REVIEW: Lost City Explorers #1 by Zack Kaplan, Alvaro Sarraseca, Chris Blythe, & Troy Peteri

  Lost City Explorers #1  is out June 20. 

Lost City Explorers #1 is out June 20. 

By Zack Quaintance — There’s an interesting dichotomy in AfterShock Comics’ latest series, Lost City Explorers. On its surface, the book has all the trappings of a traditional teen adventure story—bickering siblings, a diverse group of friends, a parent lost to a mysterious realm beneath the city—but rather than lean into the ‘80s nostalgia that has come to define this sort of story in recent years (see Netflix’s Stranger Things), this comic goes the other way, makings its protagonists very much of our time.

For example, the introductory scene depicts a science experiment deep beneath New York City that suddenly goes wrong and swallows its researchers. This entire scene feels timeless, as if it could have happened from 1950 on. Once it has concluded though, artists Alvaro Sarraseca and Chris Blythe give us an establishing shot of modern New York City (with One World Trade Center and all) that next gives way to teens at a Bleachers concert (great band, btw).

The characters in the first scene may as well be ‘80s teen adventurers grown up, while those who follow are their kids, left to navigate a less rosy world. In fact, our protagonist’s fitting first line is, This world sucks. And the scene goes on from there to expertly capture the vast uncertainty of heading toward high school graduation without a blueprint for what comes next. One fantastic panel has main character Hel standing with her toes over the edge of subway platform, musing, Everything just seems so pointless. 

 This comic brings the teen adventure genre out of the '80s and into 2018.

This comic brings the teen adventure genre out of the '80s and into 2018.

Essentially, Lost City Explorers #1 seems to have its kids saying, Yes, we remember teen movie nostalgia, but what does that have to do with our plight? It’s an interesting ideological contrast, and I hope the book delves into it more substantially as things progress.

This issue is ambitious, deliberately working toward its (excellent) final panel, which marks the proper start of the adventure to come. In getting there, however, there is A LOT of exposition, dolled out in too-large chunks that occasionally slow the pacing. Kaplan writes great dialogue, but in one scene following a funeral, a character lapses into straight info dumping that feels a little jarring.

I can’t, however, imagine there’s much left to impart in the second issue, and as such I’m optimistic this book will get even better as it goes. For now, though, I’d say this is a solid comic, very much worth a read for fans of teen adventure stories, especially those born after 1994 who just don’t understand my (slightly...only slightly!) older generation’s fascination with the ‘80s.

Overall: Lost City Explorers #1 is a mashup of bygone teen adventure stories and 2018 sensibilities, blending earnest wonder with the blunted expectations of today. It's a really interesting book, seemingly bent on reclaiming the genre from decades past. There is, however, much exposition in this first issue. I won’t be surprised if #2 is stronger. 7.8/10

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

ADVANCED REVIEW: Unnatural #1 by Mirka Andolfo

 Look carefully and you may miss the pig features, likely a deliberate blurring of perception by artist/writer Mirka Andolfo.

Look carefully and you may miss the pig features, likely a deliberate blurring of perception by artist/writer Mirka Andolfo.

By Zack QuaintanceUnnatural #1 has intrigued me since it was announced. The first sentence of its summary reads: Leslie is a simple pig girl. She loves sushi, she's stuck with a job she hates, and she lives under a brutal totalitarian government—one that punishes transgressors for anything deemed "unnatural." Meanwhile, its cover features said pig girl in a state of undress. Look quickly, and you almost miss the pig, so faint are the animal touches. See what I mean? Intriguing.

That aside, I didn’t know what to expect from this, first of a 12-part story originally published in writer/artist Mirka Andolfo’s native Italy. It is, however, pretty straightforward. Unnatural #1 is essentially an exploration of government interfering with sex and freedom. Andolfo has cited George Orwell’s novels as inspiration, which certainly shows. Indeed, a simplistic and reductive pitch for this book could be: Animal Farm meets 1984 with a dose of 2018 sexual politics.

The result, though, is a comic of the highest order. I loved Unnatural #1, from the artwork to the capital B Big ideas beneath it. This first issue is a joy, both entertaining and filled with smart questions. There’s a central metaphor here conjures images of governmental decisions on birth control, abortion, same-sex marriage...all of which are recent or ongoing.

This is, perhaps, part of why Unnatural works so well on an intellectual level. There has been tension between government and its constituents in this area likely back to the dawn of civilization, and Unnatural extrapolates what could happen if that tension tipped too far toward one side (in this story it’s a prurient interest in further reproduction among the same species).

  Unnatural #1  does a wonderful job using relatable character moments to deliver its complex questions and central metaphor.

Unnatural #1 does a wonderful job using relatable character moments to deliver its complex questions and central metaphor.

Past the Big ideas, however, the book is well-done and engaging, devoting time to relatable character moments—a love of sushi, a disdain for rain, banter between roommates—while checking standard first issue boxes: world-building, character names, cliffhanger ending, etc. As for the art, Andolfo’s work is sexy, reductive as that sounds. It isolates notions of beauty—steely blue eyes, voluptuousness, confident smirks—and telegraphs them onto anthropomorphic figures, giving the animals desirability, if only for a moment. Andolfo has said she doesn’t like drawing humans, and her choice to go anthropomorphic may be simple as that, but I suspect blurring lust lines between species was a deliberate means of depicting inherently fuzzy lines of sexual attraction.

I only took issue with one panel in this book. A lot of comics do a wonderful job of subtly building a central conceit without explicitly stating it—before going ahead and stating it anyway. One famous example is The Walking Dead, with a full-page early on wherein protagonist Rick Grimes yells something like, Don’t you see? WE are the walking dead? There’s a similar panel in Unnatural, though not as grievous. Really, it’s a small compliant in an otherwise stellar comic.

Overall: This is a captivating book, at once smart, poignant, and stylish. Andolfo clearly has strong thoughts about the intersection of sex and government, but she also knows well that those thoughts are best served by first and foremost telling an entertaining story. As a result, Unnatural #1 is not to be missed. 9.5/10

Unnatural #1 comes out July 4, 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 June 18

By Zack Quaintance — In recent weeks, we’ve launched a semi-relentless campaign to be added to as many comic book publisher media lists as possible. Okay, full disclosure, this has been an ongoing campaign for some time. But recently there’s been success! Anyway, thanks to some good folks who do publicity for many of our favorite comic publishers, we’re now regularly getting previews to share with you.

As such, this is the first in a weekly series titled Top New Previews From Last Week, which is exactly what it sounds like. Below you’ll find promotional copy and photos from some of the most exciting previews that came our way last week, along with a lukewarm take, in which we give a brief reaction to the book.

Enjoy!

Archie #32
Writers: Mark Waid & Ian Flynn
Artist: Audrey Mok
Colorist: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Archie Comics
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / On Sale 7/11/18
It all comes down to this! The Riverdale gang—held hostage by Cheryl Blossom's father! Reggie—at last paying for his crimes! And when all is said and done, Riverdale is turned upside down once more!
Our Take: Archie has become one of those books that is so good we take it for granted, dating back to when Mark Waid and Fiona Staples relaunched it back in July 2015. This latest arc has been solid, too. Enjoy guilt free!

Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome #1 (of 4)
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Robert Gill
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / On Sale 7/25/18
The Roman standard – the eagle borne at the front of each Roman legion – was more than just a symbol of the soldiers that carried it…It was a symbol of Rome itself, the ultimate embodiment of the empire’s power…

But now, in the mist-shrouded Germanic forest of Tottenwald, the unthinkable has happened: A rampaging barbarian horde has crushed three of Rome’s most highly skilled detachments in battle…and captured their mighty Roman eagles.

His authority threatened by this all-too-public shame, the mad emperor Nero has dispatched Antonius Axia, the empire’s finest “detectioner” and hero of Britannia, and Achillia, the sword-wielding champion of the gladiatorial arena, to reclaim his stolen relics at any cost.

But what began as a simple mission will soon become a terrifying journey into the dark heart of belief itself as the isolated woodlands of Rome’s enemies reveal unseen dimensions…and the true power of the legion’s lost eagles threatens to consume any who would pursue them…

Our Take: We’ve loved previous volumes of Britannia. The adventures of Valiant’s detectioner are as creepy as they are unpredictable. Some of Milligan’s best work (which is saying a lot), we’re all in for volume three! Also, for new readers these books really do stand on their own nicely.

Giant Days #40
Writer: John Alison
Artist: Max Sarin
Publisher: Boom! Studios
More Info: $3.99 / On Sale 7.4.18
Ed Gemmel returns to Sheffield after a summer spent healing bones and also his heart. Esther does her best to welcome him back, but neither of them have forgotten his drunken confession.
Lukewarm Take: Giant Days has been so good for so long, that’s it’s earning its place among all-time great slice-of-life comics. Powered by John Alison’s brilliant sense of character and dry wit, this book is a regular favorite of ours. Extra points for any issues featuring Ed Gemmel.

Harbinger Wars 2: Aftermath #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Adam Pollina
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / On Sale 9.26.18
The power’s back online and the fighting is over…but who are the real victors of Harbinger Wars 2, and what was truly lost in the carnage? For those who survived the terrible onslaught – and who must now witness the devastating aftereffects of their actions – will there ever be peace again?
Our Take: Harbinger Wars 2 is shaping up to be the Valiant Universe’s Civil War, and so far we’ve loved every moment of it. This event has done some deep, nuanced work with character motivations that is really paying off. Sign us up for this aftermath one-shot, too.

Moth & Whisper #1
Writer: Ted Anderson
Artist: Jen Hickman
Letterer: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / On Sale 9.12.18
Everyone knows that the two greatest thieves in the city are the Moth and the Whisper. Very few know that the Moth and the Whisper disappeared six months ago. And what nobody knows is that the new Moth and Whisper are actually one person pretending to be both of them. One supremely skilled but uncertain young genderfluid thief: Niki, the child of the Moth and the Whisper.

Niki has been trained by their parents in the arts of stealth and infiltration, but they’re still just a teenager, and now they’re alone, searching for their parents in a hostile cyberpunk dystopia. Corporations run the streets while crime lords like Ambrose Wolfe run the alleys—identity is a commodity and privacy is impossible. The truth about Niki’s parents and their disappearance is out there, but can Niki survive long enough to find it?

A Young Adult cyberpunk thriller starring a genderqueer super-thief, Moth & Whisper is the brainchild of Ted Anderson (My Little Pony, Adventure Time) and Jen Hickman (Jem and the Holograms, The Dead), that just HAD to be told at AfterShock!

Our Take: AfterShock Comics has been on some kind of roll lately, with a slew of new books in 2018 that are high on quality and also rich with what’s becoming a trademark AfterShock sensibility—heavy on the thrills with a side of genre, be it science fiction, dark fantasy, or horror. This book has an interesting premise and one hell of a creative team.

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

Top 5 Avengers Eras: A Look at Avengers Teams of the Past

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By Alex Wedderien The Avengers may be a massive name in comics and entertainment now, but that wasn’t always the case. Created in the early ‘60s as a way to fill a slot left by a late issue of Daredevil, The Avengers are a product of Stan Lee smashing together some of Marvel’s most popular heroes to form the company’s first super team. From those humble beginnings, the team grew from plucky upstarts to comic book icons.  

Now the basis for a multi-billion dollar movie franchise and a major part of Marvel’s most-recent publishing initiative under comic scribe Jason Aaron, The Avengers look to be in good hands for years to come.

In looking ahead, though, it’s important to also remember comics are a unique medium, and along with their headstrong march into the future, they always keep an eye on the past. With that bright future for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in mind, I'm taking a look today at The Avengers of the past, specifically at the best lineups of years gone by. These are the five bestin my humble opinion of course.

5. The Late '80s Avengers

By the late 80s, The Avengers team was in flux. Taking over for a beloved run which featured what many people feel is the definitive Avengers lineup, Roger Stern and John Buscema decided to mix in some lesser-known heroes to give their book a new dynamic.

Boasting a lineup that featured Monica Rambeau, Black Knight, Dr. Druid, and Namor among the likes of veteran Avengers Captain America and Thor, the run also includes classic storylines like Avengers Under Siege, which sees a Helmut Zemo-led Masters of Evil destroy Avengers Mansion.

4. The West Coast Avengers

If Avengers is the cooler older brother, West Coast Avengers was definitely the scrappier younger brother. Born in the early ‘80s, West Coast Avengers became the first ever spinoff of The Avengers, as well as an answer to the question, Why are all superheroes in New York City?

Based in Los Angeles and featuring a unique roster, the West Coast team was lead by Hawkeye and comprised of Wonder Man, Tigra, Mockingbird, Jim Rhodes’ Iron Man, and eventually even Moon Knight. West Coast Avengers served as a breath of fresh air alongside an Avengers lineup that had remained pretty consistent for the past decade, but by no means were they an inferior version of the main team.

Throughout their 10-year run, the West Coast team battled important Avengers foes like Ultron before it was eventually folded back into the main lineup.  

3. The Late '60s/Early '70s Avengers

Being the follow-up to a beloved debut run can be daunting, but when the duo you’re following is Jack Kirby and Stan Lee it might as well be an impossible task. That’s just what Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Sal and John Buscema walked into with their late ‘60s/early ‘70s run on Avengers.

When it was all said and done, however, they would create one of the best Avengers eras of all-time, their greatest villain in Ultron, iconic stories like The Kree/Skrull War and the debut of one of the team's most beloved heroes, the android Vision.

Along the way Thomas and crew would add a returning Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye, as well as the debuts of Hercules, Vision, and Black Panther to the team, leading the small core of heroes to some of their most classic storylines.

2. Captain America Returns

It was clear in the first three issues of The Avengers that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes would need a leader to rally its members. More of a ragtag group than an inspirational team of heroes, the original Avengers were a loose alliance who seemed like they could turn on each other at a moment's notice.   

That all changed with the discovery of the long frozen Captain America, who would shape not only the history of The Avengers, but superhero comics themselves. Almost immediately the team became a unified force under Cap’s tutelage and would go on to become the juggernaut it is today. Simply put, it all started here.

1. New Avengers Vol. 1

New Avengers came directly after the disbandment of the original team in Avengers: Disassembled, and it explored the idea of having a group of characters who had largely never been Avengers previously. Fan Favorites like Spider-Man, Wolverine, Daredevil, Iron First, and Ms. Marvel bolstered the popular lineup that quickly became known for its strong characters and frenetic action.   

Bringing the team back to the forefront in a big way after The Avengers had slipped out of mainstream comics consciousness, New Avengers was the start of The Avengers renaissance that continues to this day.

Alex Wedderien is a writer and pop culture journalist. Find him on Twitter @criticismandwit.

Top Batman #50 Wedding Variants (and Why We Love Them)

By Zack Quaintance — Batman and Catwoman are getting married (probably) in Batman #50, which drops on July 4. Unlike most weddings on holidays, the inconvenience here is actually minimal (no RSVP required...just go and buy the book) and the ceremony will likely get bombed or gassed or whatever by the Joker. You know how it goes—ol’ Batman is fated to forever make obsessive sacrifices to illustrate how his crusade against crime precludes him from being truly happy. Aren’t comics a nice escape?

That all, however, is a problem for our leather-clad couple to address later. These days before the nuptials are reserved for basking in romance, for hope that this time will be different, that keeping Bats tormented and alone has become a tired trope DC is willing to trade for expanded narrative options, you know, like having a happy married couple getting bombed or gassed or whatever by the Joker. At least for a couple years and a few dozen issues, maybe.

Anyway, in honor of said romance, comic book artists throughout the industry have created more than 40 variant covers...and counting. This is, to be certain, an overwhelming number of choices, even for savvy and adept collectors. So, we’re here today to help by laying out some of our favorites plus a few quick words about why we like each of them.

SPECIAL NOTE: I am a sappy fool about all things weddings-related. Apologies in advance if any of this tips into mush! Also, much thanks to Twitter user @batcatposts, who did a stellar job collecting the variants as they were announced.

Let’s say I do!

Top 5 Best Batman #50 Covers

Standard Cover by Mikel Janin
As noted, I’m a bit of a sentimentalist with weddings, and so this classic You may now kiss the bride shot, surrounded by flowers, is a must for me. I also like it as a companion piece to the cover of Batman #44, a Joelle Jones piece that gave us a wonderful look at Catwoman’s perfect wedding dress.

2 - Mikel Janin Standard Cover.jpg

Comic Sketch Art Variant by Dave Johnson
Dave Johnson is one of my favorite Batman cover artists of all time, dating back to his early 2000 covers for Greg Rucka’s run on Detective Comics, and this cover is classic Dave Johnson, complete with minimal design, strong monochromatic colors, and an image that speaks to the heart of the featured character, Catwoman. Bruce is entirely absent here, save for the Bat iconography on the dress, and that’s just fine. When it comes to weddings, the bride is the headliner, after all.

3 - Dave Johnson.jpg

Dynamic Forces Variant by Jae Lee
This one is a strong contender for our overall favorite. It easily makes the best use of the history between the couple with that colorful bit in the background, while at the same time dedicating the foreground to Selina’s dress and the romantic tension that has long driven this relationship—is she friend or foe? Does she love Batman? More importantly, does she love Batman enough to overcome the urge to rob Batman? It’s a cover with more questions than answers, which is my favorite type of art.

5 - Jae Lee - Dynamic Forces.jpg

Salefish Comics Variant by Joshua Middleton
Joshua Middleton has really emerged as one of the best cover artists in comics as of late, creating some true classics for DC’s artist-driven variants on both Aquaman and Batgirl. This cover, like Dave Johnson’s, is Selina only, and while the austere image is a goregeous one, it’s the expression on her face we like most, seeming to say, I can’t believe I’m getting married either, but isn’t this all a thrill? It’s perfect.

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ZMX Comics Variant by Jorge Jimenez
This one made our list for two reasons: 1. Nobody is drawing superheroes at Jorge Jimenez’s level right now. Nobody. And 2. While maybe a bit randier than wedding-related imagery ought to be, this is an image that again speaks to the nature of the Bat-Cat romantic dynamic. Also, it has Selina in charge (as it should be). Mercy!

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Others Receiving Votes

Best of the Bride Only Covers
Again, this is a wedding, and so the vast majority of attention should be on the bride. As such, there are far more covers featuring Selina than Bruce. Here are some of our favorite bride-only variants. From left to right, Eric Basaldua, Warrren Louw, Natali Sanders, and Ale Garza.

Who Needs Physics?
Cover by Guillem March for Kings Comics. Alls I’m saying is there’s no way this doesn’t end with injury...

Guillem March - Kings Comics.jpg

Why Are You Mad?
I'm not, but I wish this connecting Joe Madureira cover was a little more wedding-y. It's still very good, as is all of the rare comic artwork Joe Mad does at this stage of his career. Available via 4colorbeast.

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Can I See the Ring?
This last variant, which is by Mike Mayhew and available through Comicpop Collectibles, is a look at the realistic star of any wedding between a billionaire and a jewel thief—the ring.

14 - Mike Mayhew - Comicpop Collectibles.jpg


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

REVIEW: Plastic Man #1 by Gail Simone, Adriana Melo, Kelly Fitzpatrick, & Simon Bowland

 Plastic Man #1 cover by Aaron Lopresti.

Plastic Man #1 cover by Aaron Lopresti.

By Zack Quaintance — Plastic Man has gotten much run lately in the DC Universe, first as part of the uber event Dark Nights Metal and next as a member of The Terrifics, a Fantastic Four homage and standout title from DC’s New Age of Heroes line. Now, he’s starring in a 6-issue Plastic Man mini series by Gail Simone, Adriana Melo, Kelly Fitzpatrick, and Simon Bowland. Like Plastic Man himself, issue #1 is madcap and tense to the point of straining, yet it never breaks, resulting in an entertaining superhero comic that lends a different and refreshing voice to the DCU.

On a craft level, this book is incredibly well done. Simone is a veteran with all-time great runs to her name, and while this is my first exposure to Melo, her visuals cohere quite well with the script, which excels at building flourishes around fundamentals. In almost all Simone’s #1 issues, she wastes little time having both hero and villain introduce themselves, be it via dialogue or narration, but she also leaves room between exposition for killer writing, like: Cole City. A city where commerce takes place in the alleys and gutters. But not without a certain style… That’s an A+ opener.

Melo and Fitzpatrick’s art, meanwhile, gives Plastic Man #1 a timelessness similar to that of the character. The setting could be anywhere from the 1930s up to modern times. I don’t think Plastic Man himself is really certain, which brings me to the story’s greatest strength: it’s unreliable narrator. This book features the comic equivalent of what fiction writers call close first-person narration, and as such, it seems like Plastic Man’s own disorientation about his origin is influencing the story. It really works.

Humor is, of course, inherent to a hero called Plastic Man, yet he's not quite as self-aware or meta as characters like Deadpool or Harley Quinn, which is nice. His humor functions within the plot. Not all the jokes landed for me (humor is risky in comics), but I appreciated what the script was trying to do at all times.

 How far will Plastic Man stretch seems to be the metaphorical question at the heart of this series.

How far will Plastic Man stretch seems to be the metaphorical question at the heart of this series.

Basically, Plastic Man #1 features big personality and a set of loosely-defined boundaries. It’s a special type of superhero comic dealing in dark contrasts, featuring one panel where the narrator tells readers, They’re my best friends in the world...as said best friends whack him in the face with a baseball bat. His signature humor seems to be hiding great pain and darkness. Perhaps it’s fitting then that Plas himself says at one point, I’m not entirely sure how far I stretch. Before I snap, I mean. Wanna see? Let’s! He may as well be asking us.

Overall: Simone and Melo deploy a set of storytelling tools that create a unique aesthetic and tone, setting this book apart from DC’s line the same way Plastic Man stands out from their other heroes. Mileage may vary by sense of humor, but most fans will agree this book is fascinating and unique. 8.5/10

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

Obscure Characters for Geoff Johns' The Killing Zone Imprint

 Geoff Johns is launching a new  DC Comics  imprint dedicated to obscure characters.

Geoff Johns is launching a new DC Comics imprint dedicated to obscure characters.

By Various — News broke this week that Geoff Johns is stepping down as DC Entertainment president and chief creative officer for a writer-producer deal with Warner Bros. and DC Comics. Essentially, Johns is going from visionary/planner back to being mostly a creator.

This is exciting. Johns is like the Property Brothers of comics. He takes fixer-upper characters, so badly neglected it’s hard to see their charm, and renovates them, playing to original strengths while also introducing new, modern touches. Whereas the Property Brothers might put a flat screen in someone’s kitchen (right? I’ve never seen that show…), Johns is a one-man maternity ward, rebirthing superheroes (sorry) like Aquaman, Green Lantern, the Justice Society of America, and more.

The most exciting part of this week's news is that Johns will also run a comics imprint called The Killing Zone. Odd name aside, this imprint will focus “on new and lesser-known or dormant DC characters and titles.” Essentially, Johns is getting a slew of properties to fix up.

So, we lit the Bookcase Signal for ideas on which characters most need the Geoff Johns treatment, and here’s what some friends of the site replied…

1. @Kimota1977 - HUGE DC Comics Fan, Deep Love of Obscure Characters

 The Atomic Knight.

The Atomic Knight.

The Atomic Knight a.k.a Gardner Grayle - The Knight has an odd history. He originally appeared in ‘60s sci-fi comics, where he rode giant Dalmatians (yes, Dalmatians!) in a post-nuclear holocaust world. Eventually, he was linked to DC’s Great Disaster continuity via Hercules Unbound. In the ‘90s, he was brushed off and renewed as a member of The Outsiders.

Recently, though, his character was retconned and used in the One Year Later storyline of Battle For Bludhaven, eventually killed by Darkseid’s minions in Final Crisis. With Johns’ ability to make convoluted history work, the Atomic Knight is perfect for his new imprint. Basically, it’s science fiction, post-apocalyptic settings, quirky relatively forgotten superheroes…what’s not to love?

Ma Hunkel\Red Tornado - The original Red Tornado was not the crimson android most people know, but rather an initially-comedic, Rosie the Riveter-style factory worker in the Golden Age who earned an honorary spot in the JSA by battling neighborhood wise guys. She was last seen in the most recent JSA book, as the caretaker of the Society’s brownstone in NYC.

Ma Hunkel could be written with a rich sense of DC history. In Pre-Flashpoint continuity, she was at the beginning of the age of heroes, an inspiration to many female heroes who followed. Much like his Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. series, this character would open up the possibility of Johns adding more characters, dating back to the Golden Age. This is a good thing—whenever Johns taps DC's deep bench and extensive history, his books are pure unadulterated fun.

 Brother Power the Geek.

Brother Power the Geek.

Brother Power the Geek - The Geek character appeared in a brief, two-issue series in 1968. Starting as a pile of dirty hippie clothes left to dry on a seamstress’ mannequin while the hippies themselves just kind of….hung out. Brought to life by a combo of dry cleaning chemicals, a bolt of lightning, and a healthy suspension of disbelief; this mannequin shambled into the world, taught about life by the freewheeling hippies.

Other than a ‘90s one shot from Vertigo, he hasn’t been seen much, but this character could be used as a crux to access many forgotten Bronze/Silver Age DC characters. Prez. Stanley and his Monster. Claw the Unconquered. Stalker. So many opportunities.

Red Torpedo/Red Bee - This could be one of the greatest duo books ever. Both characters originated with now-defunct Quality Comics. They were acquired by DC and later retconned into the All-Star Squadron (Red Bee) and Freedom Fighters (Red Torpedo and Red Bee). The Bee was mostly a fists and domino mask hero, but he also trained bees (seriously) that he took into battle. Torpedo, meanwhile, had a submarine. Yep. A submarine. Both characters died tragic deaths.

They were also both members at one time or another of the Freedom Fighters, which was originally comprised solely of Quality characters. Introducing them would enable Johns to add more Freedom Fighters and other forgotten Quality characters, perhaps in the same story, ala Watchmen. With two of the most oddball superheroes in DC’s archives at the forefront, this is one of my biggest hopes for a non-team book!

 Inferior Five.

Inferior Five.

Inferior Five - A team of superheroes originally from humor comics, this group was made up of the offspring of more successful heroes on an alternate earth. Their parents–analogous of the Justice League–had retired and left the world to be protected by their kids…every one of which was more slapstick than heroic. The super-powered female member of the team–Dumb Bunny–was even retconned into being the sister of Angel from Angel and the Ape.

This title is my number three pick only because my last two are so deserving of a serious take. But these characters are still fun and could be easily added anywhere into continuity, plus they haven’t been seen since (yet again) a ‘90s miniseries.

Super Friends Trio - Apache Chief, Samurai, and Black Vulcan. The short pants alone could provide an entire story arc. These characters were created as additions for the old Super Friends cartoon, and they most recently popped up on the cover of a Superman in Bizarro World story.

These characters are perfect picks for Johns, boasting enough back story for him to tease old fans yet not enough to scare new fans away. They’ve long-deserved a real comic story and the nostalgia factor alone lands them at number 2 on my list of most wanted series.

 The Legion of Substitute Superheroes.

The Legion of Substitute Superheroes.

Legion of Subs - This is my number one pick. Johns tackled the convoluted Legion of SuperHeroes/Superboy storylines in his epic Action Comics run, and he also brought back the Legion of Substitute Heroes. As a longtime fan of this odd bunch, I loved every single panel of it.

The Subs are without a doubt the best possible odd and barely-remembered property you could put Johns on. They have a history dating back to the ‘60s and are one of the best parts of the Legion/Superman mythos. Chlorophyll Kid, Infectious Lass, Stone Boy….the entire team is one incredibly neurotic misfit after another. If all I get from The Killing Zone imprint this book, I’ll still be the happiest fan boy ever.

2. @AnderWriter - Co-host of Omni-Comics Podcast, Aquaman Super Fan

 The nuclear superhero Firestorm.

The nuclear superhero Firestorm.

Firestorm - Firestorm is perhaps more popular now than ever, having appeared on the CW show Legends of Tomorrow, and he’d be perfect for a series in The Killing Zone. Despite the show, this character has had little exposure in the comics recently. Firestorm is a strong concept and a character I’d love to see more, whether it's a version with Ronnie, Jason, or someone new.

Captain Atom - Like Firestorm, Nathaniel Adam (Captain Atom) is a nuclear-themed superhero who underwent a scientific procedure that resulted in powers and metallic-like skin. He's a character who’s served on the Justice League and is regularly depicted as one of DC's strongest superheroes. During the New 52, he had a solo series, but he’s rarely been seen since, making him another prime choice for Johns.

Fire - Beatriz Bonilla da Costa is a Brazilian superheroine known as Fire (not to be confused with Firestorm). She has also served on Justice League teams, and DC fans will likely recognize her green hair and body engulfed in green flames. However, she hasn't been seen in years, and it's a great time to re-introduce her. Hey, maybe it's also time for DC to bring back the Global Guardians! Anyway, Fire is an iconic heroine who hardcore DC fans instantly recognize and care for, so here's hoping she gets the attention she deserves with this new imprint.

3. @HaroldLauder4 - Big Ounce, Enjoys Bouncing, Comics, Inventing Superpowers

Captain Boomerang -  I’m biased, because Digger Harkness is one of my favorite DC characters, but I also think I’m not alone. I mean, Johns himself is an admitted fan, and he’s previously given Boomerang a compelling backstory, expounded on his ethics, and, hell, even revived him as a @#$%# White Lantern—that's got to count for something. Who knows, with Johns writing, maybe a Captain Boomerang book could rival Harley Quinn and Deathstroke as one of DC’s best villain-lead titles.

 Resurrection Man.

Resurrection Man.

Resurrection Man - Depending on how he dies, this character resurrects with a different superpower. Ever since the short-lived New 52 Resurrection Man, I’ve been in awe of this idea. To me, it’s a concept Johns can take so many directions, potentially involving Death of The Endless, The Black Racer, the foreboding realm of The Rot or The Red, and even ethereal guardians like The Spectre (more below). Whether he goes one of these routes or takes an entirely different approach, Resurrection Man would be a great new series.

The Spectre - One of DC’s oldest and most powerful heroes, seeing Jim Corrigan determine what constitutes good and evil while dishing out judgement could make a solid crime story in 2018.

REVIEW: Deep Roots #2 by Dan Watters, Val Rodrigues, & Triona Farrell

Deep Roots No. 2 takes readers—ahem—deeper into the world of the story, and the book is all the more compelling for it. As I wrote last month in my review of No. 1, there’s a dual narrative in play here, with one story rooted (sorry) in the familiar world we know and another that details a knight lost in another realm, a realm of flora and more flora but not much fauna. In this issue, the distinction between the two dimensions crumbles a bit, as the creators do a wonderful job of starting to entangle the plots they set into motion during the first installment.

The artwork by Rodrigues and Farrell is incredibly strong. It’s no easy thing to flow so seamlessly between drawing a fight between a knight and a hulking grotesque monster in a world that exists only in tree roots, to the back of a limo on a crowded street in London, where  high-ranking government operatives discuss a massive civic emergency. But Rodrigues creates two fascinating environments, which Farrell easily differentiates via subtle shifts in color. All throughout, Watters knows exactly when to back off with dialogue or narration to let the visuals shine.

I wrote pretty glowingly about Deep Roots in my last review, so hooked was I by the first issue and the premise, and when one is so taken with a first issue, there’s always a risk the second will come be a let down. Deep Roots avoids that, and it actually felt like the team was freer in this issue, having established just enough exposition to really start hitting its plot points. In other words, none of my excitement for Deep Roots has diminished.

To read a history of the world in the trunk of a great oak…

I’m way in on all the book's main themes, the commentary about the environment, about what’s happened to man in technological world, and about governmental response to  crisis. I also like the characters, especially the dynamic between the two women who've gone into the other realm in search of the knight from our ongoing legend. And although I’m yet to grasp it, there seems to be something consequential happening with time, as the tagline of the book is “To read a history of the world in the trunk of a great oak…”, and our other world leaves behind those who have inadvertently gone to wander among the plants. I don’t yet have a supposition about what it all means, but I’m excited to find out.

Overall: Deep Roots No. 2 continues to build on the bold vision from the first issue. I went to bat hard for this book after reading part one, and in this second issue the story progressed in a substantial way that made me feel validated. Deep Roots is quickly growing (I’ll see myself out) into one of the best indie books on the market. 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.

 Rodrigues and Farrell's artwork shows hints of tree rings in the characters' faces.

Rodrigues and Farrell's artwork shows hints of tree rings in the characters' faces.

ADVANCED REVIEW: Euthanauts #1 by Tini Howard, Nick Robles, & Aditya Bidikar

  Euthanauts #1  is an intriguing comic that lives up to its incredible cover art.

Euthanauts #1 is an intriguing comic that lives up to its incredible cover art.

Tini Howard and Nick Robles’ Euthanuats #1 first caught my attention weeks ago with its title and cover. In tandem, the two evoke thoughts of a woman journeying through death, body withered to bones as her head and mind are protected by a glass bauble, one that glows with life and attracts insects like a light bulb. My interest was bolstered further by the books presence on IDW’s imprint, Black Crown, from former long-time Vertigo editor Shelly Bond. I’ve enjoyed all Black Crown offerings (more here), but it was another book by Howard that really stood out to me: Assassinistas, a collaboration with the legendary Gilbert Hernandez that applies complex modern family dynamics to an archetypal femme fatale death squad.

Whereas Assassinistas is more of a character study, one laced with appropriate bits of humor and modest bouts of action, Euthanuats is better-described as an abstract and surreal walk through our fears, expectations and attitudes around death. Our protagonist is an alienated receptionist who works in a funeral home and is dissatisfied with her life and friendships. For the first two-thirds of the book, the story grounds us in this struggle, functioning well as a slice-of-life comic.

Howard’s characterization is strong, with effective interior monologue lines like, “I was thinking about how weird it is that I don’t like my friends and they don’t really like me—when I first saw her…”, as well as snappy character banter, such as, “It’s like, communism works just fine, you just have to really, really likeable.” Robles art is also wonderful, detailed and realistic, glazed over with a fitting color palette that manages to be forlorn without tipping into morbid or noir.

 Nick Robles' art in  Euthanauts #1  depicts a non-conventional side of death.

Nick Robles' art in Euthanauts #1 depicts a non-conventional side of death.

It is, however, the plot point that catapults us into the third act that really establishes this book as something special. Not to give too much away, but reality blurs into a world of ethereal surrealism, seemingly a realm of death, or near death. It's unclear, and the book makes a wise decision to keep readers disoriented. I’ve been reading comics for two decades and change, and as such I’ve seen an excessive number of visual depictions of death, limbo, the afterlife, etc. I’ve rarely seen one as intriguing as in Euthanuats, which I take as a testament to both the imagination and research that went into this story.

This has already been a fantastic year for comics as unfettered explorations of nigh-universal fears, concerns, or hang ups (see Eternity Girl, Mister Miracle, and several inward-facing horror books), but Euthanauts charges headlong at the most towering concern of all—death—and emerges with a fascinating and beautifully-told story. I barely have a guess for where this book is headed next, and I love that.

Overall: Engrossing and complex, Euthanauts is the best book yet from former Vertigo editor Shelly Bond’s new IDW imprint, Black Crown. Howard’s script dives confidentiality into a universal concern—death—as Robles' ethereal visuals blur reality. An intriguing and gorgeous comic, this one is highly recommended. 9.0/10

Euthanauts #1 is out July 11. Learn more about it here!

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

Top Comics of May 2018

May was huge for superhero comics, with both Marvel and DC locking their futures into place for the next 12 to 18 months. This resulted in some of the best #1 issues of late, as well as in one truly-epic finale for a long run on a flagship character (more below).

May was, in short, fantastic for fans of action and superheroes, and for those of us who like to feel like a kid again by leaving the office to eat lunch on Wednesdays in a sad Subway on Blue Ravine Road in Folsom, CA, where the sandwich artists are generous with the veggies and that one Ed Sheeran song (I’m in love with your body, Oh—I—oh—I—oh—I—oh—I, etc.) is always always playing. Ahem. I’ve gotten oddly specific and way off track, a good sign it’s time to start our list.

Let’s do it!

Shout Outs

 One of many fantastic and creepy panels from  Abbott #5.

One of many fantastic and creepy panels from Abbott #5.

Abbott #5: Abbott concludes with this issue, and man was it a killer series, laden with social commentary and supernatural chills, plus some of the prettiest panels in any comic this year. I highly recommend this book and even thought it could have used a sixth issue to let some of the ideas in its finale breath, but this is a small complaint.

Action Comics Special #1: This one-off conclusion for Dan Jurgens’ Action Comics run was heavy on Lois and Lex, which is enough to get a thumbs up from me. Extra points for the backup from Mark Russell (more on him below).

Avengers #1 - #2: Mark Waid did an admirable job on Avengers while we all decompressed following Jonathan Hickman’s all-time great stint, but I’m ready for the team to be leading the Marvel Universe again, which is where Jason Aaron has it in these early issues.

 And all of a sudden, Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez are  DC's  best art team...

And all of a sudden, Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez are DC's best art team...

DC Nation #0: Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez are the best artists working in superheroes today, as shown by the Justice League preview here.

Doctor Strange #390:  Cates-Zdarsky Spider-Man two-page vignette alone lands it here. Hi-larious.

Flash #47: Flash War is brewing. A lot of Rebirth books slowed down after the first two years, but Josh Williamson’s Flash is peaking. Also, more Howard Porter art, please!

Man of Steel #1: Needs more Lois, but I’m giving Bendis time there. Aside from that, his take on Superman started well, with deep understanding of what makes the character admirable, inspirational, beloved, etc. More here!

Marvel 2-in-1 #6: This continues to be Marvel’s best and most consistent comic, doling out laughs, action, and heartfelt moments in equal part. Chip Zdarsky is a criminally underrated superhero writer.

Spider-Man #240: Bendis farewell to his 18-year Spider-Man run almost made me cry. I read #1 when I was 15 (a scientifically ideal time to read about Spider-Man) and grew to adulthood with this writer and this book, which is all a poignant reminder of life’s inherent and unstoppable capacity for change.

Top Comics of May 2018

 More Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez on  Super Sons .

More Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez on Super Sons.

5. Super Sons #16 by Peter Tomasi, Art Thibert, & Carlo Barberi: I’d be taking a far more somber tone about this book had Peter Tomasi not announced that he would write a 12-issue series, dubbed Adventures of the Super Sons, about Jon Kent and Damian Wayne in August, but it did, so here we are. Super Sons is my favorite book that hasn’t yet made our monthly Top 5, and I think the reason is it’s just so reliable and consistent.

The dynamic between Jon and Damian is the heart of this book, which has also boasted wonderful art during its run, most of which was done by my aforementioned favorite superhero team, Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez. Tomasi’s plotting keeps to a modest yet exciting scope, and the guest spots from the boys’ parents are always delightful.

4. Barrier #1 - #5 by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, & Munsta Vincente: I first read (and loved) Barrier a couple years back when it ran on Brian K. Vaughan’s digital comics site, Panel Syndicate, but I used May’s print run to collect the issues and re-visit the story. As I did, I detailed some of my thoughts in reviews, and I noticed that many folks I knew were reading the book for the first time.

Simply put, good on you! Barrier is a beautifully-illustrated story about the constructs that have come to divide humanity, including language, nation states, natural resources, or misunderstandings. With this fertile ground, the surprising story goes on to tell a tense and poignant tale about two unlikely allies brought together and forced to bond.

I can’t say much past that without spoiling things, but I want to note the last panel of Barrier #5 is one that has stuck with me for years and was reopened in my mind this month like a trauma I haven’t fully processed. Barrier is truly my favorite type of story, one that asks hard questions without forcing pedantic answers.

 From recent issues of  Amazing Spider-Man .

From recent issues of Amazing Spider-Man.

3. Amazing Spider-Man #800 by Dan Slott, Stuart Immonen, & Team: Dan Slott and his many artistic collaborators really tell a story here worthy of milestone status, playing on an old Spider-Man trope that never fails to feel compelling—imperiling the many meaningful friends Pete has made over the years. The core concept for Peter Parker is he’s a lovable loser gifted with superpowers and doing his best to satisfy the responsibilities that come along with them. This makes the stakes for Pete always intriguing. After all, it’s his value to the world in question, and who hasn’t contemplated that?

But when the danger comes to his supporting cast, Spider-Man really turns compelling. Slott knows this, clearly. He also has a decade of stories to draw friendships from. That combination makes for one of the most taut over-sized comics in recent memory, one that eschews the multiple vignette thing similar issues resort to in favor of a grand finale for Slott’s landmark run on Marvel’s flagship comic, Amazing Spider-Man.

2. Nightwing #44 by Benjamin Percy, Chris Mooneyham, & Team: I have a documented love of Benjamin Percy’s run on Green Arrow, which concluded earlier this year, so I was looking forward to this issue as soon as it was announced Percy would on Nightwing. I was not, however, prepared for how much I’d like this book. Simply put, Percy wrote his fingers off (gross, I know), crafting a comic rich with clever turns of phrase, great interactions between characters (especially Babs and Dick), and a sprinkling of the odd factoids that make Percy’s narrations in comics (and novels/short stories) so compelling. This is also a timely story, with much to say about mankind’s accelerating reliance on tech.

My other major point of praise is Chris Mooneyham and team’s artwork. Be it a subway or junkyard, the art depicts Bludhaven as a gritty, hard-boiled place, more late 70s/early 80s New York than the absurdist alternate Atlantic City it had become under other recent writers. It’s a choice that contributes much without detracting from character or narrative, and it has me hoping this team remains on the book for a good while.

1. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #5 by Mark Russell, Mike Feehan, & Sean Parsons: As unlikely as it sounds, I have been made to laugh, cry, and consider about my place in society by a comic book about the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Snagglepuss. And this just a few months after the book’s writer, Mark Russell, inspired me to say this aloud to a friend, “The most cutting satire about 2018 is a comic book about The Flintstones.” Yes, it’s all very strange.

 One of the best comics of 2018 is about Snagglepuss. Weird, right?

One of the best comics of 2018 is about Snagglepuss. Weird, right?

The unlikelihood of such poignant work being done with licensed characters is an easy talking point when describing Exit Stage Left. What’s much harder is articulating what Russell and team have done with these comics to make the source material so relevant. In The Flintstones, each issue was a different vignette with a loose through-line to future installments, a fragmented narrative about how the military industrial complex and tribalism has shaped mankind. Exit Stage Left is just as smart, but here Russell has crafted a more linear and complete story, one that better enables him to kick the bottom of your heart out.

This fifth issue is the emotional climax of the series, within which the ill fortune Russell had planned for our hero finally catches up to him. He does the right thing and is punished by a misguided and unjust political society. This comic is not as direct a commentary as The Flintstones was, but in many ways it is the superior book—an emotional ride that makes readers contemplate many facets of humanity, from authenticity to artistic value to the mental gymnastics we perform to justify our points of views. There’s one issue left, but Exit Stage Left has already established itself as one of the best of 2018.

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