Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin’s weekly single issue review roundup.
Southern Cross #1
(Becky Cloonan/Andy Belanger/Lee Loughridge: Image Comics)
Artist turned writer Becky Cloonan is on a hot streak these days. Following up her all ages Gotham Academy comes the decidedly more grim sci-fi mystery/horror story Southern Cross. Cloonan, along with artist Andy Belanger and colorist Lee Loughridge, bring the reader on an adventure primarily set on the eponymously named space shuttle, an intricately designed transport tanker and passenger ferry. Our hero, one spunky Alex Braith, is on a mission to collect her sister’s body from the Zemi rig on planet Titan. Rigs on Earth are dangerous, and that remains true of the ones in space. However, as we learn, Alex’s sister wasn’t working with her hands; she was in administration. Alex’s quest is one of answers just as much as it is one of mourning, and in the first issue, Southern Cross lays out a solid foundation for series’ first issue, even though I was left a little more ambivalent than intrigued.
The Southern Cross team’s greatest challenge and greatest success in this issue is introducing us to the ship as a setting. It appears to be just as important as any of the characters in the story, and to Belanger’s credit, the ship really feels alive. Near the beginning of the issue, we see Alex guided by a crew member down to her bunk, and are treated to a wonderfully realized series of panels depicting the complex and varied environments of the ship. It’s amazing that the dialogue flows as well as it does on this page, following the movement of the characters as they move from left to right, top to bottom, right to left, and top to bottom again. Loughridge’s colors also play a big role here, as all the locations on the ship have a distinctive color pallette that helps the reader keep distinguish between the sections of the Southern Cross. Never once did I feel lost in the visual shuffle of this book; it honestly has some fantastic layouts.
Not only is Southern Cross well organized, Belanger also does a wonderful job of contrasting the vastness of space with the clausterphobia of the Southern Cross’s depths. In the beginning of the book, we are treated to a massive two page spread of the space shuttle terminal that the Southern Cross departs from. The terminal is filled with people, buildings, and ships. Meanwhile, Earth looms in the background like a blue sun. Later, when Alex gets turned around looking for the ship’s mess hall, Belanger shows us the ship in the dark. Loughridge shifts the palette to grungy muddled greens, and Belanger exacerbates the horrific effect through a heavy use of black inks.
Where Southern Cross fails is the characters. The premise of this story hinges on the relationship between Alex and her departed sister. Unfortunately, we don’t get a good sense of the nature of that relationship in this issue, which makes it a little difficult to empathize with Alex, who is also shown to be antagonistic and more than a little anti-social. There’s a twist at the end of the book, but it’s not quite clear what is being represented on the last page. It seems to be horrifying, but I think the team intended for the moment to resonate emotionally as well, which it unfortunately did not.
Ultimately, I think Southern Cross is worth a look. It’s not the perfect first issue, but it is very professionally done and displays a lot of textual and visual talent. I have faith that Cloonan, whose character work in Gotham Academy has been great, will make the characters in this book more enjoyable as time goes on. This series lays a solid foundation for what appears to be an intimate story set in a vast set of worlds, and I look forward to seeing how it moves forward from here.
Amazing Spider-Man #16
(Dan Slott / Christos Gage / Humberto Ramos: Marvel Comics)
My suspension of disbelief can only take me so far. A man with spider-powers trying to reclaim his life after having his body and life stolen by one of his archenemies? Sure, I’m in. The government spending anything more than the absolute bare minimum on the Department of Corrections? Eh… not so much.
I’ll deal with the second part of that first. This new story arc sees the government start bidding on contractors for a new superpower, supermax prison. One of the companies in the running is the Doc-Ock-as-Spider-Man-founded Parker Industries. Peter wants to build a prison to rehabilitate and reform supervillains. His chief rival, Alchemax, wants to incarcerate those people as cheaply and effectively as possible. Obviously I realize this is fiction, so theoretically anything could happen here, but I have absolutely zero doubts about how this would play out in actuality. Are people going to support spending extra taxes in the hopes that criminals might turn their lives around? Will politicians put their careers on the line to endorse such a proposal? Or, will the public call for the cheaper option of keeping dangerous individuals who have already committed crimes locked away forever where they can’t hurt them or their children? Isn’t anyone going to think of the children?!? Debate over. It’s not that I disagree with Peter’s ideals, but he’s been around the block enough to know that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet could offer to privately fund a complete prison overhaul of rehabilitating criminals, and the public at large still wouldn’t go for it if it meant people who had been convicted of violent crimes could end up living next door to the them. Sorry, but my cynicism won’t even let me entertain the possibility.
Then, there is the far more believable (to me, at least) scenario of Peter reclaiming and reshaping his life from what Doc Ock has done to it. On paper, I like the idea. In practice, it doesn’t really work for me. One, because I just read something similar when the reverse was happening, when Otto was trying to shape Peter’s life the way he wanted it, and two, because this is far, far more depressing. The first time around, it felt like Octavius was actually building a life for himself. It didn’t always work and he sometimes made terrible decisions, but he was getting stuff done and always felt like he was honestly trying to turn his life around and make it the best it could possibly be. Now that Peter’s back in the saddle, I feel like we’re headed for a depressing collapse back to the status quo of strained relationships, terrible jobs, no money, and habitually broken dreams.
Anyway, Alchemax ends up hiring an assassin to take out Peter, presumably because… they don’t seem to understand how business works? I don’t know. It seems like it’d be smarter to let the bidding process play out, see if they win with their preferable-to-public-opinion pitch, and if not, then start assassinating the head of whichever company wins the bid. Oh, there are more than two companies bidding here, by the way. Taking out Peter at this stage guarantees them nothing. But, you know, I’m writing about comic books on the internet, so what do I know about business?
(We also get a brief Black Cat story as a back-up, where she’s turning from delightful, harmless scoundrel on the edge of the law to hardcore, torturing, murderous supervillain. It seems a bit forced, but it’s far from the weirdest, sudden character turn comics has ever thrown out there.)
(Joe Keatinge / Leila Del Duca / Owen Gieni / John Workman; Image Comics)
Shutter is always one of the most enjoyable comics I pick up monthly. The imaginative characters and the chaotic world they live in are always an allurement. The bizarre cast and even stranger world wouldn’t be as exciting without the oddly relatable familial and relationship issues that are strung through this series. The blend of the bizarre and familiar is part of what makes this comic work and even more, the comics medium itself is what makes the story work.
Shutter #10 is a prime example of the power of comics and the unique qualities of sequential art. The story continues moments after the conclusion of issue #9, where Kate pushes her sister Kalliyan through the dream gate in search of their long lost (and thought dead) father. Kate didn’t agree with Kalliyan’s arsenal of weapons and tactical team, and already being there against her will, decided to change the plan just a tad and dive in, just the two of them without any weapons.
The bad news with this choice was Kate didn’t know that her body would have to adjust physically to the dream realm. The good news is it allowed for this creative team to do some really great things with the medium.
Kate’s adjustment into the dream world is a deconstruction of comics. The opening spread shows her running in sequence in the order of cyan, magenta, yellow, black and then into a fully colored image. This is the essence of color printing, a clever decision by this creative team. The next page features the panels crinkling and appearing to pop off of the page, all while talking about reality.
As Kate’s body adjusts, an image of her screaming is duplicated in layers of CMYK. The world she’s adjusting to, like comics, is a new conception of reality. As Kate comes to, my favorite five panel sequence shows the process of her sister Kalliyan form from a thumbnail, to a sketch, inked and then a fully rendered image of herself.
This whole beginning scene is a testament to this whole creative team. Joe Keatinge’s grasp of comics and reality are drawn by Leila Del Duca in a way that deconstructs the medium and parallels the physical creation of comics to Kate’s adjustment to the dream world. Creating this perception couldn’t have been done without Owen Gieni’s colors, which bring the concept full circle.
The issue concludes with the realization that Kate’s Uncle Rathborn isn’t hiding in the dream world, but rather is the dream world. Unfortunately that is all we gain in terms of plot in this issue. It is a quick paced installment and that ends with one more road block in the bunny trail to discovering the whereabouts of their father. While the issue isn’t as strong narratively as some other issues of Shutter, the art is effective both in representing a strange dream realm and drawing parallels to comics and how we perceive realities.
(Matt Kindt / Clay Mann / Seth Mann / Ulises Arreola; Valiant Entertainment)
The wait is over everyone. After years of making cameo appearances (X-O Manowar) and sharing the spotlight (Unity, The Valiant), the coolest of Valiant’s cast gets his own series with Ninjak #1 by Matt Kindt and Clay Mann. Seriously, how can you not get excited about a character that combines the wealth and physical talents of Bruce Wayne, the suaveness of James Bond (Connery, duh), and a sweet-looking ninja outfit? Answer: you can’t.
In terms of the product matching the hype, Ninjak #1 is a success. Anyone unfamiliar with Colin King, but finds the cover (by Lewis LaRosa) too tantalizing to leave on the shelf will have no difficulty following Kindt’s script. After an frantic opening sequence, the narrative slows down to set the stage for the arc’s main narrative. The change in pace also enables readers to better understand King and his corner of the greater Valiant Universe, including why he goes by the alias “Ninjak.”
The art by Mann, Mann, and Arreola maintains the visual consistency of Valiant’s comics while maintaining enough differentiation for the title to stand on it’s own. Clay Mann’s does a wonderful job the issue’s characters, particularly Ninjak himself. There is an intensity beneath King’s cool exterior which the reader can infer from a glance at his eyes. Though it may not be as spectacular as it could be, the aforementioned opening sequence is a well choreographed piece of comic book action. Seth Mann’s inks add great definition to Clay’s pencils throughout the issue. Arreola’s colors do not overpower the Mann’s work, and instead accentuates their efforts with the occasional splash of vibrancy.
If there is a complaint, it is that the issue is interspersed with flashbacks which cause a potentially smooth read to be choppy. From his previous works, it’s evident that Kindt is a meticulous planner and that everything he includes has a purpose. It may prove true that these flashbacks – well written as they are – hold a thematic importance in the greater story, they add little to the main narrative of this debut issue. Despite these reservations on the use of flashbacks, Ninjak #1 is a welcome addition to the most cohesive and welcoming superhero universe currently being published.
Green Lantern Corps #40
(Van Jensen / Bernard Chang / Mirko Colak; DC Comics)
The final issue of the New 52 relaunch of the Green Lantern Corps is here, which looks at the lives of anyone not named Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner or Kyle Rayner. Although I haven’t kept up with this comic, I couldn’t miss jumping at the chance to cover my personal favorite Green Lantern– John Stewart; and, no, I’m not talking about the guy that kicked Seth Rollins and every rightwing Republican in the balls (not necessarily my views, but you know). No, we’re talking about Stringer, Janek, Stacker, Luther, Heimdall, and the next Shere Khan. Well, at least I’m hoping Mr. Elba lands this casting. Imagine him and Chris Pine? Dopeness.
Getting back to the comic, familiar John Stewart fans know that one incident in particular haunts him — and us — more than most: The destruction of the planet Xanshi. It haunts him mainly because HE caused it with a headstrong move. Now what happens when an older, wiser John is confronted with an identical situation so many years later? Will one GL’s past affect another planet’s future? These questions make for a nice end to the series. I love Van (The Flash) Jensen‘s “Will I make the same mistake twice?” device, and even better is the dialogue between Stewart and his subordinate GLs.
One difference between this new retelling of the incident and the original is that John initially arrives at Xanshi with Katma Tui instead of the Martian Manhunter. Also a treat is the artwork from Bernard Chang (The forthcoming Batman Beyond) and Mirko Colak (Deadpool) and their vivid recreation of the Xanshi‘s explosion in the beginning. Now, for the important question: Where does the GLC go from here? I suppose we’ll let Convergence decide that now, won’t we.
– JaDarrell Belser
The Big Con Job #1
(Matt Brady / Jimmy Palmiotti / Dominike “Domo” Stanton; BOOM! Studios)
The Big Con Job #1 was the perfect comic for someone like me: A book about a group of actors who were once on a famous cult TV show — called Buck Blaster — who, now many years later, are just struggling to get financially by on the nostalgia of appearing at conventions. As time has gone on, they get less and less fanfare to help line their pockets and therefore they are beginning to fall into desperate situations. Of course, because this is comics, it all takes to extreme circumstance.
The Divine couldn’t have been more sucked in by this book. Being a fanboy that spends ridiculous amounts of time and money going to these conventions and meeting either stars of yesterday or today, I know all too well that fame is fleeting. But Jimmy Palmiotti (Harley Quinn) and Dominike “Domo” Stanton (Fanboys vs. Zombies) have found a way to bring these characters’ despair to the page in a way that is so remarkably honest. The dialogue between them is so lined with sadness that you’re immediately pulling for the entire group.
Stanton’s art also conveys so many great examples of emotion and heart to wonderfully accommodate this story. Just one panel alone of a man in the rain with his cat left me with an unforgettable impression. But without giving too much away, the series has to be able to go somewhere; thankfully, the last page reveals some great story potential.
– Derek Vigeant
Spawn: Resurrection #1
(Paul Jenkins / Jonboy Meyers; Image Comics)
Landing right out of Spawn #250 that you faithful GHG nerds may remember was bashed by yours truly,Resurrection sets the new status quo and brings us back the faithful trusty Spawn we all grew up with. Though this issue is barely more than a “Hey, how you doing? Meet God, he’s a dog.” This issue does masterfully bring us up-to-date on Al Simmons and what he has been doing since committing Spawnal-suicide through a few well lay’ed out panels. So far the new story seems to be a rehashed over played Angel/Demon dynamic, which if you remember has pushed Spawn through 250 issues, the new creative team of Paul Jenkins (Constantine, Justice League Dark) and artist Jonboy Meyers (GeNext: United and one really nice looking website) do give Simmons a more moving dynamic of a hero journey than the original 92’ era ever accomplished.
After rereading the grueling Spawn #250, Jonboy’s artistic talents and more over the top Japanese-themed Adult cartoon techniques are a snazzy and welcome addition. Spawn does look a bit like a sword wielding Venom with his his open-mouthed toothy design, but since Marvel’s Venom looks less like himself these days and more like an emo Rorschach from Watchmen– I will let this slide. The stressed political element, especially dealing with similar Ferguson motifs do help to add a realistic feel to a present day Spawn; but hopefully they develop this into more than just a way to be political through comic form. Despite all its abrasiveness, I look forward to where this new creative team goes with McFarlane’s child, and, once again, I can finally say I’m looking forward to a Spawn comic with issue #251 next month. The traveling nerd approved!
– Lance Paul
(Cullen Bunn / Brian Churilla; Oni Press)
Condemned. Damning. Contracted. Derivatives. Tethers. Prepare. Pragmatic. Faith.
These are just some of the words Hellbreak from the “Senior Project Coordinator” of Kerberos Initiative in Hellbreak (Magneto, Sinestro) Bunn‘s new Oni Press Title, Hellbreak . I emphasize the title in all CAPS, because whenever there’s a comic that toys around with (sci)fictional religion, you just know we’re clamoring at the bit to review it. Thankfully for all of our lovely fans — and those super-enthused by such material (see: Robert Kirkman’s Outcast, the classic Preacher, and the forthcoming Image titles Black Road,Heaven, Savior, and Sons of the Devil; yes– whoa!) — HELLBREAK‘s contractor makes his coin reclaiming souls; readers will be enamored by his authoritative acerbity and Ron L. Hubbard haircut. The deft stigmatic hyperbole leads to often more humorous language (“This is definitely a friendly corner of the underworld” and “My boss went to hell and all I got was a skinny, half-naked dude”) once we meet more members of Team Orpheus, and Brian (Big Trouble in Little China) Churilla‘s panels keeps things as shrouded in awkward darkness and cartoonish creepiness as allowed. As I said on this podcast, Bunn was the breakout writer of 2014 for me– and Hellbreak might be his most delightful performance yet. He surely knows how to write people at their worst, and we’re all the better for it.
– Travis Moody
Batman: Arkham Knight #1
(Peter Tomasi /Art Thibert / Viktor Bogdanovic; DC Comics)
Arkham Knight #1 takes place immediately following 2011’s arguable GOTY Arkham City, with the Caped Crusader carrying the Joker’s lifeless body from the theater and silently handing the clown corpse to the GCPD… who all think Batman killed him. If you’ve played the game, you know the truth. If you haven’t played the game… get on that! Batman finally decides to take Alfred’s advice finally head home to heal up and get some much needed rest. Along the way, he has an uninteresting encounter with Electricutioner 2.0, who he disables and leaves gift wrapped for Gordon and the police.
Once home, Alfred stitches up Bruce’s wounds and gives him some of his patented sage advice about how “Gotham wants the Batman, but it needs Bruce Wayne.” Alfred wants Bruce to use the Wayne fortune to make the city a better place, the way Batman makes the streets a safer place. His pitch boils down to Batman protects Gotham by night, so Bruce must help it by day. Despite the presence of current Batman and Robin maestro, Peter Tomasi, it’s all stuff we’ve seen before.
But… while that’s going on, a mysterious new character appears before the Electricutioner and gives a rather chilling line about how Batman rules the night because– he knows how to use fear to his advantage, but won’t be frightened. He makes it clear that he knows Batman far too well, and that when he goes about his work, the criminals will think he and the Bat fight the same fight, but notes that their lives mean nothing to him. He then blows the dudes head off with a shotgun!
This mystery “anti-bat” is the new character, “The Arkham Knight” and there has been a ton of speculation about who he is. But based on the few panels we see here, he is someone close to Batman. He’s familiar with Batman and knows how “broken he has become”.
Which leads me to my theory… if you don’t want the game to potentially be spoiled, stop reading… I think it’s Jason Todd. Post death and Lazarus rejuvenation, but pre-Red Hood. He still has a screw loose from being dead for so long. Just a theory, but that’s who I think it is.
Back to the comic, I think it’s a good setup for things to come. I definitely want to read more, which is always a good sign. The artwork from Art Thibert and Viktor Bogdanovic isn’t my cup of tea, but I can get beyond that. I’m still eager for more, and more excited to play the game later this year so we can learn more about The Arkham Knight. 3.75/5 Bat-Bibles.
– Dave Story
Project Superpowers: Black Cross #1
(Warren Ellis / Colton Worley / Morgan Hickman; Dynamite Entertainment)
Stemming out of Jim Krueger and Alex Ross’s Project Superpowers, comes Warren Ellis (Moon Knight, Iron Man) and Colton (The Spider, Jennifer Blood) Worley’s Blackcross. The series continues to bring forth comic book characters from the Golden Age of comics that have been relegated to the past and have no real following and gives them a “fresh coat of paint” so to speak. And when you are dealing with golden age characters — that no one really knows that much about — why not give someone like Ellis a chance to bring characters like, The American Spirit, The Black Terror and who I’m guessing will turn out to be Masquerade and the Flame to life in a whole new way?
Ellis has such a great knack for writing comics that go off the beaten path and the artwork by Worley brings a very real, very grounded style to the comics that really makes me excited for the next issue. And let me go one step forward and bring up colorist Morgan Hickman, I know I never bring up the colorist, but his muted colors bring such a noir feel to this comic that makes it read like a comic book but also like a mini-movie in your hands. Pick this book up.
– Roberto de Bexar
Amazing Spider-Man Special #1
(Luca Pizzari / Jeff Loveness; Marvel Comics)
It bears mentioning, and this may be nerd-blasphemy, but I’ve always filed Spider-Man in the TL;DR column of Marvel Comics, with Spidey’s past endeavors lining him up with the Avengers, The Fantastic Four … basically everybody, I think. (Like I said, TL;DR). All of this adds up to a lot of baggage, which then gets ported into cross-title events like Axis and Inhumans, and adds up to a comic that feels like it requires homework even before you turn to page one. ASMS #1 is an engaging – thanks to strong imagery by Glimmer Man‘s Luca Pizzari, and breezily excellent Peter Parkerisms from Jimmy Kimmel Live‘s Jeff Loveness – and for those more initiated than I, probably essential to stay up on what’s doing in Marvel-land.
The trouble is, anything with a #1 on the cover feels like an inviting place to hop into a story, and in that vein, this one is a letdown, dependent as it is on all the other goings-on in the Marvel Universe. This isn’t only an issue because of the “homework effect” mentioned earlier, but because the issue never really tells its own story so much as connect threads from other storylines. Forget the “Part 1 of 3″ the cover promises; this is Part A Million of A Billion, and unless you’re willing to tune in (and shell out) for all the rest, I’m not sure this works as a standalone experience.
– Alex Gradet