Wednesday Adventures 12th September

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A brief weekly rundown of recommendations of new releases I’m intrigued by, excited for and will be grabbing off the shelves to curl up with every new comics day before delving into them later in the week!; Have you hugged your local comic store owner today?

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 36- Marvel

Nuff Said! The often uttered phrase from Stan’s soapboxes lead to the gauntlet being thrown down by Joe Quesada to see who was more important to the creation of comics, the artist or the writer (answer: Unsurprisingly, It’s both!) and challenged various artists to “see what they got” across various tittles including Uncanny X-Men and Spider-Man. That’s the story at least and while it’s gimmicky and lead to some mixed results,they are never the less some of the more interesting comics. This time around North and Charm’s hilarious title teams up with Tony Stark and Doreen in an adventure that sees the team falling silent in the face of a new adversary.

Squirrel Girl has more laughs per panel then any other comic (scientifically proven, go check) and often that’s in no small part to North’s whip sharp dialogue, so if nothing else it will be interesting to see the writer challenge himself telling a story that doesn’t rely on his trademark witty exchanges between the colourful cast!

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Iceman 1- Marvel

The last thing many of us expected from another silly time travel story and Marvel’s attempt to have it’s cake and eat it by having both the modern and and more classic X-men teams around was a furore about the sexuality of one of it’s oldest characters,Bobby Drake. Typing it like that three years later in light of the arguments still raging around comics and comicsgate sounds almost adorably quaint.

Even then I found it hard to get worked up about and at least thought it was interesting for a character I’d spent very little time with beyond the films and on the surface a lot less clunky then attempts like Green Lantern over at DC. I was at least intrigued in how the younger coming out affected the older and the commentary on how both were impacted by the time they were from and the period of time they’d come to,one that was (theoretically) more accepting. I genuinely didn’t mind Bendis making the subtext text and outing him as a gay man and felt that Jean Grey being a teenager and “outing” him clumsily and against his will spoke more of them being young and rough around the edges,rather then a nasty statement from the characters or creators.

While his solo series seemed dead in the water with Marvel execs blaming failing sales on this and recent changes, disappointingly declaring “people didn’t want any more diversity”, trade sales have apparently been healthy enough for the company to give Bobby another try at a solo outing this month. Once again headed by writer Sina Grace who has stated his intends to explore “how he can be a shining beacon to the gay community”. No matter what the impetus for the change Sina along with artist Nathan Stockman (X-Men Blue, Dr Strange) seems genuinely invested in making Iceman a positive LGBT character going forward.

 

 

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“It is quite a lot of fun to watch” -Cates pens the daddy of “what if?” tales as Cosmic Ghost Rider continues

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“Alternate realities were as easy at that; they were waiting for us in our bathrooms”

Elseworlds. Imaginary stories. What if’s. Call them whatever you like,of all the comic book concepts the one I’ll never ever grow tired of is the Multiverse. Infinite and seemingly inexhaustible iterations of all our favourites just waiting for a writer to flip a character on their head, give them a cheeky tweak here and there, slap a universe number and an intriguing premise onto them and you’ve got a guaranteed reader right here almost every time. In fact I’ll take any multiverse you got, although Marvel really seems to spoiling us lately and while the more cynical might point to the company spreading themselves too thin or wanting a pandering easy cash in it’s hard to argue with the entertaining inventiveness behind recent character outings like Spider-geddon, Infinity Warps, Exiles and of course, Cates and Burnett’s Cosmic Ghost Rider.

Debuting in the pages of Thanos last year, with the unhinged lunacy at play fans initially thought the rather chatty over powered new owner of both the Power Cosmic and the Spirit of Vengeance was the merc with the mouth, until it was revealed (with a somehow sheepish looking flame headed skull) to be none other than the former Punisher, Frank Castle. You can see where readers were coming from at first not knowing the effect this power set would have on Castle and not the comparison couldn’t be any more apt than in his solo series’ third issue when it becomes very much like the “Deadpool kills the Marvel Universe” when the former street level vigilante taking on and pretty much owning the entire of the Marvel Universe in this ludicrously skewered future he has accidentally created by blazing across time and space with an infant Thanos in tow. This issue doesn’t let up with delirious pace for even a second as Frank is confronted by Cable, the Guardians and increasingly unlikely and ridiculous versions of Marvels rosters of heroes as they compete with him to undo “the worst decision ever made” all the while  playing fast and loose with a Bill and Ted style of time travel that only adds to the mounting chaos and action.

The whole series has inverted expectations and steered it in weird directions since issue one and where Cates could have found himself written into a corner with, what on the surface seems like a tongue in cheek character that had nothing worth exploring story wise he gives us something unexpected. If there was nothing to Frank’s new cosmic adventures beyond the initial novelty and the frenetic visuals then I sincerely doubt it would have garnered as much good will or word of mouth buzz as it has but Cates has gone beyond all the flash and bombast directly to the core of Castle’s character, effectively sneaking in a gripping, compelling and genuinely sincere redemption arc in among the fan pleasing character mash ups and action. Indeed it portrays Frank more of a meditative mood then a comic called “Cosmic Ghost Rider” would at first suggest. You can feel feel the frustration that result from his rash but well intentioned cosmic road trip, trying to make amends hundreds of year and thousands of light years away from that fateful day in that park. Shouldn’t Frank of all people believe that someone has the chance to change?

Whilst as driven as he ever was back on Earth, Cates does write a more reserved and thoughtful Castle here and the in story explanation of Frank (of all people) laughably trying to set a good example to infant Thanos enables him to explore this without wall to wall violence, making it all the more visceral and well deserved when it does go down,and man, does it ever happen in this issue when frank goes “@#$%$& explicit”. past the excitement it’s the really relatable portrayal of the Ghost Rider struggling with his humanity and the exploration of the complicated, knotty and difficult parts of Frank’s personality that drive the story.

Right here, on the printed page, Burnet has captured the exhilirating speed, energy and frantic hellbound intensity behind this new incarnation of an old favourate that of the Riders movies ever managed to put up on the big screen,this issue treating us to glorious displays of cosmic violence as Frank finally looses it, perfectly complimented with the pallet of hot hues from colourist Antonio Fabela that look like they are ripped directly from Thor Ragnarok and enough Easter eggs and background cameos for fans to pick through and search through. Burnet should be given some sort of award or recognition at the very least for the sheer number amount of facial expressions he’s manages to tease out of a flaming demonic skull, giving Frank the air of power or comedic vulnerability when required.

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It’s not very often I comment on the nature of the comic,but the layout of this issue in regards to advert placement is appalling. I know as much as anyone argues that comics are an art form, at the end of the day Marvel isn’t there to make a loss and business is gonna business, yadda yadda. Usually adverts fade into a white noise until enough time has past that they become quaintly nostalgic on re-reads years later, they were difficult to ignore in this issue. After the admittedly spectacular and jaw dropping violent double page spread the issue drops into a pattern of page, advert, page advert pretty much up until the final reveal and seriously derails the strong sense of speed and momentum that Cates and Burnett had intended for the issue. If the only complaint of an issue is the intrusion of capitalism, then hey.

Cosmic Ghost Rider is entertaining in an all out, bombastic, laugh out loud way with a surprisingly compelling human story to back it up, rising beyond it’s supremely fun original premise. Cates writing straddles the line between sheer dumb fun and heart string pulling sincerity to floor the reader with a budding father and son relationship you most definitely, assuredly never saw coming.

“They love a rebel, but not a real one”-Edge of Spider-geddon’s first two issues prepares us to be thrust back into the Spider-Verse

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“We don’t have the power of the state. We don’t have the authority on our side, the cops, or the media. What we have are angry hearts. Clenched fists. Love and rage”

If one thing holds true and consistent, even beyond death and taxes it’s that Marvel loves itself an event. Even more so if it’s a bankable follow up to an already proven event. That’s not necessarily as negative as I’ve probably made it sound with the company throwing out surprisingly excellent and enjoyable sequels to a lot of past titles including yet another Secret Wars, another Infinity storyline and two spin offs from the seemingly unstoppable Old Man Logan title that followed Hawkeye and Laura. So it was one hundred and ten percent inevitable that the House of Ideas would get around to revisiting their hugely successful, multiverse spanning Spider-Man epic, Spider-verse with the equally ludicrously titled, Spider-Geddon!

Setting the stage for the event with the defiant punk rock sneer of “With great responsibility, comes no future” is Hobie Brown, the Anarchic Spider-Man of his home reality of Earth-138 where the biggest threat comes from, you guessed it, corrupt politicians and it’s strict authoritarian government. Last time around the Spider-Punk had brought down President Norman Osbourne (who seems to abuse that position in every reality, go figure) and his terrifying V.E.N.O.M program is this time faced with an even bigger and much more nefarious threat, selling out!

Writer Jed Mackay returns this time around on writing duties on this “radioactive suicide machine” version of Spidey in a story that crashes along at the pace and volume of a good punk song, with rebellious energy to spare. Facing off against his universe’s version of Eric Masters, Spider Punk is soon confronted with Kang the Conglomoragor, a new spin of the might future conqueror. His plan not to conquer him, but instead to comodify and sell him to a future audience who want a rebel “edgy, but just enough” and sets up the rebellious wall crawler against an army of chibi-fied versons of himself, spouting well worn “punk” epitaphs and bearing more than a passing resemblance to the popular Tsum Tsum plushies.

“Well…I don’t make much from the comics, but the films! oh the films!” brags Kang , explaining his plan to the Anarchic Spider-Punk reminding us that this is a comic about a punk, and putting a focus on the  absurdity that claiming it was a punk comic created for the all consuming and watchful eye of the house of mouse, would be, with a nice little bit comical meta teasing at Marvel’s expense. It’s a neat little issue exploring all the thorny and knotty issues over selling out, and ultimately what comics ask us to do,investing a vast amount of love, time and money into a character owned by a huge multi-national corporation. Kang’s explanation of the eventual fates of both Brown and Captain Anarchy give the comic another layer in asking us to question our ongoing and morbid fascination of young, dead rock stars and the attitude it is still used flippantly to portray that still persists to this day.

The book definitely would have benefited from having the unique, feverish hot hues and rough punk aesthetic that Sheldon Vella brought to Hobie’s Spider-Verse outing. However new artists who has worked in the spider-man sandpit before with Venom still has a  very kinetic and vibrant style, utilising double page spreads that add to the books enegergetic, breakneck pace.

With the heavy promotion thrown behind Sp//dr along with the big name draw behind relative comics newcomer and rock star Gerard Way, I’m convinced that Marvel was banking on the anime inspired adventures of Peni Parker being the next big thing and the obvious breakaway hit. That is until it became obvious that ironically the book staring a musician version of a familiar face had swung in and webbed up our hearts,giving us the true breakthrough “character find” of the original event, Spider-Gwen. Unfortunately her fame lead to a lot of the other books, including Way’s Sp//dr being criminally overlooked. Sure,the premise isn’t as simple and elegant as Latour’s contribution, requiring more unpacking and at least a passing knowledge of a handful of Anime staples,it doesn’t make it any less a fascinating world or interesting interpretation of the Spider-mythos.

On Earth 14512, mechs are the order of the day in a universe clearly inspired by Anime, particularly Evangellion with Peni inheriting the huge Spider mech suit from her father which she pilots through a physic symbiosis to her Spider and is tutored by Aunt May and Uncle Ben, who are a lot more distant and clinical then any depiction we’ve seen so far. Naoler & Thompson flesh out the world of Sp//dr with some cute moments that add to Peni’s character such as her and her relationship with the Spider, who is much more a character here as he perches on her shoulder between action scenes looking suitably adorable. Sometimes it feels like there is a lot more story than can be comfortably worked through in a single issue,with Peni’s first encounter with Addy Brock and the subsequent brush off feeling extremely forced and rushed through in the first few pages. It’s a shame Peni and Sp//dr weren’t given the chance at their own ongoing series where the reveal of Addy Brock and her own Ven#m mech could have been given more space to breath and be explored.

As with this mini-series first issue, the original artist Jake Wyatt doesn’t return for Peni’s next big outing beyond contributing a cover that teases how much more special this book would have felt with the distinct anime-esque look and feel that he provided in Edge of Spider-Verse.While I loved Albuquerque and Farrell’s art in this issue, it just feels like Wyatt would have suited this world a lot better and given it a more distinct look from the other Spider-Man books and indeed, Marvel overall.

Both Sp//dr and The Anarchic Spider-man follow the structure set up in Spider-Verse, following these new interpretations of the web-slinger before ultimately whisking them away in preparation for the main event and conflict. The characters worlds are fascinating enough to explore for short done in one stories, and while they could spin off and delve in more in the future, it’s nice to have something to dip into. The titles suffer a little bit from the rule of diminishing returns, not quite having the surprise or shock appeal they had they first time around in 2015, but what they lack in novelty the writers have more than made up for in both the gripping writing and character development, getting across as much of both characters strong hooks and personalities in a very tight few pages. While they might not have the immediate impact of their first outings, the inventive settings and spin on familiar characters and spider-tropes make them breezy, yet endearingly fun and irresistibly silly worlds to explore in the lead up to the big main event next year.

Wednesday Adventures 18th July

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A brief weekly rundown of recommendations of new releases I’m intrigued by, excited for and will be grabbing off the shelves to curl up with every new comics day before delving into them later in the week! Have you hugged your local comic store owner today?

 

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Skyward 4- Image

Henderson and Garbett are slowly but surely building up and expanding on the premise of Skyward and it’s ‘low g’ world, with every issue bringing an interesting new concept to the forefront alongside the rip roaring action, simultaneously exploring the ramifications for those left living after the event’s of ‘G day’ and the story of Willa,who has quickly become embroiled in plots from parties wanting to either restore the earths gravity or keep the current status quo, both, unsurprisingly for their own financial gain.

Four issues in and the team are still crafting a story that like it’s protagonist floats effortlessly between the childlike wonderment of flying and low gravity parkour that the younger characters experience and the scars left by the devastation of the world changing event, felt by those who were old enough to experience it first hand. A great deal of this is from Garbett’s striking artwork, juxtaposing both sides of this new world from the gorgeous mid air acrobatics with images of terrified people floating of into space, capturing both the excitement and horror of this upside down world.

With more ideas then it possibly knows what to do with, Skyward feels like a world that could be explored for along while to come, without ever seeming gimmicky in any way. Issue four looks set to deliver on more of it’s breathtaking and gently frightening world as Willa heads out of the relative safety of the city into the wider world, where the sky is even more dangerous then ever.

 

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Royal City 12- Image

Ever since Essex County through to The Farm of superhero epic Black Hammer, Lemire has always made the locations and geography  of his stories as much  characters as much as any of his human protagonist. The crumbling, fading glory of Royal City is no exception. The perfect backdrop for his slowly unfolding family drama, populated with the deeply complex and richly fleshed out residents that keeps you coming back month after month in an attempt to understand and pick apart their puzzling inner lives and secretive pasts.

Lemire’s intimate and heart wrenching story of a family torn apart by tragedy continues and while it has been a series I’ve had to have on the day of release since it’s debut issue. It’s twelfth issue, even more so. It’s rare a comic can make me audibly gasp and then bring me almost to the brink of tears, but the shocking revelation of Clara’s daughter’s relationship to the rest of the Pikes is one that did just that, and left me eager to see how it will change the families already fractured dynamic going forward.

“You fucking resplendent flower!”- Chuck draws anxiety and depression, but mostly Pigeons

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What’s the first thing to pop into your mind if I were to mention pigeons? The noble racing bird? Hmm, maybe. Dirty diseased rats with wings? Most likely. A way to embody, personify and express mental illness? Probably not, maybe the last one was a little too specific to Chuck Mullins who uses the unjustly maligned bird to process and explore her own experiences of dealing with long term depression. For anyone who follows her twitter or tumblr feeds however, I’d wager good money it’s the first thing they think off now whenever they spot one of our fearless feathered friend’s pecking at bread crumbs or chips on the street. A regular dose of cathartic pigeon positivity, a wing on their shoulder and a comforting coo in their ear to keep on keeping on.

“I feel a pigeon makes a very good ‘underdog’ figure that’s good for projecting a lot of my feelings onto!” Chuck has said on her website when asked why she chose them to document and work through her own anxiety and depression, which she has stated started back in her teens. Her delightfully plump pigeons show the up and downs in the often exhausting battle (even once being shown like this, pigeon tap tapping forward in medieval armour) with depression along with the extra societal pressures to add on top such as the worry of how people perceive mental health, the still ever present stigma of medication, how those meds often help but are not an instant fix or indeed, a constant one. Depression itself often just showing up full blown deeply negative and self destructive, depicted as a dark, avian presence looming over her protagonist pigeon. While she has stressed and even made fun of not being able to make each and every strip outright funny ,Chucks comics are frequently both hilarious, deeply touching and motivational. Although sometimes, like depression itself, some strips just…are, and that’s okay too.

 

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As weird as it might sound, although I love the strips that make me laugh out loud (often in the worst places!) some of my real favourites of her strips are these “just are” ones. The one’s that show not the dramatic highs or heart wrenching lows but the strips which try to communicate the middling joyless grey that comes with dealing with depression on a daily basis. It’s an important point to communicate, as with “Sometimes I’m a Possum” which I wrote about recently, Chuck has addressed how it can become self defeating when trying to be funny with every strip or converting difficult experiences down to be consumed by an audience. Yet, Chuck’s strips have found an audience, and one that has been more than eager to tell the artist how much her work has resonated with them and  helped them with their own mental health. Chuck is currently collecting them together alongside new material such as her writings on mental health into a crowd funded book. The appropriately titled “Bird Brain” it’s already 70% funded with a physical copy of the book costing a backer about £15 or an ebook version for £10.

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As someone a year into getting on top of things mentally I love this new crop of comics and creators willing to put themselves out there and openly discuss mental health issues. It’s often difficult to get help and it’s wonderful to have reminders like Chuck’s pigeons that we are doing our best and to look after ourselves, that life is still worth the effort through the grey “meh” times. Maybe even to laugh at ourselves once in a while. Her strips are honest, heartwarming and most importantly while helping herself can help us all to loudly and honestly stare that red eyed looming presence on our shoulders and yell “I’m getting better bitch!”

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Chucks strips can be found over at chuckdrawsthings.tumblr.com or you can contribute to the “Bird Brain” kickstarter efforts at unbound.com.

Wednesday Adventures 4th July

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A brief weekly rundown of recommendations of new releases I’m intrigued by, excited for and will be grabbing off the shelves to curl up with every new comics day before delving into them later in the week! Have you hugged your local comic store owner today?

 

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Cosmic Ghost Rider 1- Marvel Comics

Rule of Cool: (1) The limit of the Willing Suspension Of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to its degree of coolness. (see also; suspension of disbelief, Rad Herring)

Despite what you might assume from some of the lengthy, borderline pretentious posts around here on comics as art or books tackling deep, heavy subjects I still love the comic books potential to just be bizarrely and unashamedly out there. To be fun, silly and perhaps most importantly, cool. If ever there was a book to give us all that and more whilst stretching and twisting the rule almost to breaking point, it has to be Cates and Burnett’s Cosmic Ghost Rider. Revealed to be non other than Frank Castle, the now insane earth based vigilante finds himself space bound on weirder and weirder cosmic adventures.

Riding out of the pages of Thanos into it’s own five issue title, Marvels unexpected character find of the year and weirdest “What if Story” feels like it’s been ripped wholesale from the mind of a daydreaming fanboy and makes it impossible not to sound like a little kid on a crazy sugar high when breathlessly explaining “it’s Ghost Rider, in space, but, you know, also Punisher..oh and and…Silver Surfers Power Cosmic and also right hand of thanos combined”. With more smile inducing character mash-ups like the unstoppable Juggerduck the team will hopefully be able to carry the bonkers energy on with the space faring Spirit of Vengence.

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Marvel Rising: Squirrel Girl and Ms Marvel 1- Marvel Comics

Having begrudgingly adjusted to a Henderson-less Squirrel Girl, I’ve found myself really enjoying this all star team up of two of Marvel’s most surprising heroines of recent years Squirrel Girl and Ms Marvel as well as the equally thrilling combination of North and Wilson on writing duties. The two characters  played of each other perfectly in the previous issue of this series, coming together to defend their college campus against the new Inhuman menace, Emulator and her video game based abilities.

Relevant without ever becoming preachy, amidst the fun of the super hero team up Marvel Rising takes on a lot of “ripped from the headlines” issues with Ember herself bullied by overzealous gamer bro’s in it’s set up for it’s central “villain” which seems perfectly suited to both Doreen and Kamala’s skills of non violent problem solving, asking questions first, and maybe punching later.

 

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Shade the Changing Woman 5- DC Comics

If  you’re “looking for a little heart” in your pull list then Young Animals Shade the Changing Woman should be among your purchases before it reaches the end of it’s gloriously mad and grown up second arc, with Loma Shade as she peruses her own hastily cast aside heart whilst the world around her succumbs to madness.

Following the mind melting Milk Wars, Castellucci has spun the series towards slightly more grounded storytelling and themes. Previously in Shade the Changing Girl Castellucci and Zarcone explored personal isolation with Loma and it’s high school setting, the change in title and time jump has resulted in these themes being magnified, heightened to a global scale with the world falling into paranoia over “aliens” on planet earth. At the same time the pair keep Shade’s story is wonderfully dreamlike and abstract in no small part to Zarcone’s artwork as it continues evolving and morphing into a series that you really have to feel your way around and experience first hand.

Wednesday Adventures- 27th June

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A brief weekly rundown of recommendations of new releases I’m intrigued by, excited for and will be grabbing off the shelves to curl up with every new comics day before delving into them later in the week! Have you hugged your local comic store owner today?

 

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Multiple Man 1- Marvel Comics

Through the various incarnations of the X-Factor all the way to the haunting image of piles of his killed by the Terrigen Mists, Madrox has always been one of my favourites among the X-men’s huge roster of mutants. So it was little disheartening to see him unused for so long only to appear and quickly pop his clogs in the “Death of X” story line. As any good Marvel fan knows you can’t keep a good mutant (or profitable IP) down for very long as the Multiple Man returns from his two year dirt nap this week with the team of Rosenberg and Macdonald’s new miniseries.

Already no stranger to the X-Men franchise with the writer currently penning the “New Mutants: Dead Souls” series, Rosenberg looks to be leaning hard into the problem of Jamie being, well…dead, hinting that the series will focus heavily on his grizzly and untimely on Muir Island and ultimately how to keep himself that way. Rosenberg has a darkly comedic style I can see lending itself well to Madrox as he grapples with mortality and mysterious mutants hot on his trail.

 

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Sex Criminals 25- Image Comics

I’ve wavered back and forth like a maniac over Fraction and Zdarsky’s most recent arc declaring myself done with the series more than a few times, but much like Jon and Suzie, I find myself unable to resist Sex Criminals many enduring charms even as it plunges into more downbeat and sombre subject matter with at times a much more disjointed storytelling even as far was last issues “previously on” cutting to the point with a short and terse “Everyone’s miserable”. Yet, while I’ve found much of Sex Criminals initial energy missing with this story arc, at it’s core there is still a comic with an important and positive message to impart which makes it a  book that is damn hard to stay upset with. “Five Fingered Discount” draws to an end with Myrtle Spurge reluctantly turning Sex Criminal herself after butting heads with her thoroughly dislikable former boss, Kuber Badal and hopefully the much needed reconciliation of Jon and Suzi we’ve all secretly,desperately been pinning away for these last five issues.

 

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Marvel Two–In-One 7

Two-in-one and two for three for Chip with this week’s purchases as I found myself quickly and quietly obsessed with his Human Torch and Thing driven series after reading last weeks surprisingly touching annual and it’s war of words between Victor Von Doom and his longtime adversary. Anyone who thought Marvel’s first family would be missing from the comics landscape for very long or brought down by a lacklustre silver screen outing is clearly kidding themselves.

While we can probably expect the remaining members impending return to be the usual Marvel wallet draining next big event, it’s surprising that what could have been just an exercise in keeping two of team in publication or just a cynical cash-in has been an exciting and thoughtful series from Zdarsky whose writing on this and Spectacular Spider-man has proven his writing skills match his considerable art talents.

 

“Gravity’s just a habit that you’re pretty sure you can’t break” – Low G fun in Henderson and Garbett’s ‘Skyward’

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“Don’t stop,Can’t stop
Until you feel it goin’ down
I wish I had said the things you thought that I had said
Gravity’s just a habit that you’re pretty sure you can’t break”

“I’m tired of dystopias. I think we’re all fatigued by them” claimed John Henderson in a recent interview about his debut comic , Skyward “This is a world where something terrible happens, and then humanity moved on.” Created with artist Lee Garbet, Skyward is certainly a comic more in line with societies tenacious nature, peoples’ tendency to pick up the pieces and just, you know, get on with it. Certainly as far as dystopias are concerned, it’s been a long time since one we’ve breathtakingly dangerous yet appealing. Dare I even say…cool?  Truthfully I didn’t initially pick this up when it was released, it took a few days of daydreaming about the simple yet alluring premise of Henderson and Garbet’s world, the double page spread of our young protagonist Willa leaping gracefully and effortlessly between Chicago’s skyscrapers that I was compelled to pick it up. It stuck with me and made me smile the way a half remembered dream does. The fact that flying is a sleepy time staple only reinforces this even further in a book already created to appeal to that child like fantasy of flight, that sense of wonderment at seeing and experiencing the world a new.

Henderson succeeds in delivering to us with both a dystopia and a joyous story too, achieved in part through the flip in perspective from how a story like this would usually be presented. Henderson choosing to present a post “G-Day” world not through the eyes of the more experienced Nate, but instead his high spirited daughter Willa as she leaps and bounds across the windy cities skyline, using places and spaces as they were never intended to be used all the while sporting an unshakeable smile and and sense of delight. Born just after the Earths gravity diminished, Willa knows only this strange new world, which to her is now simply just ‘the world’ not matter how strange it is. Even in her first appearance as a child she seems perfectly calm and wide eyed floating around her nursery. Early on we see relics of the old world treated with humour and derision, stuffy artefacts best left in a boring and dusty past. It’s a compelling way to present a story about the distance and differing experiences between generations using a sci-fi setting. Hinting at friction between conflicting world views, in particular her scientist father who is literally being held down in this new world by the past and personal tragedy while his daughter makes the best of it, setting up the dynamic that looks like it will be at the centre of Skyward going forward.

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Although a regular length comic, most readers will find themselves breezing through Skywards debut issue in a matter of minutes and might feel a little slight to many, but it’s mostly down to the light and speedy pacing, not surprising when Henderson hails from a TV background (most noticeably, the fluffy yet impossible not to enjoy Lucifer). To me at least it’s perfectly suited to a story focused around movement and low gravity. It feels like there are countless things that could be explored in this environment and this issue hits the perfect balance needed for a first instalment, setting up likeable and intriguing characters and showing just enough of the world to want to see more without falling into a front heavy exposition trap with the bulk of this task left up to Garbett to show visually.

Gabbet’s art captures the quick paced, gravity defying parkour like action and free flowing movement of it’s characters and even in the comics few dialogue filled pages, favours character designs that only further serve to illustrate the subtle difference in this world, presenting the effects of the low gravity world in visually inventive ways. Willa’s hair billows and flows about and when embarrassing herself in front of her legless coworker slumps upside down onto the ground in an exaggerated show of embarrassment and defeat. His pages are filled with small background details of the differences in this world such as impossibly high up advertising signs, entrances and safety ropes that are just begging to be explored in future issues.

Although feeling like a breezy and slightly light read at times, Skyward’s first issue still packs in all the joyful exuberance of a hazy, dimly remembered flight dream brought to the page with a stylish and youthful flair.

Skyward issue 1 released April 18th with Issue 2 to follow on 23rd May

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“A weirdness creeping around the edges of things” – Jeff Lemire unearths family ghosts in Royal City-Next of Kin

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“and then nothing turned itself inside out”

Yo La Tengo

Ever since learning about, and subsequently becoming hooked on Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth I quickly and almost slavishly devoured everything he’d  put out, reading back from his indie roots in Lost Dogs to his more recent work with the more established stable of super hero types for the big two. Indeed some of my favourite stories of his feature the “long underwear” lot, making me deeply invested in characters I had no previous interest in such as Old Man Logan, or following up already acclaimed runs of both Hawkeye and Moon Knight to pull and stretch them, twisting their own recently established styles and motifs around and back in on themselves to surprising effect. Between this and his Image work like Plutonia and Descender there really hasn’t been a shortage of stories to enjoy from the prolific writer. Still, there’s something truly magical when Lemire swaps powers for the powerless, spandex for flannel with his more personal projects. Taking over both art and writing duties, this years Royal City is the book I’ve really been waiting for.

Struggling to write his make or break third novel Patrick Pike is unexpectedly and reluctantly drawn back to the squat, broken down city of his youth after his father suffers a stroke that leaves him in a coma. The once thriving city and the families relationships have both seen better days as Patrick quickly become entwined once again in the lives of his mother and his two elder siblings. Noticeably more grounded than a lot of his other recent work, a quick description of Royal City makes it’s initial premise sound very simple, which at first, it is. However, the real draw here is how intricately and complex and raw he writes each member of the Pike family.

In lesser hands it’s easy to see how they could be reduced to simplistic one note characters. The Bitter arguing couple, the burnout, the beleaguered father and passive aggressive mother, Royal City takes it’s time to explore these characters where other books would skim the surface. Lemire digs deeper here and mines the darkest and most destructive elements of the family, yet still manages to round them out and humanise them into a deeply flawed yet relateable cast. Slowly peeling back the years of familial resentment in it’s first five issues, it presents everyone as a lot more complex then they at first seem, showing the choices and circumstances that shaped each of them, including the devastating event at the centre of the book that haunts the family. Lemire even uses the familiarity some might be feeling with both the set up and his work to great effect here, the subtle supernatural element at work throughout is used to show each character failing to deal with the loss that it leaves the reader wondering if there really is “something different about this place” or simply the effects of psychological trauma on the family. For those waiting for a high concept twist, Lemire teasingly dangles one in front of the reader early on and instead turns a reference to his one of his previous works into a poignant and succinct summation of the relationship between Christopher and his wife Greta.

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Expecting artwork more akin to Sweet Tooth, I found myself reading it back at the same time and was instantly struck by how even more stripped back and stylistic the artwork of Royal City is. This book is probably the most “Lemire” of his work and we see him as an artist stripping everything back to it’s simplistic forms and telling a deep and moving story in the most economical way possible. There’s a deserted abandoned feel to the eponymous city and the gaunt, troubled faces of it’s inhabitants. His lines are loose and expressionistic, complimented with a muted pallet and washed out watercolours. Sparsely beautiful and haunting in it’s own unrefined way.

While I loved reading Royal City monthly and enjoyed the wait between issues and the time to re-read and speculate about it’s developments, Lemire is telling a very slow burn human story and some issues don’t have a ‘story shaped’ conclusion or cliffhanger in the typical way comics readers might be looking for. Despite all the back material, essays, playlists and the like, it might make for a more satisfying experience collected as a trade for the majority of readers. Royal City succeeds in giving readers something wholly fresh and compelling out of instantly recognisable characters and settings by pausing to look at their motivations. Lemire’s choice of a slower pace to allow them to time and space to play out in detail over the course of it’s first arc, becoming more complex and nuanced every issue. The paired down artwork and minimalist approach to dialogue makes the book initially feel a lot simpler then it turns out to be, quietly obscuring all the hard work being performed on every page and every panel right in plain view. Five issues in and Royal City is a title that Conveys perfectly the feeling of lost time and potential through both the Pike family and the ailing city, that permeates through it’s engrossing first story arc.

Royal City Next of Kin is released September 27, 2017

Royal City Issue One playlist

WEDNESDAY ADVENTURES- 16th AUGUST

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A brief weekly rundown of recommendations of new releases I’m intrigued by, excited for and will be grabbing off the shelves to curl up with every new comics day before delving into them later in the week! Have you hugged your comics store owner today?

 

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Spy Seal- Image Comics

Straight from the then thirteen year old imagination of the writer and artist that brought us the hauntingly beautiful She Wolf  comes action! Espionage! Seals? Thought up when Tommasi was just thirteen, his new book over at image takes heavy inspiration in both tone and aesthetics of the Franco Belgian comics such as Tin Tin as we enter the the world of suave Cold War spy Seal, Malcolm Warner.

Tommasi’s debut issue centers around the charmingly Sam Spade named “The Corten Steel Phoenix” that has out hero bumping into the pre-requisite mysterious stranger, a buxom rabbit who quickly embroils the seal in a high stakes museum heist  and a journey to join MI6 and become England’s “slickest spy”. Action and anthropomorphic espionage mix,with Spy |Seal looking to deliver the qaulity quips, daring action and globe spanning spy-hijinks of a classic Connery Era Bond film.

 

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Secret Weapons- Valiant Comics

I’ve professed my love before (a lot) on this blog, for Marvels stable of teen X-men and their school based mutant adventures. A love that has been tested many times before and endures no matter how many killings or cancellations they go through. From Wolverine and the X-men, Academy X and Generation X I’ve read them all but it’s the latest reboot under the Generation X title that has really, really tested my love. A forgettable line up and bland characterizations for them pretty much killed any interest stone dead. The biggest compliment I can give Heisserer’s Secret Weapons is that it does in two issues what Generation X is struggling to do with five.

Even with a universe I’m unfamiliar with beyond a smattering of Archer and Armstrong  issues, the team makes easy work of catching readers up. Teens left with esoteric and seeming useless power shipped off to be forgotten about, we follow four such teens Owen , Nikki,, Martin and Sunil under the guidance and protection of Livewire. An exhilarating exploration with some genuinely relateable and interesting characters all trying to make their way in a world with some seriously duff powers.