Singles Going Steady 5/28/2013: Comics By, For and About People on Drugs

A comic review article by: David Fairbanks, Jason Sacks, Shawn Hill, Nick Hanover, Jamil Scalese, Chris Kiser, Danny Djeljosevic


Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.


Elsewhere on Comics Bulletin:

  • Tiny Pages Made of Ashes took on some alright stuff.
  • Digital Ash covered stuff a comic you can buy on ComiXology, a comic you can buy on the creator's Gumroad page and a comic you can read for free.
  • Geoffrey made an amazing case for Justice League of America as this generation's Youngblood, basically.
  • Keith and Jason decided that The Massive #12 is a high point for the series.
  • Zack could not cotton to the faux yokai thing that Akaneiro #1 had going on. 


Adventure Time #16

(Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb, Sina Grace, S. Steven STruble, Reed/Grant/Jai Nitz, Pranas Naujakaitis; BOOM!)



I was told that this would be a great "jumping on" point for Adventure Time, but the fact is that pretty much any issue of the series is great for getting on board what is possibly the best licensed comic in print. Even if you jump in mid-story arc, you'd find enough of a story to keep yourself smiling from cover to cover, and despite having 15 previous issues, an original graphic novel, and two miniseries, Adventure Time is as fun, original and weird as the show.

In the main story, we get an unusual partner teaming up with Finn and Jake for adventure: Ice King. One thing that North's scripts have going for them is just how comfortable they are at making the reader feel just a little bit uncomfortable, which is a hallmark of Adventure Time for me. Despite the ridiculousness of the show and comics, there is almost always a dark undercurrent there reminding you that while Finn and Jake may be some best friends having fun and adventuring, Finn is still the last boy alive, having survived some terrible apocalyptic event. 



In this issue in particular, we find out that Ice King is a character with much more depth than you would think to give him credit for, serving to remind us that it is important to imagine others complexly before judging them. Paroline and Lamb work wonders on the page, doing some nice tricks with full-page dungeon exploration, imaginative crayon-like depictions of Ice King's thoughts, and some very eerie looking monsters.

As always, the backups provide a great place for some lesser known talent to shine while bringing a style to Adventure Time that probably wouldn't be allowed for a full book. Honestly, most of the time the backups are my favorite parts, and Sina Grace and S. Steven Struble's "Opposite Day" and Reed, Grant, and Jai Nitz with Pranas T. Naujokaitis have a cute two-page in "Ninja Princess."

- David Fairbanks


The Bounce #1 

(Joe Casey, David Messina, Giovanna Niro; Image)



You know, we have a front-loaded culture here in comics criticism land. We all have a major habit of judging comic books based on their first chapter even though those comics are pretty much always just the beginning tease of a longer and much more complex storyline than we can guess at from the initial chapter. Many of us are willing to Wait For The Trade but at the same time we judge which comics are on our trade-wait list based on that comic's premier issue.

Maybe the best two recent examples of this phenomenon have come from the keyboard of the much-beloved Joe Casey, a guy who loves to explore dark and weird nooks and crannies of the superhero experience, as well as being a guy who enjoys think in terms of story arcs, in setting stories up so they can be read all together rather than piecemeal in the same way that people read Roy Thomas comics back in the day.

So often with Casey I want to give him a big fat INCOMPLETE rather than a bulleted rating when I look at the first issues of his comics. With Joe Casey series we've learned that what we expect after completing the first issue of a comic is generally extremely unlike what we get coming out of the final issue of the arc.



The latest example of that phenomenon is Casey's new comic The Bounce. Most all of the commentary of this comic from the reviewosphere has focused on the fact that the comic's lead superhero, The Bounce, is a slacker, stoner superhero, a bro who's content to spend his Wednesday afternoons getting stoned, watching bad daytime TV, and, oh yeah, sometimes putting on a cool and flashy costume and then bouncing around fighting crime.

And that whole side of this story is indeed really quite cool. On that level, The Bounce is a fun subversion of superhero tropes so clever that you have to wonder why nobody has ever thought of that sort of thing before.



But I have a feeling that Casey is using the stoner life as something different here. I think there's a much more subversively intriguing concept that Casey is getting at in his story: based on the last few pages of this story, Casey may be portraying drugs as a means for characters to travel between dimensions, as a way to move from our Earth to parallel Earth.

I know, right? This is a fucking genius idea on a couple of levels. First of all, of course, is the fantastically clever idea that drugs are a gateway to higher perception, with higher perception being a way to perceive the shit all around us that we never actually see such as dimensional gateways and stuff. Fucking deep, right? It's perfect stoner logic that kind of loops and winds back on itself like all those goddamn intense conversations I had with my friends between Doritos runs.

But even more, the idea of  breathing a gas in then being transported to another universe -- wow, doesn't that seem like the core idea of all kinds of very fun and interesting things you've read?



SPOILERS FOLKS! At the end of this issue our hero inhales drugs -- really the body of a longhaired mysteryman called the Fog -- and finds himself transported to a completely changed version of Earth. Under the sure hand of artist David Messina, the new world looks dramatically unlike the world we've just lived in. The world-view is different, the landscape is different, the art style is different, even the lettering has changed.

That, combined with a character disappearing early in the book and some allusions in the middle of the issue to changes in the world and its reality, make me believe that Casey may be delivering something with The Bounce that may be both exactly what we expect and completely unlike what we expect. Isn't that why we want to read superhero comics?

- Jason Sacks


Batman Incorporated #11

(Chris Burnham, Jorge Lucas, Ian Hannin; DC)



Is this the worst possible time for a fill-in issue? I say thee nay. Instead, it's a nice break to alleviate the gloom since the tragic #8, and the shocking lengths to which Talia has gone ever since. So why not take a breather and head to Japan for an iteration of the original concept of this title, the Batmen of the world and their own adventures? The Batman of Japan and his sidekick Canary are a twist on the usual concept, with a little bit of Morrison's vision of the Japanese JLA thrown in. They're pretty cool, very willing to interrupt their micro-date, and it hardly matters that the whole romp may be a virtual reality illusion.



Certainly the breadth of the tone is a little shocking, but then Morrison isn't actually writing this issue. It's by Burnham (taking a break from drawing by scripting, I hope that works for him!) and Jorge Lucas stepping in to give us mock-Kirby, of all things previously un-Bat-like. This is sort of a comic about being a comic, and a Japanese sci-fi movie, with a little bit of Tarantino thrown into the mix by way of Kevin Smith. There are leather-clad biker girls, at any rate. It's gnarly with pop and other cultural references, not least of whom is the villainess, Lady Tiger Fist. She first appears as a goddess flanked by tigers at her shadowy throne, but turns out to literally have tiger heads for fists, which makes it really hard to use the internet.



That explains why she's so behind the times with her staffing, though really it's because the whole thing is a pastiche of familiar sources. The issue reminds me of nothing so much of those extra loopy old Morrison Doom Patrol issues that took cheap but hilarious shots at a variety of the Marvel, DC and Image superhero teams of the time in barely concealed homage/rip-off/extravaganzas that made Crazy Jane, Cliff and Rebus all the more poignant and dramatic in turn.



Or, you know, Seaguy. I don't feel in anyway cheated of the unrolling apocalypse by this issue. It's like the one ray of sunlight in the eye of the hurricane.

- Shawn Hill


The Deep Sea (one-shot)

(Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Tony Akins, Paul Mounts; Dark Horse)



One of the things I enjoy about artists like Tony Moore is that their styles are so unique they tend to not spawn too many imitators. In Moore's case, that's likely due to the uncanny ability he has to make his art incredibly detailed but also lovably rough and spontaneous. He's the opposite of a John Cassaday or Bryan Hitch in his emphasis on scratchiness and odd textures over clean lines and open spaces. Of course, Cassaday and Hitch are largely responsible for the trend of widescreen comics and have the legions of followers to back up their impact, but in case you doubted how difficult a tight rope act Moore walks, look no further than Tony Akins' art in The Deep Sea.



Essentially a hybridization of family adventure comics like Challengers of the Unknown and Fantastic Four and pulpy seafaring horror sci-fi like Sphere and The Abyss, The Deep Sea is the sort of project you could imagine Moore teaming up with Rick Remender for, like Fear Agent but in the unknown depths rather than the uncharted celestial heavens. Akins gets in some work, but where he struggles is with consistency. Beautiful expanses like the opening chapter give in to slightly more slapdash work like a flashback to the accident that sets the story in motion, wherein characters' faces take on caricature-like rubbery attributes and panels go from extremely solid linework to sections where Akins seems to have forgotten to finish outlining his characters altogether.



As it originally ran in Dark Horse Presents, The Deep Sea was probably more effective, but collected in a one shot its issues are more glaring. Outside of Akins' consistency issues, Palmiotti and Gray's script is a little too predictable and they spend so much time getting the plot in motion that we barely get any true character moments. The key romance at the center, between protagonist Paul Barry and Mary, the woman he loved and thought he had lost for decades, suffers the most from this, as we're never given much reason to root for their romance since their story is rushed so much. Even so, there's a lot of potential with the series, particularly if read in its intended format, as short segments in the pages of Dark Horse Presents. Here's hoping the team clicks more organically following the shocking events that close out this chapter.

- Nick Hanover


A+X #8

(Gerry Duggan, Salvador Larroca, Christopher Hastings, Reilly Brown)



Gender based team-ups with an Avengers/X-Men twist? OK, I'll bite.

By now you get what A+X is about. After the big spat the A's and X's can't stop bumping into each other and their hijacks are housed in this digestible anthology. It's the type of comic that encourages a bit of artistic freedom in really tight parameters.



Take Kitty Pryde and Spider-Woman in an abandoned subway station. Add in Absorbing Man, Hydra, A.I.M and a magic meteor. Them some tight quarters. But don't worry, the fan-favorite babes handle it.

Salvador Larroca and Gerry Duggan weave together a  fun, puckish story that sets out to simply entertain. I picked this up for the Deadpool backup and the current Deadpool writer ended up surprising me. Jessica Drew gets her moments, but it's more a Kitty story. The perfect mix of buoyancy and maturity respects all aspects of the character in her current incarnation.

The bro side of things slams together Hawkeye and Deadpool on some nondescript mission. There is a lot to this short that I didn't expect, like for one Reilly Brown's immaculate effort in carrying out  Christopher Hasting script, and two, that Hawkeye out Deadpools Deadpool. Yeah, that's right, Clint achieves higher flippancy and cracks more jokes than my boy in the red and black PJs.



Maybe that's why I didn't dig it as much as I wanted to. Hasting previously dabbled in Deadpool with his just OK Fear Itself: Deadpool mini that pitted Wade against the Walrus, but much like that series this one failed to have a hook. The plot, aside from an appearance by Captain Barracuda (!), does nothing notable and it ends with chimichangas, which is... I mean, come on.

The best part is that Hakweye kind of digs Wade's style. As much as I like the idea that Deadpool is the most repulsive hero available it's pretty unbelievable that no one find this dude funny.

- Jamil Scalese


TMNT Villain Micro-Series #2: Baxter

(Erik Burnham, Andy Kuhn, John Rauch, Tom B. Long; IDW)



I grew up on the Ninja Turtles cartoon, and while I only had a few of the Eastman and Laird comics, I had dozens of the Archie Comics Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures series and can probably still name more mutants than most people knew existed at the peak of Ninja Turtle-mania. I've been continually impressed by the new TMNT being produced by IDW, and while I was never the biggest fan of Baxter Stockman when I was a kid, I certainly knew who he was and was eager to see what we'd learn about him in his one-shot.



Sadly, it was that he was mostly pretty boring, which means that the issue wasn't the most entertaining either. Luckily, Kuhn and Rauch keep the comic looking beautifully dark, with Rauch using a color palette of greens, blues, and purples that makes me think of a less intense Stokoe and Kuhn giving us glimpses at the terrifying fly-creature I expect Baxter to become some day.

Flashback scenes to Stockman's relationship with his father bore a very different art and coloring style, serving as nice breaks while we glimpse Stockman's past and discover that he's the kind of man who plays the long game, meaning that while his role in this issue wasn't the most interesting, he could become a pretty big player in the grand scheme of things.

- David Fairbanks


Half Past Danger #3

(Stephen Mooney, IDW)



My favorite war comics have always been the weird ones, the kind that feature haunted tanks and Twilight Zone-esque vignettes and dangerous interactions between soldiers and dinosaurs and monsters. Stephen Mooney's Half Past Danger should by all rights be a perfect comic for me, then, oriented as it is around a The War That Time Forgot gimmick in which a group of soldiers led by Staff Sergeant Tommy Flynn accidentally wander into a Lost World area where dinosaurs still roam around and as you'd expect, a whole lot of people get eaten. 



The problem is that it's too much like those old weird war comics and The War That Time Forgot in particular; dinosaurs eating WWII-era soldiers is a relatively unique concept but you're in trouble if your spin on it is a regurgitation of the only other dinosaur war comic people know about. Mooney offers some different spins towards the end, as our hero Tommy Flynn winds up "recruited" by American and British operatives who want to send him back to the dino island, but even that feels cribbed from any number of other sources.



Mooney's saving grace is his art, which is an intriguing mix of vintage and modern, with character designs that recall Tony Harris' work on Ex Machina mingling with the kind of toothsome dinosaurs you'd see from someone like Ross Andru. Hopefully future issues will give him more room to stretch out because the debut is still a little cramped, as it features a lot of set-up, especially towards the back end as Flynn is drinking away the horrors in a pub that has a distinct lack of dinosaurs. 

- Nick Hanover


Green Lantern #20

(Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Patrick Gleason, Cully Hamner, Aaron Kuder, Jerry Ordway, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Marc Deering, Mark Irwin, Wade von Grawbadger, Alex Sinclair, Tony Avina; DC)



Once upon a time, Geoff Johns' Green Lantern books were really top-notch superhero comics. Upon starting with the character, Johns took decades of convoluted, confusing and outright stupid prior continuity and distilled it all down to a unified mythology -- one that made it feel as if all those previous stories had always been building to a single, convergent point. So it is especially disappointing, here in the final issue of Johns' lengthy run, that GL has ended up as such a mess.



Every one of the numerous plot threads Johns aggressively heaped onto this book over the course of the past year or so makes an appearance for the finale, yet they never jell together to feel like they're telling a coherent story. The Big Bad of the whole thing is someone called the First Lantern, and the path to defeating him is a long chain of one-upmanship involving various characters' powers that have long lost their tether to the metaphors Johns originally built for them.

Doug Mahnke draws his heart out depicting it all, but too often his intricate line work is washed away in waves of glowing, CGI color effect. He also never gets a real visual flow established, what with all the characters who constantly pop in and out of the scene. This is a comic overrun with splash panels, many of them full-page, some of them double and one even bigger than that. Yes, Johns and his editors -- who evidently view Spın̈al Tap as some sort of double-dog dare -- actually figure out a way to make a four-page splash happen.



That said, there's a hint of sweetness to this issue that is hard to deny, even if you (like me) are glad it's all finally over. Johns writes a nice epilogue to tie the bow on each of his characters, and someone at DC was thoughtful enough to include several pages in this book filled with well-wishes and thanks to Johns from various comics and media folks. The man certainly deserves each warm thought sent his way, though sadly, not for anything he's brought to Green Lantern lately.

- Chris Kiser




Deadpool #10



All-Star Western #20



Young Avengers #5



Journey into Mystery #652


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