s not much excitement in the tale itself, but the action manages to deliver at least a few big panels with real heft. Etrigan fans may enjoy having an extra dose of this rarely seen anti-hero, but overall this is solidly in the middle of the pack for quality in superhero comics. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. #2

This relaunch is really starting the work of exploring an alternative Gotham City. The police state is fleshed out in a series of direct and indirect scenes, as are the key players any reader might expect to see circulating through the city. As an Elseworlds vision for what might happen with Batman to keep order, it functions and even intrigues. Yet the story that is guiding the tour continues to successfully define or engage with its conflict, moving in a passive direction. There’s a lot of great scenery and interesting designs to take in, but the ride itself is lackluster so far. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Motherlands #4

Motherlands consistently presents one of the best spectacles to emerge from Vertigo in many years. Everything from the architecture to the fashion represents ideas that would not even be imagined in most other science fiction series. Each issue continues to be carefully lavished with some outstanding new element that ought to make readers pause. The narrative itself is less compelling though. Mother-daughter toxicity as presented her in neither fascinating nor humorous and continues to burn itself out as it goes round in circles. There has to be a hook to keep going, and currently that is focused entirely on the window dressing. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Wonder Woman #45

There are few series more fitting to deploy a deus ex machina than Wonder Woman where gods compose a large portion of the characters. However, the finale of this arc could not have been less fulfilling. Things happen because they must and villains are defeated for seemingly no reason at all. The action and storytelling are offered in the most perfunctory of manners, understandable, but never exciting. This issue qualifies as an ending and it alters the status quo, but it never offers a single reason for readers to care about any of it. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

 

Marvel

The Despicable Deadpool #299

The penultimate issue of this story understands that stakes are much more than the sheer number of characters involved in a story. While we see a large collection of heroes, it smartly focuses the story on the individuals that are most connected to Deadpool. Whether that’s Hawkeyes, Captain America, or the core supporting cast of Duggan’s run, they all make this issue more effective. A central chase sequence serves up plenty of thrills and laughs in equal measure, but it’s the emotional build that will leave readers anxious for #300. This is Deadpool in its absolute best form, offering a story worth remembering in addition to some very exciting panels. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Doctor Strange #389

There are two solid forms of a story within this issue. One details the dramatic escape of heroes from a hellish dimension and the other is a low-key conversation between old friends. Both offer some amusing banter and Henrichon’s art really shines when composing hordes of demonic creatures. When they combine the effects of both halves are lessened. It’s a tonal shift that isn’t justified as a story choice, but only by the nature of a publishing event. Readers are forcefully told to go out and read other comics while attempting to enjoy what is in front of them, and diminishes every positive quality about this one issue as a result. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Exiles #2

The second installment of the new Exiles continues trends from its premiere, both positive and negative. As the team finishes collecting its new members, each new setting is presented in visually dazzling fashion. Every place visited is crafted by line, layout, and color to be as distinctive as possible. This pays big comedic dividends when a very unusual version of Wolverine is introduced. There’s also an almost excessive amount of narration and exposition. Part of the thrill in this concept is its propulsive nature, which is slowed considerably by ongoing explanations. There’s still far more to love than dislike in this issue, but if the pace doesn’t increase soon then minor flaws may grow to be major ones. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Invincible Iron Man #599

Bendis has assembled all of the right pieces for his final farewell to Marvel Comics. In spite of the many, many plot threads present in this run, the penultimate issue manages to move between them all effortlessly and with purpose. Things happen for a reason and that includes quite a few revelations that make perfect sense within the context of what has come before. Leaps in art between the past and present are clearly communicated and help to build the biggest shift in storytelling present. There’s a lot left for the final issue, but everything is in place for a grand finale. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Legion #4

Looking at the backgrounds in each panel of this issue reveals the general lack of character that has made the entire miniseries a disappointment. Complex mindscapes composed of metaphors are left as blank canvases with only a single crack or generic bric-a-brac to distinguish them. So much of the story continues to be wrapped up in narration, boxes upon boxes that explain a far more exciting story than the one occurring on the page. There are ideas of note to be found in this issue, but none of them are executed in a fashion worth pursuing. It appears that this installment, and the rest of the series, are left to be a question of what might have been. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #303

As a story set in the past wraps up, this series examines the real nature of responsibility. It’s the difficulty of making impossible choices and fixing poor decisions. That is reflected in a series of homages to classic Spider-Man moments that build on the plot, rather than distracting from it. Some pre-knowledge is required, but the commentary on who Spider-Man really is turns out wonderfully. Every reference is well integrated into compelling action sequences and a few great bits of comedy. Even if things seem to work out a bit too neatly, there’s too much to love in this issue to let that overcome its many charming qualities. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

Other

Abbott #4

The penultimate issue of Abbott ends on a big feeling. A chase sequence distilled into a single page is extremely effective, as are the consistently twisted, shadowy depictions of monsters in this series. The path to those last few pages is a long trek though. It’s the stereotypical sequence of things falling apart as the series drops in on each supporting character in an increasingly tedious checklist of sequences. Not much is learned, but plenty is said as this portion of the narrative sprawls. It’s a whole lot of filler for a good bit of killer at the end. Perhaps the final issue will focus more on what makes this story compelling. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Days of Hate #4

Night approaches in the newest issue of Days of Hate. As the issue purposefully separates its protagonists into distinct tracks, color is used as the primary force which ties them all together. The sunset across America is cast in different shades with harsh, bloody light cast in the city and softer oranges draping the countryside. What is clear in every panel is that night is approaching and the final page, black and still, reveals that turn. The issue emphasizes mood above all else and it is incredibly effective in doing so, revealing who these people are through their settings as much as anything else. As quiet and unhurried as this section of story is, it’s simply astounding how it raises the stakes and builds tension for what comes next. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 5 out of 5

Gasolina #7

The tension surrounding Amalia’s nephew serves as the centerpiece of Gasolina #7. Carefully utilized sound effects and a couple of ghastly images are enough to pull the story forward as new points forward are introduced. It’s a slowly paced return that is interested in reestablishing a status quo and spending time with its lead characters. Subtle facial reactions and a collection of inset panels toward the end make up for some bland panels scattered throughout the comic. It’s a fine return, if not a thrilling one. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Grass Kings #14

When Grass Kings delves into its most abstract panels, the presentation of a demon or a splash of a man walking away, it has the ability to truly sing. These striking images are a welcome break from the monotony of storytelling that pushes the mysteries of the series toward their final revelation. Each new bit of information is a necessary step, but they run in a similar fashion to the final episodes of True Detective in which grunt work assumed that which made the series most appealing. This issue gets the job done and has notable moments, but too much space is consumed by the work of plot for it to reach the bar set by prior issues in the series.  — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Hit-Girl #3

As if this series could not vere into any more depraved territory, it shifts its focus to children this week. Baby shields and threats to young boys are used for humorous fodder and action sequences all with a tone of pure delight. The frenetic energy in these pages seems to be licking its lips at an inevitable confrontation between brothers warped by family, one of whom is still definitively a child. Even on a pure, violence-loving level, it simply repeats tricks from the story so far with gratuitous bullets, explosions, and flesh-eating gas. What started as a joyful embrace of violence against latin America has not moved beyond that obsession at all, only found new elements to make it appear even more ugly. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 1 out of 5

Ice Cream Man #4

This issue of Ice Cream Man contains the most potent self-contained narrative yet. It’s a story of fathers and sons, how they heal and hurt one another. The ending of that particular story is an oddly perfect blend of touching and disturbing with a panel of father and son that won’t soon be forgotten. Unfortunately, it also raises the question of why the titular ice cream man is used to frame this tale. His interludes and final appearance only serve to undermine the story at the heart of this issue, confusing what is effective for strangeness that only serves its own sake. It’s clear that this series has bigger ideas, but on the level of an individual issue that present a story that work in neither the micro nor the macro, which is particularly disappointing in this installment. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Kill Or Be Killed #18

There’s a real joy to watching a good detective unfurl a mystery. The pacing of logic as it touches on objects and actions scattered across a story to craft a coherent narrative can be brilliant, even when you already know the ending. This issue of Kill Or Be Killed pulls off that excellent style, including lots of close up panels and reflections from within the series to put the focus back on the police. That doesn’t mean the series isn’t still full of surprises as everything clearly serves a purpose, even the elements purposefully left forgotten. As a standalone issue, this is one of the series best to date. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Lucy Dreaming #2

Lucy Dreaming is beginning to discover a rhythm in its sophomore outing. The fictional homage at the center of the book is a good bit of fun, toying with The Hunger Games in surprising and funny fashion, even if it undermines previously established rules about how Lucy’s fantasy escapes function. The bookends set in the real world work to varying levels. Teen angst is exaggerated to great humorous effect, as is a meltdown distilled in a single panel. Other overt references to storytelling tropes break the spell of the story and remind readers of how proud the creators are of meta effects. The second issue is a notable improvement on the first and there’s room for further growth from here.  — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Sacred Creatures #6

Concluding its first volume, Sacred Creatures cannot help but insist on its own importance. They mythmaking of the series is constantly at the foreground of the story with characters explaining their past and current motives. The reasons to care about any of these characters is left vague at best. They are actors working on a supposedly grand stage, but no sequence ever bears that out. Even a particularly violent moment isn’t inspired in its execution and fails to horrify as intended. Walking away from this oversized issue the comic believes something significant has occurred, but the only response to be mustered is a shrug. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Throwaways #13

In an issue loaded with dialogue, almost every character speaks in the same cadence and tone. It’s all very military and tough, but the concept of individuals isn’t present on the page beyond threadbare drawings focused around one or two notable features. This is a comic driven almost entirely by plot moving from item to item in order to reach its cliffhanger and upcoming conclusion. It is serviceable, but not much more. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

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Interview: Jody Leheup and Nathan Fox Delve Into The Mad Future of The Weatherman

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 25, 2018.

The Weatherman Cover 1.jpg

A new science fiction series from Image Comics is combining a high concept with a classic joke. Writer Jody Leheup and artist Nathan Fox are telling the story of the most hated weatherman in the world, with the big change that the world is Mars, in their upcoming series The Weatherman. ComicBook.Com had the opportunity to speak with the co-creators as the final order cutoff for the first issue of the series approaches, and to dig into the big ideas as well as what has them most excited. This series looks to be one of the most exciting spring comics debuts, so be sure to check out the interview below and pre-order with your local comic book store.

Also, be sure to check out exclusive new pages from The Weatherman #1 at the bottom of this interview.

ComicBook: There’s a high concept to this series and lots going on, but it also sells itself on the old gag about everyone hating the weatherman. Where did the initial seed of an idea for The Weatherman come from?

Jody Leheup: Yeah, except we’re turning the hate for one weatherman in particular up WAY past eleven. More like eleven hundred!

The Weatherman takes place in the far future after almost the entire population of Earth has been destroyed by the worst mass terrorist attack in history. What’s left of humanity is living on terraformed Mars which is now a kind of sister planet to Earth. All those folks are overwhelmed with grief, terrified of another attack, and pissed off because the people that are responsible are still at large.

Nathan Fox: Right, which brings us to our boy Nathan Bright. Nathan’s a local celebrity weatherman living the good life in the Martian city of Redd Bay, Arcadia. He’s got a thing for noodle bowls, a special lady friend, and an unorthodox style as a weatherman that puts smiles on commuters’ faces. Things are going pretty well for Nathan until seemingly out of nowhere he’s accused of masterminding the attack on Earth.

Leheup: Yeah, and of course Nathan is like, “Uh…that’s crazy. You obviously have the wrong guy. Maybe you haven’t met my golden retriever?” The problem is…there’s a big gap in Nathan’s memory…and he can’t actually say if he did it or not.

So Nathan’s forced on the run, completely unprepared to be the solar system’s most wanted man, and has to set off on a journey to fill in the blanks, find the truth, and hopefully find the key to stopping a second attack from happening. All while trying not to be murdered by literally everyone in the universe. So the weatherman hate is strong!!!

Fox: And that’s just the beginning of course. Once we start to answer some of these questions is when our story REALLY starts to heat up. There’s far more to Nathan Bright than there seems.

ComicBook: Jody, your prior series at Image Comics, Shirtless Bear-Fighter, featured a lot of humor. The Weatherman is picking up on some heavier topics, most notably terrorism. How do you continue to infuse your stories with comedy while treading into more serious terrain?

Leheup: Yes, The Weatherman is tonally very different than SBF in that it’s more of a sci-fi thriller than a side-splitting “bearody”™. It’s intense and harrowing at times and more complex with the many different themes we’re exploring. But there’s also a lot of heartfelt humor along the way. In that sense it’s a kind of mix of tones. Korean cinema is actually really good at that as well. But I think that comedy in The Weatherman plays a number of important roles. The first is as a defense mechanism. Comedy can be a kind of denial of one’s circumstances. A way of deflecting pain. That’s certainly the case for Nathan Bright. Nathan laughs or tells a joke because t helps him cope with his new reality. But the comedy is also there because it reminds us of our humanity. Which is important when dealing with high concepts and huge stakes. It’s important to have the grounding and perspective that humor provides. And finally, it balances things out when a story delves into some darker thematic areas. It’s like Joss Whedon says, “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”

But it’s not like The Weatherman is this story about terrorism with jokes thrown in. It’s a giant future space adventure about a Weatherman on the run for a crime he may or may not have committed. He’ll meet all manner of outlandish and bizarre sci-fi characters, some that want to help him and most that want to murder him in the face. And we have a ton of fun with the fact that Nathan has no business being in this position. My point being that yes, we go to some pretty hardcore places (get ready for it) but we also go to some uplifting ones as well and it’s going to be a blast getting there.

Fox: Speaking of people that want to murder him, we should mention the co-protagonist of our little galactic adventure….the deadly Agent Amanda Cross. Cross is the intelligence agent assigned to building the case against Nathan Bright. For professional but mostly personal reasons, she hates him with every bone in her body. However due to story events she’s going to find herself in the position of having to protect Nathan. So there’s an oil and water dynamic to their relationship that’s very compelling as well.

ComicBook: The solicits for the first issue and early press have all been very clear that Nathan Bright is accused of being a terrorist and that’s definitely a charged term. Is there a specific goal or theme you want to address with that framing?

Leheup: Oh absolutely. That framing is no accident. We want you as a reader to occupy two mind spaces at once when considering Nathan Bright’s case. On the one hand you know the hate that people (and even yourself) have for terrorists and terrorism. You (and only you) know what you would do if left alone for five minutes with someone you know committed an act of terrorism. You know what it’s like to want to see people like that pay for what they did. The need for justice not just for your own gratification, but society’s as well. At the same time, we can sympathize with a human being who’s hunted, tormented, even tortured for a crime he didn’t commit.

Fox: Exactly, so when it comes to Nathan Bright, he exists right on the line. Did he do it? There are certainly people who think he did. There’s evidence to suggest that he did. But is that the whole story? How much damage to other innocent people would you be willing to do in order to balance the scales? And even if he did do it, he clearly doesn’t remember having done it, so should he still be punished? Is that justice? What separates justice from revenge? These questions are very much at the core of The Weatherman. And there’s so much more as well. It’s a very ambitious book.

ComicBook: What made The Weatherman a story that was best suited to comics? Are there particular elements, like the setting on Mars, that demand a lot of attention or specific style?

Leheup: Well I don’t really buy into this idea that a story is “best” in one medium over others. A story that works great as a novel can work great as a movie. A movie can work great as a Broadway production. A comic can make an amazing TV series. It’s all about execution. So I disagree with your premise that The Weatherman’s best form is the comics form. That said I chose comics for a bunch of different reasons. The first is that I just love comics and I’ve been a fan my whole life. Another reason is that I prefer telling story with stylized illustrations rather than photorealism and I prefer visual storytelling to prose. Just look at what WM co-creator and series artist Nathan Fox and colorist Dave Stewart are doing and tell me their amazing work is not the the ideal version of this story.

Comics also on the whole cost less to produce than television or film which means that you can take greater risks (i.e. tell better stories) and there’s a high likelihood that a singular voice or in our case group of voices will make it through the production process intact. The Weatherman is going to challenge and engage people in ways a super expensive, mass appeal blockbuster for example might not be able to support.

But really comics has a long history of exciting, game-changing sci-fi stories associated with it and we’re honored and excited to be able to throw our hat in that ring.  

ComicBook: Have you noticed the concept of The Weatherman or creative collaboration on the series impacting your technique or style in comics?

Leheup: I’ve learned so much writing this book and from my collaborators and from Nathan Fox in particular that from a craft standpoint nothing is going to be the same for me after this project. Concept-wise writing this has helped me work through some difficult stuff from my past and better understand certain relationships that are very important to me. And it’s also allowing me to navigate some existential fears I have about us as a species.

Aside from that though, I can’t say enough about my collaborators and what they’ve brought to the table. The word “genius” gets thrown around a lot but Nathan is an actual art genius. Aesthetically his illustration and designs are absolutely electric. But it’s his storytelling that’s really going to blow readers away. The subtleties in his acting, the way he handles emotional moments and comedy…it’s all amazing. And his world building and the dynamism of his action scenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen. That’s coming from a life-long fan and veteran comics editor.

Dave Stewart’s colors are stunning as well. I mean you look at Dave’s resume and you think OF COURSE his colors are going to be amazing. But he’s such a great fit with Nathan’s art. Tom Muller’s killer graphic design, Steve “Magic” Wands’ outstanding lettering, Sebastian Girner’s edits…it’s really a dream to work with all these guys.  

Fox: I’ve got to second that. The team and this entire process has been one of the most fun, challenging and eye opening projects I’ve had the honor of working on. There are not enough words for how incredibly talented our collaborators are and we’re literally just getting started as we wrap up the first of three arcs.

Creatively the past two years of story and character development has been truly invaluable. Once Nathan and Amanda’s relationship solidified everything just clicked and grew from there. And honestly, The Weatherman has become one of those dream-level opportunities and stories that just hits like lightning as soon as you read page one. Jody’s scripts are equally genius and above and beyond anything I’ve worked on to date. We both connect immediately on the story, each for his own reasons as Jody mentioned, and have no intention of holding anything back. For me it’s feels like one of those rare opportunities and books where you realize you have to be a part of it because you just might have something larger to contribute to the whole. Hopefully it all shows and comes through in-story, on the page, and for the audience as much as it does for us.

ComicBook: Finally, what has you most anxious or excited to see how readers react when they get to see the first issue in just two months?

Leheup: From an anxiety standpoint, I’d say there are two moments–one in issue one and one in issue two–that are going to be pretty controversial. People are going to have some strong reactions and opinions to those moments so we’re looking forward to that when the time comes. In terms of excitement though I cannot wait for readers to experience the totality of the The Weatherman and to see what we’ve been building for the last couple of years. I can honestly say you have never seen anything like this book and if you can stomach a few spots of intensity we’re going to take you on the ride of your life.

Fox: Definitely what Jody said. Issue one comes out June 13th and we have so, so, so much more interior and mind-blowing cover art coming down the pipe so stay tuned! It’s going to be one crazy-freight train of fun you won’t want to miss this summer! And follow our official social media account @WM_Comic for exclusive content, news, and behind the scenes looks at The Weatherman!

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Ranking Every Character to Wield Thor’s Hammer

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 24, 2018.

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The finale of The Mighty Thor arrives this week, marking the end of Jane Foster’s time with Mjolnir. Over the past several years she has become a key hero in The Avengers and for Asgard, and The Mighty Thor has remained one of the best titles published by Marvel Comics. It will be a difficult goodbye to say the least.

Foster’s incredible stint as the God of Thunder got us thinking about the other heroes who have wielded Mjolnir over the years. In both canonical and “What If…” comics, many have picked up the hammer and found themselves worthy. That’s why we’re looking at them all and ranking their tales against one another to see how they stack up.

The one rule is that every character must have lifted Mjolnir. No tricks, like when Hulk held on to the hammer appearing to control it, or other hammers, like when Loki gifted Storm or Deadpool their own versions, are allowed. So let’s dig in to see how the best wielder of Mjolnir besides Thor himself really is.

  1. Rogue

Created by Chris Claremont and Michael Golden

First Appearance: Avengers Annual (vol. 1) #10

When They Lifted Mjolnir: What If? (vol. 2) #66

Rogue only lifted Mjolnir in a what if story after somehow absorbing Thor’s worthiness along with his metahuman abilities. Rogue herself was far less than worthy in this particular tale, quickly using the hammer to kill multiple Avengers. While the issue itself is entertaining, there’s little heroism to be found in Rogue’s brief tenure.

  1. Black Widow

Created by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and Don Heck

First Appearance: Tales of Suspense (vol. 1) #52

When They Lifted Mjolnir: What If?: Age of Ultron #3

Black Widow’s what if story contains much more heroism, largely generated by desperation. After every metahuman on Earth is destroyed by Ultron, Black Widow makes a last ditch gambit to take the power of Thor and win the day. It’s a very brief story, but one that raises questions as to what exactly makes someone worthy and certainly offering redemption for Widow’s past crimes.

  1. Wonder Woman

Created by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter

First Appearance: All-Star Comics #8

When They Lifted Mjolnir: Marvel Vs. DC #3

Wonder Woman found that lifting Mjolnir was no struggle at all when Marvel and DC Comics collided, reflecting the honorable warrior fans know her to be. However, she barely had time to wield the hammer, electing to set it aside to create a fair fight between her and Storm. That proved to be a mistake as Storm used her control of lightning to assert a quick victory.

  1. Conan the Barbarian

Created by Robert E. Howard, Roy Thomas, and Barry Smith

First Appearance: Conan the Barbarian (vol. 1) #1

When They Lifted Mjolnir: What If? (vol. 1) #39

Conan takes up Mjolnir to continue the legacy of Thor after the god perishes in this “What If…” story. It reveals a much more noble side to the classic barbarian, proven in his relentless quest for justice and thoughtful eulogy for Thor. This is a great duo that will hopefully be recreated at Marvel Comics soon, and one that finds a true brother-in-arms for Thor, even if it’s only a hypothetical.

  1. Superman

Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

First Appearance: Action Comics (vol. 1) #1

When They Lifted Mjolnir: Marvel Vs. DC #4

There is no greater superhero than Superman, and that has everything to do with who he is, not his level of strength. For that reason, it came as no surprise in Marvel Vs. DC when Superman lifted Mjolnir and Captain America’s shield to lead both universes into final victory. That moment still represents the shared mission of both universes, reflecting the best they have to offer in the fight for truth and justice.

  1. Thunderstrike

Created by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz

First Appearance: Thor (vol. 1) #391

When They Lifted Mjolnir: Thor (vol. 1) #391

Erik Masterson is the first hero on this list to canonically wield Mjolnir. However, his time with the hammer has not aged well as Thunderstrike has slid into the C-list of Marvel superheroes. Looking back he served primarily as a simulacrum for Thor himself, showing a worthy spirit, but not many other interesting or notable characteristics.

  1. Captain America

Created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon

First Appearance: Captain America Comics #1

When They Lifted Mjolnir: Thor (vol. 1) #390

Cap is as obviously worthy as Superman, and thus it came as only a minor shock when he lifted Mjolnir for the first time. It is a great note in the long relationship between Steve Rogers and Thor, a man who earned the respect of a god who would follow him anywhere. Even after Thor’s human alter-ego was removed from the comic, moments like this reminded readers that heroes from any walk of life could be found worthy.

  1. Puddlegulp

Created by Chris Eliopoulos and Ig Guara

First Appearance: Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #1

When They Lifted Mjolnir: Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #1

The original Throg (Thor-Frog) was actually a transformed version of Thor himself. However, the frogs of Central Park were still in need of protection and so a sliver of Mjolnir was left behind to empower this noble amphibian. Puddlegulp is not only adorable, but an excellent source of fun adventures and reminder the animal kingdom contains heroes as well.

  1. Awesome Andy

Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Fantastic Four (vol. 1) #15

When They Lifted Mjolnir: She-Hulk (vol. 2) #14

When he was the Awesome Android, servant of the Mad Thinker, Andy mimicked Thor’s noble drive as well as his strength and was briefly able to lift the hammer. That moment is what inspired him to take control of his own life and work for just causes. It’s an excellent scene that shows how Thor and Mjolnir can inspire others to great works. This origin story also gave us Awesome Andy as he exists today, and that is a gift all on its own.

  1. Beta Ray Bill

Created by Walt Simonson

First Appearance: Thor (vol. 1) #337

When They Lifted Mjolnir: Thor (vol. 1) #337

It was stunning when Beta Ray Bill took Mjolnir in his very first appearance, but by the end of that story it could not have seemed less surprising. Bill is Thor’s interstellar brother from another mother, someone every bit as dedicated to his people and their protection that he allowed his body to be destroyed and remade as a superpowered machine of war. That seed of worthiness has blossomed into a great career as superhero and the wielder of Mjolnir’s twin hammer Stormbreaker.

  1. Jane Foster

Created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Larry Lieber

First Appearance: Journey Into Mystery (vol. 1) #84

When They Lifted Mjolnir: Thor (vol. 4) #1

After the past few years, it is impossible to give the top spot on this list to anyone besides Jane Foster. She has recreated the story of Dr. Donald Blake from the original comics and updated it for the modern day. The morals have remained the same though, focused on how an ordinary human can be empowered by their own virtue and accomplish incredible tasks. Jane Foster did just that and inspired fictional Marvel heroes as well as very real readers along the way.

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Does Marvel Comics Still Need Wolverine?

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 24, 2018.

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Wolverine has been making appearances around the Marvel Universe for more than six months since he was officially resurrected in the pages of Marvel Legacy #1. However, everything up until this point has been teasing. He has only been seen in a handful of pages and has yet to reappear on any team, much less his own title. That all changes this week with the launch of The Hunt for Wolverine #1. This one-shot will launch 4 additional mini-series, all of them aimed at exploring how Wolverine was returned from the dead and reintegrating him back into the mainstream of Marvel Comics.

Logan managed to stay dead longer than many expected. It has been almost 4 years since his death was made official in Death of Wolverine #4 and there have been ample opportunities for him to return before now, most notably in the aftermath of Secret Wars. For most top-tier superheroes at Marvel or DC it is difficult to remain dead for a full year, making this almost seem impressive. That longevity doesn’t address the real interesting question about this return though: Should Wolverine come back?

It’s obvious that sales will expect his return considering how it has become an event unto itself, but dollars don’t inherently make a good idea. That’s why we’re looking back at the life, death, and return of Wolverine to see whether this resurrection is really necessary.

The Long History of Logan

Wolverine didn’t begin as a popular superhero. His first appearance in The Incredible Hulk #181, where he was created by Len Wein, Roy Thomas, and John Romita Sr., featured him as a secondary antagonist at best. It wasn’t until Giant-Size X-Men #1 in 1975 that the character really clicked, playing up the attitude and violence to become many readers favorite member of the team. Momentum only built from there, first in mini-series like Wolverine and Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, until finally launching an ongoing series in 1988.

Since 1988 there has always been a series at Marvel Comics with Wolverine’s name featured on it. Oftentimes there would be multiple miniseries, focusing on his origin or special battles, running alongside at least one ongoing series. That doesn’t take into account the diverse array of teams Wolverine was regularly featured on, including the X-Men, X-Force, and Avengers. The character’s popularity and publication schedule grew to a level in the 90s and 00s that fans would joke about Wolverine spending all of his time running between teams. When he was killed in 2014 it resembled a well-earned vacation as much as a tragic final victory.

The World Without Wolverine

Just because Wolverine was dead didn’t mean that his presence would be felt any less. The weekly series Wolverines followed his death, featuring the allies and villains most closely tied to the character working together to uncover a conspiracy. Until the events of Secret Wars interrupted the entire publishing line, most X-Men titles dealt with his disappearance and eventually revealed death on a monthly basis. He was gone, but certainly not forgotten. Marvel Comics was also sure to provide two significant substitutes for readers.

Following Secret Wars Old Man Logan, a future version of the character from a dystopian era ruled by villains, was brought to the mainstream Marvel universe and given his own series. He has acted as a substitute in series where writers want to include Wolverine. While his additional age and past are referenced, he has been almost indistinguishable from the original version in series like Astonishing X-Men. If anything, Old Man Logan is the Splenda to Logan’s sugar.

The more notable replacement is Laura Kinney who stepped into the costume and role of Wolverine for the X-Men, most prominently featured in All-New Wolverine. She has distinguished herself far better than Old Man Logan, bringing a unique personality, set of goals, and approach to the role. Laura still functions as a deadly protector for mutantkind, but her youth and other differences from the original Wolverine has made her stand out. Her past traumas have led to a focus on doing the least harm, emphasizing the protector portion of her role much more than the deadly bit. Along the way Laura has also accumulated her own supporting cast and pseudo-family. All of this has made All-New Wolverine one of the consistently best titles at Marvel Comics following the original Wolverine’s death.

The Need for a Return?

Looking at the past several years of Marvel Comics, it’s clear that the world can keep spinning without Wolverine. Teams like the Avengers and X-Men have managed to keep selling copies while making use of other tough, but lovable outsiders to fill any gaps that Wolverine might have left. Even looking at a series like Astonishing X-Men, characters like Mystique and Fantomex fit the role just as well, even without Old Man Logan adding to the mix. The “Hunt for Wolverine” story will provide a summer X-event, but Wolverine again isn’t necessary to find an excuse for that to happen, he just happens to be the excuse this summer. That means the real question as to whether or not Wolverine needs to return is about the character himself. Do we need or want more Wolverine stories?

The character’s return is taking place in four miniseries, each with their own focus. They have each been defined by their tone, broken down as noir, adventure, horror, and romance. All of the miniseries are touching on well-trod ground within the Wolverine mythos. Looking at the extensive number of ongoing solo series, team books, and almost innumerable miniseries Wolverine has received in the past several decades, it’s almost impossible to imagine truly new terrain for the character.

That contrasts with the work currently being done in All-New Wolverine. Even as Laura is brought into the future in an homage to “Old Man Logan”, it’s obvious just how different her character’s spin on that concept is. The name Wolverine has elevated her to a more prominent role in Marvel Comics and provided a healthy run so far. Each story, even those that bear comparison to Logan’s, has offered something wholly original from any prior series with Wolverine in the title. The simple truth is that Laura has given the mantle new life after decades of stretching the original Wolverine as far as possible in every direction. Future creators may prove this point wrong, but it appears that Wolverine still fits best with retirement, while his successors have a lot more to offer. Perhaps Marvel Comics is still bringing back Wolverine far too early.

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How Jeff Lemire Created A Great New Superhero Universe From Scratch

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 20, 2018.

Jeff Lemire Black Hammer Universe - Cover.jpg

The world of comics is dominated by superheroes, but they almost all exist in two shared universes. It’s almost impossible to walk into a shop without seeing massive signs labeling the Marvel and DC sections, asking which universe is your favorite. The superhero genre has far more potential and options than this dichotomous relationship offers though. While there’s nothing wrong with the comics and universes offered by the “Big Two”, two options don’t make a market. That is what makes it all the more exciting when a new expansive superhero universe emerges in the comics market. In the last couple of years that is exactly what has happened as Black Hammer premiered and has quickly risen to stand alongside other proud competitors like Astro City and Valiant Comics.

Black Hammer debuted at Dark Horse Comics in 2016, co-created by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston, and has been met with critical and commercial success. The series follows a group of superheroes who were stranded in a small town seemingly set outside of time and space as they know it. There they have taken on new personalities and slowly given up hope of ever returning home. That premise belies a rich superhero universe filled with history and characters, as well as the long story behind its creation. As we continue to seek out new ideas for superhero comics, Black Hammer and its creators reveal what it takes to make a new superhero universe work.

The Birth of Black Hammer

Lemire originally conceived the idea of Black Hammer in 2007 and it was quickly accepted at Dark Horse Comics. While changes were made between then and its eventual premiere almost a decade later, the core concept of the series remained intact. The concept of stranded heroes was present, but, more importantly, so was the commentary on the superhero genre. Each of the heroes present in Black Hammer and those that have been revealed outside of the small town of Rockwood all draw parallels and connections to the almost century-long history of the genre. It has always been a comic about superheroes more than a superhero comic.

The initial delays to the series were caused by Lemire’s rapidly burgeoning career. First, commitments to existing Vertigo series prevented him from drawing the comic. Then, an exclusive contract with DC Comics that ran through 2014 stopped its development. After that contract ended, Lemire was so busy with other projects that he was no longer able to draw Black Hammer himself. It was at this point that he reached out to artist Dean Ormston, another auteur comics artist who excels at depicting human fragility and pathos, to partner on the series. A final major delay arrived in the form of a cerebral hemorrhage that paralyzed the right side of Ormston’s body in 2015. After significant physical therapy, Ormston recovered his ability to draw and Black Hammer was finally released on July of 2016.

Building From Square One

Given its long history from conception to publication, it’s clear that Black Hammer wasn’t going anywhere. Something about the idea made it worth the wait and Lemire never stopped working on it, claiming to have written 20 issues shortly after the first issue was released. The most important element of Black Hammer #1 isn’t the superhero universe that surrounds it or the epic stories to come, it’s the great concept introduced in that first issue.

The first issue of Black Hammer is all about introducing its cast of characters and their dynamics. Each of the 6 surviving superheroes in Rockwood are revealed as people before much about their history, powers, or villains are revealed. It’s more important to understand Abraham Slam’s nostalgic perspective and devotion to his team and residents of Rockwood than what his costume looked like before his exile. That applies to all of the superheroes who are the focus of Black Hammer. They once belonged to a much larger world filled with many threats and other heroes, but the series removes them from that and focuses on a story worth telling.

When you look back at other important debut issues like Detective Comics #27 (Batman), Action Comics #1 (Superman), or Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spider-Man), none of them deliver a complete universe of superheroes. They each provide a central hero and concept that was allowed to grow into something much larger. The premise of Black Hammer is both focused and innovative enough to provide a starting point for bigger things. Lemire, Ormston, and their other collaborators can grow both the original story and develop the broader history of the universe. That’s only possible because of the strong foundation built in the original series.

A Brighter Future

After less than 2 years it has become abundantly clear that the story in Rockwood is far from the only one to be told in the universe of Black Hammer. It remains the central story, relaunched this week as Black Hammer: Age of Doom, but there have already been 2 spinoffs with at least 1 more planned. Sherlock Frankenstein and Doctor Star have examined the lives of other villains and heroes left behind on Earth when Black Hammer and the rest disappeared. The Quantum Age, another series planned for this fall, will jump 1,000 years into the future and reveal superheroes inspired by the originals.

Each of these spinoff series reveal a key element in how Lemire and Ormston have designed their ever-expanding superhero universe. Sherlock Frankenstein examines the mad genius trope of superhero comics with a lead that plays very similarly to Captain Marvel’s nemesis Doctor Sivana. Doctor Star is a riff on the Starman series created by James Robinson and Tony Harris, even going so far as to name its hero Jimmy and provide him with an appearance loosely based on the writer. Now The Quantum Age will riff on the Legion of Super-Heroes. The comics of Black Hammer may lack decades of history, but they are utilizing the shorthand and references crafted by other publishers. Allusions and similarities to classic properties allow these comics to quickly assemble characters and histories in a much shorter period of time.

Much like Astro City, Lemire and Ormston’s creation has been able to leverage the dominance of other superhero comics in order to quickly build their own. They aren’t reconstructing DC Comics or any other sort of story either. From the very first issue of Black Hammer its unique tone and approach to the genre are clear. There simply are no comics like this at any large superhero publisher. That’s what makes its success so exciting, including the multiple new series and Eisner win for Best New Series. Black Hammer took the unique take of one artist on superhero stories and has built something much larger from that foundation. The end result hasn’t even arrived yet as more and more comics are promised, but the future certainly looks promising.

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Why “Avengers: No Surrender” Worked So Well

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 19, 2018.

Avengers No Surrender - Cover.jpg

“No Surrender” the 16-part, weekly event set in the pages of Avengers is finally drawing to a close. When it began in January we put together a list of items the series would need in order to succeed. It was the first weekly series at Marvel Comics in quite some time and many similar endeavors at other publishers had not ended well. The last big success in the format was in the pages of 52 more than a decade ago. With only one issue of “No Surrender” left, it’s pretty apparent that this series has managed to recapture the promise of a weekly superhero adventure.

With all of the Avengers ongoing series (Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, and U.S.Avengers) merged into a single line, it provided the same amount of content in a single coherent story. What began as a mysterious game between the Grandmaster and Challenger, using Earth and its heroes as board and obstacles, has evolved into an apocalyptic event. Along the way it has explored key relationships between various Avengers and spotlighted some of the team’s B-list. It has been an exciting odyssey from start to finish, but the grind of weekly installments still requires a special spark. That’s why it’s worth breaking down what made “No Surrender” such an enjoyable read, and what we hope to see future weekly superhero adventures learn from its success.

The Cast of Characters

The big ask of a weekly series is commitment. It’s not enough to be interested in what happens next when you’re required to spend money and time every Wednesday, not just once per month. That requirement means readers need to want to actively return to the story, which means they need to enjoy the characters they’re spending their time with. Any Avengers title has an enormous set of members to choose from, almost everyone has been an Avenger at some point in Marvel history. What’s more difficult is choosing the right ones, and that’s where “No Surrender” went very right.

Rather than focusing on the most obvious stars like Captain America or Iron Man, “No Surrender” pushed a lot of lesser known leaders like Falcon, Rogue, and Sunspot to the forefront. Readers familiar with only one title in the prior lineup of books were introduced to fun characters like the new Red Hulk, Robert Maverick. The mix of Avengers and their differently arranged teams guaranteed two key elements. First, every longtime reader would find a favorite hero in the mix. Second, every reader would be introduced to an excellent survey of new or lesser known characters.

That goes for the villains as well. While Grandmaster and Challenger were the major antagonists of the series, they each had their own teams to provide extra fireworks. The resurrected Black Order captured some Hollywood allure with some of Thanos’ deadliest servants. Meanwhile, the new Lethal Legion offered a who’s who of fun B-list baddies like Mentacle. Voyager was the secret ingredient though, the one new character slowly folded into the plot and possibly the future of the Marvel universe. Looking back it’s easy to see how this massive cast was as carefully selected as the ingredients for an ambitious new recipe.

Twists and Cliffhangers

There are some elements that matter much more in episodic storytelling like monthly superhero comics. Creators must provide hooks to maintain interest between each issue or episode, as a month or even a week can provide unlimited new distractions. These often come in the form of cliffhangers or twists, and they are an artform perfected in American comics by writers like Mark Waid and Brian K. Vaughan. Luckily for “No Surrender”, Waid was on board along with both Al Ewing and Jim Zub, two of the most promising superhero writers at Marvel Comics today. It’s clear throughout the 16-issue arc that they understood each new week required a new hook to bring readers back.

They never deployed the same tactic between issues either, recognizing readers don’t like repetition. Some twists came in the form of extended mysteries like Voyager’s presence. It was clear from the start that she was not who she claimed to be, but the truth behind her existence was slowly rolled out over the course of multiple issues with hints and suggestions made throughout. Sometimes there was the need for a big stakes reveal or change in plot though. The resurrection of the Hulk and setup for the last pair of issues both offered jaw-dropping moments. No matter which week you look at though, there’s at least one moment you can point to as a clear incentive to keep reading. That form of pacing kept interest high across the series and rewarded readers every time they returned.

An Epic Finale

It’s not simply enough to keep readers engaged between weeks though. Every story requires a conclusion and the weekly roll out of an event like “No Surrender” requires an even more dramatic payoff. In the past this is where many weekly series have stumbled, saving too much for the big finale and leaving too little space to unpack revelations and flesh out a climactic battle. After months of dedicated reading, fans want the conclusion to earn the hype and interest generated by so many issues of comics. Calling that a challenge for creators is a big understatement.

“No Surrender” pays off the promise of its series in its final few issues though. The finale has not been saved entirely for the pages of Avengers #690. Instead the weekly pacing has been used to break down the climax into a series of chapters, each telling a portion of the finale and allowing shifts in momentum time to build additional tension and stakes. While the final issue is still one week out, it’s worth waiting for. Everything about this final month of the event has delivered in a big way. Characters have died and their deaths have felt impactful. The stakes have been raised in a natural fashion based on what has come before. Relationships and motives seeded at the start of the story have paid off. Reading these final issues it is clear that “No Surrender” was conceived first as a complete story to ensure that its conclusion was just as enjoyable as the path to reach it.

These are the key elements that made “No Surrender” a success: great characters, excellent plotting, and a satisfying conclusion. That may sound simple, but it’s difficult even on a monthly schedule. Here we have witnessed it accomplished every week over the course of 4 months. The result is one of the most reliably enjoyable superhero reads of 2018. If Marvel, DC, or any other superhero publisher tries to tackle this sort of challenge again, they would be well served by looking to “No Surrender” as a model.

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Review: Black Panther #172 Aims For The Stars, But Doesn’t Quite Reach Them

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 18, 2018.

Black Panther 172 Review - Cover.jpg

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther has been defined by its ambition. At its 25th issue the series has only just completed its second story. These 12 and 13 issue stints have been marketed as seasons, but it’s clear that both “A Nation Under Our Feet” and “Avengers of the New World” are best collected and read as complete volumes. That allows for a lot of room to explore ideas, expand the cast, and follow up on small ideas; it also makes conclusions challenging. That ambition is ever-present in Black Panther #172 and ultimately leaves the final moments of the story less impactful than the many chapters that built to them.

Alterations to the antagonist has left “Avengers of the New World” a much more scattered narrative than its predecessor. Whereas “A Nation Under Our Feet” featured many threats, they created a coherent, thematic enemy—a battle of ideas—at the heart of the story. Throughout the course of this narrative there have been multiple foes and mysteries all posed as the ultimate threat only to be removed or replaced. This issue is purely focused on The Adversary, an X-Men villain barely introduced just one month ago. After so much build seeing this enemy confront T’Challa and his allies feels anticlimactic. Beyond his raw power, which is told as much as it is shown, The Adversary does not feel substantial in the world this series has crafted. He does not represent a greater idea or reflect key elements of the Black Panther mythos. The Adversary is simply a “big bad” functioning as the capstone for a large scale battle. Everything that results from his fight necessarily feels anticlimactic as a result.

The fight depicted by Leonard Kirk and the rest of the artistic team delivers the action and thrills merited by this level of tension. Energy blasts and punches are abundant, but they convey the “and then” of the plot more than any sense of violence or danger. Kirk’s consistently clean linework gets the job done, but there is less detail in this issue than in prior installments. Whether this is due to a deadline or focus on simplicity, the result deflates the battle. In the midst of so many characters and plot threads, a lack of detail makes the various moments blur together. It’s rarely clear what the focus of the action ought to be overall, only where it rests at the current moment.

These shortcomings in plotting and depiction shouldn’t undercut what is still a well told issue of comics. It never confuses its point or loses the thread. However, it is made much more disappointing because of the abundant promise raised in the story’s denouement. When the action settles and the central characters are able to interact without explaining who the villain is and why that matters, the heart of the story returns. Threads of identity and romance are pulled forward, commenting both on the prior 12 issues as well as the extensive Black Panther runs of writers like Christopher Priest and Reginald Hudlin. Kirk’s clean lines emphasize the emotions in this moment and provide an almost purifying bath of ink for the duo in this scene. It’s a well-crafted final few pages that help to clarify the intent of the overall story. As enlightening as this final moment may be, it also leaves a lingering sense of frustration because this story’s climax does not support the ideas as well as this explanatory epilogue.

Black Panther remains one of the standout series at Marvel Comics, but Black Panther #172 is far from the series’ best outing. Striking the balance between thoughtful consideration and big superhero adventure has delivered some outstanding moments in the past, but this installment steers far too deep into the latter half of the equation. There is no deep connection between the literal and metaphorical battles; the actual fighting contains little meaning and the meaning is summarized. All of the essential elements of a superhero comic are in place and executed well enough, but this has proven to be a superhero comic capable of far more than monthly updates.

Published by Marvel Comics

On April 18, 2018

Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Art by Leonard Kirk, Marc Deering, and Walden Wong

Colors by Laura Martin and Matt Milla

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Ranking All of Action Comics #1000

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 18, 2018.

Action Comics #1000 Stories Ranking - Cover.jpg

Action Comics #1000 is finally here. It is the most notably anniversary issue in all of superhero comics celebrating the most significant superhero of all time. Rather than attempt to tell a single cumulative story summarizing decades of plots and themes, DC Comics made the very wise decision to package this issue as an anthology. Action Comics #1000 contains 11 short comics from some of the best writers and artists to address Superman since the 1950s. That begs the question: How do they all stack up?

We’ve read through all of the stories (at least twice) and are ready to weigh in with our definitive ranking of the many stories of Action Comics #1000. It’s an incredibly tough competition considering the talent and subject matter. Even if you happen to disagree with some of these rankings, there’s no doubt that this is a worthy celebration for the Man of Steel with a lot of great comics between its covers.

  1. “The Truth”

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams

Colors by Alex Sinclair

This short feels out of place in Action Comics #1000. Surrounded by self-contained stories all reflecting on the legacy and importance of Superman, this one reads like a teaser from Free Comic Book Day. It introduces the villain for Bendis’ upcoming run on the series, but fails to deliver much value on its own or land any of its jokes. In an issue stacked with excellent short stories, this installment is out of its league.

  1. “The Game”

Written by Paul Levitz

Art by Neal Adams

Colors by Hi-Fi

A showdown between Superman and Lex Luthor always brings a certain level of charm. Levitz delivers some smart commentary between the pair and Adams drafts at least one striking visual homage at the end of the chess match. However, the story itself feels slight with little to be said beyond the standard dynamics of these classic arch-nemeses. It serves as a baseline for Superman stories, which speaks well of everything to follow on this ranking.

  1. “From The City That Has Everything”

Written by Dan Jurgens

Art by Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund

Colors by Hi-Fi

The title for this story, based on the classic Superman tale “For The Man Who Has Everything”, is likely the most clever part of the story. There’s a twist, but it’s easy to predict, and the plot itself is primarily an excuse to have characters state their feelings on Superman. It has a few great moments of dialogue, but spreads them thin over quite a few pages. It’s really the earnestness and love within this tale that helps it win the day.

  1. “An Enemy Within”

Written by Marv Wolfman

Art by Curt Swan, Butch Guice, and Kurt Schaffenberger

Colors by Hi-Fi

The inclusion of art from Curt Swan and others was a very smart move, providing a lens to honor some of Superman’s most influential creators who are no longer with us. The story feels dated, but in the best possible way as Wolfman matches the pacing and style of the time these pages are from. It’s a sweet story that becomes much more impactful when you recognize the nods it gives to those who came before.

  1. “Actionland!”

Written by Paul Dini

Art by José Luis García-López and Kevin Nowlan

Colors by Trish Mulvhill

This is another installment focused on a twist, but it’s executed with a great deal more panache. The artwork surveying Superman’s entire career in the form of an amusement park ride is nothing short of stellar. It covers all of the key aspects of who Superman is before digging into the nitty gritty of theme and making a very pleasant discovery about what superheroes can be. This story is simply a lot of fun and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

  1. “Never-Ending Battle”

Written by Peter J. Tomasi

Art by Patrick Gleason

Colors by Alejandro Sanchez

The construction of this story provides an excuse to draft a lot of splash pages that homage Superman’s entire career from the wonders of the Golden Age to dark adventures of the Modern Age. While not a typical or generally exciting plot, the excuse justifies itself in Gleason’s artwork. His flexibility and understanding of layout are on display in each new installment, all of which could be transformed into a poster. This story forms one spectacular walk down memory lane.

  1. “Five Minutes”

Written by Louise Simonson

Art by Jerry Ordway

Colors by Dave McCaig

Louise Simonson focuses on an oft-neglected aspect of Superman’s life: his career as a journalist. Examining both this work and his time as a superhero draws some compelling parallels and serves as a love letter to a very real profession. The Daily Planet has functioned as a centerpiece of Action Comics for its entire existence and this story understands all of its small pleasures and thematic essence.

  1. “The Fifth Season”

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Rafael Albuquerque

Colors by Dave McCaig

It’s easy to accept the way things are after 1000 issues, which makes the pushback in this story an important element in the overall anthology. Examining the relationship between Superman and Lex Luthor, it questions whether this pair was always fated to fight one another and if they might change their course. It’s a subtlety and wistful presentation of the scenario does more than just ask the question too, it offers a gleam of hope.

  1. “The Car”

Written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner

Art by Olivier Coipel

Colors by Alejandro Sanchez

This story about the car being smashed on the cover of Action Comics #1 doesn’t take the obvious route of nostalgia. Instead it returns to Superman’s very beginning to show what sort of hero he has been from the start. It grounds the adventure and destruction in a small, human interaction, and makes the case that this is where Superman is at his absolute best.

  1. “Faster Than A Speeding Bullet”

Written by Brad Meltzer

Art by John Cassaday

Colors by Laura Martin

The incredibly tight scope and short time frame of this story allow it to deliver its message with precision and speed. Superman is the hero at its center, but it reframes his inspirational role to remind us that Superman isn’t powerful because we believe in him, but because he believes in us. Within a few pages it recenters the common man and will likely bring a tear to your eye. It’s a short comic aimed at your heart just like a speeding bullet.

  1. “Of Tomorrow”

Written by Tom King

Art by Clay Mann

Colors by Jordie Bellaire

This installment, already shared in its entirety by Tom King on social media, is the thematic centerpiece of Action Comics #1000. In just a handful of pages, “Of Tomorrow” manages to both touch on the core themes that make Superman meaningful and on the importance of legacy. The love, work, and dedication apparent in this reverie remind readers Superman is supposed to reveal the best in humanity, and he does so in small actions. That value is shown to be eternal in its setting, beautifully constructed by Mann and Bellaire. In a few pages the creators remind us that kindness, service, and everything else Superman represents are eternally good values, lasting far beyond even 1000 issues of comics.

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Mini Reviews for 04/18

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 18, 2018.

DC

Cave Carson Has An Interstellar Eye #2

The second volume of this series continues to be impeccably well designed. That obviously applies to the layouts that make every element of the page address the story at hand. An example in this issue literally puts readers in Cave’s headspace as he fails to pay attention to someone else speaking. Design is also present in the conflict itself as opposing forces stand as much for ideas as individual beings. Everything about this comic remains wild and unpredictable. It’s difficult to know where it’s going or whether there’s a pay off, but the ride is worth taking for its own pleasures.  — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

Marvel

Amazing Spider-Man #799

This issue is all fireworks. Every Spider-Man ally and friend you expected to see are here and then some as the Red Goblin threatens to destroy everyone Peter Parker loves. With Peter out of commission, it’s a great opportunity to showcase his extended family and the enormous threat posed by Norman Osborn. The battle is fast and furious, delivering plenty of impressive panels in short succession. What’s even more delightful is how this all serves as a build to Amazing Spider-Man #800, ratcheting up tension and delivering a last page that will leave fans chewing their nails until next month. This is how you craft a penultimate issue. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Infinity Countdown #2

Marvel Comics has not featured a cosmic event this good since the pages of Annihilation. Throughout the course of this issue plots converge and emerge as the story remains in constant motion. No matter where you look something is changing, giving meaning to ongoing battles. Just as one battle is resolved another becomes far more treacherous. Amidst it all the Guardians are the most charming they have been in years, with plenty of humor to balance out the bloodshed. Whether it’s a small moment or the biggest explosions caused by spaceships (or driveable Galactus vehicles), this miniseries is delivering on all fronts. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Iron First #80

Cause and effect means that actions have consequences. Iron Fist #80 is primarily driven by establishing predetermined outcomes. The events of “Damnation” have left the laws of reality loose, but the tournament setup created to resurrect characters here reads like a deus ex machina in which editors decided who should come back to life. There’s no real tension in the battle as the stakes or flow of combat are never entirely clear. Sacrifices don’t mean much from people already living in hell. To top it all off, this is a martial arts comic in which the action is hardly coherent outside of captions naming specific moves. It’s a bad look. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Marvel Super Hero Adventures Spider-Man Vibranium #1

The Marvel Super Hero Adventures series is focused much more on young readers than an all-ages audience. That having been said, it would make for a delightful read aloud experience with a young person just learning to string words together. While some narration may seem redundant, the story does a good job of always moving forward and delivering plenty of action and jokes (some of which are funny at any age). The oddest element of the series is its visual framing with a properly proportioned Spider-Man having a flashback to the toylike figures of the line. While they make for fun collectibles, the oversized heads look absurd on the page and undermine a generally good introduction point for young fans. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tales of Suspense #104

The ending of this miniseries is hardly an ending, especially when you take its final panel into account. Everything that you would expect to happen does as it chugs along the rails of a plot intended primarily to reframe the status quo in continuity. That may be useful for future stories, but it leaves this one feeling dispensable. A climactic battle is rendered inert in sequences that leave charges and leaps suspended in time, incapable of conveying motion. The banter between Bucky and Hawkeye, the series primary redemptive point, has never been more clearly a cheapened take on Fraction’s Hawkeye dialogue to the point of parody here. This story accomplished its goal of resurrecting the Black Widow, but at what cost? It certainly wasn’t worth the cover price. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

 

Other

Ballad of Sang #2

After only a single issue Ballad of Sang loses any semblance of consistency. The story’s tone fluctuates wildly from moment to moment as the plot wanders in different directions like some sort of extended improv sketch. Unlike that scenario there are no jokes that land and it’s impossible to discern what is happening. Panels barely connect as action is pushed forward at a frenetic pace leaving the story without tension or stakes. It’s ultimately impossible to tell whether a decapitation should be tragic or hilarious in this story and there’s no reason to puzzle it out. This issue is a mess from start to finish. Keep it. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 1 out of 5

Curse Words #13

Curse Words is not particularly focused on plotting or characters, which makes middle chapters like this one less intriguing. It does the leg work of providing exposition and repositioning the players, but those acts are not interesting by themselves. The mean-spirited humor of this issue is what really carries it along. Despite some lingering sweetness between the three central protagonists, it’s the cruelty exhibited on random spellcrafters and Jacques Zacques that really make this installment fun. Body horror runs rampant and a general lack of caring about even the most horrific circumstances provides the entire affair with some great (but not good) laughs. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Descender #29

There is an incredible sense of momentum surrounding this series and Descender #29 manages to carry that between all of its many divided plots and characters. Small scenes between a handful of characters in claustrophobic quarters are made to matter through personal investment and a beautifully realized two-page splash of a hologram. The universal fare is even more impressive, rendered with some of the best watercolors in the series to date as literally and figuratively big revelations are shown. No matter which characters or ideas grab your attention, this issue manages to touch on almost every important element of Descender in some way. It’s very good to return to the main story of this impressive series. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Diablo House #4

Less is more, which makes the excesses of Diablo House cringeworthy after only a few pages. Each twist in these horror story seems only to highlight obvious deviancy and comparisons. In the first story gore is served for its own sake without any hint of a theme or consequence. Terrible people do terrible things, and it lacks the creativity to make it resonate on a purely visceral or visually challenging level. A backup tale pointing to the most obvious flaws in Donald Trump’s character is as pointless as it seems. What purpose does this comic serve? Even if that question is answered in #5, it’s probably not worth finding out.  — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Evolution #6

At the conclusion of its first arc Evolution dishes up all of the twists and surprises a reader might expect from a horror B-movie. Mad science is the order to the day and it’s playing out in the chaotic, sprawling manner that will leave plenty of moments to make readers cringe or hoot. None of it is particularly gripping, but at least there’s plenty there. The overly rendered linework distracts from the evolutionary cycle at the heart of the story and transforms many key character moments into cyphers though. There is charm to this series, but it’s often left muddled upon the page. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Ghostbusters: Crossing Over #2

This is a comic designed entirely for people who are very into the Ghostbusters in literally all of their iterations. It is a plot made to bring them together and reward knowledge in the franchise. Outside of that there’s little purpose for the plot contrivances. Attitudes and dialogue are generally reflective of the characters crafted on film, but they are still a simulacrum of the real thing. Only a loose, cartooning style grounds this comic as being more than an imitation. It’s comfortable and fun for the right crowd, but doesn’t have much more to offer than the reignition of very specific memories. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Jughead: The Hunger #5

It’s not entirely clear what this series is trying to accomplish, but it doesn’t succeed on any substantial level. There’s tonal whiplash created as the most obvious visual gags are juxtaposed with gore. Neither laughter nor horror is evoked as well as the question of why any of this is happening. Characters explain their plots and motives as bluntly as possible, which leaves them resembling plot devices more than actual people. The comic itself is more than happy to call out its influences like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which further exposes the disparity in charm between it and other teenage horror stories. It’s not clear who this comic is for, but the only thing there is to root for by the final page is an end to it all. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 1 out of 5

Kick-Ass #3

It’s not unusual to see any issue of Kick-Ass packed with stereotypes, but this is an especially egregious example. The series continues to caricature race and class in America, defining crime in the most simplistic of terms and diminishing black families to the most common clichés. Even the hero and villain of this piece are reduced to oft-repeated characteristics. A bad guy that goes to villain and breaks out at the moment of his choosing, in a supposedly realistic setting no less, is worth only of a scoff. The visual depictions of all these elements embrace those same troublesome elements. No matter how clean or brutal the linework may be, it’s actively servicing something degrading and not worthy of attention. Keep it. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 1 out of 5

Lazarus #27

It would have been enough for Lazarus to return, but it does so in a manner that reminds us why both of its creators are so highly regarded. In a single issue they craft a tale reminiscent of a World War II thriller playing with small local politics and big repercussions. A handful of scenes and a well crafted, silent montage are enough to instill a new cast of characters with life and crate a whole new sub-plot in this series. The level of compression on display is nothing short of masterful as the wars of the series are reframed and one enduring character is reframed for the better. This is an issue worth experiencing with as little foreknowledge as possible and a surprisingly good point to learn what the hype for this series is all about. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 5 out of 5

Mage: The Hero Denied #8

In spite of the ogres and various other mythical villains, this issue remains laser-focused on the family dynamics that have driven the series. Each monstrosity is yet another obstacle for parents to confront in an increasingly difficult quest to reunite and protect their children. The action is well-told and monsters sufficiently frightening, but what really offers stakes are the characters crafted over so many years. The depiction of Kevin, balding with the slightest bit of a paunch, makes his moments of heroism all the more uplifting. He is an exceptionally good dad here and images of him battling real monsters serves for a reassuring metaphor for the hard work good dads do every day. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Moonshine #9

Risso is in full form this month. His ability to tell two narratives simultaneously, foreshadowing shifts in plot via cats and dogs is truly impressive. Each new angle is well-chosen and makes even an issue driven entirely by dialogue a compulsive reading experience. The dialogue itself is another matter altogether. Wordplay reads as if it is the point of any given scene, too clever by half but still not clever enough to cover up the lack of engaging characters or stakes worthy of investment. Moonshine seems only a shadow of a story, crafted by the slightest glimmer of moonlight at this point, and even Risso’s best work can’t make up for what’s lacking in story. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Ninjak Vs. The Valiant Universe #4

Comfortable is okay and that’s exactly what this conclusion is. Things turn out just as any experienced reader of superhero comics might expect. The good guys remain good and get the job done. There’s a great bit of plane-bound action that provides the same level of fun as a corny action film like Air Force One. Beyond that there’s not much to change opinions on Ninjak of Valiant Comics in general. It delivers exactly what is promised with little room for variation. A few splash pages of the superstars in this line help make the finale a bit bigger, but there’s nothing that make it a must read. Like I said, it’s comfortable. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Rumble #5

In the most striking issue of its second volume, Rumble alters its approach to storytelling to explore the heart of this series. Legends of yore are juxtaposed with the small, personal journeys of the present, and they are found to be equally moving. Both eras are explored in vastly different fashions, alternating grandiose narration for dialogue and expansive battle scenes for intensely focused encounters. The range in visual storytelling and tone are exceptional, but not quite as impressive as how the two halves cohere. Together they tell a story of loyalty, male friendship, and the inevitability of imperfection. There is great darkness, but just like in Pandora’s Box hope is to be found at the bottom, unlocked through the bottomless heart of dogs. Rumble is nothing short of remarkable. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 5 out of 5

Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #2

After the high speed start of this new story, things slow down to focus on the mystery. There’s a careful joy to the methods and manners of Inspector Ishida. He is methodical and leaves just as many observations unspoken as those he mentions to Usagi. A subtle eye is required to pick up on his reactions and early clues in a quickly expanding conspiracy. The issue focuses almost entirely on questioning, give or take a brief sword fight, but Sakai makes even the most businesslike issues of this comic sing. As an individual installment it lays necessary groundwork with excellent cartooning, which might leave some wanting more, but it’s still superior to most of what can be found on a monthly basis. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

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