Review: A.D. After Death #1 Combines Epic Ideas with a Personal Scope

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 30, 2016.

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There’s a very real tendency in comics to look for subjects of canonization well before their time. It’s hard to blame the industry for this either. American comics are in the midst of emerging from a niche medium to something more widely read, studied, and admired, both as entertainment and art. For a long time the evidence of comics value has rested on the year 1986 with stories like Watchmen and Maus. So finding that next best thing seems to be a consistent theme amongst critics and fans each year.

A.D. After Death is most likely not that next best thing based on Book One. If you read that as a criticism or complaint, it’s not. Not being an absolute masterpiece or a paradigm shifting work isn’t a sin, it’s something 99.99% of comics share. But it’s worth saying when discussing a comic like this with so much hype and hyperbole surrounding it. Those expectations don’t serve it or its creators well, and I hope that this is a comic which will be well served.

Because A.D. After Death is good. In fact, it’s very good.

Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire first announced the concept at Image Expo in January 2015 as a short standalone graphic novel, but it has since grown into three 72-page comics. It has been well served by both this expansion and separation. The narrative is every bit as its execution. Taking place in at least three distinct timelines, it tells the story of Jonah Cooke, a thief who helped steal the cure for death and now lives in a dystopian future. The world of his past and present are fascinating, but the story is primarily a character study. While questions about what happened to change the world will stick with readers, what resonates most are Jonah’s memories and his relationship to them.

Memories of his childhood and the origin of this “deathless” world are mixed with a present existence in which humans serve decades long roles in a never-ending rotation of jobs. These past experience blur and whorl within the current narrative. Some connections are obvious, while others serve primarily to explore Jonah’s psyche. They are all intended to delve into who he is though, and do an excellent job of crafting mood and theme. Taken as individual elements, separate from the whole, Lemire’s watercolors and Snyder’s prose still sing.

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That sort of fragmentation is enhanced by the non-typical structure of A.D. After Death. Rather than rely entirely typical comics form, something that has served both Snyder and Lemire very well, they opt to add standalone watercolors and prose passages. The sections dedicated to comics are as effective as someone familiar with either of their work would expect. Typically rendered in five panels or less with ample splashes, the story is paced thoughtfully and allows Lemire’s art to tell the work. It’s a form they are both familiar with and delivers small emotional moments every bit as well as something like Lemire’s masterful The Underwater Welder. It’s the non-standard elements of the story that strike to impress though.

All of the prose is set in Cooke’s past and spun like a short story, too finely crafted to be a campfire yarn, but familiar enough to come from a friend with a knack for writing. They are journal entries from a well-educated man. In this manner Snyder merges his own skill with writing with the narrative being told by Cooke. Readers unfamiliar with Snyder’s previous work to comics could surely guess at his short story talents based on these passages. He evokes key elements clearly and allows his narrator to wander in the telling just enough for it to feel real. Yet there is a focus to each story being told and the conclusion of each serves as a proper ending that adds meaning to the entire thing.

The choice of which moments to present as prose versus comics is the real trick in Snyder and Lemire’s storytelling though. Tales of observing a goat pass over strange phenomena or a sad family trip to Florida don’t lend themselves to comics as naturally or necessarily as Cooke’s travels in the future. They are stories which cover long tracts of time and often rely on nonspecific events. They also offer imagery that is better imagined than seen. The thought of a head knocking against cement or a hoof split by rot are horrifying and that horror is best maintained through obfuscation instead of the slow play-by-play of panels. Snyder’s precise evocation of these moments is perfect and sets an uneasy mood tha

Lemire is every bit as exacting in his singular images presented alongside these words. Escaping the interplay of panels, he focuses his loose inks and watercolors into singular moments that can tell a story all on their own. Even his figure studies like that of a nubile, wide-eyed goat or a mother and son hand-in-hand manage to straddle a line between joy and dread. Alone they exist as delightful moments, but the mood of A.D. After Death hangs a potent cloud over it all. More complex compositions like an unspooled recording tape connected to an I.V. draws parallels between memories and the impermanence of life. Scanning these images is a reminder of Lemire’s skill with composition and very capable choice of subjects.

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It is also worth noting that his watercolor work is pushed beyond anything fans have seen before, even in Trillium. Farmland and mundane memories set a standard palette of browns and greens that allow more fantastical elements to truly soar against expectations later in this first installment. His creation of an otherworldly sky high in our own altitude is breathtaking. Its consistency is as impressive as the array of colors and beautiful whorling shapes they form. If the following books contain more of this scenery, that alone will be worth the price of admission.

Yet the world of A.D. After Death and the story of Jonah Cooke are not lacking in ambition or depth. Cooke’s obsession with death and its impact on his own life stems from memories that read as being entirely unique, while also somehow being universal. It is the slow dawning of realization that all things pass and the awful inevitability of it all. Snyder and Lemire tackle the slow, aching pain not only of losing others, but simply knowing that we will. That is the slow burning mood of this first book and it sets the stage for a potent examination of mortality. The commentary on display here is sharp, but it is also clearly only the start of a thesis statement. What is consistently clear is how intimately personal this work is to those crafting it. The smallness of Cooke’s own life and history, set in our own timeline, speaks to the hard won wisdom and pain of those sharing their stories through him.

The first installment of A.D. After Death is thoughtfully assembled and carefully crafted. It reflects a unique pair of talents and their differing strengths as a collaborative pair. It pushes the boundaries of mainstream comics without reinventing the wheel. It is accessible and exciting on a surface level, while providing a story that is driven by the creators’ personal anxieties and concerns.

Simply put, it’s some damn fine comics.

Isn’t that enough?

Grade: A-

Side note: Naming the main character Cooke and his pet Darwyn is a nice touch and commemoration in a comic about confronting mortality. Well done.

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Leading Questions: Make Sword Fights Great Again

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on December 1, 2016.

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Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

Where are all the good sword fights in comics, my dude?

Swords fights are fucking rad, aren’t they? I’m being dead serious when I answer your question with a question there. A good sword fight can contain all of the best elements of action. You have two human bodies engaged in violence that utilizes both raw strength and delicate skills. You get plenty of blood and gore from neat Katana cuts or brutal rendings delivered by glaives. You can examine fine craftsmanship or unique relationships in the wide variety of weapons on display. The breadth and variety of sword fights are massive, and it absolutely shows in movies like Kill Bill and shows like Game of Thrones.

Sword fights. Are. Fucking. Rad.

So, yeah, that’s a good question. Why do sword fights in comics suck most of the time?

I’d wager it’s for a lot of the reasons they should be awesome. American comics do a few things very well in regards to all that stuff I spilled out at the start of this answer. For one, they do an exceptional job of detailing and showing off weaponry. Designing the fuck out of every little element in a badass’s outfit never went entirely out of vogue after Rob Liefeld made it the fashion of the 90s. Whether it’s a scabbard with ornate runes, a handle with more elements than most statuary, or a blade so big it could knock down an elephant, comics can deliver.

Comics can also consistently deliver a great killshot. That moment when your opponent realizes they’ve been bisected with a sickening squelch as their top half slides to the ground? There’s a panel that comics artists can consistently land. Even the less outlandish moments of a blade through the belly or a sickening new scar across a cheek can be reliably delivered.

That delivery also highlights what is lacking: build. American comics are all about the big moments, making the climax stand out as much as possible. But sword fighting is a lot like fucking and if you’re only focused on the finish, then you’re probably (read: definitely) in for a bad time. What really makes a sword fight stand out is everything that builds to the climactic cut, slice, or stabbing. That’s where American comics almost always fail.

If you’ve ever taken courses in fencing or watched a shit ton of samurai movies, then you’ll appreciate the nuances of a sword fight. Unlike a gun battle in which every shot is deadly and the noise is constant, swords allow for an increased variety and rhythm to violence. You can feel out your opponent, get a sense of their speed and skills, test strategy, all before things suddenly become very heated. A sword fight can be just as much about what is not happening as what is. It’s like if the stare down at the end of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly could be interjected between rounds of bullets, because you can naturally pause and experience a lull.

In the meantime though there are always at least two pieces of deadly steel on display. Even in the calmest moment of battle, there’s a constant source of tension. So no matter how long a fight lasts or how peaceful a pause may seem, death remains in the air. Ugh… It’s thrilling to just think about why the great sword fights are great. But we’re also getting to the heart of why they don’t adapt well all of the time.

In order to portray the nuance of a sword fight and to create the rhythm of battle, you need space. You have to be able to show the small flick of a blade or 1-2-3 of attack, parry, and counterattack. Each piece of the puzzle has to be there to really experience a sword fight. Leaving pieces in the gutters and hoping the reader figures out what led to each assailant falling in a big battle simply doesn’t capture the full motion and movement that makes these things thrill.

Unfortunately, space is something that most Western comics lack. When you’re on a monthly schedule with 20 or so pages to use, there’s an expectation that you deliver big moments each go around and plenty of plot. Honestly, a great sword fight is going to require an exorbitant amount of that space, unless it’s one of those real “so short, so sweet” deal where the fight is begun and ended in just a few strokes. That’s possible, but it shouldn’t be the standard and would still require a lot of detail to pull off well.

So when you’re making comics in pamphlets like that, I think the default is to deliver a greatest hits reel as opposed to a real sword fight. You get big moments, but they land the same as gunfire or super-powered punch. There’s a big “BANG” or “SLASH”, but no rise in action or tension to accompany it. Again, it’s all climax.

And of course there are some exceptions. Tom Scioli is a man who knows how to deliver in American Barbarian. Stan Sakai manages to cram some great samurai action in Usagi Yojimbo. Walt Simonson gives action all the space it needs to breathe, even if he’s typically more focused on hammers than swords. But these guys are the exceptions to the rule and there’s a reason their comics stand out as being part of our canon. When they tackle action like what we want and need in a sword fight, they acknowledge what is needed to make it land. These guys are all killer, no filler.

But if you’re searching your run-of-the-mill monthly superhero or sci-fi book for great crashes of steel and slick moves designed to slice and dice? Good luck.

Oh. Wait. You wanted to know where the good sword fights in comics are?

Japan. Go read some Lone Wolf and Cub or Vagabond, my dude.

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Exclusive Interview: Yusei Matsui Discusses Assassination Classroom

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 29, 2016.Assassination Classroom Cover Image

Assassination Classroom is one of the most popular manga being published in Japan and the United States today. In spite of a title that might worry some parents, it’s a wholesome and endearing series focused on instilling positive values. The story follows Koro Sensei, a super-powered, octopus-like teacher, who insists on educating a classroom of middle school rejects. Koro Sensei is obliged because he has the power to destroy the Earth and tasks his students with assassinating him before the end of the school year to save the planet. This seemingly serious scenario results in lots of hijinks and a classroom experience that elevates all of his students to be their best selves.

Yūsei Matsui, the creator of Assassination Classroom traveled to America this October to visit New York Comic Con and visit Viz Media offices in San Francisco. This awarded ComicBook.Com the rare opportunity to interview a popular manga creator. Matsui dressed like a rock star at New York City, but revealed himself to be humble and delighted to see such a positive response from fans in America. We are proud to present this interview with the creator on his work in manga and focus on education.

Also, be sure to check out the image gallery at the bottom of this interview to see some pages and covers from Assassination Classroom.

ComicBook.Com: Assassination Classroom is steeped in the politics and culture of Japan, specifically Japanese school life. Were you surprised by its popularity outside of Japan?

Yūsei Matsui: Based on my understanding, the Japanese and United States school systems are completely different. Also, Americans and Japanese may see guns very differently as well. So I was thinking there is too much difference. However, since my trip here and hearing what my readers and fans like and what really landed for them, I’m learning it is more universal than I thought.

Were you nervous at all about showing gun violence in the classroom to an American audience where that has been a serious problem?

Matsui: I was ready to be completely shut down for featuring guns in my manga. I was thankful and very respectful of the American audience being open-minded and embracing my work, including that aspect.

Some of that universality might stem from the shared experience of school being central to daily life. You express some very strong opinions on how schools and teachers can better serve children in Assassination Classroom. Are you interested in new trends or methods in education?

Matsui: When I was in school, I wish there were teachers like what I imagined. That’s really what I put into Assassination Classroom. It’s my ideal world. Only if a teacher were able to move at Mach-20, could it be like this. Regarding educational trends and methods, I think you’re always going to have different student-to-teacher ratios. You’re always going to have not-so-great and great teachers. You’ll have the punks in the class. That seems to be really universal. All of that deviates a little bit, but it doesn’t change a lot overall.

It seems like there’s a lot of research that goes into what the students are being taught as well as how they’re being taught. How do you go about conducting research for the ideas and concepts you present to readers?

Matsui: Assassination Classroom is based on middle school kids in Japan, so that’s something everyone has gone through. When you talk about your middle school memories, those are pretty common. It can be very universal. While I could do a lot of research, it’s also something you can just talk about as grown ups. It’s more about exchanging stories you have from middle school.

School issues are always in the news and it’s also taken up in various media like manga, anime, and live action films. It’s a pretty common setting.

There are some teachers in the United States who use Assassination Classroom in their own classrooms as a tool to encourage reading. Have you been approached by teachers in Japan who use or enjoy the manga?

Matsui: There are some teachers and professors reading the manga or seeing the anime and saying “Oh. This is good material.” In Japan there’s a famous education system commentator who goes by “Ogi Mama”. He has positively commented on Assassination Classroom. For me, who has built this classroom from the ground up, I felt that I must have done a pretty good job of it, if this person is giving me a compliment and high regard.

Assassination Classroom is a shonen manga with big adolescent followings both here and in Japan. How do you hope this comic impacts how they view the nature of education and their approach to a classroom?

Matsui: I have a lot of younger readers and some of them read about Koro Sensei and think that he would be a very cool teacher. I think it would be cool if those kids chose the path of becoming a teacher. That would be nice. Though there have only been 12 volumes in the United States, so I will avoid spoilers, but — My main theme and idea is that teachers watch their students. Not obsessively, of course. They should be observant of their students. Even if you can’t move around at Mach-20, you can still be a great teacher by being observant of your students.

One thing I like about Assassination Classroom is that while the students of Class-E have already been judged and cast out of the typical school, Koro Sensei finds their hidden strengths and shows them what they are capable of. Does some of that come from your own experience in school?

Matsui: There are a lot of people and it does come from my personal experience. For example, I have always been unconfident about jumping into a conversation. I feel that is one of my weaknesses, but on the other side of the coin I realize that I can be a pro at it. So I listen more and build my thoughts more, instead of jumping right into a conversation. There’s two sides to it.

That’s something I’ve realized even more working in the world of manga. Suppose, as a manga artist, you’re not very good at drawing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Readers might feel as if your work is easier to read because of it, or you might feel you have to make up for what you can’t achieve through your art by working even harder on the story, characters, and setting. That’s how I was. I learned that your weak points don’t have to be weak points.

I will observe people around me who are stuck in life a little bit and it’s hard for them to move forward, and I feel like it’s a shame – depending on how you utilize the complexes you have about yourself, you can do incredible things. When you look at that with the kids in 3-E, it’s not as if they all have superhuman abilities, but Koro Sensei gives them the opportunity and a different way of looking at their situation.

While Koro Sensei is supportive and helpful, he is also the antagonist of the series creating an adversarial relationship between students and their teacher. Do you think there is something inherently combative about the nature of education?

Matsui: I don’t think it’s a battle because they aren’t just enemies on a battlefield. While that is the premise, they also get along from day-to-day. There’s Asano in the manga, who is Koro Sensei’s rival. Asano believes there needs to be some fear in a classroom and I personally believe there is some truth to that. I don’t think you can have a classroom that is always fun and cheery. You have to have some level of stress involved for the students to grow.

While you have been in New York City, what kind of feedback have you received from readers that has surprised you?

Matsui: It has been really interesting that there has not been a huge difference between my American audience and Japanese audience. Yesterday we were at an event and there was a mother, father, and their child in the audience. The mother said that when she heard it was called Assassination Classroom, she was hesitant for her kid to watch it. But it is the same in the Japan. Those similarities are very surprising.

For people who are new to the title, if you have some room, please introduce it and let people know that it’s actually a really wholesome manga!

Receiving similar feedback from students in two different countries and cultures, do you think that speaks to having similar concerns and desires in education?

Matsui: Not to repeat myself, but hearing comments from my young fans, I notice so many similarities. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re going to school in Japan or in the United States.

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Why We Love The Inhumans

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 29, 2016.

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Last week fans of the Marvel Universe were stunned to learn that the Inhumans would beadapted for television. The characters had originally been planned to appear in theaters as part of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now they will be coming to the small screen in summer of 2017 with 8 episodes in their first season, including 2 that will be screened in IMAX theaters.

For some unfamiliar with who the Inhumans are, this may seem like a downgrade. However, for those familiar with their origins or recent strides in comics and television, it’s clearly anything but that. The Inhumans were introduced in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and it makes sense for their story to be continued alongside that show, even if the royal family still hasn’t been revealed. Furthermore, the Inhumans as a sprawling culture and set of characters make much more sense as a television series than a film franchise. They need the extra time and space of TV, even if it comes with some budgetary constraints.

If you’re still skeptical about why the Inhumans will make for a killer television series, keep reading. There’s more than 50 years of comics that show why we should all be getting hyped for 2017 and the coming of the Inhumans.

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Kirby and Lee

The Inhumans first appeared in the pages ofFantastic Four #45, created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee at the start of their most prolific period on this renowned series. In the course of the next year, they would also create characters like Galactus, Silver Surfer, and Black Panther. It was a time in which this duo was at their absolute best together and the Inhumans are a perfect reflection of that. Each member of the royal family, the set of Inhumans that rule the rest in their capitol of Attilan, is a unique creation. Their powers and appearances make them unforgettable, designed to be as bold and interesting as anything else in Kirby’s repertoire. Those designs are presents in their personalities as well, leading to plenty of conflicts even within their own family that Lee happily played up.

From their debut, this family would remain a constant sub-plot within the pages ofFantastic Four until Kirby and Lee finally parted ways after more than 100 issues together. Their rivalries, romances, and recreation played second fiddle only to that of the titular characters. Something as simple as an argument between Karnak and Gorgon could fill pages with panel-busting action. This core set of characters were clearly a fascinating lot, and so was the mythology that made them royalty. Kirby and Lee’s conception of transformative Terrigen Mists that took seemingly ordinary humans and gave them strange, new appearances provided an idea that was both thematically and visually fascinating.

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Finding a Home

Like many of Kirby and Lee’s creations from this period of Fantastic Four, the Inhumans would remain a fixture in the Marvel universe in the decades to come. Yet they would never rise above the role of supporting characters. Between 1977 and 2004 they received four different series, but none of them ever ran more than 12 issues. This wasn’t due to a lack of quality either. Of particular note is the 1998 mini-series written by Paul Jenkins and drawn by Jae Lee. It was a truly stunning story that infused the bold Kirby designs with Lee’s otherworldly inks. Despite their lack of a central role in the Marvel universe, this royal family continued to call out to prominent creators as an untapped resource within this rich universe.

Marvel architects like Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman utilized them to great effect in a series of events. Black Bolt featured prominently in both World War Hulk andSecret Invasion as a member of Marvel’s Illuminati, a secretive group of the most influential, superpowered leaders on Earth. Then in Hickman’s impressive run on Avengers, the entire Inhuman race became a centerpiece to his first event Infinity. It was here that the Terrigen Mists which transform those possessing Inhuman DNA into their evolved forms would be released to spread across the Earth. It is this change that finally brought the Inhumans centerstage for Marvel Comics.

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Return to the Spotlight

The release of the Terrigen Mists led to two major transformations within the Marvel Universe. First, it placed the Inhumans as an important element within almost all of the publisher’s most prominent stories. These changes affected the Avengers as new superpowered individuals rose up and the X-Men due to the Mists poisonous effects on those with the X-gene. It also meant the Inhumans could no longer hide and led to them settling right outside of New York City. These stories have been told in a new line of Inhumans comics, including All-New Inhumans, The Uncanny Inhumans, and Karnak. These new stories of the royal family and various novices have been compared to the X-Men line and live up to the standards of that beloved franchise.

Just like the X-Men, the Inhumans expansion has led to some breakout stars and two of our favorite new heroes of the past decade: Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl. Ms. Marvel’s impact on superhero comics is undeniable. The sales of her series, its critical acclaim, and mainstream recognition has established her as a lasting force in the Marvel Universe. She has already been an Avenger and a Champion, but started as an Inhuman. It was the Terrigen Mists rolling through Jersey City that gave her powers, and the Inhumans have regularly featured in the pages of her own series. Lunella Lafayette’s adventures in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur have been driven by her own genetics and fear of the Terrigen Mists, leading to some very endearing and bizarre tales. Both are series that stem from the Inhumans franchise, and any chance of seeing them brought to television as well is incredibly exciting.

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The Terrigen Horizon

Both the new adventures of the Inhuman royal family and the creation of new characters like Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl have shown just how much potential lies in the Inhuman concept. It’s something that Jack Kirby knew 50 years ago when he filled Fantastic Four andJourney Into Mystery with their ongoing tales. Now it’s something we’ve all been successfully reminded of.

The Inhumans are a group with their own rich history and culture combined with a set of superpowers so diverse and fascinating that the stories they can tell seem endless. Whether it’s the struggles between Black Bolt and his brother Maximus the Mad or new tales of teenagers with inexplicable gifts, the Inhumans are bound to keep us coming back for more. Both in comics and on TV, we’re ready to see a lot more of this odd extension of humanity.

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Leading Questions: When Did Batman Get So Old?

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on November 28, 2016.

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Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

What does it mean for a character/property to continue after it has already reached its zenith?

Are you referring to America or Batman, Mark? I’m pretty sure this question is about one of those two things, but cannot figure out which one it is. For the sake of levity and giving our readers a brief reprieve from grim reality, I’m going to focus on why Batman is past his prime though.

Batman makes a great example for this particular question because it’s a concept that peaked before either of us were even born. We were raised in a world in which the greatest pieces of Batman-related art already existed. Everything Batman that was new to us was somehow inspired by or in response to the absolute best Batman comics ever created.

For the one person who thinks I’m building to something, I’m not. I’m talking about Frank Miller’s work on Batman between 1986 and 1987: The Dark Knight Returns with Klaus Janson and “Year One” with David Mazzuchelli. They are simply the best pieces of art within the Batman franchise. It doesn’t need to be explained by me when we already read comics, read about comics, and possess Google.

I understand the urge to take this sort of argument and call it silly or wrong. You don’t want to accept that you or the artists you love can’t do better with a beloved concept, especially in comics where one’s work on a piece of IP is often a yardstick for talent. And it’s much nicer and more acceptable to strive to create or be on the lookout for “this generation’s The Dark Knight Returns”. But the very phrasing of that sentiment gives away the game.

If we want to make a serious assessment of Batman-related art since the character was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane (but fuck Bob Kane), the metanarrative is pretty clear. Since the publication of The Dark Knight Returnsand “Year One”, they have become the benchmark for everything Batman related with the exception of sales. The understanding of character, impact on the concept, depth of thematic exploration, and pure craftsmanship is unparalleled elsewhere.

Name one Batman comic since 1987 that is on the same level as either of those comics. Name one. I fucking dare you. Whatever you just said is wrong. Morrison’s Batman is great, but it’s also loaded with fat and suffers terribly from inconsistent art. Once you start to really interrogate “The Killing Joke”, you realize it’s hustle does not live up to the hype. Snyder and Capullo’s work is an absolute blast to read, but even Snyder will admit that “Zero Year” was simply striving to get away from the shadow of “Year One”. You going to say something like “The Long Halloween” or “Hush”? Get out of here with that shit. I’m going to keep this to comics for now, but we both know the only thing outside of this medium that can give these two comics a run for their money is Batman: The Animated Series. That’s it. We’re not talking about Batman v Superman; I refuse.

The truth is that for about 30 years no Batman story has approached the zenith set by Miller and his collaborators in only 8 distinct issues of comics. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that’s not going to change. We can talk about whether that’s a problem with the industry or talent or character, but that’s not the question here. If we can accept that something like Batman has already peaked, then the question becomes: What comes next?

Well, this is really why Batman makes for a perfect example on this question because we already know the answer. We’ve lived the answer our entire lives, and it’s as anticlimactic as this: more of the same.

Just jump back a few paragraphs to that long list of Batman stories that are all clearly not as good as The Dark Knight Returns or “Year One”. That point of comparison doesn’t make them bad though. It really only matters if you’re trying to make a list. “The Long Halloween” might be derivative and poorly formatted, but it still has some mighty fine looking Tim Sale graphics. I’m glad we got it, if only so we could get Sale’s alternate covers for the current Batman ongoing series.

While the net gains from something like “The Killing Joke” might be negative simply due to fan culture obsessing over all of the wrong elements, it’s still a mighty well crafted comic. There are lessons to be learned there from Brian Bolland’s visual storytelling and Alan Moore’s playful recontextualization of both an iconic villain and relationship.

Perhaps the most obvious recent example of why there’s really no problem with a property continuing past its peak is Snyder’s collected work on the character in comics like Detective Comics, Batman, and now All Star Batman. He and Jock’s “Black Mirror” story is an incredibly moody tale that is as thrilling as any detective tale I’ve come across in superhero comics. His work with Capullo on “Zero Year” is something we praised extensively forinterpreting 21st Century America in an insightful and entertaining manner, one we both found cathartic. Now in “My Own Worst Enemy” with John Romita Jr. we’re receiving one of the most bombastic, bizarre, and simply enjoyable stories that DC Comics has published in years.

The truth of the matter is that we’re still significantly better off for having Snyder and all of his collaborators tackle Batman. These are stories that have driven the craft of comics, provided timely thematic messages, and given us a lot to smile about on dark days. Snyder hasn’t been shy about acknowledging the high bar set by Miller in stories that have clearly influenced Snyder’s career. He’s never claimed that his work is better, which is great because we all know that would be setting an impossibly high bar. But the man is still aiming for those stars and we’re all better for it.

Saying that a Batman comic is no “Year One” is an easy jab because it’s obvious. The truth is that there cannot be a “this generation’s The Dark Knight Returns” in a Batman comic. It would be foolish to claim that title. However, we do work with and read comics by those inspired by that incredible comic who are now making their own great Batman comics today.

Even better, while they are making those Batman comics, they’re also producing other work. They’re collaborating on creator-owned titles and new IP that could set new bars which future creators could aspire to. The goal shouldn’t be to make “this generation’s The Dark Knight Returns”; it should be to have the next generation try to make “this generation’s A.D.After Death”.

The world of comics doesn’t lie in the shadow of The Dark Knight Returns and the rest of Miller’s work, that’s just the world of Batman. The world of comics gets to stand on its shoulders.

If only I could be this optimistic about the other interpretation of this question.

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Leading Questions: Aw, Hawkeye, No

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on November 17, 2016.

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Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

Why was Hawkeye so overrated?

This might seem like one of the more difficult leading questions you’ve thrown my way at a passing glance.Hawkeye was one of the most widely applauded American comics of the past decade. It ranked #12 on the best comics of 2016 list over at Loser City that we both contributed to. In fact, I’m pretty sure we both voted for Hawkeyeas well. So what ill is there to be spoken of “one of Marvel’s greatest comics” that went about changing the publisher?

But, bro, Hawkeye is overrated, bro.

Overrated doesn’t imply something is bad or even not great, it’s a much more elusive term to pin down than that.Hawkeye is a perfect example though. This is a comic that is innovative, does push the boundaries of its publisher and genre, and regularly entertains in both a dramatic and comedic fashion. It’s a damn fine comic and one I’m perfectly okay sitting where it does on that Loser City list we collaborated on.

But is it better than something like Prophet, or Blacksad, or Sunny?

For those of you typing furiously in the comments, that’s a rhetorical question. There’s no definitive answer when it comes to ranking art. It’s an inherently futile effort that at its absolute best is designed to provoke discussion, disagreement, and exploration. And it’s also the sort of task upon which the term “overrated” is based. In order to believe something is overrated, you have to argue that it is not correctly assessed in comparison to other pieces of art. That its star value or positive percentage or list ranking is generally too high. But that’s what you’re asking about on Hawkeye, and that’s what I’m agreeing with.

So let’s get going down this rabbit hole.

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I think the popularity of Hawkeye and the rapidity with which it was hoisted up the flagpole of critical acclaim is based largely in its position with the comics publishing landscape. you might have noticed that both the iO9 and Entertainment Weekly links I provided define the success of Hawkeye in relation to Marvel Comics. That’s not altogether surprising considering that Marvel was the largest American comics publisher when both of those pieces were written. It’s a title they only recently relinquished (for more than the briefest of periods) to their closest competitor DC Comics.

Yet it’s difficult to move past the fact that in so many reviews and lists phrases like “for Marvel” or “for superhero comics” are regularly used as modifiers. While Marvel may publish more comics than most, that doesn’t mean they have a consistently higher bar for quality. If anything, I would argue for it being lower due to the overt focus on maintaining intellectual property and raising sales above all else. When something like Hawkeye comes along and combines that mainstream appeal with higher artistic aspirations and achievements, it’s absolutely something to be celebrated. But that combination also tends to provide too much credit.

Hawkeye is an easy sell. It is genuinely good. It is easy to find. It’s well-branded and popular. It features a recognizable character with a Hollywood counterpart. For all of these reasons and more, critics, fans, and journalists both inside and outside of comics have gravitated towards it. There’s an undeniable pull to this series that goes far beyond its quality.

For that same reason, I fully expect to be talking about one of my absolute, no exceptions favorite series of 2016 as overrated within 2-3 years. I’m talking about The Vision. It’s a comic that really is just that good. It’s also a comic that gets a boost from Tom King’s skyrocketing profile in superhero comics, the Marvel brand, and Hollywood connections. The Vision receives a lot of attention because it is the exception to the rule at publishers like Marvel and it had a built in audience most creator-owned comics would (and do) die for.

However, there’s one reason for being called overrated that I don’t think Hawkeye and The Vision share, and it has nothing to do with hitting deadlines. It’s about endings. I’m a big fan of the final issue of The Vision and how that series coheres as a complete narrative. The finale of Hawkeye shits the proverbial bed.

We can leave out all of the sprawling narrative build. I’m not a big detractor of Kate’s adventures in Los Angeles, even if they ultimately don’t add much to the series. I even sort of like the Christmas special, although it adds even less. These were experiments and they are never poorly executed. Most just don’t meet the high bar set by the issues in which Matt Fraction and David Aja are collaborating.

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It’s those individual issues from which the series draws most of its hype and acclaim. When we discuss Hawkeye it’s typically in episodic terms. We know the “Pizza Dog issue” and the “deaf issue” and that spectacular thesis statement of a debut. Heck, even the penultimate issue is something really special that I can talk about for hours. But that doesn’t stop the ending from failing the promise of these individual incidents.

Early on it appeared those separate incidents were building upon one another to reach something truly special. The series climax comes after the death of “Grills” when the eponymous hero is abandoned by his partner and dog during a spiral into self-pity. It is the story of destruction and rebirth. Clint’s implosion, the first half of the tale, is simply spectacular. The resurrection is… not so much.

Part two of the series meanders its way about. Even taken in monthly doses or a single sitting (something its substantial delays did not initially provide), these issues read like a drag. They take all of the momentum and tension built mid-way through Hawkeye and absolutely squander it all. This isn’t to say that a series can’t regain momentum or make up for poor choices with an excellent finale. Just look at The Wire. But that’s not what Hawkeye does. Instead it ends on Hawkeye #22, which is a fine comic book, but fine is hella far from great.

After so many dramatic highs, memorable comedy, and experimentive moments, Hawkeye #22 is a shrug. It wraps up the series plot and puts all of the pieces back in their box rather nicely. The telling is still better than you can expect from most Marvel Comics, but that shouldn’t a compliment for greatness. There’s shockingly little meat to the final chapter of this highly acclaimed story; it appears the creators have nothing left to say. Instead of concluding with a bold statement about the nature of a calling, public service, and resilience, things essentially just work out pretty okay for Hawkguy.

If we were discussing the current All-New Wolverine or Invincible Iron Man series, that wouldn’t be so bad. They were stories well told that ended just fine. Hawkeye set a higher bar for itself and completely missed it at the end. That’s especially important because it’s not one misstep along the way, but a complete failure to achieve catharsis or a clear conceit. This botch is one that colors later readings of the series and the way in which it can be recommended. It’s a permanent asterisk on a comic that still has a lot going for it.

Now look back at that Loser City list and consider some of the comics that come before Hawkeye. I’m talking about comics like Boxer & Saints, Nijigahara Holograph, and Demeter. These are all creations that don’t come with an asterisk because they don’t fall apart halfway through their runs. They’re pieces of art that didn’t run out of steam or inspiration; they hold together. More importantly (unfortunately), they don’t have any modifiers to attach to their names. They come from traditions of mainstream publishing, manga, and self-publication, respectively. These are comics that don’t get a boost for being pretty good for being something else. They are simply really good comics.

And Hawkeye is a really good comic. But is it really as good as we keep telling everyone?

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5 Essential Thanos Stories

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 14, 2016.

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No villain looms larger over the Marvel Universe at this moment than the Mad Titan himself, Thanos. Ever since he first appeared at the end of The Avengers, his presence has sent shockwaves through the Marvel films with notable appearances in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron. There is no doubt that he will be the featured antagonist of the third Avengers movie and climax of Phase Three. That a few whispers or a smirk from this character can be cause for so much concern shows just how potent he is.

The same can be seen in comics today. After his death at the end of Secret Wars, he returned in the pages of The Ultimates and Civil War II. He is the cause of so much strife in Marvel Comics at this moment and appears ready to claim more power and cause more harm after his recent escape from custody. Now he is receiving a new series this week created by writer Jeff Lemire and artist Mike Deodato. It has already been said this series is setting up “something massive” in Marvel Comics.

So before the third Avengers film hits theaters or his full machinations in comics are revealed, it’s time to catch up on who Thanos is and why he’s one of the greatest Marvel villains of all time. This list of 5 essential stories will provide you with a great place to start.

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The Infinity Gauntlet

If you can only make time to read one Thanos story, then it absolutely must be this one. This is the definitive mini-series that showcases the character at his best and worst. It features him winning everything he ever dreamed of and then losing it all by no fault but his own. The fireworks of that arc alone are reason to check it out. You get to read about all of the most popular heroes in Marvel Comics and all of the most powerful entities in their universe in a showdown that is nothing short of incredible.

Yet the best part of The Infinity Gauntlet is the character study of Thanos himself. After years of plotting and stories featuring Marvel’s greatest cosmic characters, Thanos finally achieves ultimate power over all creation. The choices he makes with that power and the characters he surrounds himself and connects with reveal who he really is. And while nothing ever truly ends in superhero stories, the ending Thanos is provided here is one that will never be topped for its poetic grace and beauty.

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Mar-Vell Vs. Thanos

Thanos’ creator Jim Starlin was hard at work building a mythos for the character before The Infinity Gauntlet was ever pitched to Marvel editors. So much of the essential Thanos can still be found in his earliest stories though. Beginning in Iron Man #55 and continuing in Captain Marvel #25-33, Starlin and his collaborators put all of the key elements together that would make Thanos a long-lasting villain.

Everything including his family, his motives, his obsession with death, and his costume can be found in the pages of these issues. What is most exciting about them though is Thanos’ first great rivalry with Captain Marvel. Their placement in Marvel’s cosmic pantheon is forever secure and these early encounters not only sow seeds for what is to come, but make for some spectacular tales of their own. This is Starlin, Thanos, and Captain Marvel all at their absolute best.

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Annihilation

It is difficult to improve upon either of the Annihilation series when discussing Marvel’s cosmic events. While the first Annihilation event featured Annihilus as the primary antagonist, Thanos played a key role in the event and was in top form for the entire thing. The goal of Annihilus was to wipe out all life in positive space and conquer it for his own hordes in the Negative Zone. Thanos’ obsession with death led him to be Annihilus’ right hand man, pursuing his own plots while performing the role of servant.

Needless to say, things don’t work out exactly as Thanos plans. However, his plotting and interactions with the brutal Annihilation Wave show exactly how nasty he can be. Annihilation also provided catharsis to decades of storylines in Thanos’ own mythos as he is allowed to confront both Drax the Destroyer and Galactus in key moments in the series. Annihilation is a must read anyway, but will also please Thanos fans and clarify why the character is essential to cosmic Marvel.

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The Death of Captain Marvel

For as bad as Thanos can be, this is the story that reveals how the character views himself to be noble and some of his (very few) noble qualities. Captain Marvel was Thanos’ first great rival and in this classic Marvel story, he is faced with a terminal diagnosis of cancer from an earlier battle. Throughout the story he says goodbye to many heroes, allies, and friends. But at the end of it all, it is Thanos who greets him.

Thanos is gracious and introduces Captain Marvel to his lover Death. As Captain Marvel dies, they are no longer enemies, but fellow wanderers looking into the great unknown together. It is a poignant moment that transcends the superpowered battles of comics to look at how even the greatest of enemies can find common ground when facing something as powerful as death.

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Ultimates

Here is a great recent example of why Thanos will never cease to be a threat in the Marvel Universe. While he isn’t present in the first volume of the series, it’s worth reading the entire thing to understand just how much damage he does in the second half. This team of explorers, scientists, and reality-punchers seem capable of solving anything until Thanos enters their midst.

The chaos he creates and forces he unleashes in Ultimates are tremendous. Unlike most villains, he is not even fully contained by the story’s end either. Nowhere has it been more clear that Thanos is a cosmic force, capable of acting far above his level and damaging things that ought never to be damaged. Both in anticipation of the new Thanos series and Ultimates 2, this one is worth picking up as soon as possible.

Have you already read any of these Thanos stories? Are there any others you would be sure to recommend? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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Leading Questions: Lois Lane and Clark Kent 4Ever

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on November 10, 2016.

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Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. At least, that’s what normally happens. This week one of this cantankerous duos best friends, comics critic and all-around awesome person Ray Sonne steps in with a question of her own. She’ not planning to take it easy on Chase either and is setting him up with a question that is anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

Why are Clark Kent and Lois Lane the best couple in superhero comics?

You really didn’t want to go easy on me with this guest spot, did you? As anyone who knows me is already well aware, my favorite couple in all of comics (not just superhero ones) is Mister Miracle and Big Barda. They present a model relationship, have some of the best designs and adventures in comics, and reflect the wonderful marriage of Jack and Roz Kirby in many ways. Reading about those two is like comfort food to me. Whether it’s a great day or a terrible one, seeing Miracle and Barda is bound to make it better.

But even if they are the best couple in comics, maybe they aren’t the best couple in superhero comics. Kirby’s Mister Miracle is definitely part superhero comic, but it could just as easily be categorized as adventure or space opera. They’re a couple that, like much Kirby’s work, transcends the boundaries and trappings of genre. If we want to get to the nitty gritty and talk about who the best couple in superhero comics is, then we should evaluate the question based upon what the genre is about.

I’ve said before that the core theme of the superhero genre is power. Who has it? Who doesn’t? What do you do with? How does it affect others? These are the great questions at the center of the earliest, foundation superhero stories and that bubble in most of the “great texts” of the genre. So if we’re going to look at the best couple, it seems to me we should be examining the power dynamics within superhero relationships.

When you frame the question that way, it’s pretty clear who the greatest couple in all of superhero comics is; it’s not even a debate, really. Clark Kent and Lois Lane simultaneously possess the most and least even power dynamic of any pairing in these stories.

The “least” half of that equation is easy to solve. Superman is the definitive superpowered hero. While there have been times, like Morrison’s Action Comics run, where his power-level was lowered, Superman is typically exactly as powerful as he needs to be. While he can be slowed down, more often than not he is capable of flying across space and occasionally pushing planets around. What he accomplished in Action Comics #1 was far more than almost any comparable characters could at the time, and his physical power has only grown to scale since that moment.

Lois Lane is typically an ordinary human in regards to her physical strength and endurance. She is not able to leap tall buildings or outrace speeding bullets. In this genre where so much is determined by violence and physical conflicts, Lois does not have a lot going for. Unless she is provided with a deus ex machina like Kryptonite, she is unable to stand up to Superman in the typical fashion of the genre.

That’s part of what makes their relationship so incredibly important and endearing though. By the rules of the superhero genre, Superman would be much better suited to someone like Wonder Woman or Big Barda. In practice though, Lois Lane turns out to be his best possible partner and it’s because of how they subvert and redefine this aspect of the superhero genre together.

They possess the most even power dynamic in comics because of their understanding of and respect for one another. The issue of Superman’s physical power isn’t a problem because Lois is ignorant of it or that Superman can somehow turn it off. It’s not an issue because Lois is completely aware of who Clark Kent is and therefore knows that he would never attempt to overpower or control her. In turn, that’s because that is true of Clark Kent. He is not the sort of person who would exert control over anyone, much less his partner in life, and respects these sort of boundaries.

While the physicality of this scenario shouldn’t be that important, because no healthy couple should ever really have to wonder about who could overpower who, it is elevated by the nature of the genre. The concept of throwing someone over your shoulder without asking and taking a trip to the stars sounds like it’s right up Hal Jordan’s alley. But that guy is a skeez.

The respect and understanding between these two extends far beyond that element though. It is about their intelligence, insight, willpower, and other key characteristics. Nowhere is this more clear than in their shared workplace. Both of them are journalists at The Daily Planet and that setting allows them to work as peers, since Lois isn’t inclined to put on a cape and engage in Clark’s hobby all that often.

When we see them both functioning as journalists, it’s clear why they work so well together. They take dramatically different approaches to the job. Lois is an incredibly strong-willed reporter, ready to take every advantage and opportunity she can find in order discover the truth and get the story. There are few people in the DC Universe quite as determined as her, and anyone that encounters her knows it. Clark tends to find his opportunities by encouraging others to underestimate. His Midwestern politeness and soft spoken nature allow him to dig because nobody considers him a threat (something everyone knows about Lois).

These different strategies on reporting play to the strengths of both characters. While they’re dramatically different, they both get results and reveal similar values. That sort of career in superhero comics also tends to get people in trouble. While Clark’s out is pretty obvious, Lois regularly manages to extricate herself from rock-hard place scenarios as well. She just as willfully charges into the lion’s den, even though she knows that her skin is bulletproof.

You know who gets a supersonic wrist watch to alert Superman about trouble? It’s Jimmy Olsen. That’s because Jimmy regularly has to lean on Superman. The big blue boy scout is his friend, but he’s also his mentor and guardian. The relationship Superman and Lois share is very different. There’s no need for a watch because Superman never doubts that Lois is capable of taking care of herself, even if he still worries.

Clark Kent and Lois Lane are like the parallel bars of a basic two-pole tent. On their own they are strong, but that strength is additive. Together they help to support one another, even at a distance, and also create a space that will support others. Some might suggest that Superman is more like a tree trunk, while Lois is a standard pole in this metaphor, but they would be incredibly wrong. To suggest that physical dominance makes Superman stronger is to miss the point of his entire relationship with Lois. He loves her because he knows she is his equal, and she loves him because she knows the same. Differences, whether they are superpower or aspects of personality, don’t make them unequal, they make them stronger together.

That’s the takeaway for those of us who love this couple too. You know as well as I do that the power dynamics of any relationship are incredibly important to the health of that connection. No matter who you are with, there will always be differences in matters like personality and skills. These are contrasts that can both strengthen or harm a relationship. Acknowledging them, understanding them, and utilizing them are key to building a better connection. Understanding what your partner is capable of and respecting them as your equal, and receiving that same understanding and respect in turn is foundational.

It’s those aspects of understanding, respect, and love that make Lois Lane and Clark Kent the greatest couple in superhero comics. That’s where they find their power.

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Young Animal Review Roundup

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 9, 2016.

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A few months ago we praised the creation of DC Comics’ new “pop up” imprint Young Animal as the most important launch of 2016. It presented an alternative to the publisher’s very successful Rebirth relaunch. While mainstream series like Batman and Green Arrow emphasized what DC Comics and the superhero genre does best, Young Animal proposed an alternative. The imprint is a home to some of the most bizarre and innovative ideas at DC Comics in decades, and they feature lots of exciting talent, both new and old. Under the leadership of Gerard Way, all four of the initially announced series have come out without a hitch.

Now that the first round of Young Animal publications are upon us with the debut of Mother Panic this week, it’s time to take another look at our initial optimism and assess these series. How do these four series stack up? Take a look at these bite-sized reviews to find out!

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Shade, The Changing Girl

Writer: Cecil Castellucci

Artist: Marley Zarcone

Colorist: Kelly Fitzpatrick

Letterer: Saida Temofonte

Issues To Date: 2

Shade, The Changing Man may be the strangest creation ever devised by Steve Ditko (and he created Doctor Strange!), which makes it just odd enough to encompass the adolescent experience. The debut of this series has managed to fuse both the most visually engaging components of the existing concept with some unexpected twists and turns for something altogether unique.

Seeing the world through Loma’s eyes is a consistent pleasure in these pages. Both the oddities that follow her on Earth and the surreal surroundings of her homeworld Meta are a delight. Zarcone’s fluid lines both gracefully form the confluence of unexpected ideas and guide readers through it all with ease. Even when you’re unsure as to why there’s an elephant hopping through the background, you don’t mind its presence. That is accented by the soft, welcoming color work of Fitzpatrick who reserves a dark, cold palette for very specific pages.


Those pages come from the past of the young girl whose body Loma now inhabits. It’s a twisted teenage mystery much darker than the covers of this series may indicate. As Castellucci explores the depths of this group of teens the series hits troubled waters. Sometimes it appears unsure of itself or exactly how dark it wants these children to appear. That may be part of the mystery as Loma comes to understand Earth, but it leaves a big question mark hanging over the series for now.

Grade: B

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Doom Patrol

Writer: Gerard Way

Artist: Nick Derington

Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain

Letterer: Todd Klein

Issues To Date: 3

We reviewed the first issue of Doom Patrol when it arrived in September. At the time our verdict was that the craft and ideas on display were great, but we weren’t certain exactly how great they were. That hasn’t changed much with subsequent issues. Way continues to provide quirky personalities and plenty of amusing oddities in his scripts. Derington and Bonvillain are offering a story deserving of the title “pop art”, but are not limiting themselves either. Alterations to style enhance the storytelling and keep the eye engaged. There’s no doubt about the excellence of this team of creators.

What has become clear is that Doom Patrol is a slow burn. There’s a lot happening in these pages. The series is providing plenty of attention both to classic characters like Robotman and new ones like Casey and Samson. They have moments in each issue, some of which feel like tangents, but all of which build a better portrait of who they are. When you combine that with a conspiracy-ridden plot stuffed with aliens, fast food, and Danny the Street… Well, things aren’t going to move quickly.

That isn’t to say that pacing is a problem. Each issue of Doom Patrol is entertaining. In addition to excellent comedic moments and consistently gorgeous art, it really does feel like the series is building to something greater. But just like the Morrison run that this pulls so much from, it may take a while to see what that promise is. In the meanwhile, there is a lot to like about Doom Patrol while it weaves its many elements together.

Grade: B+

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Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye

Writer: Gerard Way and Jon Rivera

Artist: Michael Avon Oeming

Colorist: Nick Filardi

Letterer: Clem Robins

Issues To Date: 1


When this series begins it’s long past Cave Caron’s prime. He’s no longer an explorer or adventurer, and only references past events with Superman over coffee with his pal Dr. Magnus. Now he’s a widower wondering what to do with his life now that his daughter is out of the house. That may not sound like a thrilling recipe for a comic book, but the first issue of Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye is bound to change your mind.

The problems of middle age and constant changes in life form the thematic core of this series. Way and Rivera are plumbing the depths of later adulthood through the metaphor of superheroics. Swap out youthful misadventures with drilling to the center of the Earth and you’ll start to see what they’re going for. It’s a fascinating subject matter that lends itself to Way’s characteristically dark sense of humor well.

In addition to the fertile possibilities found in this DC C- or D-lister, it’s also one of the best looking comics drawn by Oeming in the past decade. Carson’s eponymous eye creates layers in the most mundane of scenes. Memories and holograms fill panels and alter Filardi’s colors in fascinating ways. They light up the dark spaces of his life and will pull you into each page. Oeming hasn’t lost a beat when it comes to action either. While most of the story emphasizes Carson’s suburban life, there’s still adventures to be found and the ending of the first issue is a sprint. If there is just one to watch from Young Animal, this is it.

Grade: A-

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Mother Panic

Writer: Jody Houser

Artist: Tommy Lee Edwards

Letterer: John Workman

Issues To Date: 1

Mother Panic has been touted for its ties to Gotham City and it’s something the first issue doesn’t shy away from. There are multiple references to types of heroes and “the bat”. Those connections to the DC Universe ultimately hinder the story and leave it feeling like the most derivative of the Young Animal launches.

There’s little that differentiates Violet Paige and her alter-ego from the many, many other superhero books on the stands today. She is meaner than most superheroes, but it’s nothing unique in a world with The Punisher and The Comedian. Instead, her cruelty feels needless and cold, providing little to hold onto with the story. Houser does infuse the issue with some potentially interesting themes. She addresses both the nature of art and wealth in a succinct fashion. Cruelty and vanity are key concepts and tied to a dissociation from humanity. The success of Mother Panic is likely to be found in exploring these ideas, more than its actual characters.

The violence of Mother Panic is well crafted with the sharp linework and cold colors of Edwards. Jawlines cut like knives and sturdily gloved fists hammer down in both fanciful dinner scenes and back alley brawls. No matter where Violet goes in her life, Edwards line work connects it all as a jungle-like place where only the fittest survive. This style also emphasizes the connections being made between society, art, and wealth. The potential is there, but there’s nothing in Mother Panic #1 to suggest great confidence in it being achieved.

Grade: C+

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5 More Black Panther Characters We Want to Read About

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 9, 2016.

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Black Panther: World of Wakanda debuts today. It is an exciting launch for a number of reasons. First, it shows that Black Panther is not only a great individual character for the publisher, but that his lore is ripe for expansion. In addition to the upcoming Black Panther film, there is room for a variety of Wakandan comics. On top of that, it points out that the energy surrounding Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s new series was not a flash in the pan. Readers are genuinely excited about the King of Wakanda and those surrounding him.

The biggest reason for excitement are the characters that World of Wakanda will focus on. Ayo and Aneka, the Midnight Angels, were the clear standout characters from the very first issue of the newest volume of Black Panther. Getting to witness their stories as penned by feminist writer Roxane Gay is very exciting. In addition to that, the villain of the current volume Zenzi will see her story told by poet Yona Harvey.

Knowing this set of characters will be seeing their own stories told got us thinking about what other Wakandan characters need to see their stories told. Whether they would be better suited for ongoing series or backup stories, like Zenzi’s, these are five characters who could absolutely hold down their own comics. If World of Wakanda is half as successful as Black Panther, then we hope to see very, very soon.

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Shuri

The current run of Black Panther has focused a great deal on Prince T’Challa’s sister Shuri. In the past Shuri has been both the Queen of Wakanda and the Black Panther, before she was grievously wounded. While she’s not out of the woods yet, it appears that she may return soon. Even if that’s not the case, Shuri is a character with a rich history worth exploring. She is every bit her brother’s peer and a powerful heroine whose stories deserve their own comic.

While some of these characters may just require a backup story or mini-series, Shuri could absolutely carry her own ongoing series at Marvel Comics. Whether she takes on the mantle of Queen or Black Panther again, Shuri is the sort of hero who can stand on her own feet and define herself outside of her brother’s shadow. Inside or outside of Wakanda, we would love to see her make an impact on the world of Marvel.

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White Wolf

White Wolf, also known as Hunter, is the leader of the Hatut Zeraze, the secret police of Wakanda. He has been both an enemy and ally to Black Panther throughout his time serving the country, but has always been loyal to the country and (what he sees as) its best interests. That sort of conflicted anti-hero would make for a very intriguing protagonist.

While T’Challa plays the role of King and attempts to do the best possible thing, it is White Wolf who operates somewhat independently and is willing to take a middle ground. You could compare their relationship to that of the X-Men and X-Force, where one will take actions the other could not consider. White Wolf is a skilled hunter, killer, and leader, as well. He would an exciting lead both in moments of action and in the politics of Wakanda. As complex as Black Panther’s position may be, the CIA-like role filled by White Wolf is every bit as engaging. His story is certainly one that could carry its own series.

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Erik Killmonger

We love to hear the stories of great villains. Doctor Doom, Namor, and others have all held their own series at various points in the history of Marvel Comics, and there’s no reason Erik Killmonger could not join their ranks. Unlike Klaw, Killmonger is not a clear cut villain. Instead, he is a disenfranchised Wakandan, abused by both colonial infiltrators and misjudged by his own people. When he returned to his home country, it was with a justifiable rage.

It is that rage that makes him a great counterpoint to Black Panther and the potential protagonist of his own series. He doesn’t have to win at the end of the day, but exploring his motives and struggles is the stuff of great comic books. It is even possible to see Killmonger becoming a reluctant ally to Black Panther and a hero in his own right. Combine that potential with Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming portrayal of Killmonger in the Black Panther film, and you have a recipe for another successful new series based out of Wakanda.

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Everett Ross

The truth is that Everett Ross is a bit of a putz. He is by no means brave or bold. That doesn’t mean he’s a poor character though. Created by Christopher Priest and Kenny Martinez for their much beloved run on Black Panther, he was a point of view character for suburban Americans. A government man tasked with keeping tabs on Black Panther, Ross was essentially good willed, but ineffective.

What makes him a fascinating character though is that unique perspective. He is an everyman, someone much more likely to respond to a crisis like an everyday reader than a superhero. Yet he also possesses a noble heart. His connection not only to Black Panther and Wakanda, but to the rest of the Marvel Universe allows him to provide lots of insight into the Marvel Universe. In some ways he is like the photographer in Marvels, offering perspective to those of us who wonder what it would be like to live in a world with the Avengers. That offers great potential for a comics series of its own.

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W’Kabi

This is the character that most people are least likely to recognize. W’Kabi was T’Challa’s second-in-command and chief of security. He was an inventor, leader, and bodyguard, which is what makes him such a great potential hero. He can be seen as an excellent supporting character, but there is nothing that prevents him from leading the battle both physically and narratively.

While W’Kabi may be dead for now, Shuri and Killmonger demonstrate that death is far from permanent. Whether you were to bring him back or look back at his past deeds, W’Kabi is a character who begs to have his own stories told. He’s the sort of supporting person who clearly has a long career of his own filled with adventures and great deeds. In the past or future, those are stories we would love to read.

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