REVIEW: Skyward #4 by Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett, Antonio Fabela, & Simon Bowland

Skyward #4 is out July 18. 

By Zack Quaintance — The first issue of Skyward opened with an inciting event that drastically changed the world: gravity inexplicably lessened so much that people, animals, and untethered objects began to float dangerously into space. One of the victims was our protagonist’s mom, who left to go running and disappeared into the ether.  

This was then followed by a significant time jump in which our main character went from baby to young woman. Quickly, we also learned her dad had become a devastated recluse who spent the subsequent years afraid to go outside. That idea kind of faded into the background, however, as our hero went and had adventures involving the most powerful man in the gravity-light world, who—surprise!—turned out to be amoral and self-interested. What this issue does is slow down our hero’s interactions with that insidious fellow to involve her dad in a way Skyward hasn’t since its first issue.

It’s a great idea. The father-daughter dynamic is basically this story’s heart, and given the dad's reluctance to go outside, overcoming that fear is presumably huge for our plot. On paper, I expected to love this issue. I, however, had slightly mixed feelings about how it was executed (very slightly). I still liked it quite a bit, but the dad was over-the-top cowardly at times. This was likely by design, but, man, did I cringe.

And his daughter’s reaction to his behavior seemed to be too much, in that she didn’t seem troubled at all that she had to literally knock him out and put him in a bag to get him outside because he wouldn’t step up when she needed him most. All I'm saying is it would have maybe been more effective to have a troubled look cross her face instead of playing the whole heartbreaking ordeal for laughs. But then again, Skyward is a pretty cheery book.

It’s a small complaint, one quickly erased from my mind by the creative team working to explore more of the scientific ramifications of how less gravity would affect our world. The art and structure continues to be on point and then some, too. I’ve said it before, but I want to close by again re-iterating that this is one of the most underrated books in comics right now (although that may change...this month Skyward was optioned for a movie...awesome!).

Overall: Skyward #4 continues to take a simple concept and explore its logical repercussions in the world, a device that has been executed to perfection. In this issue, the creative team slows down a bit too, making room for more interactions between its characters.  8.0/10

For more about Skyward, read our review of Skyward #3.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: Quantum and Woody! #8 by Eliot Rahal, Joe Eisma, Andrew Dalhouse, & Dave Sharpe

Quantum and Woody! #8 is available July 18.

By Zack Quaintance — Eliot Rahal took this book over starting with Quantum and Woody! #6, following a five-issue run by writer Daniel Kibblesmith, who is (objectively) one of the funniest writers in all of comics. Basically, to use a cliche, Rahal had HUGE shoes to fill, humor-wise...which is why what he did with the first two issues of this run was so surprising and impressive.

Rahal didn’t try to match or outdo Kibblesmith’s jokes, or even to maintain a similar tone, really. There were hints of the goofy character dynamic that drives this franchise, but Rahal largely pushed it in new directions, writing a first issue that stripped the titular characters of their powers and made them prove themselves as heroes anyway, which they did in poignant fashion. Rahal then followed that excellent story up with a fever dream of an issue that delved deeply into our characters’ psyches.

Now, in Quantum and Woody! #8 he gets to the business of re-grounding the book a bit in this franchise’s signature tone—its humor—but because of the hard work he did as a storyteller in his first two installments, it's easy to be vested in the goofy moments. I’m not tearing up at Woody’s pithy one-liners (of which there are many), but I do care a little bit more about both of these heroes after what Rahal has put them through (and continues to put them through). I also really like how he continues to build on his first issues. This is a new arc and jumping on point, to be sure, but there’s a lot here for readers who are already on the book.

Joe Eisma’s artwork (with colors by the always-great Andrew Dalhouse) is also a great fit. For readers of his recent run on Archie with all-time great comic writer Mark Waid, this hardly comes as a surprise. Eisma is able to oscillate without strain between moments of heavy character reactions and action sequences or site gags—whatever the script calls for, he nails it. His work isn’t as intricate as some other Valiant artists, but Quantum and Woody! is a unique corner of the Valiant Universe, and Eisma expertly draws it that way.    

Overall: All three issues of the Eliot Rahal run on Quantum and Woody! so far have been vastly different yet equally as interesting and great. Rahal and his collaborators are doing a really impressive job drilling into these characters to find new ground for fresh stories. 8.5/10

For more about this Quantum and Woody! run, read our reviews of Quantum and Woody! #6 & Quantum and Woody #7.

Hear Quantum and Woody! artist Joe Eisma's recent appearance on the WMQ&A Podcast!

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: Crude #4 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, & Thomas Mauer

Crude #4 is out July 18.

By Zack Quaintance — Crude #4 is yet another intense and emotional installment for one of the smartest series in indie comics. This book has a pair of clearly established plot lines—a father-son revenge story, and a meditation on late-model capitalism curtailing the humanity of individuals—and in this issue they begin to thoroughly intertwine in a way that really pushes the story forward.

Crude #4 opens exactly where the preceding issue left off, with protagonist Piotr Petrovich demanding information about his murdered son from a mob of attackers, all of whom he subsequently dispatches while incurring no greater damage than a cut on his arm. No greater physical damage, anyway. The larger stakes of the battle (as well as this book) involve what our hero learns about his son.

Being able to win fights but wanting instead to know more of his lost son is a value structure established quite well by Crude’s first three issues. Where #4 finds new ground is in its exploration of workers rights, corporations, industrial cartels, and the way individuals are controlled and debased by corrupt systems, no matter how hard they work. It also starts to explore the generational gap that has taken hold in society's across the world: the father as a good trusting soldier, the son as someone striving for change. This may be a reductive, but Crude is sneakily timely as hell.

In one particularly effective scene, a shady besuited executive rages that a single man is causing him so many problems, a man who is effectively acting outside established structures. It’s a telling metaphor, one Orlando and Brown have previously hinted at but kept in the background, wisely devoting earlier issues to vesting the audience in the more poignant father-son story.

One of the things I liked most about Crude #4, though, was the growth for the hero (or the promise of growth soon). It’s the best sort of character development: painful yet exactly what he wanted. Piotr has essentially been broken down of his own volition, continuing to learn that he didn’t know his son at all. Now begins the fascinating work of watching how he responds.

I’ve made this (likely simplistic) comparison before, but the emotional complexity of this comic is a bit like a Russian novel. At the same time, Orlando and Brown are clearly seasoned comics creators, because the usual qualities of great visual storytelling in chapter format are very much present: action, cliffhangers, callbacks to earlier issues. For me, it's this mix of fundamentals and meaning that make Crude so compelling.

Overall: Crude continues to have one of the most compelling hero's journeys in all of comics, one that blends gritty action with emotional devastation and subtle commentary. This fourth issue again ups the stakes in ways I could not have predicted. 9.0/10

For more about Crude, read our previous reviews of Crude #2 and Crude #3.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Amazing Spider-Man #1 Brings the Funny: A 5-Panel Explainer

By Zack Quaintance — The with great power comes great responsibility ethos of Amazing Spider-Man is almost universally relatable, especially for middle class Americans who’ve had even minor opportunities. It definitely resonated with me as a kid in a blue collar suburb of Chicago. The sum total of my power back then was manipulating my brothers into unholy pacts to combine birthday money for new video games. Yet there I was, reading ASM and nodding along, like, This story gets me.

That deeper meaning, however, was only half of why I loved the comic. I was also there because Spider-Man’s jokes were funny. Last Wednesday, a new team of writer Nick Spencer and artist Ryan Ottley took over Amazing Spider-Man (we loved the first issue), and while a more holistic view of their run will ultimately determine whether they do justice to that ethos, it’s immediately clear the humor is on point. I, for one, chuckled while reading...chuckled!

Anyway, today we're looking at five funny panels from Amazing Spider-Man #1. It’s not as insightful as some other recent Tuesday analysis pieces (ahem, see this thing about Deathstroke, please!), but like Spider-Man, we are also here to bring some funny (plus we're at San Diego Comic Con next week, so we have to do five day's worth of posts this weekend).

Let’s do this!

Panel 1 - Kiss B-Sides

The previous Amazing Spider-Man writer, Dan Slott, had a good sense of humor, to be sure, but you try writing 10 years worth of quips for the same voice and see how your results are toward the end. What struck my as different about Spencer's humor right away was how it extends past Spider-Man to include jokes at the expense of or said by other heroes in the Marvel Universe.

Take, for example, this excellent bit with the Guardians of the Galaxy. The writing here is funny, first as the Guardians banter and Groot lets slip something speciesist, and next as Hawkeye (a quippy fellow himself) mocks the way '80s music has become part of the Guardians' DNA via their depiction in the movies. 

Panel 2 - Workshopping Jokes

This was a nice little set them up and then knock them down kind of joke, wherein Spider-Man admits to workshopping past jokes to evaluate whether they're fit to be used again (although his ability to perceive their reception is a little questionable). Oh and stick with this, it's a long one...

Panel 3 - Doom-ocracy

In the (almost) words of the immortal Kent Brockman of The Simpsons, if Doom has said it before, he'll say it again...democracy simply doesn't work.

Panel 4 - Pop Culture

Now, I'm not saying that Spidey should become Deadpool (oof, no thanks, one is enough), but it's nice when his books have a little pop culture perspective in them. There's this quote—and I can't remember its exact wording nor who said it—and its gist is that comics are sort of a fast and immediate reflection of the pop culture zeitgeist at any given time (ignore that the panel below quotes dialogue from a movie released in 1977, please!). 

Also, I for one have always been curious about how superheroes manage to find the time and nutritional obsessiveness to stay in such great shape. Nice to get a little nod to that here.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Panel 5 - The Magic Chair

This is absolutely the bit that made me chuckle. It should be noted that while I've placed these disembodied panels beside each other, this third panel is separated from the first one by quite a bit of narrative, making this joke what we who have listened to podcasts about the business like to refer to as a call back. 

Peter loves his chair.

Peter loses his chair.

Peter's chair (much later) finds a good home.

But Not So Fast

This is the part of this feature wherein I take a step back to taper my excitement. I must admit, however, that it's pretty challenging here. Spencer and Ottley's Spider-Man isn't yet demonstrably superior (heh) to Slott's. It's been one (very very very good) issue for them, while Slott did his thing with varied level of success for almost 10 years. So, I guess I'll pump my enthusiastic brakes here a moment by noting that they need to show they can perform at this high a level for more than just one outing.

Still, what a great start for the new team. It's a comic review cliche in an industry that runs on nostalgia, but this really is much closer to the Spider-Man stories I remember reading and watching when I was a kid. 

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: The Weatherman #2 by Jody LeHeup, Nathan Fox, Dave Stewart, & Steve Wands

The Weatherman #2 drops on July 18.

By Zack Quaintance — The Weatherman #1 was a pretty impressive debut comic, one that I like even more after getting some additional context from this second issue. In the first issue, there’s a montage in which it’s established that the titular Weatherman is painfully earnest, an irreverent entertainer who is blatant about his thoughts, feelings, desires, and corny jokes. I wasn’t sure last issue if these qualities were established for laughs, or if there was a greater narrative function for them.

After reading The Weatherman #2, it’s now clear it was the latter. Not to give too much away (ahem, spoilers!), but the central conceit of this series is that our protagonist at some point had his mind wiped. This plays to one of the comic book medium’s greatest strengths: the ability of drawings to create rough approximations for readers to envision themselves in characters better than they can in movies or on TV. Working a hero’s innocence into the plot plays to that strength, engendering a powerful amount of sympathy for our lead, feckless and crude as he may sometimes be. He’s basically a man who likely committed a horrific crime but has been more or less good ever since, cleansed of that memory and persona, turned into an utter innocent.

So, that’s all really strong, and the art in #2 is as captivating as it was in the first issue. The third act also expertly rushes toward a searing cliffhanger, much like the first issue again. Between this book and another new favorite of mine, Skyward, Image Comics is putting out some really fundamentally sound books that incentivize reading monthly versus waiting for a trade. There’s something very endearing and old school about that, and I’m loving it.

Before I give this book my full-on, must-read glowing mega endorsement, however, I should note there’s a scene with some pretty gruesome animal cruelty. This is an adult comic, and violence is to be expected—hell, elsewhere it’s established that seven years ago one of our characters maybe aided a terrorist attack that killed 18 billion people—but there’s imagery in The Weatherman #2 that crosses some usual lines. I cringed. So, be warned that you might, too.  

Overall: The Weatherman continues to establish itself as yet another must-read science fiction comic in a banner year for that genre. The art, pacing, and concept are confident and complex, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the best of this book is still yet to come. 8.0/10

SPECIAL NOTE: For more thoughts about The Weatherman, see our Best Debut Comics of June 2018.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Top Previews for the Week of July 16

By Zack Quaintance — This is an odd week for previews, with publishers and publicists focused on the upcoming San Diego Comic Con, which starts Thursday. News, of course, has begun to leak with the event's schedule and panel announcements, but deliberate releases of interior art (the back bone of this got-danged feature) have been greatly reduced.

But! We have still managed to find five solid choices that are worth including in our weekly roundup, as well as several others that warranted consideration but fell slightly short. This week we have a triple blast from one of this site's favorite indie publishers, Valiant Entertainment, as well as a look at new forthcoming book from another publisher this is quickly rising in the industry, AfterShock Comics.

Oh yes, and we will be in attendance this coming week at San Diego Comic Con...so look for Tweets/maybe even a site update about all of that!

In the meantime, our regular content will continue as scheduled!

*Preview of the Week*
Black Badge #1
Writer: 
Matt Kindt
Artist: Tyler Jenkins
Publisher: Boom! Studios
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / Aug. 8, 2018
Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins, the team behind Grass Kings, reunite for a new ongoing series about a top-secret, elite branch of boy scouts tasked by the government to take on covert missions. Among their organization, the Black Badges are the elite; the best of the best. They are feared even by the other badges. The missions they take are dangerous, and they will only get worse as their leader's attention is split between their mission objectives and tracking down a lost team member. A team member who disappeared years ago, presumed dead. A haunting look at foreign policy, culture wars and isolationism through the lens of kids who know they must fix the worlds that adults have broken.
Our Take: Holy cow, we were on board with this as soon as we heard it was the same creative team from the recently-ended book Grass Kings, but a haunting look at foreign policy, culture wards and isolationism through the lens fo kids who know they must fix what adults have broken...? And written by Matt Kindt? This is one of our most hotly-anticipated books of the summer. 

THE LAST SPACE RACE #1
Writer: Peter Calloway
Artist: Alex Shibao
Colorist: Natalia Marques
Letterer: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / Oct. 09, 2019
It started as an anomaly. An outlier in the noise that’s so common in astronomical data. But the truth sends the United States—and the world—careening into what will become humanity’s LAST SPACE RACE. Leading the effort for the United States is one man, Sasha Balodis. A fun-loving tech billionaire turned aerospace titan, Sasha’s seemingly perfect life has been gripped by recent tragedy. Building and launching the most expensive, most ambitious and most important project in history—well, it gives him something to live for again. There’s only one thing standing in his way: his arch-rival and chief aerospace competitor, Roger Freeman.
Our Take: This book wonders what would happen if an extinction level threat started flying our way through space and the government was unprepared...and then it answers that by suggesting tech billionaires would have to step up. It's a frighteningly real premise, one that is being executed by TV veteran Petter Calloway (Legion, Cloak & Dagger, Under the Dome). Basically, we wouldn't be surprised if this ends up being one of those comics fast-tracked for TV adaptation.

Ninja-K #9
Writer: 
Christos Gage
Artist: Juan Jose Ryp
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / July 18, 2018
It all comes down to this! Ninjak – plus his black-ops backup squad of Livewire, Punk Mambo, Doctor Mirage, and GIN-GR – have been sent into Mexico City to destroy an indestructible target! But their quarry – The Jonin, the Ninja Programme’s seemingly ageless former sensei – has assembled his own strike force of improbable powers to meet them head on! Now, the biggest hero-versus-villain showdown of 2018 is about to reach a fever pitch in the stunning finale to “THE COALITION” from renowned writer Christos Gage (Netflix’s Daredevil) and incendiary artist Juan José Ryp (BRITANNIA)!
Our Take: Ah, compared to the full-on mayhem about to break out in the next issue of Harbinger Wars 2, this book seems like it will be a nice reminder of a simpler time when sometimes Valiant characters got along. Also, we are straight-up there for it any time Juan Jose Ryp draws the Eternal Warrior, or really any Valiant characters, come to think of it...

Quantum and Woody! #8
Writer: 
Eliot Rahal
Artist: Joe Eisma
Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / July 18, 2018
Quantum and Woody just barely escaped from a surreal atomic realm…and, unfortunately, they’ve brought some pieces of it back with them! As dangerous new threats plunge their city even deeper into chaos, they’ll soon realize that they have bigger problems and bigger grudges than ever before – now if the brothers are anywhere near one another, their powers stop working! The world’s worst superhero team is going to have to go it alone as “SEPARATION ANXIETY” presents a super-powered stress test, courtesy of rising star Eliot Rahal (The Paybacks) and Eisner Award-nominated artist Joe Eisma (Morning Glories, Archie)!
Our Take: Quantum and Woody! is currently one of our favorite things happening at Valiant, as we've detailed in our reviews of Quantum and Woody! #6 and Quantum and Woody! #7, and now the book comes to a full-stop jumping on point with a great new artist, Joe Eisma. In his first two issues, writer Eliot Rahal has shown he can put these character through a wide-range of ordeals. Now, he seems to be returning them back a bit to their status quo, having expanded what's possible within this book beforehand.

Shadowman #5
Writer: 
Andy Diggle
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / July 18, 2018
As roving gangs ravage the landscape of post-Civil War America, there’s little hope and even fewer chances of escape for those caught in their clutches…except in the shadows! Enter: Marius Boniface – first bearer of the Shadowman loa and Jack Boniface’s own great-great-great grandfather! But as the sun sets, the Shadowman’s coming will lead to more than just a rebellion… Unstuck in time, Jack is about to come face-to-face with the first to bear his curse, and will finally learn the truth about the Shadowman legacy’s connection to his family’s doomed bloodline!
Our Take: Valiant is our favorite underrated publisher, and Shadowman is our favorite underrated character within that underrated publisher. It's all subjective, of course, but damned if that's not how we feel about all of this. Andy Diggle's run on this book has been perfectly morbid and steeped in the occult, and Doug Braithwaite art is always impressive.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at@zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: Clankillers #1 by Sean Lewis & Antonio Fuso

Clankillers #1 is dark and gritty in way readers might not expect.

By Zack Quaintance — Clankillers #1 is a gritty comic, but not in the way you might think. It’s not gratuitous nor extreme. There are violence and hints of sex, some nudity, but any violence is unfortunate for all, any sex utterly bleak and without any glamor or romance. Essentially, Clankillers is gritty in a way that feels real in tone and emotion, so much so the book’s imagery lingered with me for days.

It feels real in how cruel its king is (Padraig the Grotesque), how calloused the child protagonist/narrator has become, how fearful and supplicant the king’s subjects are in his presence. Yet, bits of supernatural Celtic folklore float amidst the story (which is set in feudal Ireland), failing to amaze or even captivate Clankillers’ cast, so comfortable are they with banshees and goddesses existing nearby.

It’s this nonchalance I found so haunting. In one scene, protagonist Finola and her best friend the orphan Cillian play with a severed idiot’s head, obviously not for the first time because Finola remarks: This one’s got good bounce to his noggin. In another scene, she launches into a harsh summary narration about her world...This dark fucking world we live in. Only one thing you can do in the face of it all...be darker than the fecks.

The book’s strengths are how it creates a sense of an unavoidable tragedy, and how it gives our hero a clear (if seemingly impossible goal): to get revenge on a goddess who took her mother and drove her father mad by killing Ireland’s four clans.

The visuals are also captivating, rough by design. The entire first issue is bookended by ethereal imagery in which an as-of-yet unnamed naked woman with mysterious body markings and one eye exhales and inhales our story, as if its entirety is being created on her breath. Lewis also makes great choices with what to include in his panels, incorporating disembodied floating skulls in one memorable scene to emphasize a character’s cruelty, while at other times playing with sizes to depict power dynamics.

The book has a unique look and tone, to be sure, and in a year when so many comic book genres—from science fiction to horror—are so heavily saturated, historical and mythological fiction has been somewhat missing. Clankillers being rooted in Celtic lore sets it apart. The bleakness can be oppressive at times, though, and it remains to be seen if there’s power or poeticism behind the grit and doom and dourness that Sean Lewis has done so well.

Overall: Clankillers #1 covers rare ground in comics, and it covers it well, depicting the bleak darkness of Celtic mythology. The excellent artwork fits the tone, and the hero is given a clear objective to move the plot forward. Essentially, this story feels captivating in a way not unlike a slow trainwreck. 8.0/10

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia…A Greek Tragedy Told in Comics

The physical battle between Batman and Wonder Woman in this story is  less meaningful than the ideological conflict.

By Taylor Pechter — “…But all tragedies end the same way…”

This is the theme that permeates the 2002 original graphic novel Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia, scripted by Greg Rucka, illustrated by J.G. Jones & Wade Von Grawbadger, and colored by industry veteran Dave Stewart. It’s a story told in comic form, yet it possesses many of the essential elements of a modern Greek tragedy, including impossible situations and a heartbreaking downfall.

This story follows Wonder Woman/Diana Prince as she becomes honor-bound to a woman named Danielle Weelys through the ritual of Hiketeia, an ancient tradition from Greece in which a poor or destitute individual supplicates oneself to a wealthy benefactor who must then protect them. If either the supplicant of supplicated disobeys the commitment, the Furies come to inflict punishment. From here, we enter Diana’s story.

Our narrative starts at its end. Diana is Themyscira’s ambassador to Man’s World. As she stares out her window at the Erynies or Furies, she recalls all that transpired to lead her to this moment, as well as how it could have been different. We transition then to three weeks ago in Gotham City, where for the first time we see the character Danielle. We know little about her at the start, save that she hunts down and ultimately murders a man. She is then confronted by Batman, who for all intents and purposes is the villain of this tale. A chase ensues, and Danielle throws herself into Gotham Harbor. She then supplicates herself to Diana using Hiketeia, thereby setting into motion our central ideological conflict.

Again, Batman is unofficially the villain of the story. What Rucka does more than anything in this story is contrast Diana’s sense of duty and honor with Batman’s sense of justice and righteousness. This ideological conflict drives the story as Danielle eventually becomes caught between her loyalty to Diana and her own sense of justice.

In a very emotional scene, we watch as Danielle explains her story to Diana, who uses the Lasso of Truth to extract it. We learn about Danielle’s younger sister, Melody, who moved to Gotham City from Webster Groves, Mo. to try and make it big. Insidious Gotham, however, swallowed her: she was taken advantage of, raped, and later murdered. It is here Rucka deconstructs modern day American society: we see police finding a needle that was used to drug Melody during her assault and making immediate presumptions, ultimately labeling her just another junkie whore…all of which Danielle describes.

Batman's hard-line stance against murder puts him into conflict with Wonder Woman, who is honor-bound to protect a woman who kills to get justice for her lost sister.

Danielle subsequently sets out to get justice for her baby sister by killing the men who hurt her. This revelation does not hasten Diana’s resolve to protect Danielle—it doesn’t need to, as they are still bound by the ritual. Soon a second confrontation with Batman occurs, wherein Danielle defends her actions to the Caped Crusader. Danielle’s predicament is much like the old paradox of a poor man breaking into a pharmacy to get medicine for his sickly family…is he wrong because his actions are against the law, or is he right because he is doing what is best for him and his family? Is Danielle right for murdering those men because they did the same to her sister, or is she motivated by selfish vengeance? This is the paradox. While Wonder Woman is forgiving of Danielle’s situation, Batman is not. As we all know, Batman’s views on killing—even when killing seems more than justified—are quite staunch.

We now reach the climax of the story, as the ideological tension between Diana and Bruce finally builds into a fight. This fight is a footnote, however, with Diana making quick work of her mortal foe. Batman tries to appeal by supplicating himself, but Diana denies the request. In the commotion, however, Danielle runs. With the Erynies whispering in her ears, she leaps off a balcony onto the rocks below. As the book draws to close, we see Diana in contemplation again—much as we did at the start—wondering: Why is Man’s World so cold…It was never this cold on Themyscira.  

With Hiketeia, Greg Rucka weaves a quintessential Wonder Woman tale. We see Diana struggle with Man’s World and her obligations, as well as with her own sense of duty and honor. It creates a poignant contrast with Batman’s own sense of justice, which has been explored time and again in comics, leading to a central conflict that is engaging and emotional. J.G. Jones pencils and Wade Von Grawbadger’s inks infuse this story with both bleakness and hope, while Dave Stewart’s hues give it added weight.

Following Hiketeia, Rucka went on to write two critically-acclaimed Wonder Woman runs (one that began in 2003 and lasted for three years, and another that started with DC Rebirth and ran for 25 issues), solidifying himself as a preeminent voice for not only Diana, but for female superheroes in comics.

Taylor Pechter is a passionate comic book fan and nerd. Find him on Twitter @TheInspecter.

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man #1 by Nick Spencer, Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, & Laura Martin

Amazing Spider-Man seems to be in good hands with Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley.

By Zack Quaintance — Taking a beloved superhero back to basics in 2018 seems to mean a new creative team uses a whiteboard to free associate essential qualities that make a character compelling. They undo some of the last team’s work, while keeping other pieces that fit their vision. They then write and draw the hell out of their first issue, inspiring us fans to rush off and Tweet: THIS is the Spider-man I’ve been missing!

It’s not a bad thing, far from it. It certainly works here, as writer Nick Spencer and artist Ryan Ottley take over Amazing Spider-Man, marking the book’s first new creators in a decade. So, what do I think Spencer and Ottley put on their white board? WARNING, here come SPOILERS…I’d it included voice, humor, bad Parker luck, with great power comes great responsibility, and...wait for it…Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane.   

Now, I could spend this entire review discussing how Spencer expertly capture’s Peter’s interiority, how his writing made me laugh aloud, or how he nails Spideys relationship with other heroes—well-meaning but overly chatty and insecure. I could also easily heap 500 words of praise on Ottley’s artwork, which is that good. There’s a two-page spread in particular that made me realize what fans stand to gain by having Ottley on a flagship title.

This is all, however, overshadowed by Spencer’s clear intent to undo One More Day. For those who somehow missed it, in the 2007 story One More Day, Peter trades his marriage with Mary Jane to the demon Mephisto, who revives his Aunt May, effectively making Spider-Man single again. I personally disliked this decision, and I wasn’t alone.

But Spencer bookends this issue with scenes that seem to promise Peter and Mary Jane are getting back together. I try not to be overly prescriptive about comic book writing (much respect for vision and craft), but if I may let down my analytical guise: Holy hell this is everything I’ve wanted for a decade ahhhhhhhhh!

Ahem, now where was I?

Oh right: this issue left me feeling really good about Amazing Spider-Man’s future, both in terms of Spencer capturing what makes Spider-Man special and spinning (heh) interesting plots. Spencer’s take on Spider-Man’s villains is also unsurprisingly great, and not just because he makes them so relatable (Venture Bros.-esque, as he did in Superior Foes of Spider-Man).

In this debut, Spencer includes a ton of Spidey’s excellent rogues, using at least five villains plus a sixth who is discussed but not seen. Spencer, however, isn’t out to re-invent dynamics as Dan Slott seemed to be in his run. Spencer instead appears determined to let shared history between characters influence new battles in ways that feel fresh, which as we’ve seen elsewhere in superhero comics recently (DC Rebirth), is a great way to tell compelling stories about aging properties.

Overall: It sounds cliche, but Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley really do take Spider-Man back to basics in the best possible way. The Ottley artwork is phenomenal, and the plot and characterization feel both fitting and natural. If this debut is a mission statement for what the new team is planning, I am firmly on board. 9.5/10

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Monstress #18 by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, & Rus Wooton

Monstress #18 is the crashing finale to this Eisner-nominated comic's third arc.

By Zack Quaintance — I’ve been reading Monstress issue-to-issue from its start, enthralled by writer Marjorie Liu’s depth of vision as well as the unparalleled artwork produced by Sana Takeda, as lush as it is detailed. The book blends anime stylizations, fantasy novel trappings, and hints of Eastern mythology, creating a unique reading experience. It also seamlessly alternates from subtle issues that explore its world and strengthen the bonds between characters, to issues that serve as high stakes crescendos.

Monstress #18 is decidedly of the latter category, ranking as the most consequential action-heavy issue since the series’ searing debut, which was a statement about the marginalized striking back against abuse. Reading this issue, it struck me that our protagonist Maika’s being part of an oppressed group is an idea that has faded a bit in favor of her own personal hero’s journey, of her growing into an almost mythical savoir from a powerful line.

It’s a transition that has given her more agency than she had at the start. Maika was threatened in early issues by horsemen and soldiers. By comparison, she has now become the living world’s lone defender against a threat that could end it. Maika’s development feels patient, too, a reward to long-time readers that makes her heroism in this issue all the more impactful.

And this is just the first panel.

In the end, we are left with a sense that the threats and bad actors in our story are not quite what they seem, and while this could feel unwieldy—if every development is OMG SO HUGE AND WOW!, no developments are OMG SO HUGE AND WOW!—Liu simultaneously uses her supporting cast to remind us of the relatable stakes for our protagonist. It’s a wise choice, one that ultimately makes this one of my favorite issues of Monstress this arc.   

I’m tempted to call Monstress under-appreciated, although I’m not sure that’s right, as I often see it prominently displayed on end caps in independent bookstores alongside the likes of Saga, Ms. Marvel, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther. This comic has its readership, to be sure, and it is, perhaps, better-suited for trade, so dense is its plotting. I do, however, think there’s quite a bit to like for monthly readers who haven’t tried the book, all of whom are missing out on—at minimum—some of the industry’s best artwork.

Lastly, it should be noted that there will soon be three Monstress trades available, and that there’s never been a better time for new readers to give it a shot.

Overall: The finale of Monstress’ third arc does not disappoint, continuing to illuminate this world’s mythology. This issue is action-heavy, yet it takes time to seed its next arc with a more relatable crisis. Simply put, Liu and Takeda continue to build something truly special. 8.5/10

SPECIAL NOTE: For more thoughts about Monstress, see Top Comics of January 2018.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.