I love pulp comics. I’m a big fan of The Spirit in particular. I have most of the hardcover archive editions that DC put out a while ago and even managed to suffer through those First Wave reboot issues a few year back. The style and atmosphere of pulp comics appeal to me on more than a few levels. With that in mind, I have to admit that much of the current slate of pulp stories don’t truly work all that well. Having worked for a good long while in a comic book store I can attest to the fact that pulp fans are avid and loyal people but they are also basically begging for scraps in the current market. Mark Waid is doing great work with Green Hornet right now, and I’ve heard great things about both Shadow and Doc Savage, but in my personal opinion people are buying those books because of the talent involved or the name recognition associated with the character, not because those particular books are doing something new or inventive with the tropes or elements of the genre.
That’s why I love books like Doc Unknown by Fabian Rangel Jr. and Ryan Cody. In the same way that Atomic Robo looks at the genre and plays within those conventions to create something special, so too does Doc Unknown. It has the colorful and outlandish villains of The Shadow or Dick Tracy, mingled with the playful action of something like Bruce Timm’s Batman The Animated Series. Ryan Cody’s art perfectly matches Rangel’s dialog and exposition and creates a truly engrossing experience. It feels like a true pulp story, not a weak imitation. That is a true feat of talent because the last time I felt that way was probably the first time I read Darwyn Cooke’s take on The Spirit.
You can read the issues on Comixology or track down Rangel or Cody at a convention for print editions.
I gushed like hell over issue 1 and issue 2 of Sex Criminals. I thought they were some of the best comic book work to come out this year. The book is different and unique without being a book that insists upon its own cleverness. No, the book is unique by virtue of how honest it is. Sex Criminals is a book about two people who can stop time with their orgasms but at the same time it is a book about people. People discovering what it means to be vulnerable and learning what it means to discover each other slowly throughout the course of a relationship. There is a palpable sense of energy to our lead characters as well as a transcendent level of honesty in the storytelling. These characters feel like people and the story feels stronger for it. The moment in issue three where Jon watches as Suzie belts out “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen (in one of the most unintentionally funny bits of licensing snafus I’ve ever seen) is as honest a moment as I have ever seen on a page. I know I can point to the exact moment where I looked at my girl and knew that she was special and unique in a way nobody else could be and I felt that for Jon with Suzie here in issue three. Chip Zdarsky’s artwork makes the scene explode with dynamic intensity and every element of the moment is perfectly captured on panel.
Speaking of Zdarsky’s art, he can draw the hell out of a dude getting nailed in the face with a dildo.
And that boys and girls is why this book is so good. The back and forth of real human emotion and character worked mixed with the absurdity of a man getting a green rubber wiener thrown in his face. This is a book where these two people use their powers to rob a bank and yet it is that element of the story that takes a back seat to the character work. We want to know why they’re choosing to use their powers in this way. All of it feels believable and you invest yourself in their story this way. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky have done something wonderful here. I really cannot wait until this comes out in trade so I can buy ten copies and distribute it to people who ask me what comics they should be reading.
There has been a lot of ink spilled about the controversy surrounding this Harley Quinn series. Mainly around that “tryout” page where artists were encouraged to draw a scene depicting the title character preparing to commit suicide in a bathtub with electrical devices hanging above her. There were plenty of good arguments made as to why that was a bad idea. The fact that it got hyped up in the middle of suicide prevention awareness month was a major blunder. We could easily spend a couple thousand words talking about whether a book focusing on a character who is clearly mentally deranged needs to walk the logistical tightrope of addressing a topic like suicide. No amount of context or satirical intent will silence certain elements on either side of the argument. I’m going to say that Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner are good people. I’ve never seen anything that would indicate either of them was looking for a cheap laugh, or to make light of suicide as a topic. It just isn’t in their character.
So the first thing I have to do while discussing this issue is point out that the panel in question does not appear in the final product. The talent search yielded a page by Jeremy Roberts where most of the page remains intact but the panel depicting the suicide is absent, replaced by a panel with Harley riding an Apollo style rocket in outer space. Within the context of the book, the fourth-wall breaking creators are discussing Harley’s role in the Suicide Squad, which would explain the panel in question. Honestly, with that context, it makes perfect sense. I applaud everyone involved for seeing that it is a sensitive topic however and going in a different direction. The page in question gives off a vibe of Harley’s perceived death wish without diving into the mental illness/suicide quagmire.
I know I dedicated a lot more space on that little issue than I intended. I wanted to cover the actual issue, not the issues people had before the book came out. So let’s start from the beginning.
This book is good. It’s fun. It put a smile on my face. Why? Well, Palmiotti and Conner have a playful tone that carries throughout and they manage to find a through-line for Harley criss-crossing through various art styles while breaking the fourth wall and showing us that Harley truly can be a versatile character. The book is essentially Amanda and Jimmy showing that there are an infinite number of possibilities for Harley as a character and, with the correct art team, any one of them could be a viable long-running series. This is an introductory issue where Harley has to figure out what Harley wants to be. It’s a metatextual commentary on the creation of comics itself filtered through a character who, for all intents and purposes, could be viewed as simply one dimensional.
I think that freed from the constraints placed upon her by the Suicide Squad book, this title could truly be a blast. Honestly, I was reminded of the way that Jimmy and Justin Gray put such a fun spin on Power Girl, who much like Harley had infinite numbers of interpretations waiting in the wings. No character is without merit, and while I personally don’t have much of a connection to Harley and only really found her intriguing within the context of Batman The Animated Series, I think this issue is one of the more solid releases DC has put out in a while. It certainly surprised me in ways I wasn’t expecting.
I say go in with an open mind and see where the issue takes you. You may find yourself surprised where you end up.
Last week I reviewed the 0.1 issue of Cataclysm that set the stage for what would come in the event series that, supposedly, will herald the end of the Ultimate Universe. This week I took a look at the first issue of the series, based almost entirely off of the fact that Brian Michael Bendis was on scripting duties with Mark Bagley handling the art. These are the guys who defined the Ultimate Universe, for me at least, and seeing them pal back up to possibly bring it to a close put a measure of confidence in the project for me on a personal level. Bendis feels like the person who should be writing this. As much as Millar and Hitch shepherded The Ultimates through two volumes and revolutionized comics in a very substantial way, Bendis sustained Ultimate Spider-Man as the tentpole of the universe and that book is, to many (myself included) the heart and soul of the Ultimate universe.
So how does the book measure up?
Like I admitted last week, I haven’t been knee deep in the Ultimate Universe for a while. I fell of off Ultimate Spider-Man around the third arc of Miles Morales’ time as the ultimate webspinner, and I’m only remotely aware of the goings on in the rest of the line. If we look at the book as a real game changer for the universe, even if it isn’t meant to be the end of the line, it holds up quite well. Compare it to say, Ultimatum, and you notice right away that the character beats of the book hold up much better. The action is a bit understated, considering that it is Galactus essentially destroying New Jersey, but the reaction of Miles Morales to such an overwhelming threat is in line with what you expect a young hero to exude during a crisis.
Bagley’s art is what we have come to expect from him, though it looks more finely finished than when he was working on Ultimate Spider-Man on a monthly basis. There is definition and scale that really works in the book’s favor.
I wasn’t entirely sold on the event based on last week’s debut, but this issue has me intrigued and I truly do want to see where things go. Right now I don’t have the slightest clue. Just a bunch of wild speculations bouncing around in my brain.
I have to admit that I stopped reading the Ultimate line a while ago. After the second arc of Miles Morales’ turn as Spider-Man, I believe. I just lost interest because the line didn’t seem to grab me the way it did when it was first launched. I think it was a steady roll to apathy that began with Ultimatum. I don’t have any investment in the universe as a whole anymore so Cataclysm is an outlier for me. It is something that catches my eye because it is supposedly going to be the end of the Ultimate universe, though that isn’t totally confirmed, and that as a concept seems like something I would be interested in seeing executed well.
The problem then, at least for me, is that there is no attachment to the characters and their universe when I picked up this issue. For current fans of the Ultimate universe, I feel the book might resonate a bit better than it did with me. But the attitude on display here seems self-referential, like Marvel is aware of the fact that the Ultimate Universe expirement has run its course and needs to come to an end. There is a point where the 616 version of Galactus states emphatically that “this universe is broken.” While the Ultimate Vision pleads that it can be saved. I think the crux of the book falls in that simple argument; is the Ultimate Universe worth keeping around?
Aside from Ultimate Spider-Man and perhaps Brian Wood’s Ultimate X-Men, the ultimate titles are mostly stagnant at the store which employs me. Some titles have a core following, but not like they did half a decade ago.
Perhaps it is time to bury this universe. The question is whether or not this event will do it in a manner befitting one of the only alternate universe lines not to immediately tank itself.
Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting are a powerhouse team. Their work on Captain America is the best the character is likely ever going to see for the foreseeable future. You can thank Ed Brubaker personally for revitalizing the character to the point where he wasn’t a joke to the majority of the comic buying public. It is also a testament to his work that the next film will be drawing largely from his lore. The reason his Marvel work resonated so much is because Ed Brubaker knows how to play with convention and genre tropes, respectfully, while turning them on their ear and defying expectations.
Brubaker’s work with Velvet is more of what we have come to expect from him. Character work and atmosphere. Plot and mood. Much like his other creator-owned work, such as Fatale, Incognito, or Criminal, the world that we are dropped into feels fully realized and developed. Like stories have been being told about these characters for years and the blood and sweat has been spilled over them before we ever crack the page. It doesn’t come off as inaccessible, because we fill in gaps in our knowledge fairly quickly with pertinent details of the who and general back-story, but the book feels very much like the middle of a longer story with fully realized characters and that works very much to its advantage.
Velvet is a period piece, set in the 1970s with flashbacks to the sixties and all of it feels like a James Bond novel filtered through the lens of a grungy late-seventies film renaissance aesthetic. Like if Coppola directed You Only Live Twice. Steve Epting’s art is vibrant while being simultaneously moody and portrays the eras of the narrative with equal distinction and clarity.
Personally, I think this is his best work since he launched Criminal a few years ago. It is a well plotted, tightly-paced, impeccably drawn espionage genre yarn that resembles nothing else on the rack. Brubaker knows how to write a spy thriller, he did it quite well on his Captain America run, but freed from the reigns of Marvel’s editorial hands, he can truly let loose and keep us guessing from month to month. The only guess we can be confident in making is that each issue will be better than the last.
Rating : 4/5
I grew up watching westerns. Not by choice, really. My dad was obsessed with John Wayne. He named me after a John Wayne movie, for crying out loud. I never did get into The Duke myself, although The Searchers is now one of my all time favorites and I absolutely love a few others, like Rio Bravo, True Grit, and The Shootist. My real love of westerns came almost by accident. My dad being a John Wayne fan meant inevitably that I would skew against his tastes and end up a bigger fan of folks like Clint Eastwood. The spaghetti western spoke to me in ways that the usual “cowboys and indians” stuff my dad enjoyed simply couldn’t. It was the moral ambiguity, the dirt and the grime and the absurdity of those films that really got me searching out other westerns. I took in all the Leone westerns, my favorite being a tossup between Once Upon a Time In The West or The Good The Bad and The Ugly. I found the Django movies and Lee Van Cleef’s Sabata series. Latter day westerns like Unforgiven, Tombstone, and Open Range also made their way into my DVD collection.
I also happen to enjoy western comics. I have a complete run of Palmiotti and Gray’s Jonah Hex series from the pre-New 52 days in issue format. I think I was the only person in the store who had it on their pull-list at the time. I’m also still digging the hell out of All-Star Western, though that is so cross genre I’m not sure if it counts. I’ll say it does and beg you to read the trades if you haven’t already, as it’s an overlooked gem at DC. Remember Brian Azzarello’s Loveless? I Do, and I loved it enough to get it signed when I met him a few years back. I don’t know if all this has something to do with me being from Texas, but I’ll wager it is a factor. The genre simply speaks to me on a certain level, so when I heard that Kelly Sue DeConnick would be teaming with Emma Rios to write a western book for Image I got real excited real quick. Kelly Sue is one of the finest writers working right now. She’s getting a lot of respect for her work on Captain Marvel which is more than deserved as that book is just aces. DeConnick previously worked with Rios on their Osborne mini-series for Marvel, which was well written and filled with dark, emotive artwork. That team working together on a creator-owned western book was bound to pique my interest.
Issue one drops today and it is a stunning book. I’ve sung the praises of the creator-owned comic renaissance we seem to be in the middle of before when talking about Sex Criminals and Rocket Girl, this book certainly gives credence to my claims. Pretty Deadly is a book that defies genre expectations and utilizes every aspect of the graphic medium to tell a story that is intriguing, beautiful and unlike anything else on the stands. While it is most certainly a western book, elements of more whimsical and introspective genres creep into the text as well. The traveling “blind man” and the young girl evoke Eastern manga and film imagery from “Zatoichi” and “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Considering the history of Japanese and American culture borrowing from each other, with Seven Samurai becoming The Magnificent Seven and Unforgiven being turned into a samurai film called Yurusarezaru mono, this blending of genres feels organic and not at all like a forced mash-up. This also creates a very somber tone that puts it more in line with the modern cinematic western aesthetic of say, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but with the added twist of a supernatural element.
The closest model that I can reference for the tone of this book is Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. That melding of genres seems similar to what DeConnick and Rios are presenting here, although Pretty Deadly steers mostly clear of absurdity and stays more in line with a feeling of dark fantasy within a western setting. When I say there is nothing like it on the stands, I am not exaggerating. Pretty Deadly is an inventive, original title that deserves all the acclaim that it can handle. I had exceedingly high hopes for this book and they were met on every level. The narrative structure is well crafted and tells an inventive story that plays with genre tropes and conventions without getting trapped in them while the artwork is gorgeous, dark, and evocative of the exact mood this book requires. The creative team really hit the nail on the head.
All things considered, this is the definite pick of the week if not the pick of the month. Do yourself a favor and get your copy today.