Singles Going Steady 10/1/2013: An eight-pack of great comics - plus oneA comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Shawn Hill, Geoffrey Lapid, Taylor Lilley, Karyn Pinter, Jamil Scalese, Keith Silva, Zack Davisson
Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Curious for our take on Week Four of DC's Villains Month? Read Kyle's take on it!
Rat Queens #1
(Kurtis Wiebe / Roc Upchurch; Image Comics)
Rat Queens weaves a riotous tale out of the exploits of Betty the thief, Hanna the mage, Dee the atheist cleric, and Violet the dwarf, an adventuring group of miscreant ladies who cause more trouble than good in their home town. They swear, they drink, they start fights, and now they've hit the top tier of someone's shit list and that someone wants them dead.
Kurtis Wiebe, writer of Peter Panzerfaust, has put out a comic book that is filled with graphic violence, swearing, poop and sex jokes, moral ambiguity, bad dietary habits, casual drug use and just about everything else that is wrong with comics today - and it's worth every damn penny.
What really makes this comic a good read, especially if you're packing double X chromosomes, is the fact that these are ladies you can identify with. They're the D&D characters we play when we've been up all night inhaling too many nail polish fumes and pounding back Red Bull. They break the fantasy genre stereotype of female characters that are usually beautiful and graceful, choosing a bow over a sword. They are the reason this comic works.
Think of Rat Queens like the fantasy comic version of Bridesmaids. Raunchy humor, along with added blood and guts, is just as good coming from a group of girls as it is guys. Not to say this hasn't been done before, because Tank Girl will always be the go to for girls acting outside the norm in comics, but if this had been a comic about a group of guys it wouldn't have had the same impact. It would have just been Skullkickers. But the Girls Behaving Badly aspect of Rat Queens isn't the only thing that makes it great. It's funny; it'll make you laugh out loud. It's what the fantasy genre needs.
There are so many fantasy stories floating out there in the world - most are probably based on someone's epic run through of "The Temple of Elemental Evil" campaign with their level 28 elf ranger, but who the hell cares? That's fucking boring. Let's face it, fantasy is fantasy. There are elves, goblins, wizards, usually a forest and some caves. Fantasy needs some flavor otherwise it's just the same thing, over and over. I've sat through enough Drizzt Do'Urden for five lifetimes. And if fantasy isn't generic and boring, then it's intensely serious. Game of Thrones is bumming everyone out.
Time for something new. I want a free loving Halfling with a magic mushroom addiction and a sweet tooth, and Rat Queens delivers. Kurtis Wiebe delivers, piping some fun and freshness in an otherwise overdone genre.
- Karyn Pinter
Mind MGMT #15
(Matt Kindt; Dark Horse)
With Mind MGMT, Matt Kindt set out to deliver a monthly too compelling to trade-wait on, and he went all in on concept design. Taking the form of an extended Field Report for the amorphous Mind MGMT organisation (name and purpose to be taken literally), each page is framed in regulation blue ink, detailed instructional marginalia along the left vertical. In building the company’s presence into the book, Kindt takes readers into corporate confidence, makes them feel privy to secrets, and keeps them within easy reach. Beyond the effect on the reader, though, this frame is a foil for Kindt’s fluidity of line and evocative colour choices. Every page is filled with the tension between art and format, uncertain whether such expressive imagery can be trusted to follow protocol, or will inevitably rebel against policy, charging full-bleed to the paper’s edge.
Henry Lyme, the focus of this “jumping on point” issue, has long been to Mind MGMT’s protagonist Meru as Kindt is to readers, a mysterious puppet master, agenda unclear but fingers always on the strings. New readers, despite this issue’s entry point billing, will not be fully caught up by the final page, but they’ll have arrived in time to hear this puppet master’s true confession, to see him left deep in the dark, strings cut. More importantly though, new readers will have acquired a feel for the distinctive world of Mind MGMT, with its Immortal agents, paranoia, and bloody trails of psychic “breadcrumbs”.
This issue has a little of everything Mind MGMT offers, from the surreal psychic recurrence of Lyme’s confessional, to visceral effects achieved not through gore, but by positioning the “camera” to catch readers in complicity. There are, of course the shorts at front and rear, far superior to recap pages or second features, fleshing out the world of the comic through smaller-scale file entries, like the risibly bad 1900’s novelist whose prose killed. Kindt does more to involve the reader with this whimsical monochrome flow-chart riff than Hickman has done with all his Marvel infographics put together. And at the end of it all, that’s why this jumping on point opportunity should be seized. Kindt isn’t flogging continuity. He’s inviting you to the world he’s made, offering you a key to the kingdom. Despite the issue number, it’s not too late to accept.
- Taylor Lilley
Infinity: Heist #1
(Frank Tieri / Al Barrionuevo / Chris Sotomayor; Marvel)
Quick! Name the fourth best rouges gallery in comics.
Answer: Iron Man's.
Alright, I'll admit that's a pretty subjective bit of trivia. It's generally accepted that Batman and Spider-Man are about tied on list of best foes, and Flash gets big time respect for his gang of baddies. The number four slot is pretty wide open. Superman? Nah, outside Lex it's slim pickings. Fantastic Four? They have big names like Doom, Skrulls, Galactus, etc., but they all feel more like side characters. The X-Men? Just like Mutants, you create enough of them and some are bound to stick.
Tony Stark's antagonist options might not be elite but they're plentiful. Over the years the often tech-based thieves and whackos have shown been known to teamed up, much like Flash's Rouges, and that's exactly what happens in Infinity: Heist. In fact, that's basically all that happens in the first part of this miniseries.
The occasion for this tie-in stems from a thief's inclination to rob a place when the owners are out of town. The plot begins with a bit of a false start, as we find our viewpoint characters Blizzard and Whirlwind hitting a bank only to find it already robbed by the tricky Spymaster. The mastermind invites the pair to The Black Market, another one of those underground-type watering holes, where they meet up with the rest of the crew, Firebrand, Whiplash, Unicorn and Titanium Man.
That's basically the gist of it, so yeah, things are off to a sluggish start, but outside of that, it's a pretty neat comic book.
I'm loving The Superior Foes of Spider-Man and this is like a cousin series, focusing on lower level criminals and their everyday lives. Frank Tieri has done a fine job writing villains in the past, and this reminds me of his underrated (and tragically unfinished) Weapon X limited series. The dialogue carries the work for the most part, and it's very well researched.
The art is fairly straightforward, as in Barrionuevo works in standard superhero style. He, like Steve Lieber in Superior Foes captures that everyman quality of these characters. That evident with bros "Blizz and Whirly", and even the griminess of Whiplash, or the underlying confidence of Spymaster comes across well. The consistency between pages waxes and wanes, but there are no major flaws.
The concept is far from new (see MODOK's 11), but it works just the same. I need more momentum, more surprises, more good one-liners, but it's an acceptable first issue. With only a marginal connection to Infinity this is a decent read for anyone interested in the seeing the fourth best gallery do what they do.
- Jamil Scalese
Sex Criminals #1
(Matt Fraction / Chip Zdarsky / Becka Kinzie; Image Comics)
Powerpuff Girls #1
(Troy Little; IDW)
Grown men shouldn’t have this much fun with little girls. Troy Little, he of the Xeric grant win and praise-heaped creator-owned work (Angora Napkin and Chiaroscuro), has here created an all-ages comic in pixel-perfect 90’s Cartoon Network fashion. He may also have begun a truly progressive run on a superhero comic.
The reason for the Mayor’s Fisher-Price phone call is that Mojo Jojo, the World’s Most Intelligent Primate, is once again threatening Townsville. This time he’s using what is clearly a modified Aliens exo-skeleton, whose inefficacy he will soon ponder from his prison cell, atop a tyre swing with a Rita Hayworth poster view. Wait. Aliens? A tyre swing? A Rita Hayworth poster? Very cute, Mr Little. Not being a Powerpuff bro (is there a “brony” equivalent?) of standing, I can’t say whether these gags and allusions are Powerpuff staples or Troy Little twists. Either way, don’t let the popping colours and unrelenting pace carry you off. Be sure to stop and look around every once in a while.
In particular, take a good look at Little’s set-up for this title. The Powerpuffs are frustrated. Mojo Jojo is a weekly pushover, and while Townsville freely dispenses sundaes and golf club memberships, it has yet to throw Powerpuff parades or erect statues. Meanwhile old Mojo Jojo has frustrations of his own, monologuing in delicious villain-ese of his dream, a “dream to wake untroubled by these memories of my repeated failures”. More, in a dramatic final page turn, he takes a drastic step toward that “dream to wake”. Both sides of the child’s chocolate coin of Good and Evil are discontent. But while the superheroes are comfortable victims of their own success, the super-villain seeks escape from the infinite recurrence of plotting and defeat. He seeks to escape the superhero paradigm.
After all, how much hoisting by one’s own petard is a monkey, or a comic reader, supposed to endure? Mojo Jojo, like us, has seen his helplessness in the face of genre, and resolved that if the rules won’t change, then he shall. If only more supervillains showed such initiative, an entire genre’s latent potential might be unlocked. But we may have to make do with a single free-thinking monkey for now.
- Taylor Lilley
The Wake #4
(Scott Snyder, Sean Murphy, Matt Hollingsworth; Vertigo)
The Wake #4 marks an interstitial entry in this otherwise nonstop go series. Either by coincidence or in service to its neither here nor there plot, much of the action in this issue takes place in a tunnel -- O.K., technically a pipeline, but you catch my drift. The Wake #4 exists between stations, between acts. For those 'waiting for the trade' these events will float passed like so much krill.
If it sounds like I'm damning The Wake #4 with faint praise, I'm not. A comic drawn and inked by Sean Murphy and colored by Matt Hollingsworth is a gift and should be treated as such.
When Murphy is being celebrated for his Asterios Polyp, American Flagg! or The Airtight Garage, today's reader will look back and brag about reading The Wake, in singles. Murphy's cartooning verve goes from louds (vivisection, an eyeball attached only by its optic nerve) to softs (pleas and promises). A master of negative space, Murphy's characters look scored out from the living ink itself instead of the other way around. God bless you Sean Murphy.
Hollingsworth's colors on The Wake call to mind the look Matthew Libatique got for the inside of Tony Stark's helmet in Iron Man. Whereas in Hawkeye, Hollingsworth's art provides pulpy vigor, his colors in The Wake add dimension, such is his astonishing range. The shades of calendula and electric green he uses for the heads-up display of the mini-sub tell the story of all hell breaking loose as much as Murphy's pencils and inks and Scott Snyder's words. Also, look for the Easter egg, third screen from the right.
From its start, The Wake has followed an unusual pace as if it told in some 19/16 Frank Zappa-like time signature, or math rockers channeling King Crimson. Which is another way of saying Snyder really wants The Wake to feel epic.
Amid the action-adventure of the main narrative, Snyder peppers in Kubrick-ian 'Dawn of Man' type sequences bordering on Prometheus. These flashbacks deepen the mystery (somewhat), but at this inchoate stage in the overall story these past pastiches read like a malfunctioning strobe light in an already dim room.
What happened to the steampunk-dolphin from the first issue? Why hasn't Snyder gone back to the future and instead remained in the past? Noble savages with laser cannons have caché, but so too does Darwin from seaQuest DSV.
- Keith Silva
Uncanny Avengers #12
(Rick Remender / Salvador Larocca / Frank Martin; Marvel)
This issue reminds me of the last time I really cared about what happened to the Wanda/Simon love situation. Nearing the end of the Busiek run, when they were similarly facing the threat of Kang's world domination, she and Simon were prisoners plotting a radical act from within an internment camp.
This time it's Kang's manipulation of mutant Apocalypse children, and Wonder Man is captive while Wanda is free, pending her decision to serve Uriel and Eimin (and create a supposed mutant paradise). Foolish kids, they don't understand Wanda at all; she's been an Avenger her whole adult life. It's the best thing she's ever done. She's more loyal to Cap than she is to her fellow mutants. She knows her father was mad. We know this, because Remender has remembered who she was. Recalling that solid Busiek story is a good thing.
And it's not only Busiek Remender remembers. He also gives us a glimpse of Days of Future Past starring the baby Apocalypse twins, showing us one particularly cruel moment in Kang's abuse of the kids. Ahab and his hounds are conjured fully back to life, and in the present the rest of the Avengers are bedeviled by the new Horsemen, zombie versions of Banshee and the Grim Reaper being especially persistent. Larocca is impressively on point for this vast and spinning cast of characters.
The tone throughout (with Warren and the other child Apocalypse in deep hiding) continues from Remender's Uncanny X-force, on an even grander scale. The mix of mutant and human on this team's makeup isn't as important as the mix of heroism and temptation. Which choice will Wanda make? When did the Wasp get so sassy (and possibly a little kinky)? What are the adult Apocalypse Twins actually up to? It's clear by the end of the issue that they don't have much forgiveness for what Kang did to their lives; every issue has been nearly as full of wild cards as this one, but Remender has laid the groundwork well, and that's what keeps this my only current Avengers read.
- Shawn Hill
The Other Dead #1
(Joshua Ortega / Digger T. Mesch / Qing Ping Mui / Blond / Tom B. Long; IDW)
Okay humans, imagine a world in which every other sentiment thing on the planet, from the giant grizzly on the mountain to the cute, fluffy bunny at the petting zoo, all wanted to eat your flesh. What if the threat of the zombie apocalypse came not from the hands of our fellow citizens, but from the jaws of our household pets. If “every tier of the animal kingdom, from cats, dogs, and mice to lions, tigers, and bears, are transformed into super-strong, turbo-fast, bloodthirsty zombies, how will mankind survive? When a vicious attack can come at any moment from a fluffy tabby, a sleepy hound dog, or a ten-point buck, how can you stay safe?”
This is the concept behind IDW's newest series, The Other Dead, and, if you ask me, that's one serious hook. I mean, have you been outside lately? Have you seen all the things crawling around out there? Now try to imagine all those things trying to kill you. Geez. Hard-core.
Just when I thought this whole zombie thing had been done to death (pun intended), here's a group of guys who have taken the concept to its ultimate nightmarish conclusion. Even a shotgun totin' Dick Cheny isn't safe in this world (seriously).
This first issue is a slow build, establishing the book's tone, characters, and setting. And there's a lot of places and people to deal with, from our vomiting young narrator to his black arts dealing troubled brother, from a limber pole dancer with what may be a magical headdress to the President of the United States, Ortega shows his steady hand here, throwing his reader around the various locales and in the faces of the heroes and villains through each page. As a first issue, there's a lot of ground to cover and Ortega does a nice job of not only laying out the map, but holding our hand to make sure we don't get lost. And there's many places to get side-tracked along the way, so Ortega really proves himself a writer of note by putting on our blinders and keeping us focused.
Qing Ping Mui's art takes a little bit of time to get used to. At times his characters look bloated and unnaturally thick, but when it comes to rendering zombie deer or ducks, he shows why he's the perfect artist to take on this book. There is detail to his gore and an animated lifelessness to his forms, both of which make for mean zombie animals. He draws a pretty good Obama, too.
And this book is infused with political ideas. You can't draw in Cheney and Obama and not make some sort of political statement. What that statement is, ultimately, is still up in the air, as the source of the problem has yet to be revealed.
Oh, and there's a storm coming too, a big old storm, which can only add further complications to the plot.
So, there's potential for this book to go just about anywhere, and if this first issue is any indication of where this journey may lead, I'm holding Ortega's hand and letting him take me along. But I'm keeping my eye on my dog now, in ways I've never done before.
The Other Dead is a zombie book, no doubt. But it's a new take on an old trope and, through it's novelty, re-invents the entire genre.
- Daniel Elkin
Bee Vixens From Mars #1
I don't know if I was exactly in the mood for something like this or what, or if it was just Halloween magic, but Bee Vixens From Mars is one of the best comics I have read this week. Seriously. This comic has such pure, unashamed sleaze and schlock horror that I couldn't help but have a good time.
And that's what it supposed to be. A good time. A "B-Movie" in comic form. ('cause that's funny, right? "Bee Vixens." A "B" movie … nevermind.) For the uninitiated, in the back of the comic is a little rundown of grindhouse cinema that dips into some of the author's favorite flicks. It's lowbrow. It's awesome.
Story, story, story. Do we have a story? Do we care about a story? You pretty much get it from the title: A small, sleepy town in Texas. A beer-swillin' Sheriff just trying to hang tight with his bodacious, bisexual girlfriends who have a thing for licking honey (Don't judge. Dan Savage says don't judge.). A hard-as-nails, motorcycle riding, eye-patch wearing, warrior woman Deputy who knows that the best way to deal with the bee problem the town is having lately is with a flame thrower. And …. we all know where this is going.
Artist Chris Peterson has just the right touch for a comic like this. It's campy and exploitative but all with a wink and a nod and without ever drifting into offensive. It's nice and gooey, with the honey and the viscera flowing freely. Somehow I get the feeling Chris was having a good time when he drew this. Especially the odd scene thrown in of the two cats humping. Nolan Woodard pulls it off nice with the colors too. His colors are bright and shiny and plastic when it needs to be, dark and vicious when things don't turn out so well.
When it comes to a comic like Bee Vixens From Mars you are either going to love it or hate it. If you're not predisposed for this kind of grindhouse entertainment, then nothing here is going to convince you. It's an ode to the form. But if you like grindhouse, and you are in the mood for sexy, funny, and oddly violence, well …. Here you go!
- Zack Davisson