REVIEW: Skyward #3 by Joe Henderson, Lee Garbett, Antonio Fabela, & Simon Bowland

 For the third straight issue,  Skyward  shows itself to be a gorgeous and charming comic.

For the third straight issue, Skyward shows itself to be a gorgeous and charming comic.

By Zack Quaintance — The concept in Skyward has been strong from the start—gravity has inexplicably lessened, sending humans floating fatally into the sky—as has the delivery of information about our characters and the world’s plight. Skyward #1, to be perfectly blunt, was a book I had few expectations for, as the creative team was unfamiliar to me, but I loved the first issue. Why? I attribute the ongoing success of this book in large part to how expertly information has been doled out from its start.

One of the most difficult tricks in plotting is knowing what to reveal and when, how to hit a sweet spot and orient an audience without gumming up the pacing with too much info. A lot of debut issues suffer from that, as if creators have accepted forced exposition as a necessary problem of #1 issues and are spilling it fast so they can get the actual story.

Skyward does not once make a concession in that regard, instead finding organic and natural ways to let us know about our hero, her family, and what’s happened to the world. The book essentially floats through its earliest reveals, focusing heavily on the family—a girl and her parents—that is at the heart of our story. The result is one of the most charming books in comics. This issue continues to be excellent.  

  Skyward  expertly uses storytelling tools unique to comics, including a juxtaposition of the shading and reaction in the bottom right panel.

Skyward expertly uses storytelling tools unique to comics, including a juxtaposition of the shading and reaction in the bottom right panel.

Last issue ended with our protagonist’s optimism, trust, and naivety catapulting her into danger, and Skyward #3 picks up immediately there. The expert reveals continue, but I also began to notice new strengths, too. Admittedly, I’ve maybe been too preoccupied with Henderson’s script choices to notice the feats of characterization Garbett and Fabela have pulled off with the artwork. This issue, though, it really stood out. The panels here are framed to reveal fear or recklessness, while the characters are shaded to indicate sinister motives or apprehension. Hell, even the walls in the villain's place tip toward emergency red. It’s just all so well done, using the full breadth of storytelling tools comics put at one’s disposal.

This issue also ratchets up the intensity, with some well-placed but tasteful violence. Even so, the book maintains its heart by deploying sharp incidental humor between tense moments (the bit where a kid asks a question about weak gravity creating—ahem—a new way to get pregnant is so sharp), before wrapping up with an absolutely killer cliffhanger for the third time in as many issues.

Overall: Skyward’s incredibly adept use of pacing and its engrossing concept—the gravity that once bound humans to the earth has dissipated—continue to make for one of the best original comics of the year. The team of Henderson, Garbett, Fabela, and Bowland are doing so many things right. I am once again surprised at how thoroughly I’m enjoying this book. 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.

REVIEW: Crude #3 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, & Thomas Mauer

  Crude  is a violent and complex revenge story, driven by a father-son relationship.

Crude is a violent and complex revenge story, driven by a father-son relationship.

By Zack Quaintance — As much as I liked Crude #1 and #2—and I did, a lot—it’s #3 that firmly establishes the book as one of my favorite ongoing creator-owned titles, up there with Saga, Monstress, and Southern Bastards. To get even more specific, it was actually this issue’s last panel that cemented it with such lofty company, a panel I will, of course, only discuss in vague terms here, because spoilers are bad, etc.

Anyway, a quick refresher: Crude is from writer Steve Orlando, artist Garry Brown, colorist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Thomas Mauer, and it's about a former Russian assassin seeking information on/revenge for the death of a son he never understood, a son who sought a new life in a far-flung oil city in Siberia (I think). When that son is murdered amid a dispute between rival oil companies, our hero heads to Siberia to do what he should have done in life—get to know his boy. And also to kick an incredible amount of ass, usually shirtless and streaked in greasy filth for a tactical advantage (I’m telling you, this comic rules).

Badassery aside, Crude’s compelling character motives and poignant imagery make it truly special. Let’s look at both of those in detail, starting with motives. Piotr (our hero) is on a dual quest, one for physical revenge, and another to know his son better. It’s the second one that’s really compelling. In fact, one gets the sense Piotr is less distraught by death—in his reality life is cheap—than by never being emotionally honest with his son, which causes him to feel culpable for the murder. Simply put, I fear more for Piotr emotionally than physically, as I learned in this issue when our hero learned details about his son during a pair of fight scenes. There’s just so much relatable father-son BS masculine angst.

Basically though, the aforementioned dual motivations are what push the book forward. An ubiquitous piece of creative writing advice is to create a character and give that character something they want, badly. The more we know what the character cares about, the more we care about the character. And the more wanting something puts the character in difficult situations, the better. That’s what Crude does so effectively (again, see #3’s final panel!).  

 Garry Brown is doing career best work in  Crude , especially as it pertains to the conceptualization of the imagery.

Garry Brown is doing career best work in Crude, especially as it pertains to the conceptualization of the imagery.

The second strength—poignant imagery—makes Piotr’s motivations all the more visceral, the way only comics can. Every issue has had a haunting panel conveying Piotr’s mourning and regret. This issue, however, has the most memorable yet, wherein Piotr walks through a seedy alley with a ghostly coffin chained to his neck, ridden by his son who waves his arms as if it were the bomb in Doctor Strangelove. Oof.

Overall: Crude #3 exceeds previous installments, raising this book up among my favorite creator-owned titles right now, as well as among my favorite Image books period. It’s well-constructed and perfectly-executed, a bleak and deeply emotional story about damage caused by emotional distance and dishonesty between fathers and sons. 9.8/10

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

REVIEW: Shanghai Red #1 by Christopher Sebela, Joshua Hixson, & Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

 Try not to fall overboard (sorry) during the incredible action sequence that opens this comic.

Try not to fall overboard (sorry) during the incredible action sequence that opens this comic.

By Zack Quaintance — Shanghai Red—a new creator-owned book from Image by the rising team of writer Christopher Sebela, artist Joshua Hixson, and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou—is an ambitious comic, one that opens fast and vicious, with art that makes readers all but feel salty blood mingling with the unforgiving sea. It quickly gives us a protagonist—murderous and mysterious Jack—and a reason to root for them in spite of the violence they’re committing, that reason being that they’ve spent years on the boat enslaved.

After a white-knuckled opening volley, however, Shanghai Red #1 grinds to a bit of a halt in the service of necessary but slow backstory dissemination. This exposition isn’t bad or clumsy here, no. It does, however, feel abrupt and incongruous with the high action opening of the book’s first act. As a result, the pacing in Shanghai Red is almost at odds with itself, creating an effect presumably akin to battling for your life against a mugger and then having to immediately sit through a lesson about history. No matter how exciting that history is, that shift is still a tough adjustment.

Simply put, the middle of this comic feels a bit slow relative to the action of its beginning and the tense foreboding crescendo of its end (which, no spoilers). Still, with our protagonist’s backstory so thoroughly and thoughtfully laid out, there’s every reason to believe Shanghai Red will establish itself in coming issues as a top-tier comic. The artwork is especially something to behold, not just for the craft and visual quality, but for the choices Hixson makes with perspective.

 Hixson does a masterful job using space to convey the contrasting claustrophobia and limitlessness inherent to sailing the ocean.

Hixson does a masterful job using space to convey the contrasting claustrophobia and limitlessness inherent to sailing the ocean.

I was particularly impressed with the way he used spacing in each panel to convey what the characters within must have felt. Scenes below deck were kept dark and cluttered, claustrophobic the way ships in the 1800s surely felt, while scenes with characters looking to horizons were wide and free, sometimes taking up entire pages. The end result is feeling at once trapped and limitless, as if readers too were traversing the seas.

Overall: Shanghai Red #1 is the first issue of a book with MASSIVE potential, and both the writer and artist hit some truly impressive heights here. Now that the protagonist’s backstory has been made clear in great detail, this book seems poised to sail (sorry!) to some really exciting places. 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.

The Most Tragic Comic Cancellations of Recent Years

  New Super-Man  ended last Wednesday after 24 issues.

New Super-Man ended last Wednesday after 24 issues.

By Zack Quaintance — Last week marked the 24th and final issue of Gene Luen Yang’s New Super-Man. The book was a standout of DC Rebirth, a publishing initiative that returned most of the company’s superheroes to familiar status quos. New Super-Man, however, was an exception, featuring an entirely new cast and situation.

Put simply, the comic was a story of a Chinese teenager indoctrinated into a government-run superhero program. It dealt with teen superhero tropes (while also subverting them—our hero actually starts out as the bully) as well as with current Chinese politics and ancient mythology, telling stories at the intersection of all three. Add Luen Yang’s writing—moving from poignant to funny from panel-to-panel—and the result was both unique and refreshing.

This is, of course, coming from me, a seasoned superhero fan, and when writers like me call Big 2 books unique or refreshing, they’re often bound for poor sales and swift cancellations. New Super-Man was certainly no commercial hit. Launching a new character, even one blatantly capitalizing on the popularity of Old Superman, is difficult. Volunteer critics react positively but the comic-buying public is generally unaware or, even worse, unimpressed.

With that in mind, it’s amazing New Super-Man lasted long as it did, especially since it was slated to end at #18 before getting a generous extension. This, sadly, is rare. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today: recently cancelled books that ended too soon. Ranging from gritty to whimsical, these books date back to 2015 and share one thing in common: they were all—to borrow from Twin Peaks’ Special Agent Dale Cooper—damned good comics.

Let’s do this!

  Unfollow  seemed to rush its narrative, presumably because its run was cut short.

Unfollow seemed to rush its narrative, presumably because its run was cut short.

5. Unfollow (2015) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling

Unfollow, which was part of a wave of new Vertigo titles in fall 2015, reminded me of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets, with its modern noir concept built to span triple digit issues. In Unfollow, an eccentric tech billionaire dies and picks 140 users of his social media network to compete for his fortune. The last alive wins. The book started out methodical, removing a competitor or two per issue and tracking how many remained with a counter on its cover.

It became apparent (to me, at least) the narrative was being rushed when competitors started dying en mass or off panel. It’s a shame. There was a sharp literary quality to both the ideas and writing in Unfollow, especially the character that was so clearly a re-imagined Murakami. I’d have liked to have seen more of this vision. Ran For: 18 Issues

 

4. Spider-Woman (2015) by Dennis Hopeless, Javier Rodriguez, & Alvaro Lopez

 As usual, the team of  Javier Rodriguez  and  Alvaro Lopez  did incredible work on Spider-Woman.

As usual, the team of Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez did incredible work on Spider-Woman.

I suppose technically this book dates back to before Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic’s reality-ending Secret Wars (2015) event to when Dennis Hopeless started writing the character, but the incarnation I’m bemoaning began when it welcomed the incredibly versatile, frenetic art team of Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez (and later Veronica Fish). Together, they told a wonderful story about a superhero who decided to have a baby on her own.

In Marvel’s All New, All Different (2015) line (which followed Secret Wars), the publisher tried many slice-of-life comics, combining everyday problems and superheroics, ala Matt Fraction and David Aja’s all-time run on Hawkeye. Spider-Woman was the best of the bunch, and it’s a shame it ended with 17 issues. Although, unlike others on our list, it did get a neat and satisfying ending. Ran For: 17 Issues

3. Clean Room (2015) by Gail Simone & Jon Davis-Hunt

Clean Room was another title launched on Vertigo in fall 2015, and it was absolutely killer, with writer Gail Simone laying down an incredible depth of original ideas and Jon Davis-Hunt establishing himself as a Frank Quietly-esque star artist. This book had so much going for it. The one thing it lacked, however, was timing.

After this book ended (Gail Simone has said on Twitter she’ll do more someday), I read a rumor that DC had come to view its once-vaunted Vertigo imprint as a sales liability. This has maybe changed, with an even newer wave of Vertigo titles announced this week. Even so, Clean Room was a nigh-perfect body horror book that explored saviors, trauma, and belonging. If it had come during Vertigo’s heyday, it would have run 50 issues, easy. It was that good. Ran For: 18 Issues

2. The Ultimates (2015) & The Ultimates 2 (2016) by Al Ewing, Kenneth Rocafort, & Travel Foreman

 Al Ewing's  Ultimates  came together to proactively solve the biggest problems in the universe.

Al Ewing's Ultimates came together to proactively solve the biggest problems in the universe.

The Ultimates showed up in the wake of Secret Wars (2015) and did my favorite thing comics teams can do: state a mission and work toward it. The team was America Chavez, Black Panther, Blue Marvel, Captain Marvel, and Monica Rambeau; and their mission was to solve the biggest problems in the universe—starting with Galactus in #1.

Ewing is a writer who for some reason (low sales) can’t seem to sustain a title, despite having done strong work on books like Contest of ChampionsNew Avengers, and the Inhumans book Royals. Sigh. In a different world, this could have been the flagship title of All New, All Different Marvel, but it got lost in the shuffle and ended up doing 22 issues (just shy of New Super-Man) over two volumes. Ran For: 22 Issues

1. Nighthawk by David F. Walker, Ramon Villalobos, & Tamra Bonvillain

  Nighthawk  was a Batman, analog, a wealthy black man who fought corporate explotation, corrupt police, and racism in Chicago.

Nighthawk was a Batman, analog, a wealthy black man who fought corporate explotation, corrupt police, and racism in Chicago.

Nighthawk isn't just one of the best cancelled titles in recent years, but one of the best period. It’s a seeringly-relevant story starring a Batman analog who is a black magnate in Chicago. Racial politics factor heavily into it, but the book also contextualizes race with how society is under assault by corporate agendas, corruption, and segments of the public acting against their interests because change is scary.

Also, Villalobos and Bonvillain's art is incredible (side note, they’re re-teaming on the first of the aforementioned new Vertigo titles this fall, Border Town), and Walker’s script is just as good, with expert pacing, character motives, and straight-up action. As someone on Twitter said, this loss would be harder to bear if it wasn’t for the perfect final panel. No spoilers, though...go read this trade for yourself! Ran For: 6 Issues

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

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, and 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.

4- Joshua Middleton - Salefish Comics.jpg

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!

1 - Jorge Jimenez - ZMX Comics.jpg

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.

16 - Joe Madureira - 4colorbeast.jpg

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.