Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin’s weekly review roundup. After a couple weeks off, we’re back with a bunch of reviews out of the industry’s mid-major publishers, as well as a gimmick (maybe?) out of DC.
Youngblood #2 (Image Comics)
(W) Chad Bowers, (A) Jim Towe, (C) Juan Manuel Rodriguez
When Youngblood #1 debuted last month, it was hailed as a breath of fresh air that successfully updated this original Image launch title for modern tastes. Unfortunately, the second issue takes all the fresh and interesting elements of that first issue and tosses them aside in favor of a bland, by-the-numbers superhero comic. All the typical elements are here: angsty teens, grisled veterans, a clash between groups of heroes, and “puppet masters” behind the scenes. However, “bland” and “by-the-numbers” does not necessarily mean “bad,” as Chad Bowers and Jim Towe still manage to construct a competent and good-looking issue.
The main conceit of this opening arc is that one young hero has gone missing, and so his peers want to team-up under the Youngblood moniker – with the permission of the original members such as Shaft and Badrock. Shaft isn’t keen on the idea, especially since Youngblood has been deemed an illegal operation according to a bill signed by President Diehard. If this sounds at all ridiculous, that’s because it is. Bowers’ story is at its strongest when it leans hard into the book’s goofier elements that were “xtreme” back in 1992. However, those moments are fleeting, pushed aside in favor of overly expository dialogue and unconvincing tension.
The one area where Youngblood #2 fully delivers is in the art. Jim Towe’s Youngblood maintains Rob Liefeld’s original designs for Shaft, Badrock, and the other veterans, but drops the pouches and impossible anatomy in favor of a clean, modern aesthetic. Despite a few hiccups with the page layouts, Towe’s art really shines. Ditto for the coloring by Juan Manuel Rodriguez. Though I still can’t get over the fact that characters named “Badrock” and “Diehard” sold millions of issues back in the early-to-mid 1990s, Rodriguez’s bright and varied palette makes them and the book as a whole more appealing than they have any right to be.
— Daniel Gehen
The Divided States of Hysteria #1 (Image Comics)
(W/A) Howard Chaykin (C) Jesus Aburtov
Here’s a title that I was really looking forward to. An alluring premise, attention-grabbing title, and a hypnotizing cover made The Divided States of Hysteria seem like a perfect comic for today’s politically charged culture.
But is it worth picking up?
In a word… no.
This reads and looks like a shitty imitation of a modern Frank Miller comic, only Chaykin doesn’t push this into “horrific train wreck” territory. Instead of crafting something so bad that readers can’t help but check it out, The Divided States of Hysteria is the kind of bad where you’ll want to close the book before you get halfway through. I’m sure there’s an audience for this somewhere, but I can’t in good conscience recommend this to anyone.
— Daniel Gehen
Batman #24 (DC Comics)
(W) Tom King, (P) David Finch and Clay Mann, (I) Danny Miki and Seth Mann, (C) Jordie Bellaire
Since DC Rebirth, I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with Tom King’s Batman. “I Am Gotham” didn’t hook me, and since I’ve only picked up issues sporadically, including the two-issue “Rooftops” arc. While Scott Snyder’s run has its fair share of detractors, it was at least consistent over the course of 50 issues, whereas King has struggled to find solid footing. However, if there’s one thing that King has nailed, it’s the Batman/Catwoman dynamic. It is that dynamic which is the focus of Batman #24.
Let’s talk art for a bit. A great script can be undone by subpar art. As someone who is rarely enamored by David Finch’s art, he does an exemplary job. The art is actually a shared duty, as Trinity’s Clay Mann steps in to pencil nearly half of the title. The issue’s construction makes the artist transitions appear seamless, as only after going back to make sure I had the credits correct did I realize there were two artists on this issue. It’s likely that the seamless transition is aided by the always fantastic colors by Jordie Bellaire.
Though the issue ends on a big, much debated (and unfortunately leaked early) cliffhanger, it is the writing and artwork leading up it that makes this issue shine. While the conclusion could have come across as a gimmicky sales tactic, King’s core understanding of Bruce and Selina makes it a beautiful and organic culmination of 75 years of romantic tension. Little touches, like the way King makes them refer to each other as “Cat” and “Bat”, go a long way to selling their relationship.
Spencer and Locke #2 (Action Lab – Danger Zone)
(W) David Pepose (A) Jorge Santiago JR. and Jasen Smith (L) Colin Bell
Detective Locke is on the case, but he adjusts his approach to a murder after he learns the victim is his school crush, Sophie. He reluctantly returns home with his best friend, partner, and full grown panther, Spencer. Locke’s playing Bad Cop in this crime-noir, while other characters are simultaneously covering their tracks and trying to figure out what’s up with the small, stuffed panther toy. Spencer & Locke #2 opens with the memory of young Locke being sexually taken advantage of by his babysitter, and adult Locke revisits those feelings after finding out she had played a part in Sophie’s murder.
This adventure gives a matured take on what might have happened if a boy never forgot is imaginary childhood friend. Flashbacks to Locke’s childhood are direct artistic homage to the classic comic strip of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. One major difference to separate the two is Locke has an abusive past. Each issue so far has started off with what we assume will be a cute and funny interaction between Spencer and Locke as we are used to with this style of art. The team swerves readers with ending the flashback with Locke in a harmful situation, that has proven later to shape his adulthood. Pepose and Santiago Jr. develop a good flow of jumping from past to present for each issue making each memory fruitful to the story. Each adolescent recall either parallels to the overall conflict, or justifies a single scene that progresses the story. These great pacing techniques help the story make sense, and all around enjoyable.
The contrasting art styles was also a good choice. Often, flashbacks are represented by changes in color scheme. Santiago Jr. makes the distinction by keeping the art of Locke’s juvenile past very simplified. Adulthood is shown with more detail in everything, including faces, clothes, and background. Smith adheres to this theme by adding more colors and intricate shading to the present panels. Not only does Smith keep the colors of the past simple, but he emphasizes the uncomfortable panels of young Locke with a monochromatic scheme. Those panels stick out to show the severity of the situation, and the readers use them to interpret the present action.
— Kristopher Grey
Little Nightmares #1 (Titan Comics)
(W) John Shackleford (A) Aaron Alexovich (L) Jim Campbell
An adaptation of a video game, Little Nightmares #1 doesn’t quite measure up to its critically-acclaimed source material. Main character, an extremely tiny girl named Six, maneuvers around a building while avoiding large, grotesque, and highly misshapen humanoids. The comic serves as a back story and introduction to other characters.
It’s honestly all around confusing, especially if the reader wasn’t introduced to the game first. A mixture of awkward pacing, abnormal panel shapes, and minimal basic information makes the story hard to follow. There are too many characters that look like they should be important, but their presence in the comic offers little understanding of the issue. The setting isn’t quite clear, even though we possibly see how Six arrived to this world. At the beginning, we can understand that the new little characters also in hoods are in the same position as Six. Everything after that is a bit disoriented.
The redeeming quality of the comic is the art. The work of Aaron Alexovich is marvelous and recognizable to anyone that has watched and/or read Invader Zim religiously. He has a knack for illustrating sci-fi, horror, or anything with an eerie atmosphere. The various shadings of yellow, brown, and grey combined with Alexovich’s iconic use of light and heavy inking sets a frightening environment. The wonky panels is a bold and creative idea, but would have probably worked better if the story slowed down a bit more.
Upon further research of the game, a few things about the comic make more sense. The game looks highly entertaining with a ridiculously creepy charm that attracts horror fans. That being said, readers are left with too many questions, and should not have to experience the story in another medium to follow the comic. I always try to wait out an unsatisfying comic until the 2nd issue, so my fingers are crossed that enough questions are answered soon.
— Kristopher Grey