Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin’s sometime weekly review roundup. It was a good week of releases, so let’s put on our black mask and spring into action as we marvel at the distinguished competition.
Last Song #1 (Black Mask Studios)
(W) Holly Interlandi (A) Sally Cantirino (L) Sally Cantirino
Out of all the vices Nicky Marshall has chosen to cope with, he’s best at writing lyrics. It helps him deal with his dad’s suicide, and an overall underwhelming life. He especially feels at peace with his best friend, Drey. Set primarily in the 1980’s, they start the band, Ecstasy, and quest for stardom in LA.
Not every story needs super heroes or a science fiction theme. Holly Interlandi’s choice of a slice of life genre left more room for relatability without the over-the-top fictional distractions. Between hard childhood, love of music, alcohol, nicotine, and overall young adult stress, it’s hard not to relate.
The team’s choice of sticking with black and white made every bit of difference to help this comic stick out, and shaped the overall tone of the story. Throughout the entire issue, there is a sense of sincerity, like an MTV Unplugged performance. Take away the special effects, camera tricks, and the autotune, all there is left is authenticity. Sally Cantirino’s use of light to heavy inking and halftone shading works well with a grundgy, rock theme. Last Song is written like a documentary of a rock band with flashbacks and splash pages of notebook and scrapbook entries.
I suggest reading the letter from Interlandi in the back of the issue first. She presents a playlist that goes with this issue. The letter has no spoilers, and the songs will put readers in a rocking mood. With 4 issues in all, Last Song comics will be released every 3 months. Sounds like a stretch, but readers get good quality stories around 60 pages long! Surely that will suffice until the next time.
— Kristopher Grey
Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #2 (Marvel Comics)
(W) Chip Zdarsky, (A) Adam Kubert, (C) Jordie Bellaire
Bravo to Marvel for debuting book out right as Spider-Man: Homecoming hit cineplexes. The first issue of Spectacular Spider-man (I’m not writing out that whole title) gave readers a “back to basics” Peter Parker story that was accessible to everyone without directly contradicting the ongoing narrative in Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man. Now that the fresh veneer of a first issue has faded away, does this title still cause readers’ spider-senses to tingle in all the right ways? In short, yes. While not perfect, the creative team of Chip Zdarsky, Adam Kubert, and Jordie Bellaire deliver what could arguably be the best Spider-title in Marvel’s current stable.
Zdarsky’s humor is one of this issue’s main selling points. Those that have followed his exploits with Sex Criminals and Howard the Duck are well aware of his talent, and I’m happy to see it reach a wider audience. While it feels a little tired and on-the-nose for Zdarsky to point out the hero-fights-hero-misunderstanding cliche, it works in the context of this title. Zdarsky understands that heroes like Spider-man do not always need to take readers on a deep, twisting, emotional journey, and that instead just a fun time is what the audience wants. He leans into the absurdity of superhero comics with their convoluted backstories, poking fun at it along the way. This is especially satisfying with Peter Parker, who happens to be the proud owner of one of the industry’s most confounding histories. Zdarsky holds up Peter’s backstory to the readers as if to say “look how stupid this is… and now I’m going to make it work. Because I can.” And he does, though it does drag at times.
The artwork from Adam Kubert is competent, but mismatched for Zdarsky’s tongue-in-cheek approach. Too much of the art is generic superhero art when something a little more stylized might work better. However, his layouts are wonderful. From the panel structure to character positioning and choreography, Everything else enjoyable, such as the sequence involving Spider-man going on a date in full costume. Jordie Bellaire’s colors continue to be solid, but they are at times too washed out and “real” when the book may have benefited from a bolder palette.
Spectacular Spider-man #2 might be even more enjoyable than the first issue. The characters are fully fleshed out and relatable, whether it’s Peter, Johnny Storm, or Teresa. But most importantly, this book is FUN. A sharply written script and solid art team makes this the Spider-man book to read.
— Daniel Gehen
Spencer and Locke #4 (Action Lab/Danger Zone Comics)
(W) David Pepose (A) Jorge Santiago and Jasen Smith (L) Colin Bell
Spencer and Locke finally get closure in true action, crime fashion: Loose ends are tied, a few deaths here and there, and they cracked the case. Of course, this came at a price. Poor Locke’s life hasn’t always been easy. Last issue, we found out his dad was involved in inhibiting Locke from solving Sophie Jenkin’s murder. While holding Sophie’s child, Hero, hostage, Dad is spilling secrets that gives this series and interesting turn.
The most compelling aspect of the whole series is Pepose’s portrayal of Locke’s childhood depression. Instead of a few pages of flashbacks, we see young Locke’s somber past intensify with every issue, ultimately leading to the boy wanting to commit suicide in hopes of reincarnation. Adult Locke questions his existence again in this issue with a clever comparison of the extinction of dinosaurs. Did the dinosaurs recognize the end of their existence when faced with adversity? Did they have anything to live for? Locke uses that pain to put the life of Hero before his own, and hopefully find answers as to if he is going to willfully let this case take his life.
This issue could very well be Spencer’s best representation. He is not just a limp, stuffed toy or an imaginary friend standing beside Locke to fill up panel space. Readers see Spencer’s useful role hit a climax with both young and grown Locke, and little Hero as well.
With lots of conflict and combat, alternating colors from Jasen Smith and gritty line work from Jorge Santiago illustrate the action to parallel the critical tone. Pepose wraps it up with all important questions answered, and a sense of relief. With the success of this comic being picked up for a feature film by the producer of the Hitman movies, we hope to see more from the team!
— Kristopher Grey
Aquaman #26 (DC Comics)
(W) Dan Abnett, (A/C) Stjepan Sejic
Political thriller. I’d never expect Aquaman of all titles to be described using those two words, except for perhaps “One thing Aquaman isn’t is a political thriller.” And yet, that’s what Dan Abnett and Stjepan Sejic deliver in Aquaman #26.
For the second straight issue, the star is Sejic. He is able to churn out beautifully rendered artwork at will. The wide, sweeping images of Atlantis as a whole are awe inspiring. Pulling from both from past incarnations of the city as well as his own stylistic choices, he creates a fully realized world. This Atlantis contains both a shining city on a hill (albeit underwater) and a seedy, repressive underbelly. This part of Atlantis has always been there, but never fully explored until now. Given Arthur Curry’s current status quo, the time is right to explore this part of the city in greater detail.
It is easy to dismiss the book’s new direction as “Underwater Batman,” and to do so would be to miss the message that Abnett is attempting to convey. Aquaman is not a superhero title (in the traditional sense) but rather an examination of Western civilization. It’s not at all a stretch to draw parallels to the current political climate in the U.S. and across the globe. With Atlantis under the rule of a fear-mongering, loyalty demanding demagogue, Arthur uses his “dead” status to become an urban legend – bringing hope to those who have none. But in issue #26, rumors begin to spread that Arthur is indeed alive, rumors which reach a mourning Mera. Enraged, she begins to attack the outer wall of the city. She’s out for blood (and, this explains the issue’s cover). There’s also Arthur’s friend, Vulko, who is now a political prisoner and enduring daily torture. With all of these disparate plot threads, Abnett is able to successfully weave them together into a cohesive narrative.
The many different character throughout the book enables Sejic to play around with different character designs as well as their facial expressions. Few artists are able to convey emotion as well as Sejic, and in conjunction with Abnett’s script it gives the book an added layer of comedy or gravity, depending on the situation. This is just another example of how in sync this creative team is. Aquaman is a must-read title.
— Daniel Gehen