Look, we like Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips here at read/RANT. Throw in Dave Stewart, perhaps my favorite colorist currently working, and you’ve got yourselves a winner – as evinced by naming Criminal: The Last of the Innocent the best graphic novel of 2011. So you can imagine how excited I was to see the team reunite so soon after the most recent chapter of Criminal concluded. I went in to Fatale pretty much completely blind, having missed the preview that came out during my fairly relaxed holiday season. And while it wasn’t at all what I was expecting, Brubaker and Phillips have come up with a satisfying blend of crime, pulp, and straight-up horror.
Morrison and Murphy continue to follow Joe’s slow descent into death in another exciting, creative, and at least mildly chilling issue of Joe the Barbarian. Murphy and colorist Dave Stewart have fleshed out Joe’s fantasy world, creating a vivid, almost surreal fantasy land-scape that is, quite honestly, breathtaking. The really powerful moments continue to come in the increasingly brief moments we spend with Joe as he wanders down from the attic, in what is absolutely the most epic quest ever undertaken to reach a refrigerator. Morrison peppers the issue with some absurdly dark humor, but solid action beats and excellent world-building help keep the book from devolving into depression. Joe the Barbarian #3 continues to provide some top-notch fantasy colored by a tragic, unforgettable undercurrent.
– Cal Cleary
If Joe the Barbarian‘s first issue started a bit slow, its second makes up for it and then some. As Joe ventures even deeper into the bizarre fantasy-land in his head, he teams up with Jack, his pet rat/master swordsman to defy an evil empire hellbent on destruction. The issue has a couple killer action segments, gorgeous scenery and bizarre, epic world-building like only Grant Morrison can do. There is an undeniably tragic undercurrent, though – after all, the book appears to be about a young man mythologizing his own rapid, needless death. I do not know whether Joe will survive or not, but panels like the one where he falls from the attic are almost viscerally painful, and it’s these brief, infrequent reminders from Morrison that give the book it’s quickly-breaking heart.
Murphy continues to turn in extraordinarily impressive work, as does colorist Dave Stewart – an under-appreciated talent, especially notable in gorgeous panels like the first firing of the ray gun – and the pair together make the issue extremely memorable. The two of them have crafted an extraordinarily lived-in fantasy world. With Morrison’s script and Murphy and Stewart on art, Joe the Barbarian has already grown into a first-rate adventure, one that perfectly captures the bizarre melancholy and boundless creativity of childhood.
– Cal Cleary
“Go” continues with this issue, and it’s even better than the last. While it lacked the emotional gut-punch of Kate’s family’s fate, it in many ways surpasses the previous issue. Following Kate from college through her relationship with Renee Montoya, part two of “Go” briefly examines the very real preposterism of the army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies and how easy it is to get lost after you leave school without knowing what to do, all while intermingling it with the continuing story of the Crime Bible, even introducing a nice twist in the proceedings.
After being kicked out of West Point when she’s revealed to be gay, Kate finds herself with nowhere to go. Rucka treats the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy seriously, as it deserves, and illustrates the bigotry of the policy. From there, the book moves quickly through Kate’s fall as, directionless, she becomes a wealthy layabout, a hedonist unable to stick with anything she does until a chance encounter in an alley suggests that she might have some way to use her skills after all.
It is hard to review this comic issue by issue, at least when it comes to the art – while the quality of Rucka’s story may vary from month to month, J.H. Williams III remains consistent as one of the industry’s strongest talents. Along with colorist Dave Stewart, Williams gives the book a unique, exciting visual style that never fails to please. This issue is no exception in that regard.
The back-up remains solid, introducing another supporting character for Renee to bounce off: the Huntress. Rucka smartly continues his first story, building his entire back-up run into a lengthy thriller and giving it the feel of a longer book. Hamner’s art is quite well, and while the issue doesn’t give him as much opportunity as normal to show Renee in motion, which has become a pleasure to watch under Hamner’s pen, he does an excellent job at the book’s longest action sequence.
– Cal Cleary
Detective Comics #858
Detective Comics #857
Arkham Reborn #1 (of 3)
With the popularity of the absolutely stellar Batman: Arkham Asylum and the recent relaunch of the Bat-franchise, it should come as no surprise that Gotham’s infamous Arkham Asylum would get its own miniseries. After the mass breakout from the Asylum and subsequent explosion, Jeremiah Arkham, ancestor of the Asylum’s original designer, has taken it upon himself to continue the grand, bumbling legacy of the world’s only criminal institution with a revolving door.
Hine does a good job building the book slowly, despite the fact that the entire mini-series is only three issues long. Here we meet Arkham’s new staff, specifically Jeremiah Arkham, who believes in curing Gotham’s madmen with love and respect; Alyce Sinner, sole survivor of a massive suicide cult and expert on the criminally insane; and Aaron Cash, now Arkham’s head of security and one of the tragic figures to come out of Dan Slott’s excellent Arkham Asylum: Living Hell. Jeremiah has met with some small success in his bid to rehabilitate, but we know that the laws of comic book storytelling says that that can’t last – Dr. Sinner soon betrays him, revealing the Asylum’s dark, heinous underbelly in a bid to keep things crazy.
There’s nothing unpredictable here, but Hine does a good job setting the mood and introducing everyone, while artist Jeremy Haun turns in excellent work on all fronts, designing a few new characters and an all-new Arkham and still managing to craft a few extremely memorable images. The pair seem well-suited, and while it seems that the entire mini’s purpose is to keep Arkham Asylum the same hellhole it has been these past few years, at least they seem to be having plenty of fun with it.
Detective Comics #858
Years after the character was introduced and months into her first solo title, “Go” marks our first foray into the origins of Kate Kane. Growing up moving from military base to military base, Kate and Beth Kane really only had each other growing up. A few issues back, it was hinted that something bad happened to her growing up, and now we see what that is: after earning a post in France, Mrs. Kane, Kate and Beth were kidnapped by terrorists during a security alert. While Kate couldn’t see what was happening to her mother and sister, the aftermath certainly left an impression.
Rucka’s storytelling is far more solid here than in the previous arc, perhaps due to the shortened arc’s tighter focus. Whatever the reason, the issue provides a quick, tragic glimpse of an origin that didn’t go at all where I thought it would, and was wrapped up in a single issue, leaving next month for the fallout. J.H. Williams III makes an abrupt shift in style for the bulk of the issue, giving the flashback to Kate’s youth a vastly more structured layout and color-palette. The contrast between the two time-periods is gorgeous and memorable, once again suggesting Williams as one of comics’ top talents.
The Question back-up finally wrapped up its opening arc with this issue. The lack of room the story had, confined as it was to these back pages, took away from some of the suspense the story might’ve had if it had had more room to build up an atmosphere or throw us a plot twist or two, but it has nonetheless remained a consistently entertaining action comic, thanks in part to Rucka’s collaborator, Cully Hamner, whose layouts and art make it a joy to watch Renee in motion.
Between the issue’s two parts, Detective Comics features a pair of artists at the top of their games, anchored by strong writing of two fascinating new heroines. It’s well-worth your time.
Astro City: Astra Special #2 (of 2)
Astro City: Astra Special concludes on a high note. Anyone who has graduated college can relate to what Astra is going through as she continues to tell her boyfriend Matthew about the increasingly bizarre possibilities open to a young woman of her immense talents. From mundane jobs with research institutes on Earth to a chance to untie, one world at a time, a series of realities knotted together by a madman’s destructive last act, Astra has, for the first time in her life, no idea what to do next.
While the other part of the book will probably resonate less with others, using a now-grown child heroine to look at and condemn our deranged obsession with celebrity culture largely works. Though there are a few painful, relatively clunky moments, Busiek works hard to keep the emotions honest and keep it all part of Astra’s story.
Astro City: Astra Special combines Jack Kirby’s flare for bizarre cosmic world-building with a more grounded, human story. Anderson’s pencils are much improved when he’s dealing with these larger-than-life concepts, and together the pair brings us a small-in-scope, massive-in-scale story about the pains of growing up. It isn’t the most memorable Astro City story, but it’s honest and entertaining, and continues to flesh out the best setting in comics.
Blackest Night: Superman #3 (of 3)
Blackest Night: Superman, which started out so much vastly stronger than the other “Blackest Night” related books, ends here more with a whimper than with a bang. The book does have some interesting revelations about the weaknesses of the Black Lanterns, as well as an explanation for what New Krypton is up to throughout the event, but it amounts to little more than that, in the end.
Despite its failure to live up to its own eerie opening issue, Blackest Night: Superman #3 nonetheless offered solid action illustrated by Eddie Barrows doing what he’s most comfortable doing, with (perhaps sadly) the best writing Robinson’s been doing, lately. Robinson continues to use the emotional spectrum’s color-coding to vastly more effect than the main mini to give us a neat, inside peak into the characters heads in otherwise wordless scenes, a trick that works especially well with Psycho Pirate in the mix. Ultimately, Blackest Night: Superman isn’t bad. It’s just forgettable.
– Cal Cleary
Detective Comics #857
The end of the year is coming fast! I read 17 comics in October, and these were the best.
5. Detective Comics #858
JH Williams III, arguably the best artist in the biz, and Dave Stewart, arguably the best colorist in the biz, grace Detective Comics’ interiors. Those two are literally a dream team. Yes, Rucka can’t quite produce a script that can match their ability, but who can? Morrison can’t write everything. This issue dips a toe into Kate’s origin, building off of last arc’s twist. Kate’s story is simple and adorable, which spirals into terrible tragedy. Rucka’s writing is strong, reminiscent of his Queen & Country days, but it’s the aforementioned dream team that really gives this issue an emotional punch.
4. Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #7
After last issue’s startling revelations, The Wild Hunt is steamrolling towards its conclusion. This series has indeed changed Hellboy. Hopefully, this doesn’t mean the series is ending. Fegredo’s Hellboy is strong, as always. He’s with Mignola every step of the way, as this issue brilliantly illustrates the core nature of Hellboy’s character. He’s always trapped in a cyclone of destiny, fighting with every breath to do good.
3. Invincible Iron Man #19
As the solicitation reads, “Everything ends.” At last, Fraction’s year-long epic concludes. Unfortunately, Larroca is still around. So, this issue doesn’t look great, but only someone like Larroca could render a “year-long epic” in less than a year. With this oversized culmination, Tony’s heroism shines bright. He spends most of the issue lumbering around like the Hulk, with even less brainpower. And when he utters his last words of the story, we cheer.
2. The Walking Dead #66
The Walking Dead doesn’t have many two-page splashes, but when they’re used, they make for some of this great series’ best moments. Besides the general awe of Adlard’s work, and Rick’s terrifying words, “Hold him down.” What makes the image so effective is the shading of Rick’s left eye. Remember this guy? He’s the dark mirror of Rick. So, whenever Rick’s a bit of a bastard, I suspect we’ll see his left eye shaded a bit. Besides all that, this issue concludes the “Fear the Hunters” arc, Carl confesses, and another character dies. That all makes for one of the strongest Walking Dead issues of the year, if not the best.
1. Dark Reign: The List – Wolverine
Yeah, done-in-one stories rule this format, especially when they’re produced by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic. Aaron, who channels the humorous, kickass writing you can see in his Ghost Rider. And Ribic, who abandons his usual, painted style in favor of kinetic linework, which captures the insane energy of this story perfectly. Aaron loves Grant Morrison. So, when handling his characters, Fantomex and Noh-Varr, it’s a labor of love. Aaron insisted that he wasn’t attempting to write like Morrison, but this is the best treatment these characters have received, since Morrison first wrote them. This comic is tons of fun!
It’s relatively rare that the paneling in a comic – not the pencils, not the colors, but the layout itself – can make me sit up and take notice. And yet, every month, J.H. Williams III uses the layout of Detective Comics in strange and interesting new ways to move the story along without letting it get bogged down by his somewhat stiff action sequences. Sequences like the fight between Alice and Batwoman that is paneled within the small confines of their flowing capes gives Detective Comics #857 a visual dynamic that more than makes up for whatever shortcomings the book may have.
Rucka doesn’t manage quite as well as an out-of-left-field late-game twist hurts the book a bit. While he continues to do fine work on the main feature, the brief Question back-up he does with Hamner generally features more focused writing. In this issue’s main story, Kate and Alice come head-to-head after the kidnapping of Colonel Kane. Master plans are revealed, secrets come out, and, unfortunately, there’s significantly more flash than substance to the conclusion of “Elegy”. Despite all that, however, Rucka’s work on the title is still more than competent. No matter how much the Alice story slipped by the end, Rucka still used the opportunity to begin fleshing out Kate’s backstory and supporting cast, two things the character desperately needed.
The issue was more than just a showcase for Williams, however, as Hamner steps up in the 8-page Question back-up feature and brings some of his best work to date. A pair of brief sequences in particular stand out, the first coming as Renee breaks into a well-guarded mansion and the second featuring her daring escape. The art is dark and slightly cartoonish, but it’s also fluid and lifelike in a way very few running scenes are in comics. Though there appears to be no thematic or literal crossover between the two parts of Detective Comics, the Question back-up has quickly become a worthy piece of one of DC’s most entertaining, visually dynamic packages.
– Cal Cleary