Welcome to another exciting episode of Short and Sweet (or Sour). This week’s comics take us back and forth through time and explore how successful (or not successful, as the case may be) Dark Horse has been using classic creatures, like vampires and Frankenstein’s monster, in their books. We’re all over the place but don’t worry, we’ll be with you every step of the way.
Brian Wood, David Lopez
This story just keeps getting better and better. Seriously, Battle of the Atom is what Marvel events should be. Everything about the seventh chapter of this saga screams classic X-Men, from the sense of humor, the love and respect most of these mutants have for one another (even when they’re trying to beat the heck out of one another, to the wild twists and turns that leave an reader guessing but eager for more.
Future X-Men, past X-Men, and present X-Men collide as Marvel’s merry mutants try to make sense of not one but two sets of future X-Men try to right the wrongs of the past X-Men being brought to the present day, while trying to protect present and past X-Men from the knowledge of a future that seems utopian and apocalyptic all at once. Sound confusing? Well, it is, and that might be my only complaint about this particular arc: seven chapters in and I’m still not quite sure what’s going on. Caught in the middle of a battle for the future are the past original five (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel, and Iceman, for anyone trying to catch up), who are torn between their desire to turn the present into the future they’ve been fighting for, and their need to return to the past in order to prevent the present’s possibly heavenly/dystopian future from ever occurring.
Trying to keep this review spoiler free is tough! I’m being as confusing as I am confused. Nevertheless, X-Men continues to remind us that time travel is dangerous, even with the best of intentions, and the holdouts from the original five finally agree that it’s time for them to just go home. But when two of their members go forward in time to find out the real story for themselves, they meet another clan claiming to be X-Men and they all decide to return to the present to put a stop to the renegade future X-Men. Past, present, and future factions band together against the renegades, only to find out that the only people who can really beat the X-Men are more X-Men.
Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare
The action-packed first issue of Rocket Girl goes to show that no matter what company is putting out time travel stories, the result is always bad news for those living in the present. But what makes Rocket Girl so interesting is that the present is 1986 and the future is 2013 (though in a caption it’s referred to as the past. Time travel). Well, that’s not the only thing that makes it interesting. Dayoung Johansson is a 15-year-old member of the Teen Police from the future, as envisioned by someone in the 80s. Flying cars, rocket pack-wearing teenagers, and time travel are the norm for this 2013, but they definitely haven’t figured out how to get along, especially when it comes to big science companies being über-shady. Quintum Mechanics is such a shady organization that it ranks up there with Skynet and the Rossum Corporation and is abusing their ability to time travel. Only Officer Johansson is brave enough to go to the past and right all the wrongs Quintum Mechanics is perpetrating.
The first issue serves to set up the concept and some of the main characters, but like many time travel epics, there’s definitely an adjustment period. Some of the struggle with a brand new title dedicated to time travel is that while the reader is trying to figure out who is who, we also need to figure out who is who when. Fortunately, it looks like Rocket Girl plans to ease us into the story, not trying to explain too much too soon. From the get go, we have to take a lot on faith (like why a scientist in the 80s has pink hair – just because it’s the 80s doesn’t mean that the Quintum Mechanics doesn’t have a dress code, c’mon). Why in the future (or past?) or 2013 are teenagers the law? Why are said teenage police discussing controversial plans to go against Quintum Mechanics right on the streets of New York, with a robot recording most of what they’re saying? Why would the 80s police let a flying 15-year-old go after a shooter in an arcade, even if they were confused?
I guess we’ll find out in the next exciting issue of Rocket Girl!
Matt Fraction, Howard Chaykin
You want noir? Satellite Sam’s got noir in spades. Taking place on the set of a 1950’s science fiction TV studio, this book has everything: murder, sex, drugs, and blackmail. Every single character has an agenda, but whose agenda was murdering Carlyle White, the star of the Satellite Sam show? That’s what his surviving son Michael must figure out, even as the rest of the cast and crew are trying to put on a show after his untimely death.
Could it be Kara Kelly, one of the first girls to fall under Carlyle’s spell and pose for his dirty photographs? Or perhaps Dr. Joseph Ginsberg, the president and CEO of LeMonde Television Network, who dreams of expanding to the west coast? Or maybe it’s Dick Danning, the director and producer of Satellite Sam, who is the “smartest man in any given room”?
It could be any one of them. Matt Fraction has put together a cast that grows more deplorable with each introduction, and the world of LeMonde is as convoluted as the stories it portrays on the small screen. Everyone’s got an angle and everyone is desperate enough to claw their way to the top. Can Michael solve the mystery before the show is moved to Los Angeles? Or will Libby Meyers, who’s on the brink of discovering Carlyle’s sordid secrets bring the whole investigation down around Michael’s ears?
Mike Gagerman, Andrew Waller, Etan Cohen, Evan Shaner, Dan Jackson, Nate Piekos, cover by Juan Doe
This issue goes as FAST AS HECK. It’s the third issue (is it a mini or an ongoing? Was this the end?) but it feels like an adaptation of a whole movie. An apocalyptic villain is created and dispatched. A countdown to “the vernal equinox” (spring) is executed. A three-hundred mile journey is taken three times by various parties and if you blink, you’ll miss it. One half of our main duo makes a hard, painful, life-altering decision. By the end of the book it’s reversed and he’s not lifting an eyebrow about it. One “NOOOO” and he’s deadpan-fine. Didn’t you care, man?
Evan Shaner’s drawing is great. The line weights are calibrated heavy enough for everything to look really solid without losing kinetics (Dan Jackson’s colours are a good balance; well blocked contrasting colours gives it energy, the similar tones keep things grounded). The inks look like they came out of a nib rather than a brush; they have a squareness to them that say “hey friend, madcap semi-alt scene comics!” even though everybody’s wearing plain t-shirts and plain hoodies. And jeans. The characters seem totally American-normative, apart from their vampire immortality, and if I didn’t find the figure drawing, composition and lettering so robust I’d probably give this one a pass. As is… I had a good time. Everybody’s Allred-handsome, although without that Allred softness.
The female lead’s character model is so dull, though! Just some white brunette with shoulder-length hair. Boring Lois Lane again. She’s pretty and she’s a mortal who’s game for hand-to-handing vampires and she does one active thing in the whole issue, unless you count getting a fringe cut in between scenes.
There’s a “sad man uninterested in a lapdance” scene for whatever reason, but the dancer’s body looks human, she gets facial expressions, and has two lines of dialogue (which comes to 0.5 sentences per panel appearance).
Steve Niles, Christopher Mitten, Michelle Madsen, Nate Piekos
Steve Niles’ Occult Detective is palling about with Adam the Monster (of the Frankenstein Monsters) while they try to find the latter a new pair of eyes. This is issue two of four and the dialogue & sequential art move at a good pace, while not altogether much happens plot-wise. They start somewhere, go somewhere else to be told to go to a third place, at which they are sent to another. Nobody seems to like each other. Maybe there’s some observable foreshadowing I missed because I’m not familiar with the world & backstory of Cal McDonald. It’s good to look at, very competent drawing, and I like spooky things and vomit. Both of which are on offer.
Cal, Adam and Mo’Lock (Cal’s… ghoul butler?) go to visit “Jason Hemlock”. A Doctor Strange analogue with a flashy public face, a sweater on his shoulders, and somebody else’s ex-wife and kids in his house. What if the Venture Bros‘ Outrider was Doctor Orpheus? It’s familiar, but I don’t mind. I should like to read more.
I don’t usually enjoy airbrush colouring or such minor tonal change for contours and shadowing; it makes things look muddy. I kind of dig it here though. Maybe it’s the heavy black shadows in the linework, maybe it’s the application of the airbrushing on faces and hands only. It doesn’t muddy the whole scene, just adds a human squishiness to people’s skin. All expression, all good.
It ends on a floor scattered with eyeballs. Are you up for that?
Kelly-Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios
I didn’t like this comic. While there’s a lot to recommend about the first issue of Pretty Deadly, the comic didn’t work for me. It might work for you. Give it a shot.
One of the blurbs describes it as Sandman meets Preacher, and that’s a decent comparison. It lacks the immediacy and meanness of Preacher, though, so don’t go looking for that kind of assault on the senses. What it does have, is a true dirty Western sensibility, crossed with the kind of dreamy magical realism that’s selling like hotcakes in bookstores lately. My beef is this: both the script and art are trying hard for that magical!Tarantino sweetspot, and they’re doing it at the same time. If the story is deliberately confusing, then so too is the art; neither compensates for the other, or lends to clarity. Parsing Pretty Deadly took more energy than I wanted to invest while battling a hangover, alas.
So. We open slow, a fairytale exchange laid over a kid learning the hard lessons of the frontier; a butterfly and a bunny discuss a vague time-that-was, while a child shoots a rabbit. From there we’re dropped into a mystical-tarot-introduction and a hanging, and these pages are packed with information. Inlaid character cards (our lead’s mother as “Beauty”, unnamed past villains as “Covetous Men”), our story-telling heroes, and a sly villain lurking the background, battle for our attention. My eye was all over the page, trying to take it in, but Rios’ art in these daytime scenes, though lovely, has a certain flatness. I found myself wishing for more ink, more oomph. I found myself wondering, in passing, what the hell was going on there, and then wishing, more strongly, to be reading something else.
It doesn’t get any clearer from there. DeConnick strategically holds back information, and I suspect that a lot of readers will dig the mysterious lead, orphan girl Ginny, said to be death’s daughter. (Is she really? I dunno). This looks to be a comic that readers can really settle into. The only problem–for me–is that I just wanted to leave.
Roberto Aguire-Sacasa, Francesco Francavilla
I keep saying that Archie Comics is one of the smartest, coolest publishers out there, and yup yup yup. Note: Afterlife With Archie–the story of zombified Riverdale–is published by them, and features none of their usual writers and artists on staff. Aguire-Sacasa and Francavilla are better known for their work on superhero and horror comics, respectively. Afterlife doesn’t look like an Archie Comics book, but it undeniably is. The full complement of Riverdale characters appear, from Sabrina to Jughead, and they’re treated respectfully, but without undue reverence. And that’s the bravery of today’s Archie Comics: they’re willing to try things, and to risk their carefully cultivated image, to create exciting projects. But onto this one!
This comic will reward both Archie and horror fans alike. Shoutouts range from Night of the Living Dead, to Pet Cemetary, to the Sabrina the Teenage Witch tv show. But while it’s full of in-jokes and callbacks, this never becomes detrimental. Afterlife With Archie stands on its own two feet; this first issue is an efficient introduction to the series that gives us just enough to get us situated, without slaking our appetite for more. The story itself is pretty standard fare: Jughead’s dog has been hit by a car and he seeks out magical assistance from Riverdale’s resident witches. The aunts do their best, but poor Hotdog is gone. Despite being forbidden to meddle with, you know, dark forces beyond our ken–the usual–Sabrina grabs the Necronomican and does a little spellwork while Jughead buries his dog. Sabrina is discovered and punished, Hotdog comes back and Jughead is elated, and things proceed from there, much as you would expect.
We’ve seen all this before, but the creative team makes it feel fresh. Archie and friends seem both like the characters we’ve known all these years, and like obnoxious, modern teens. Betty and Veronica’s meangirling was the only characterization choice that didn’t work–they’re best friends and worst enemies, not just frenemies. The art too, strikes the perfect balance between Archie and not Archie. There’s no attempt to ape Dan DeCarlo, but there are enough visual echoes in Francavilla’s work, to make the characters instantly recognizable.
It’s a damn fun comic, and I’ll definitely be back for the next issue.