The Eye of the Storm: WildStorm Past and Present

WildStorm is really 25 years old now. Really.

By Taylor Pechter — The 1990s was a consequential decade for comics, a decade of deaths and broken backs, of shoulder pads and huge guns. It was also the decade that gave us WildStorm Productions, an imprint created by then-rising star Jim Lee, who jumped ship from Marvel and DC along with other big-name artists following disputes over creators’ rights. When WildStorm began in 1992, it could have been dismissed as just more large guns, heavily-detailed art, and not much focus on story.

After the company grew in popularity, though, Lee sold it to DC. With this sale, DC editorial took the universe under its watch, ultimately overseeing great experimentation in storytelling spearheaded by writers such as Warren Ellis and Joe Casey and artists such as Bryan Hitch, whose worked helped redefine what comics look like.

Now get ready because today we’re jumping head first into the defining era of WildStorm, looking at the themes and visuals from the imprint that have had such a lasting impact on the comic book industry today.

StormWatch

StormWatch #37 brought Warren Ellis into the WildStorm Universe.

The year is 1997. The comics speculator market bubble has burst and sales of WildStorm books have stagnated. Enter Warren Ellis, a British writer who had done some work at but was not on many fans’ radars. With his run on Stormwatch starting at #37, however, that quickly changed.

Ellis would completely redefine the team, splitting it into three squadrons: Prime (defense against superhuman threats), Red (members with destructive powers for deterrent displays), and Black (undercover black ops). As the run started, Ellis introduced us to his thematic interests via the words of Frederick Nietzsche, I want to teach men the meaning of their existence; which is the Superman, the lightning from the dark cloud that is man.

Ellis’ run incorporated themes of corruption of power, the relationship between man and superhuman, and ultimately how supherhumans change a world. These themes are primarily conveyed through StormWatch leader Henry Bendix (alias The Weatherman), the StormWatch Black Team (Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, and Swift), and The High and his Changers. As the run progressed, StormWatch’s prominence grew while Bendix became madder with power, coming to view his team as the end-all, be-all of planetary surveillance and defense, akin to worldwide secret police. This eventually leads him down a path of murder and a removal from his position, with former field leader Jackson King (alias Battalion) taking over in his stead.

Meanwhile, the members of StormWatch Black personified rebellion, especially their leader, Jenny Sparks. As one of the proclaimed century babies, Sparks lived through the highs and lows of the 1900s, coming to be known as The Spirit of 20th Century. She’s also seen firsthand how superpowers changed society, with adventures through the decades as a solider in the wars and later a member of the shady Royal Space Program. This history also informs her relationship with John Cumberland (alias The High). The High is the main ideological lynchpin of the run, with his actions in the story Change or Die reflect the theme of the run, as The High actually says, We are Superhumans, just as your modern crimefighters and Covert Action teams. However, we feel a different responsibility than they do… They try to save the world, but make no effort to change it. This speaks to the somewhat hypocritical nature of the modern superhero. As time passed, StormWatch dissolved due to infighting, Bendix succumbing to insanity, and SkyWatch (the team’s satellite command center) being set upon by alien infestation. With most of the team dead, field commander Nikolas Kamarov (alias Winter) made the final decision to the throw the station into the sun. StormWatch was dead, but from its ashes rose a new force, an Authority that would either save the world, or rule it with an iron fist.

The Authority

Out of the ashes of StormWatch rose The Authority, a team formed by former StormWatch Black operatives Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, and Swift. It also included Apollo and Midnighter, The Engineer, and The Doctor. The Authority’s story is broken up into three four-issue arcs, which focus on innate fears with society: the fear of terrorism, the fear of foreign invasion, and the fear of the unknown. Through The Authority, Ellis wove a tale of a team of powerhouses trying to save the world and to also change it for the better. However, their goals came at a cost.

What Ellis also did was break down the glitz and glamour of a superhero team. The Authority is brash, arrogant, and—most of all—violent. Cities were leveled and an entire alternate Earth was destroyed. The Authority, however, considered it just part of the job, losses to make the world a better place. Toward the book’s end, the team eventually faced an alien entity that was blocking out the sun. Jenny Sparks shocked its brain and the day was won, but at a cost that shook the team to its core. As the century wound down, so did the life of Jenny Sparks. After 100 years of being a planetary defense mechanism, she died at the stroke of midnight January 1, 2000, in the arms of Jack Hawksmoor. With a new century, however, came a new generation of defenders.

The Art: While Ellis’ scripts were certainly groundbreaking, so too was the artwork of Bryan Hitch, inker Paul Neary, and colorist Laura Depuy (later Martin). With wide panels, splash pages galore, and cinematic action, Hitch was, and still is, the main purveyor of widescreen comics art. With Neary’s clean inks and Martin’s luscious colors, The Authority is still one of the most visually influential books in modern comics.

Wildcats

Casey and Phillips WildCats run was short but excellent.

What happens to covert teams that don’t have a war to fight? What happens when a teammate dies, splintering the rest of the team? Or, when a team’s leader wants to transcend to a higher level of living, one that requires he be killed?

In 1999, writer Joe Casey and artist Sean Phillips took over Wildcats and set out to answer these questions. After a mission gone wrong, Zealot is killed and Grifter is left reeling. Grifter has become a washed-up shell of his former self, trying to find answers about Zealot’s death. On the other end, Lord Emp (known to Earth as Jacob Marlowe, leader of the Wildcats), is asking his long-time rival Kenyan to kill him so he can ascend. Kenyan, however, instead kills himself, and Spartan is forced to kill Emp. In the aftermath, posing as Emp’s great-nephew Jack Marlowe, he is bequeathed HALO Industries and inherits Emp’s fortune. Meanwhile, Priscilla Kitaen (alias Voodoo) and Doctor Jeremy Stone (alias Maul) are living together. Jeremy has locked himself in his lab to to find a cure for a disease.

That’s a lot, to be sure, but overall Casey tells a story about destiny and legacy. Spartan has to deal with running HALO and guilt for killing Emp, which is easy enough because as a synthetic humanoid, he feels no emotion. This, however, conflicts with Grifter mourning the loss of his trainer and lover. Spartan also has to deal with having the Marlowe name, a target since Emp had many enemies. After Pris is nearly murdered by superhuman serial killer Samuel Slaughterhouse Smith, she is visited by a Daemonite, of which she is a half-breed. With that meeting she fully comes to terms with her heritage. Optimism reenergized, she then looks to a brighter future, alongside Jeremy.

The Art: Joining Casey on this book is noir art master Sean Phillips. With deep shadows, imposing figures, and brutal action, Phillips creates a foreboding tone to perfectly match Casey’s script. Sadly, the book only lasted two years before being cancelled but returning a year later as Wildcats Version 3.0. In a short time, however, Casey and Phillips crafted one of, if not the defining runs on Wildcats.

Planetary

It’s a strange world. Let’s keep it that way. This is the mantra for Warren Ellis’s magnum opus, Planetary. A decade in the making, Planetary revolves around a four-person team of mystery archaeologists who explore the world. This team consists of Elijah Snow, our ride along character Jakita Wagner, The Drummer, and Ambrose Chase.

With Planetary, Ellis constructs a story that revolves around genre and—more importantly—pop culture. This journey through 20th century pop culture is seen through the eyes of Elijah, who like Jenny Sparks is one of the century babies. The series has one main through line, but each issue also tackles a certain genre, breaking it down and showing how it has changed the world. These stories included a ghost cop out for revenge in Hong Kong (Dead Gunfighter); the somber Vertigo-tinged To Be In England, In The Summertime; the hypocrisy of vigilantism in The Torture of William Leather, and the metaphysics of superheroes in Zero Point.

In them all, Ellis demonstrates how the aspects of various genres has affected society through use in pop culture. While the macro exploration of genre and pop culture is the book’s driving force, the heart of Planetary is the micro exploration of Elijah Snow as a character, as well as how he becomes more in tune with the world. Snow’s motives, while staying somewhat consistent throughout the first half of the series, shift as we approach the final act. As readers, we are Elijah, not just in terms of the world Ellis is crafting but also the world outside our window. There is so much to explore here, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.  

The Art: Not to be outdone by Ellis’ deft scripting are John Cassaday’s art and Laura Martin’s colors. Cassaday shifts his style throughout each chapter to capture the tone. This can mean changing panel sizes, borders, shadows, or expressions. It’s commendable how much work he put into each page, and it’s made even better by Martin’s amazing colors, with bright reds and blues making the art pop. This book was subject to many delays, attributed to both Ellis and Cassaday, but Planetary eventually ended with its 27th issue, becoming one of the most celebrated comic books of all time

The Wild Storm

Twenty years after he helped redefine the WildStorm Universe with StormWatch, Warren Ellis is doing it again with The Wild Storm, which just released issue #16 this week. This time, Ellis is writing a stripped down, no frills, corporate espionage tale focused on three organizations: tech giant HALO (run by Jacob Marlowe), black ops intelligence agency International Operations or IO (run by Miles Craven), and secret space program Skywatch (led by Henry Bendix). This is an entirely new story, rather than a continuation of past titles.

The main conflict in this series is rivalries between organizations, with the story asking how Earth would react if it was ruled by these power structures. There is, of course, a twist. While IO is interested in Earth and its resources, Skywach is more interested in ruling space, even going as far as colonizing other planets. After Bendix starts getting a vested interest in Earth’s resources, IO starts to retaliate. Caught in between this corporate battle is a team of rogue IO and Skwatch agents who have formed their own covert action team, a Wild CAT. Their objective is to stop this war, fearing it will tear the planet apart.

The Art: Joining Ellis on art duties is Jon Davis-Hunt, whose simple yet dynamic style lends to the gritty espionage themes and to the frenetic action that is wonderfully brutal. His linework combines with the gorgeous colors of Steve Buccellatto. With stripping down the universe and giving it a more modern feel, this creative team has given new life to characters Ellis made his name writing.

In conclusion, following its start in the ‘90s, WildStorm went grew from the typical extreme fare of the decade into one of the most fertile grounds for storytelling in all of superhero comics, doing everything from looking at how superheroes have changed the world to how a team can survive in a world that doesn’t accept them. WildStorm also has a history of art that has redefined the style of comics, from the widescreen destruction of The Authority by Hitch, to the noir stylings of Wildcats by Sean Phillips, or the versatility of John Cassaday in Planetary. These artists helped raise a new generation, also contributing to the creation of the modern comics event.

Thank you all for joining me on this journey—hopefully you too will now jump into the eye of the storm. 

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

REVIEW: Extermination #1 by Ed Brisson, Pepe Larraz, Marte Garcia, & VC’s Joe Sabino

By Zack Quaintance — I was at Marvel’s SDCC X-Men panel, during which Matthew Rosenberg insinuated major X-happenings would come in Extermination, a five-part mini-series with a tagline of EXTERMINATE THE PAST. ELIMINATE THE FUTURE. The smart money was on this being the book that would settle the fate of the original 5  X-Men, who basically all of X-fandom agreed had run their course like two years ago.

Through one issue, that suspicion is all but guaranteed, especially given the new Uncanny X-Men #1 teaser art with hardly a young X-person in site. Another thing Rosenberg insinuated at the panel was everyone would think they knew what Extermination was about, but that, in fact, they would be wrong (a pretty standard teaser in superhero comics). Rosenberg was, of course, vague, as to not accidentally step on the upcoming project of a fellow X-writer.

All of that is my way of saying Extermination #1 is maybe not entirely what it seems to be. Through one part (or 20 percent) of the story, I feel like I have a decent grasp on what’s at stake: one part of it is definitely sending the time-displaced X-pups away, another part is doing something interesting with an older X-character whose identity I won’t reveal because, you know, spoilers. If that’s all this story is about, it’ll be interesting enough.

Really, this first issue is incredibly well-paced, doling out consequential action at a clip the vast majority of event comics (is this an event?) don’t. It’s in a unique position to do this given the current X-status quo. Marvel’s mutant stories have gotten pretty messy of late, with little sense of cohesion. This, in fact, has been my central complaint with X-titles (Blue and Gold, etc.), and I’ve largely limited myself to X-Books that have RED in their titles, or are written by writers named Thompson (Kelly and Zac) or Rosenberg.

This is significant here, because the unwieldy state of the X-titles gives Brisson disposable pieces to take off the board, pieces he uses expertly, giving needed jolts to the ends of the first and third acts of this comic. I enjoyed the tight plotting, but, more than that, Brisson’s willingness to make big moves is also an encouraging sign for the upcoming 10-part weekly re-launch of Uncanny X-Men. There sure seem to be quite a few X-Men on that promotional poster. I know it’s morbid, but wouldn’t it be thrilling if there weren’t as many left when that 10 weeks is over?

Extermination likely marks the start of a cleanup before the franchise’s flagship title returns in full, and an encouraging one at that. I suppose it remains to be scene which of Brisson, Rosenberg, or Thompson will ultimately write Uncanny full-time, but I’m glad they’re doing it together at the start, potentially portending that sense of cohesion I’ve craved.

Overall: An exciting and fast-paced first issue, posting a couple quick surprises. If this book is the start of an X-cleanup before the fall’s Uncanny X-Men re-launch, the Brisson-Rosenberg-Thompson era is off to a very nice start. 8.5/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

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

REVIEW: Ice Cream Man #6 by W. Maxwell Prince, Martin Morazzo, Chris O’Halloran, & Good Old Neon

This titular Ice Cream Man is a real piece of work...

By Zack Quaintance — Ice Cream Man #6 is yet another nasty (in a good way) read from one of the most bleak-yet-mesmerizing comics of all-time. In broad strokes, this series is about a sinister Ice Cream Man who serves as the only throughline in a series of disparate tales that add up to one of the most unflinching looks at the everyday lives of modern Americans...in any storytelling medium. Abandon hope all ye who open this book, for sure, yet also know that it will somehow never cross the line into sensationalism. In other words, start reading this and you probably won’t give it up.

I know I won’t any time soon. Ice Cream Man #6 is yet another great issue. In many ways, this is the book’s most experimental story yet, following one character through three divergent life paths, all of which are depicted in near-total silence (and are also depressing as all hell). The reason why the story fractures into three (and gets the name/flavor of Strange Neapolitan) becomes clear near the end, when (no spoilers) the script comes out and just basically states its central conceit.

Like all issues of this book, this one starts out idyllic before descending into horrors both real and existential.

This is, to be blunt, is a story structure that on the surface seems like it shouldn’t work, should instead tip into feeling too gimmicky. It is, however, pulled off expertly by the creative team. Let’s talk first about the work Chris O’Halloran does with his colors, utilizing three distinct palettes to separate the alternate futures of the nameless hero. This is challenging in itself, but O’Halloran also makes it work while sticking to the general strawberry-vanilla-chocolate color scheme of neapolitan ice creams. It had a high potential to look goofy, but O’Halloran nailed it, using his shades to perfectly compliment Morazzo’s artwork.

Perhaps the most impressive feat in this book is the triply (mostly) silent script, which tells three distinct stories that hit complimentary beats almost always at the same time, even while moving at different speeds through the protagonist’s lifetime to basically end at the same haunting spot. Thematically, this story is somewhat one sizable note, but in terms of craft, it’s easily one of the most impressive feats I’ve seen a writer pull off with structure in some time, possibly since Eric Heisserer’s vignette tapestry in the Valiant book Secret Weapons.   

Overall: Ice Cream Man #6 is another astoundingly well-done comic that scares you as you read and then lingers with you existentially for days after you finish. This series continues to be one of the most unflinching looks at everyday lives in modern American...in any storytelling medium. 8.5/10

For more comic book and movie reviews, check out our review archives here.

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 #5 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, & Thomas Mauer

By Zack Quaintance — I’d like to start today by discussing Crude #5’s artwork. Garry Brown is a doing yeoman-like work on this book, creating panel after panel that brims with exactly what this story calls for in any given moment, be it a kinetic and violent pastiche or quiet emotional impact of our hero learning something heartbreaking and new about how he failed his son. Brown has been putting out killer work for a while now—from Black Road with Brian Wood to Babyteeth with Donny Cates—but, simply put, Crude is his best book to date.  

Phew, now on to the story. Crude #5 is the penultimate issue of the first arc, the place traditionally reserved for the steepest escalation in both action and consequence, and in that regard it certainly doesn’t disappoint. This is easily the best issue of Crude yet. What is perhaps most interesting about it is how much we learn about Piotr’s relationship with his murdered son, Kirilchik, which so far has been shown in brief, often only through a father’s mourning lens.

I once had a writing teacher who stressed what he called The Rate of Revelation. It’s a simple enough concept: stories live and die by how much new information we’re getting at any given moment. That’s not to say writers have to be telling us what our hero’s favorite food is all the time or something, but rather that a writer’s job is to find compelling ways to continually show an audience who these people they’ve invented are, what they’re made of, and why they matter.

And that’s exactly what Orlando’s script excels at in Crude #5: it finds new and compelling ways to constantly give us revelations about our hero, this time having the thoughts and feelings of his murdered son quoted back to him by someone who knew his son while he was alive. Our protagonist thus far has been nigh-invincible (thus far), at least when things devolve into violence, to the point I find myself unconcerned about his physical well-being. When he starts to learn key details (no spoilers!) about his son’s life—and the next panel pulls away to show how small he is in the room at that moment? Ho man, was I on the proverbial edge of my seat, and it just got more tense from there.    

Another thing Crude #5 does well is deepen its shady corporate culture plot, showing the exploitation of real people, which is thematically so relevant right now that it hurts. To say anything more would be to risk giving too much away. Lastly, I just want to note that this script has a wealth of really impactful lines, including one of my favorites: But there’s no self-respect in living just under people’s noses. Great stuff.

Overall: Crude #5 is the best issue of this book yet. More than a stage-setter for next month’s first arc conclusion, this comic is rich with revelations about its lead character and the world he’s beaten his way into. This series is career-best work for both Brown and Orlando, must-read comics. 9.5/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

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

Crowded #1 by Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, Triona Farrell, & Cardinal Rae

Crowded #1 is a much-hyped comic that does not dissappoint.

By Zack Quaintance — Crowded #1 is, to put it simply, a super-hyped book, one of those comics that got a movie deal (with Rebel Wilson attached!) before its first issue saw release. It also has a notable and rising creative team (writer Christopher Sebela of Cold War, Shanghai Red, and artists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt, who’ve done cool stuff with Marvel, to say nothing of Triona Farrell, who’s absolutely great). As such, I came to this book with a mix of excitement and high expectations—and I was thoroughly and utterly hooked from basically the first page.

Crowded extrapolates the gig economy to its natural and excessive capitalistic extremes, to a place wherein anything you could ever need is accessible via the gig economy or a social connections app. In the world of Crowded, our protagonist Charlotte works 12 for-hire jobs in one day (on a slow day), ending the first night we see her by hooking up with a man she meets via another app, with whom she never needs to so much as exchange real names.

When people start trying to kill Charlotte en mass the following day (via a crowdfunded death app), she hires a bodyguard via yet another app, this one called Dfend, and our plot is off and running. That’s really all I’ll say about Crowded’s story, since the inner machinations of this book are such a joy to unfurl. Solid plotting aside, this creative team does a wonderful job peppering their book with the little touches that do work to keep readers engaged (things like the mysterious bodyguard's personal life/motivation, Charlotte’s pithy rejoinders, an adorable chihuahua, etc.) and make good graphic sequential storytelling so enthralling. In addition, the storytellers use a workmanlike precision to accomplish the required exposition and world-building, as if they themselves had been materialized by an on-demand app for great creators. Yeah, it’s all that entertaining.

Crowded at its core, though, is about a dystopian future that should feel too real to us all, a vivid imagining of a likely scenario to come, steeped in a plot that feels as dangerous, urgent, and tense as vintage Tarantino.

Overall: Stein and Brandt’s linework is strong, their character designs as stylish as they are revealing of traits, and Sebela’s script is, in a word, witty. This is a confident and fully-formed debut comic with something important to say about where working life and society are both going. My advice? Make like a character in Crowded—buy this. 9.5/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

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

How Hawkman Soars: A Five-Panel Explainer

By Zack Quaintance — Hawkman by Robert Venditti and Bryan Hitch feels like a throwback (in a good way) for a couple reasons. First, it’s a story of a modest scale. This is an odd notion, given we're talking about a comic that spans all of space and time, but at its core Hawkman is a relatively simple adventure starring a character who is unraveling personal mysteries while also combating threats to the larger world. Second, it features killer artwork by Bryan Hitch.

Regarding Hitch: it’s often hard to see how the standards and conventions of a storytelling medium limit it until someone breaks them. This was true of my perception of comics in the ‘90s (a super weird decade, yet not as bad as its reputation...a topic for another day). Hitch’s work on The Authority showed me the freeing potential of excessively splashy spreads brimming with gigantic action and wide perspective. Basically, I’d never realized how claustrophobic most books felt until Hitch blew it up.

Lately I’d forgotten how much a revelation his style once was, especially since it has now become commonplace in superhero stories. Obviously, it’s not a fit for every book, and it has maybe been overdone at times (way overdone), but when used well as it is in Hawkman—look out. And so that’s what I’d like to discuss today via five-panel explainer: how Hawkman soars on the wings of old school adventuring and free-flying artwork. Let’s do it!  

Panel One - The Continuity

Like many DC heroes, Hawkman is a great character with a long and convoluted history, one that can potentially act as a barrier of entry for new readers. Venditti and Hitch realize this, and in Hawkman #1 we get this stunning panel, which orients us and conveys the basics while also establishing that this book is about our hero himself coming to terms with his background. Basically, they’re telling us relax...it’s okay to be confused. We’re heading out—together—to explore.

This killer spread from Hawkman #1 does a great job refreshing the current state of Hawkman's continuity. 

Panel Two - The Journal

From Hawkman #3, our hero pours through his journal, reminding us of the status of his quest.

This second panel is less visually-exciting, yet it’s just as important as the one above in terms of giving structure to the narrative. If that frenetic spread establishes we’re sorting out our hero’s past together, the journal acts as a device for reminding us what we’ve so far learned. It gives our protagonist an organic means of taking stock of his progress, and it gives Venditti a nice way to craft interesting narration without showing the writer’s hand in the story. It’s been well-done through three issues, and I'm hoping we’ll see more of it moving forward.

Panel Three - The Museum

Not to go too far into the story, but this book is about Hawkman learning he’s been reincarnated not just over time but also throughout space. In any given issue, the story goes to another planet, another time, and then back to present day. It’s a lot and it could become unwieldy...if Venditti and Hitch weren’t so good at creating pedestrian visits to things like subways and museums. Basically, this book positions Hawkman as the Indiana Jones of the DCU, and so it needs the cleaned up scenes where Indie is curating or teaching classes. So far, we’ve gotten them done well. This panel is a personal favorite.

The significant of an epic quest can sometimes get lost if there's nothing present to ground a character, which Venditti and Hitch do well in this museum scene from Hawkman #2.

Panel Four - The Monsters

An old school adventure comic book is nothing without its monsters, and Hawkman is no exception. This was the hardest panel to pick because there were so many good choices, but I went with giant angry ape (apologies to giant angry T-Rex and giant angry flock of automaton birdmen). This is classic Hitch, with larger than life kinetic artwork that explodes through panels and off pages. Love it.

What's an adventure that travels through space and time without giant angry monsters? Scene from Hawkman #1.

Perhaps the most important panels in the entire series are those in which Hawkman takes to the sky. Artwork from Hawkman #3.

Panel Five - The Skies

The best visual bits of this book, however, are the open skies...as they should be in a story about a flying character. There are plenty of closeup action shots, sure, but Hitch and Venditti often pull the theoretical camera back to show us what a speck our hero is against the vastness of the sky he moves through. This framing is used often and clearly not meant to diminish his stature, which it really doesn’t—we’re never more than a panel or two away from him hitting a dinosaur or something with his mace—but instead it aims to show us the freedom of his explorations, the limitless nature of his life and his journey, and it wildly succeeds.

To wrap up, I’ll say that through three issues Hawkman has established itself as a welcome addition to DC’s superhero line, a book that flies a bit beneath the radar, content to function on its own as a rewarding and good-looking read, hard to predict and loaded with mystery. It remains to be seen if the creative team can take the protagonist to meaningful places through a prolonged run, but Venditti has a good track record with long-form superheroics (see X-O Manowar and the recently-concluded Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps), while someone in Burbank deserves a hearty pat on the back for fitting Hitch’s artwork to this character and story.

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: Bully Wars #1 by Skottie Young & Aaron Conley, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, & Nate Piekos

For Bully Wars, Skottie Young teams with Aaron Conley, a Skottie Young-esque artist.

By Zack Quaintance — I heard writer Skottie Young on the Word Balloon Podcast a few weeks ago talking about his new book, Bully Wars, saying the aim was to make an Image comic that was accessible for all ages but didn’t exactly feel like a story strictly for kids, a challenge for creatives in any field or medium. It’s that sweet spot that made Pixar films so vibrant in the studio’s early years. They hit the mark repeatedly then, and continue to do so with relatively high frequency to this day. Call it broadly safe but smart appeal.

Well, Young and his Bully Wars collaborators—artists Aaron Conley and Jean-Francois Beaulieu—however, have come pretty close to finding that sweet spot in this first issue. There’s not even close to anything in this book that would ring as inappropriate for young readers, and, despite my obvious disadvantage of being a kind of old guy (I will only ever admit to being somewhat older than 22), I’m fairly certain the bright colors, exaggerated and cartoony character designs, and classroom setting will be a big draw for all ages of kids, likely up through high school. I know I certainly would have dug this in my day of angsty (but improving!) late ‘90s comics.

When it comes to appeal for adults, Bully Wars #1 is slightly more of a mixed effort. The twists in how characters are perceived are interesting, but the book will likely need more substance to hold older readers’ interests long-term. There are, however, plenty of signs in this first issue that that substance is coming. This brings me to the other goal Young mentioned for Bully Wars on Word Balloon: incorporating more understanding into the standard school narrative of bully bad and mean. The book definitely has hints of an aspiration to humanize its bullies, although at this point those aspirations are still in nascent stages.

Young’s interests as a writer, though, are fairly subversive (see the recently-concluded I Hate Fairyland), and so I think it’s safe to assume he’ll get where he’s aiming for. I know that I’ll at least be following this book for the entirety of its first arc. Really, the background sight gags (an athletic apparel company called Sike got a little chuckle out of me) and excellent cartooning on par with some of my favorite animation is enough to seal its appeal for me.

Overall: Bully Wars #1 is a vibrant all ages comic with a lot of promise and potentially even an important lesson about labels. This comic does more than enough with its first issue to pique my interest in where it’s headed. 7.5/10

For more comic book and movie reviews, check out our review archives here.

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

New Comics Previews for August 15, 2018

By Zack Quaintance —  Soooo, we’re changing up the previews formula this week, moving to featuring some of our top picks for this upcoming Wednesday, rather than the top PR preview stuff that got sent to us last week, a move that should be more useful and more fun, two things that rarely go together.

This week features some of our favorite new creator-owned books for 2018 continuing on, as well as the launch of a pair of promising new ones. There are also some pretty high profile books wrapping up big arcs, ongoing mega superhero stories, and more. With all that in mind, let’s get into the solicit text plus a quick line or two about why we think some of these books are cool.

Top Comics for August 15, 2018

Batman #53
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Lee Weeks
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
"Cold Days" continues! The jury in the Mr. Freeze trial is hopelessly deadlocked because one man won't vote guilty-and that man is Bruce Wayne. Freeze's defense is that Batman used excessive force, making his arrest illegal, and Bruce is the one man who actually knows for sure what went down between Batman and his ice-cold nemesis. And if Bruce is right, that means everything he's devoted himself to as the Caped Crusader is a lie; he is hurting more than helping. With Dick Grayson putting the Batsuit back on to keep Gotham City safe while Bruce is sequestered, could this be the out Bruce needs to discard the cape and cowl forever?
Why It’s Cool: There has been no wedding hangover for Tom King, who (in our opinion) is telling one of the best stories of his run, exploring Bruce Wayne’s emotional recovery from what happened at the wedding, which actually speaks to his emotional recovery from all trauma in general, an idea that’s pretty relevant given his life decisions.

Crude #5
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Garry Brown
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
Blackstone is ready to explode! Piotr has beaten every thug, mercenary, and soldier Petropinnacle has sent to kill him. Now, the city’s true ruler steps up to show this tired KGB dog what true power is.
Why It’s Cool: Deeply violent, deeply emotional. This is a cold and savage father-son story that has us hooked with its nuanced emotional center. This is one of our our favorite new creator-owned titles of 2018, hands down.

Gideon Falls #6
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
"THE BLACK BARN": Conclusion-Father Fred enters The Black Barn on a daring rescue attempt but nothing can prepare him for the horrors within. Meanwhile Norton and Angie delve deeper into Norton's past and zero in on the secrets of the Barn. A 2018 Eisner Award nominee for Best Writer, JEFF LEMIRE!
Why It’s Cool: We’d say this conclusion to the first arc stands to give us more answers to the many mysteries spread throughout Gideon Falls, but this is Gideon Falls. Nothing is a given, except that this book will be expertly-written and loaded with incredible imagery. This is another of our favorite new creator-owned titles of 2018

Skyward #5
Writer: Joe Henderson
Artist: Lee Garbett
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
END OF STORY ARC “MY LOW-G LIFE,” Conclusion The pulse-pounding conclusion of our first arc! Everything comes to a head as Willa takes the fight to Barrow. And not everyone’s getting out of this one alive…
Why It’s Cool: This yet ANOTHER of our favorite creator-owned titles, the one that probably caught us the most by surprise given we’re not familiar with the creative team. The last line about a character dying here, though? Oof, that’s going to be interesting in this book that until has been somewhat light.

The Weatherman #3
Writer: Jody Leheup
Artist: Nathan Fox
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
Cut off, on the run, and hunted by The Marshal, Nathan and Cross try to stay alive long enough to find Nathan’s lost memory and the key to stopping another world-ending attack. But they’ll have to survive each other first…
Why It’s Cool: HOLY WOW WHAT ARE THE ODDS...this is yet ANOTHER of our favorite new creator-owned comics of 2018. This is just one of those comics that feels like its creators have something vital and important to say. We have no idea what that is, but the telling has been super compelling thus far.

 

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New #1s for August 15, 2018

  • Crowded #1

  • Extermination #1

  • Pearl #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Babyteeth #12

  • Catalyst Prime Summit #8

  • Catalyst Prime Superb #12

  • Ether Copper Golems #4

  • Infinity Wars #2

  • Justice League #6

  • Lost City Explorers #3

  • Thor #4

  • Tony Stark: Iron Man #3

  • Vagrant Queen #3

  • Wic + Div #38

  • Wild Storm #16

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

 

Five Questions with Creators: Zack Kaplan

Zack Kaplan

By Zack Quaintance —  Writer Zack Kaplan is on the rise in comics. He’s currently writing three new and exciting series: Eclipse and Port of Earth for Image’s Top Cow imprint, and Lost City Explorers for AfterShock Comics. Both Eclipse and Lost City Explorers have also been optioned for TV, with the latter getting the call pretty quick after its first issue. It’s impressive stuff, and as fans of his work, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more success coming Kaplan’s way soon.

With that in mind, we recently talked to Kaplan for a new feature we’re launching on the site: Five Questions with Creators. It’s exactly what it sounds like. No more explaining needed...so, let’s get right to it!

1. I’ve seen in other interviews and your own notes with Eclipse that you’ve had some pretty interesting jobs...so, what are the most interesting jobs you’ve had (aside from creating comics)?

I mean, people may know I was a poker dealer and a SAT tutor, but I’ll tell you, one of the most interesting jobs I had was a movie trailer surveyor. I did temp work for a data entry company and they would input surveys measuring audience reaction to movie trailers. I punched in thousands of these surveys, and then I asked, hey, who does this? Someone goes to movie theaters and watches how the audience reacts to each trailer and gives it an “Okay” or “Good” or “Great”, and sure enough, there were a ton of people doing this around the country and sending in their data. So I said, “Can I do that?” and they said sure. For about two months, I went and watched movies and before the movie started, I would go to the different theaters and showtimes and gauge audience reaction, which was a completely subjective and random measurement. My own personal evaluation of whether people thought that Mission Impossible movie trailer looked good or great. It was a very random guess, but they reported this data to the studios, and they probably made pivotal decisions based on my keen insights. And I got to tell people I get paid to go watch movies. That was pretty interesting!

2. How do things like having been a poker dealer on the graveyard shirt or having taught screenwriting in the Philippines inform your stories?

I’m a big people watcher. I’ve always enjoyed jobs that allow me to watch and interact with people. Characters in stories are three dimensions, but people are like eight dimensions, and I’ve always found that fascinating. Being a poker dealer, I got to see a lot of interesting people and how they handle the challenges of an involved game like poker, but that was mostly people-watching. Teaching writing is a far more interactive practice, where you have to not just communicate the principles of the craft, but in a workshop setting, identify each student’s needs and address them in a way that helps that student improve. At the end of the day, I think all those experiences help me better understand that people are complex, and I try to capture those complexities and nuances in my writing.

Port of Earth #8 came out this Wednesday.

3. When and how did you first become interested in writing comics?

It began in 2002 when I came back to comics. I had read superheroes growing up, but when I discovered Brian K Vaughn’s Y THE LAST MAN or Greg Rucka’s QUEEN AND COUNTRY or everything Warren Ellis, I realized how diverse and multi-faceted the medium was. I got to see it through adult eyes and gained a whole new appreciation for it. I began reading and collecting a lot of creator-owned comics. I was already pursuing writing in film and TV, but I think that was when the seed was planted: cool writers write cool and original stories in comics. From then, whenever I thought of a story idea, and wondered if it would make a good movie or TV show, I started to wonder about comics. And finally, I took the plunge and decided I wanted to write a comic series too. I spent years trying to land a pitch. When I finally landed ECLIPSE, I still thought I was writing a comic, and it wasn’t until it came out that I realized I was becoming a comic book creator.

4. Your career trajectory has been really cool to watch...what’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to someone who is where you were years ago and would love to eventually be where you are now?

When I finally landed ECLIPSE, I was very nervous. I’m a perfectionist and I wanted it to be great. And that’s simply too much pressure. So, I had to tell myself, Zack, this is not the one. This series, it can be good, you can do your best, but in your life, this one isn’t the one. This is the one that leads to the one. And that allowed me to do two things. Write without such pressure. And realize another important lesson. If I’m just writing good stuff until I get to the one, and none of these are the one, then I’m the one. I’m the product. And as a writer, or an artist, or any creative, I think if you realize that you are building a career of many projects and stories, and some will be good, and some will not, but overall, you are building a long career of creating, that thinking helps. It helps new creators to think small and create a lot of short content to get their names out, it helps inspire creators to work on lots of projects, because you never know which one will be the one. Who knows, maybe ECLIPSE will actually be the one, after all. Maybe not. I’m just busy writing lots of stories now, I can’t think about which one is the one.

5. Lost City Explorers seems to me like a classic teen adventure story for 2018...what are some of your favorite classic teen adventure movies?

Oh, where to begin! GOONIES! INDIANA JONES! Is ET an adventure movie? I think so! How about NEVER ENDING STORY or EXPLORERS? LABYRINTH or BACK TO THE FUTURE? I loved all of that fun, maybe campy stuff from the ‘80s. But I think what inspired THE LOST CITY EXPLORERS was wanting to have my version of those stories but without the 1980s nostalgia. It seemed like whenever people made those stories, they always had a nostalgia to them. I wondered what would a teen adventure look like in modern times. I’ve seen teen dramas. I’ve seen big world teen stories like HARRY POTTER or HUNGER GAMES, but those aren’t our world. So yes, THE LOST CITY EXPLORERS is my teen adventure but in our very own modern times!

+1. Do you remember the worst sunburn you’ve ever had...and do you ever think about it while you’re writing Eclipse?

When I was growing up, I went on a ski trip and got my face so burned, the skin was peeling off. My nose was a mess, and, of course, I came back to high school and they were taking the class pictures. Ugh! But this was years and years ago. The crazy thing is nowadays, it’s not even enough to put on sunscreen once for a day at the beach or a day outside. You have to reapply. The sun is becoming more and more deadly to us. This is happening, and 50 years from now, who knows how bad it will be. That’s what I love about the concept behind ECLIPSE. The sun is supposed to be this positive, happy, plant-growing force in our lives, but everyone secretly harbors a hatred to the sun and the one time it totally burned them. Screw you sun, we never forget!

Click here for a review of Eclipse #9 and here for a review of Lost City Explorers #1.

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

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #1 and Foreshadowing

The lewd-yet-mundane opening panel is an ocassional Saga tradition that started way back in issue #1.

By Zack Quaintance & Cory Webber — Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples recently announced a 1-year (minimum) intermission for Saga, our favorite ongoing comic here at Batman’s Bookcase. To be blunt, we’re ambivalent. We know artistic inspiration is fleeting and intangible, and that one cannot always just will it into being. Great work is often done by creators who are rested, happy, unstressed. Basically, we know even massive talents like Vaughan and Staples need a break.

That’s our logical stance. Emotionally, however, we’re bummed to go an entire year without Saga, and so we’ve decided to occupy ourselves by undertaking an idea we saw on Twitter: during Saga’s 52-week (minimum) intermission, we’re going to re-read the series in its entirety, one issue per week.

We’re going to talk about what happens (briefly), share observations made with the benefit of hindsight, and wrap up each installment with impressions from a first-time reader. We’re going to keep spoilers to a minimum to make this accessible for veteran Saga fans and newbies alike. And we’re going to invite you all to join us—like a massive and amorphous online book club, without the part where everyone meets to talk about it for a few minutes before devolving into unrelated conversations and drinking lots of wine.

Anyway...there you have it. Check back each Friday for the next year (gulp!) as we discuss our re-read of Saga.

Saga #1

Here’s the official preview text for Saga #1:

A rare scene of the two species in combat. The war the series is so heavily informed by is afterward waged mostly off panel.

Y: THE LAST MAN writer BRIAN K. VAUGHAN returns to comics with red-hot artist FIONA STAPLES for an all-new ONGOING SERIES!  Star Wars-style action collides with Game of Thrones-esque drama in this original sci-fi/fantasy epic for mature readers, as new parents Marko and Alana risk everything to raise their child amidst a never-ending galactic war. The adventure begins in a spectacular DOUBLE-SIZED FIRST ISSUE, with forty-four pages of story with no ads for the regular price of just $2.99!

That’s a decent description, although the Game of Thrones comp is off...there is no dynastic politicking to be found here. Saga #1 definitely has hints of Star Wars, though, including but not limited to this killer line: It was a time of war. Isn’t it always.

This is overall a great debut, one that orients the reader in the world of Saga and also introduces a number of excellent character designs, including Lying Cat, Prince Robot IV, and the utterly fantastical chaos our young family encounters at the Uncanny Bridge. What this debut perhaps does best from a script perspective is establish the relatable dynamic between Marko and Alana, our two central lovers. In fact, a better solicitation might have been Star Wars-style action collides with Romeo and Juliet-esque drama if the star-crossed lovers had managed to have a child…but in 2012 (same as today), George R.R. Martin was a far more relatable reference than ol’ Willy Shakespeare. Sigh. 

This foreshadowing is yet to come to fruition, although it is established a few panels later that Alana carries a non-lethal weapon called a heart breaker...

Veteran and First-Timer Perspectives

A Re-Reader’s Perspective by Zack: What’s most interesting to me is the foreshadowing. So much plot is hinted at by via quick lines. I won’t go into detail (spoiler free, after all), but for re-readers I don’t have to. In terms of craft, Vaughan’s preference for exploring family dynamics versus war is evident. Staples art, meanwhile, is noticeably rougher—in everything from colors to linework—but her ambitious and unique designs are here from the start. Last, I’ll just note that a Saga tradition—the lewd-yet-mundane first panel—is the perfect place for our story to start.

Veteran readers who are all caught up show also checkout Why Saga #54 Hurts So Bad.

 

A New Reader’s Perspective by Cory Webber:  Wow! Okay, I get why I’ve heard fans hyping this book since I started reading comics four years ago. First, Saga #1’s world building is uncanny. After just one issue, I feel like I’ve been living in their same universe. Also, Vaughan writes these characters as if they’re real people he’s known for a lifetime. They are flawed, emotional beings—none more so than Alana and Marko—and I find myself sympathetic toward almost all of them (hey, I’m just not sure about The Will and Lying Cat right now, okay?!). Out of the gate, Alana is my favorite...she is witty, feisty, sardonic. I did, however, have to re-read this book a couple of times due to its length. This issue is dense, yet it’s not overly complicated, nor is it filled with any inconsequential fluff. It’s just so detailed that you really have to pay attention. All this, and I haven’t even mentioned Staples’ art. She brings an enormous amount of emotion and humanity to her characters through their faces and postures. Even, surprisingly, for characters that have TVs for heads. I’m excited to finally be starting this journey, and can’t wait to see where this goes...even though I hear the final issue before the hiatus is a real heartbreaking note to end on.

Cory’s New Reader Prediction: The last page shows Alana and Marko with the baby, along with a narration from an older Hazel that makes me think one of them won't make it past #54. There’s no way Alana will be killed off, so I’m guessing Marko kicks the bucket along the way. I sure hope I am wrong!

Thanks for joining us, and be sure to check back next Friday for a discussion of Saga #2!

Cory Webber is a work-from-home entrepreneur who also reads and reviews comics for fun. Find him on Twitter at @CeeEssWebber. He lives in Lehi, Utah with his wife and three sons.

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

LYING.