Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.
Also: see why Pretty Deadly is going to be one of the buzz books of the year.
(Ed Brubaker / Steve Epting / Elizabeth Breitwiser / Chris Eliopoulos; Image Comics)
Ever since it was first announced at this year's Image Expo, there's been a lot of buzz around the new Ed Brubaker / Steve Epting spy comic Velvet. And for good reason: Brubaker and Epting were the team supreme on Captain America, driving that title to new heights of intensity with their focus on both the outlandish spy elements of Cap and the wonderful super-hero action, not to mention smart characterization for both male and female characters.
So when word came out that Bru and Epting were going a new spy comic, this time set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and with a female spy as the lead, excitement was high from their legion of fans.
I'm happy to say that this comic meets all its hype. Just as we all wanted going into this book, Velvet is a thrilling and fun mix of Bond pastiche, retro '70s nostalgia, globe-trotting adventures, and more secrets than you can shake (not stir) a martini at.
When a comic like this begins with the murder of a James Bond lookalike in bloody, gory detail and then quickly flashes to a beautiful middle-aged woman woken from bed with news of the murder, you know that something interesting is afoot, that Brubaker and Epting are making a specific point about the real themes of this book. "Watch out, you lovers of iconic sterotypes," they seem to say, "we're about to turn them on their head and make you love it."
As the story develops, all told in a gorgeously understated air of mystery and a delicious eye for detail by Epting, we begin to learn the secrets of ARC-7, the secretive spy agency to end all secretive spy agencies, an organization that seems to come out of movie cliché central only to be undercut by small, smart touches that complement and add to the agency in wonderfully clever ways.
Maybe the most interesting way that Brubaker and Epting both add and undercut the events in this book is that weapons and violence actually do have an effect on the people who experience it. Like Cap fighting the Red Skull's minions, there's a feeling that punches connect, that bullets kill; in short, that all of these events really mean something in the larger world that Brubaker and Epting are constructing.
So when this issue ends with a familiar cliffhanger, it's impossible to know if that ending's some sort of red herring or a postmodern tip of the hat to a familiar trope or if it's meant to be read literally. Of course, after reading this first issue, we know that it's all three and we love this comic for all its transgressive, thrillingly fun glory.
– Jason Sacks
Letter 44 #1
(Charles Soule, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque, Guy Major, Shawn DePasquale; Oni Press)
Letter 44 produces a kind of Heisenberg Principle of yarn spinning — the story depends on the observer's influences — full of unpredictability and creative chutzpah. Read it as a political thriller, a first contact story, a conspiracy theorist's wet dream or a clever reframing of American military policy in the Middle-East and Letter 44 answers.
Artist Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque and writer Charles Soule imagine a newly-elected US President who learns every decision his hated predecessor made was because ''NASA detected some sort of mining or construction operation in the asteroid belt, up between Mars and Jupiter.'' A team of ''Special Forces guys and scientists'' were sent to investigate, ''and they're getting close.'' Sound familiar? Of course, except for the NASA stuff. Yeah. Yeah?
A wordy 'what if,' Letter 44 suffers some from Soule hammering at certain plot points and an insistence on text over image which allows letterer Shawn DePasquale to earn his pay, but forces Alburquerque to draw too many meetings and too many talking heads. The gravity of Alburquerque's cartooning occurs on board the spaceship where colorist Guy Major makes the most of CRT greens and greys.
One of the great magical items in a comic book's 'bag of holding' is the page turn surprise. Letter 44 offers a pair. The placement and plotting of these two moments demonstrates Alburquerque and Soule have timed their story for maximum effect. This diamond is not without its inclusions; however, for these two reveals alone the less one knows the better.
This week an excerpt was published from an interview with Bill Watterson in the December issue of Mental Floss, the 'get' of the year, hell, the last thirty years. He's asked why it's difficult for fans to let go after a creator moves on. Watterson says, ''… a new work requires a certain amount of patience and energy, and there's always the risk of disappointment. You can't blame people for preferring more of what they already know and like … predictability is boring. Repetition is the death of magic.''
Calvin and Hobbes works a different side of the street than Letter 44. What it shares with Watterson's masterpiece is the idea: 'predictability is b
oring.' If Alburquerque and Soule maintain the energy and promise of this first issue, 'magic will out.' In a story full of probabilities, disappointments be damned. Read Letter 44 and revel in the risk.
– Keith SIlva
Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion #1
(Brian Buccelato / Patrick Zircher / Scott Hepburn / Nick Filiard / Dezi Sienty; DC Comics)
There's evil and then there's evil.
On one level, evil's all about nefarious schemes to defeat heroes and gain money and fame. On another level, evil's about moving the moon, killing thousands of people, and making Central City a vast wasteland. Next to tghat deeper evil, simple evil just ain't evil. It's just a bunch of rogues doing what rogues do instead of thoroughly evil beings looking to destroy the world.
Rogues Rebellion is all about the clash between those two types of evil. On one side we have the Flash's Rogues, who have recently left the Justice League Watchtower with the fitting thoughts "Me and my crew – the Rogues – we never wanted to rule the world." But what do those Rogues do when they're confronted with a group of truly evil villains who actually seem to have killed the Justice League and want to rule the world?
The first few pages of this comic are powerful, as Captain Cold, the Weather Wizard, Mirror Master and their friends confront the utter destruction and that Central City has experienced at the hands of Gorilla Grodd in the pages of his Forever Evil one-shot – kudos to the DC powers-that-be for nice continuity. Our Rogues, the men of ordinary evil, are horrified by what they see and struggle to make sense of the destruction that has been dealt to Central City. They gawk at the fires and make lame jokes about Girder, who's made out of, um, girders or something, right?
As the comic moves on and the confrontation with the Crime Syndicate takes center stage, it's fun to see our protagonists, maybe motivated as much by a wish to get rid of their pain as much as anything, take the upper hand in a fight against stronger foes.
I don't read the regular Flash comic, so I don't know if this is the sort of thoughtful, fun action that Brian Buccelato delivered in that comic, but if it is I see why he's so popular. This comic moves quickly, has cleverly rendered characters and an interesting situation that seems helpless. It's a terrific super-hero (or super-villain if you prefer) comic book that thoroughly entertained me.
The art by Zircher and Hepburn is exciting. The opening scenes in the devastating city are detailed and intriguing, full of menace and confusion, but always with the villains front and center. He does a nice job of making the villains look distinctive from each other, with different facial gestures and attitudes. Some of the scenes in a hospital don't give as much a strong sense of setting than the scenes outside, but the unique-looking characters win out.
If all Forever Evil spinoffs were as entertaining as this book, I'd be buying a lot more comics from DC.
– Jason Sacks
(Robert Kirkman / Ryan Ottley / Cliff Rathburn / John Rauch / Rus Wooten; Image Comics/Skybound)
Back when I still read superhero comics, Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley's Invincible was a monthly staple. It was a series that both myself and my son could read and enjoy together. Time passed as it is wont to do and as my son grew older and my taste for superhero comics soured, we both left the Invincible world, seeking our own greener pastures.
So it was an interesting opportunity to get to review Invincible #106 and check in with my former self.
Hello there old-timey Elkin, your hair looks fantastic.
That's right, reading this issue kinda made me miss old-timey Elkin, much like a conservative Republican misses Andy Griffith. The source of my rose-colored nostalgia can be summed up in two alliterative words:
Invincible #106 features, at its heart, an Oedipal tale of a young man (our titular hero) trying to prove that he has grown beyond his father – this story-line focuses on a particularly amusing arm-wrestling match written in the usual Kirkman breezy dialogue and rendered perfectly by Ottley and Rathburn and Rauch – but the soul of issue #106 lies in the character of Battle Beast.
If you follow Invincible, then you know what bringing an unfettered Battle Beast into the mix means. If you don't …well… I weep for you.
Kirkman and Ottley have the ability to create these characters that, in the hands of lesser artists, would be one dimensional and hardly memorable. With their skills, though, a character like Battle Beast is fully fleshed out. He's more than just a unquenchable killing machine – there's depth to him, and it is this full realization of character that makes you love him.
Another old character, Doc Seismic, is brought back as well to add a third plot to this book. Kirkman is a master at following the classic monthly title formula of keeping at least three balls in the air at all times. As one plot point is wrapped up, the next one comes to the fore and a new one is introduced. It's formulaic, certainly, but Kirkman is able to do it with such glee and abandonment that it breathes fresh and pushes you along as a reader.
Yea, so, reading this issue reminded me of all the things that I used to love about this series and, mayb
e more importantly, made me consider adding it back to my monthly pile.
The fact that after 106 issues the story is still cracking is testament to the talents of the guys putting this comic book together. Well done, fellas – you've brought me back into the fold.
– Daniel Elkin
(Matt Fraction / David Aja / Matt Hollingsworth / Chris Eliopoulos; Marvel)
Oh Clint Barton, your poor sad fuckup, I do so love to read your adventures.
You drinker, you serial asshole with a good heart, you hero who's there for his friends when they need him, even if you're bored and falling asleep sitting in the back of a warm car.
You good brother, you slumlord superintendent, you guy who suffers all the punches that life gives you but keeps going on, keeps being yourself through booze-induced stupors and Hurricane Sandy flashbacks.
You're like any guy I know – good and bad, asshole and hero and regular damn guy all in one – and your comic is so tremendously wonderful.
Much pixels have been spent writing about the wonder of the Fraction/Aja/Hollingsworth team, but what I really noticed this issue is how real and calm it all seems, how beautifully the combination of words and pictures and well-considered colors bring an emotion, a mood and a wonderful bit of character to every scene. I'm not sure if it was Fraction or Aja who came up with the business of Clint drinking straight from his coffeepot or the gangsta look at the funeral that's at the center of this issue, but the thing is: it doesn't matter.
Only goofy critics like me care about applying credit to the correct creators, and really we shouldn't care either. We should just admire the wonderful way that this book sustains mood and builds complex, ambiguous characters. We should thrill in the wonderful way that images are created and storytelling builds. We should thrill in the brilliantly elegant linework by David Aja and the brilliantly elegant writing of Matt Fraction.
Oh Clint Barton, you poor sad fuckup. You may be a bit of a loser but your dog loves you and so do I.
– Jason Sacks
Star Trek: Khan #1
(Mike Johnson / David Messina / Claudia Balboni / Marina Castelvetro / Claudia ScarletGothica / Neil Uyetake; IDW)
Vampirella Halloween Special #1
(Shannon Eric Denton / Dietrich Smith; Dynamite)
Great Pacific #11
(Joe Harris / Martin Morazzo; Image Comics)