ADVANCED REVIEW: Black Hammer ‘45 #1 expands this growing universe into a new genre

Black Hammer ‘45 #1 is out 3/6/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Black Hammer ‘45 is something wholly new for the burgeoning Black Hammer Universe at Dark Horse Comics, created slowly over the course of the last few years by writer/artist Jeff Lemire and a host of talented collaborators. Indeed, this is the first comic in a stable that now numbers roughly half a dozen, including the ongoing main story, a host of minis, a one-shot, and Quantum Age, which I don’t even know the scope of—ask me, it can and should run two dozen issues.

Black Hammer ‘45, however, marks the first of these comics that (at least in its first issue) has very little to do with superheroes. It is also the first of these books in which Jeff Lemire is not named as the lone writer, having only a story by credit instead. The actual writing of the comic falls to Lemire’s good friend Ray Fawkes. The art, meanwhile, is provided by another of his friends, Matt Kindt, who like Lemire is a writer slash artist of considerable talent and renown. This comic, in other words, has a mightily talented—if a bit insular—pedigree to its creative team, and that much is evident in its pages. Readers will find no shortage of craft nor ideas in this book. It looks and reads as wonderfully as one has come to expect.

The genre, meanwhile, is a step outside the superhero fare that has largely marked the Black Hammer Universe to date. See, Black Hammer is an extended homage as filtered through Lemire and his collaborators’ sensibilities. We get characters that are at once recognizable and novel, reminding of us old favorites while simultaneously pushing into new (and often more somber) territories, be it an approximation of James Robinson’s Starman or a facsimile for the Legion of Superheroes.

Black Hammer ‘45 is that same sort of homage, yet it pushes outward from the superhero genre, instead drawing its inspiration from Golden Age World War II comics, perhaps most specifically from The Blackhawks. Although, like all of the Black Hammer books, other influences find a way of creeping in. Those range from the real-life story of the Tuskegee Air Men to stories about steampunk mechs. There’s a lot, and it’s all good, and like the rest of these books, it all coalesces into something fresh and unique.

This debut issue itself is also well-crafted, everything from Matt and Sharlene Kindt’s artwork to the way flashback pages looked yellowed and old (even in the advance review PDF...I imagine in the physical copy the effect will be even more noticeable). Fawkes rights it well, too, doing a nice balancing act between action in the past and present, and also finding interesting ways (ways that I won’t spoil) to connect to other parts of the ongoing Black Hammer narrative.

Overall: Fans of the main Black Hammer series will be thrilled the book is branching off into new and interesting territory. Jeff Lemire has said he loves his Black Hammer books because they allow him to do pretty much any kind of comic he wants. This book is proof positive of that. 8.8/10

Black Hammer ‘45 #1
Story By:
Jeff Lemire & Ray Fawkes
Writer: Ray Fawkes
Artist: Matt Kindt
Colorist: Sharlene Kindt
Letterer: Marie Enger
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $3.99
Release Date: March 6, 2019

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

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

Top Comics to Buy for February 20, 2019

By Zack Quaintance — This week was (yet again) an incredibly difficult one to stick to just five choices for our Top Comics to Buy for February 20, here we are with six! The PICK OF THE WEEK, however, was a fairly easy call: The Wild Storm #20. Holy cow has this book been a masterclass in patient comics storytelling, and now, for those of us who’ve been here all along, we’re getting rewarded with intense, high-flying action plus the return of fan favorite characters. But more on that below…

Really, superhero comics were better than usual this week with fantastic artwork in Aquaman and the nascent Naomi catapulting those into the top tier as well, while Guardians of the Galaxy #1 was so good a few weeks ago, that its merits managed to also land Guardians of the Galaxy #2 here, but, again, we’ll explain all that in the forthcoming why it’s cool sections.

So then, without further adieu, let’s check out our picks!

Top Comics to Buy for February 20, 2019

The Wild Storm #20
Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colorist: Steve Buccelatto
Letterer: Simon Bowland
DC Comics
Skywatch intensifies its preparation for war, increasing its attacks on the planet. For some of these conflict zones, Skywatch's greatest threat is not IO or conventional forces, but the people who escaped from its own experimentation camps. And the four people in London whom it knows little about, but who are preparing to take steps to alter the balance of the world…
Why It’s Cool: I got into this a bit in the intro (sorry, couldn’t help myself), but this is the most action-packed issue to date of a series that has spent its previous 19 installments patiently building toward a war (with one other-worldly super-detailed bout of combat in feudal Japan interspersed). Meanwhile, this issue also returns arguably the two most successful characters to be born from any WildStorm comic. It has a long-form narrative payoff, incredible visual action, and the triumphant restoration of characters we haven’t seen in a while. Simply put, this is the type of comic that reminds you why you like superhero comics.

Aquaman #45
Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Robson Rocha
Inker: Daniel Henriques
Colorist: Sunny Gho
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
DC Comics
She's heeeeeere! Witness the epic origin of Aquaman's most dangerous foe yet-the nefarious Namma! Meanwhile, Aquaman, still trying to piece together his strange vision of a mysterious red-headed woman, agrees to accompany Caille across dangerous waters to meet her long-lost mother in exchange for recovering his lost memories. But as the two allies (or maybe more?) approach Namma's island, strange events begin to occur that reveal a shocking truth about Caille herself!
Why It’s Cool: We are absolutely loving the early chapters of Kelly Sue DeConnick, Robson Rocha, Daniel Henriques, and Sunny Gho’s Aquaman run so far, which first and foremost looks incredible, but then also features a lofty tale designed to really impress upon readers the importance of the earth’s oceans. Yes, this story makes the setting a key part of the narrative, an always-excellent move for comics about Aquaman. Basically, come to this run for the art, and stay for the storytelling. Whichever you end up liking best, you’re going to be glad that you’re reading this comic.

Guardians of the Galaxy #2
Donny Cates\
Artist: Geoff Shaw
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
Thanos is dead... Long live the NEW Thanos!
But who will it be?!
Will the new Guardians of the Galaxy find that person in time before the universe comes crashing down?
Why It’s Cool: We absolutely loved Guardians of the Galaxy #1, which was essentially an extension of Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw’s incredible Thanos Wins. As noted in the intro to this piece, the strength of that issue alone was enough to guarantee we’d not only come back for this one but also place it here among our top comics to buy for February 20. What Cates and Shaw are engaged in here is one heck of a cosmic superhero epic, and, for those of us who like that sort of thing, this book is not to be missed.

Mars Attacks #5
Kyle Starks
Artist: Chris Schweizer
Colorist: Liz Trice Schweizer
Dynamite Comics
When things may be at their lowest, Spencer Carbutt may just become the man that his father has been trying to make him amidst all of the explosions and meltings and giant insects making a mess of all types of infrastructure. Make sure you grab yourself a copy of the conclusion to the rootinest, tootinest, Martian-shootin'est comic book you did ever dang see!
Why It’s Cool: This book has been funny and surprisingly emotional from its start, especially last issue, and the finale is no exception. In the final issue of this miniseries, the schlubby main character that writer Kyle Starks and artist Chris Schweizer have created completes a neat and satisfying little character arc, with Schweizer doing his best (and most detailed) apocalyptic artwork in this series to date. Highly recommend this whole mini.

Monstress #20
Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Image Comics
Five-time Eisner Award winner for 2018! As Kippa descends into the darkness, she confronts the most ancient of foes…
Why It’s Cool: The best-looking book in all of comics returned last month with an action-packed issue that seemed to maybe initiate an end game for this fantasy tale. All of that continues in this week’s issue, which, as always, will absolutely tickle your eyeballs with the sheer talent on display in the visuals. Other than Saga (which as we well know is on hiatus) there’s not a better example today of the immersive world-building power of comics than Monstress. Basically, if you love this medium, you must be reading this book.

Naomi #2
Brian Michael Bendis & David F. Walker
Artist: Jamal Campbell
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
DC Comics - Wonder Comics
The most startling and intriguing mystery in the DC Universe continues as Naomi searches to uncover the secrets of her own origin. What do her small town's oversized mechanic and the last time a super-powered person appeared in her hometown have to do with the day she was adopted? Big emotions, new characters and a last page cliffhanger that can't be missed lead off this issue drawn by breakout sensation Jamal Campbell. Don't miss your chance to meet the most exciting new character in the DC Universe!
Why It’s Cool: We are firmly in the camp that believes this move to DC Comics has pushed writer Brian Michael Bendis to do some of his best work in years (although, we were thoroughly enjoying his final Marvel books, especially Iron Man and Defenders). We are also thoroughly in the camp that believes David F. Walker is one of the most underrated talents in all of comics and that the Big 2 should quit hiring him, letting him do a few issues of an amazing new comic, and then cancelling it. Well, on Naomi Bendis and Walker are working together, armed as they are with the absolutely stunning art of Jamal Campbell. All of it is built upon a mystery that teases a look at the DC Universe that we’ve never seen before. Count us not only for this issue but for the (hopefully) long haul.

Top New #1 Comics

  • Age of X-Man: Amazing Nightcrawler #1

  • Anthem #1

  • High Level #1

  • Hulkverines #1

  • Incursion #1

  • Love Romances One Shot

  • Sharkey the Bounty Hunter #1

  • Stronghold #1

  • Wolverine: Infinity Watch #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Avengers #15

  • Batman #65

  • Bitter Root #4

  • Black Badge #7

  • Catwoman #8

  • Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #3

  • Go-Bots #4

  • Hot Lunch Special #5

  • Lone Ranger #5

  • Justice League #18

  • Miles Morales: Spider-Man #3

  • Relay #4

  • Shuri #5

  • Uncanny X-Men #12

  • Venom #11

See our past top comics to buy here, and check our our reviews archive here.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

Comic of the Week: Thor #10 is a masterful look at fathers, sons, and toxic masculinity

Thor #10 is out 2/13/2019.

By d. emerson eddy — For more than six years now, Jason Aaron has been building an epic with Thor Odinson, weaving through god butchery, war with the Shi'ar, strife and upheaval throughout the realms, unworthiness, and flaming wolverines, collaborating with some of the best artists in the business. That list includes Esad Ribic, Russell Dauterman, Steve Epting, Frazer Irving, Christian Ward, and now Mike del Mundo. It has been a wild ride of ups and downs, victories and losses, all working towards the inevitable War of the Realms.

As this series has been counting down to the event, we've been getting one off tales taking stock of where the characters are, how they've been doing, and giving hints as to their preparedness for the oncoming war. This issue does so with Odin, who has essentially become a shell of himself, a drunkard and broken man sitting in the ruined halls of Asgard. This is an exterior state that mirrors his internal conflict. But this issue isn't necessarily a tale of woe and self-pity—though there is a measure of it in Aaron's internal narration for Odin—rather one of “tough love” from an overbearing parent.

A brief, one-page encapsulation of Thor-Odin’s complicated relationship over time.

This fractured father/son dynamic between Odin and Thor has a universal aspect to it of children brought up in homes where we were taught the rigors of what could be considered toxic masculinity, where men are stoic providers for the household, never showing the “weakness” of emotion. This is conveyed here via the juxtaposition of Odin's boorish actions, mocking Thor for crying as a child at thunder, while the narration has Odin searching for how he can simply tell Thor that he loves him, that he's proud of him, but he struggles.

It's heart-rending, but beautifully brought to life in the fluid and action-filled style of Mike del Mundo (along with additional colors from Marco D'Alfonso), who really seems to excel with the inebriated battle sequences between Odin and Thor. The almost shimmering liquidity of del Mundo's regular characters adds a kind of immersive feel to Odin, as though the audience is as well suffering from the effects of his drunkenness. Also, Thor #10 features some very nice page layouts particularly during Odin's visions. And Joe Sabino provides some interesting word balloon changes for the frost giants and Odin's narration boxes.

Overall, much of this volume of Thor has been a kind of heavy metal whirlwind through the Ten Realms and beyond as Thor Odinson returns into the series' focus. Here, we still get that in Thor vs. Odin, but Jason Aaron, Mike del Mundo, Marco D'Alfonso, and Joe Sabino go beyond in providing a familial aspect that may be all too familiar to many readers.

Thor #10
Jason Aaron
Artist: Mike del Mundo
Colorists: Mike del Mundo & Marco D'Alfonso
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99

Check out more of d. emerson eddy’s Comic of the Week feature on our Lists Page.

d. emerson eddy is a student and writer of things. He fell in love with comics during Moore, Bissette, & Totleben's run on Swamp Thing and it has been a torrid affair ever since. His madness typically manifests itself on Twitter

TRADE RATING: Cullen Bunn’s Witch Hammer is brutal and beautiful

AfterShock Comics’ first OGN, Witch Hammer, is out now.

By Hussein Wasiti — In my adventures through Comics Twitter, I’ve frequently come across praise for writer Cullen Bunn, who recently penned AfterShock Comics first original graphic novel, Witch Hammer. My familiarity with Bunn and his work extends only to his Big Two comics, and I’ve been anxious to check out some of his other comics for a while. After reading Witch Hammer, I’m glad I did. While there’s nothing wrong with Bunn’s more mainstream work, this story just completely elevated my perception of him as a storyteller, so much so that I’m now inspired to seek out more of his independent work. Witch Hammer is bloody, brutal, and beautiful, with a message that might leave your skin crawling after you put the book down.

Witch Hammer is a horror story that follows Agent Ada Frontenac and her partner Agent Guinness as they investigate a series of gruesome murders, which they believe are all tied into some kind of cult. As it turns out, the truth surrounding the case is something that Frontenac and her partner have a hard time grappling with, especially when they learn who exactly is carrying out these murders and why this man is on his quest for revenge. Our two main characters are ultimately Frontenac herself and the killer, Jacob Nance. Both of their journeys are tied together without the other truly realizing this to be the case.

Frontenac is clearly a woman of faith, albeit one who is struggling with her beliefs. She’s been investigating murders for a while, and her introduction is very deftly handled by artist Dalibor Talajic in a beautiful nine-panel page, one of the few in the book. Bunn doesn’t explicitly state what is going through her head, but Talajic’s deft and efficient storytelling gives readers just enough visual context to understand her headspace. Frontenac overall comes across as a hopeful person who believes justice will be done and those who deserve salvation will receive it. This results in a very personal kind of conflict for her since the longer she investigates murders, the more she questions this line of belief. Her first page features her throwing her cross necklace on her bed, where it lands atop a gruesome crime scene photo. It’s a stark juxtaposition and the perfect encapsulation of not just this comic, but the state of mind of this main character.

I was blown away by Talajic’s work throughout. I’d only previously read his Foolkiller series over at Marvel, but his panelling and overall storytelling was very strong. He uses a lot of panels per page, with an average of around seven or eight, and sometimes as many as eleven. With this, the storytelling was very focused and overall he made great economical use of space. I described his layouts as deft and efficient earlier, and that applies to his entire approach to this story. There is a lot of violence in this book, executed by the characters almost dismissively, and the numerous and precise panel layouts contribute to this element of the story in a really exact manner.

Talajic’s layouts are very restrictive, and readers may find themselves feeling claustrophobic. This could very well be the Talajic’s intention—to create a feeling of cramped unease with the layouts. There are some nine-panel pages here that Talajic lays out a bit differently than one would expect, which I found incredibly refreshing due to many modern artists rarely using the nine-panel page in a substantial way. Sebastijan Camagajevac’s amazing coloring also sets the tone of the story perfectly, while letterer Marshall Dillon deserves substantial credit for managing to render the panels readable, due to their cramped sizes.

The carefully-vague nature of the story somewhat leaves the ending up to interpretation. Bunn is dealing with heavy themes in this book, namely the lines between religion and violence, and whether one intentionally or unintentionally begets the other. What lines can we cross before coming to some semblance of inner peace? When blinded by false promises, who are we to blame: ourselves, or those who lead us on our path to begin with?

Witch Hammer is pretty wonderful, although some who are squeamish to violence may want to steer clear. There are some truly horrifying images (it is a horror comic, after all) that some readers will not appreciate. I myself enjoyed it all quite a bit. Cullen Bunn’s compelling and horrific storytelling combined with Dalibor Talajic’s tight and suspenseful art have given us my favorite comic so far this year.

Witch Hammer
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Dalibor Talajic
Colorist: Sebastijan Camagajevac
Letterer: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Released: Dec. 19, 2018

Check our reviews of other trade paperbacks and graphic novels in our reviews section!

Hussein Wasiti is a history undergraduate with an intense passion for comics. You can find his weekly writings over at, and periodically on He is on Twitter as bullthesis, and lives in Toronto with his hordes of comics.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #28, boys and girls

Saga #28 was first released on 5/13/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — I’ll get into this more below, but this arc to me feels like a less concentrated set of chapters than those that came before. This is, I assume, partially by design, what with Marko separated from Alana/Hazel for the first time. Saga is at its core a story of a little family, and now that family is separated. As a result, the story starts to feel less streamlined than it has in the past. It doesn’t, however, lose much of its momentum or any of the continued thematic interests it’s determined to explore.

Saga #28, for its part, uses the separation to get at some questions about the roles of men and women in war, and whether the obvious line of thinking—that men are more likely to be killed and killers, so it is therefore harder on them—is the right one. In this story, we get Marko and Robot IV fighting for something, while Alana, Hazel, and Marko’s mom struggle to escape captivity. The politics that has laced the arc since the extremists showed up takes a backseat to individual circumstance (as it took a backseat to Marko’s anger issues last time), and that’s just fine.

Let’s check it all out!

Saga #28

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #28, which was first released back on May 13, 2015. Time is really flying now, eh? On to the preview text, which I’m sure will be detailed and ample…

Alana acts.

What a surprise. It...wasn’t. Although I suppose that tells us a lot, given that the last time we saw Alana she was being held quisi hostage by a radical group of potentially murderous terrorists, or at least terrorists who were holding her captor in high esteem for having murdered a woman tending to her child. Let’s look at the individual elements of this issue.

The Cover: It’s certainly concerning, with Hazel tumbling in the fetal position while her mother, Alana, lunges toward her with a look of panic on her face. It stands alone in the regard that you can probably look at it without knowing anything about this story and surmise that this is a mother trying desperately (and maybe failing) to protect her child, which is also what’s happening inside the book.

The First Page: This opening page (see below) tells a quick, three-panel story that shows a group of our characters sleeping and camped before culminating with The Brand presumably finishing a lengthy explanation to Sophie about what abortion is. Saga is filled with oblique references to concepts like this—a small child being frankly told what abortion is—that shouldn’t be faux pas but maybe are to certain folks in certain parts of the country. To me, first pages like this one (and, indeed, many of the others) seem to simultaneously want to know, Are you scandalized by this?! and, Why?   

A story in three panels.

The Surface: This isn’t the neatest issue of Saga, and I’d actually put it among the slowest of the series so far. That’s not to say that what’s happening on the page isn’t interesting or consequential, it’s just far more scattered. In fact, this entire arc has lacked the breakneck urgency of the previous two, or the intriguing world-building and character development of the earliest chapters. What it essentially comes down to is that this is a book about a family, and it loses its fastball when it starts to keep the members of that family apart. That said, there are some really memorable visuals in this one (more on that soon), including the ending panel, which I feel like should be a meme on Comics Twitter, or at least something trotted out every April the 20th.

Also, there’s a fantastic line in here where The Brand tells Sophie she hasn’t killed all that many people, and Sophie replies with, You want me to wake my cat? (I am nothing if not an utter shill for Lying Cat.)

The Subtext: The book comes right out and makes Hazel’s narration directly about this, but there’s a real division of the genders thing going on here, presumably to illustrate how a similar situation affects each. We have Marko and Prince Robot IV in one contingent, and Alana, Hazel, and her grandmother in another, while Hazel describes how war affects women. The subtext for it all ends up being—perhaps unsurprisingly—that war is no good for anybody, which is, of course, the overarching subtext of the entire series, too.  

The Art: I say this week in and week out, but as good of a writer as Brian K. Vaughan is, the all-time great work being done in this comic is that of Fiona Staples. This issue is so plot heavy that it feels almost procedural, and still Staples manages to steal the show left and right with the most basic of comics storytelling ingredients: the emotive facial expression. Below is a quick gallery of four of my favorites from this issue.

The Foreshadowing: Eh, not all that much of it this week. Which is fine. Last week’s Saga #27 was essentially a roadmap for Marko’s story arc in later issues, at least for re-readers it felt that way.

Saga #28
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past installments of our Saga Re-Read.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

TRADE RATING: How Mister Miracle by Tom King & Mitch Gerads Defies Escapist Entertainment

Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads is out 2/13/2019.

By Brandon Evans — The collected edition of Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads released this week, giving us all the change to read it collected in its entirety. I, like many others, first read this book at a pace of pretty close to once a month, with a few agonizing delays. Although, in retrospect, I think this periodical format may have added to the experience, helping me to better sympathize with Scott Free, aka Mister Miracle himself, who is unsure of his circumstances and surroundings, just like I was unsure what was happening in the overall narrative of the story at each chapter’s conclusion. That disorientation felt right in a way, given that Scott as a protagonist is unsure what the days he’s experiencing mean to the story of his overall life, or anti-life.

I could easily write a piece all about the qualities that make this 12-issue maxiseries so amazing, but I’m hesitant to go through that boom tube because I’d hate to spoil the series for the fortunate souls who get to read it with fresh eyes. To them I say just be ready to look at the mythic components of the Fourth World with a surprisingly fresh perspective—the Life and Anti-Life Equations are explained in such a simple, yet profound ways—you’ll see. It’s really hard to understate how well Tom King writes these concepts and characters. He shows us the atrocity of war and the toll it takes on those who are on the front line, via the graphic violence in the fire pits of Apokolips juxtaposed with the family lives it interrupts. Thanks to the beautiful art of Mitch Gerads, a conversation about redoing a condominium is entertaining and thrilling, even at the expense of many unfortunate parademons. Gerads grueling adherence to a mostly nine-panel uniformity is impressive, and after awhile you realize how strong his sequential storytelling is. His art pairs incredibly well with the story, a union enables the book to be, dare I say, miraculous.

Mister Miracle does something that is unusual for the comic book medium, it takes the idea of escapism entertainment, and inverts it. Instead of a man trying to escape the monotony of normal everyday life, we see a superhero and celebrity escape artist doing his best to escape his life. A cliched phrase that the tired and bored often use is, “I’m dying to escape this place.” Well, what Tom King literally gives us is an escape artist who attempts dying at the start of the story to escape his life of escapism. While we as the readers are trying to get into his world, Scott is actively trying his best to get out, to get a piece of our normal lives. It is on the epic battlefields that Mister Miracle truly looks bored, but when changing diapers, he seems…happy.

Scott Free is arguably every new dad trying to be better than his father as he battles falling victim to the same impossible choice his own father did. Will Scott give up his son to a life of torture on Apokolips or will he damn every fellow New God to continue the endless war that has been plaguing Scott and Barda their entire lives? This story culminates in Scott making the impossible choice. There are no easy answers in life, and Scott’s actions show that he understands this. Fortunately, he isn’t alone. The series features Big Barda too, Scott’s wife, and in all the ways that Scott fails, Barda picks up the slack. She is the strength to his weakness, the reason against his insanity, but most of all Barda is the decisive confidence to his indecisive insecurity. Any fan of Barda will love her strength in this book, watching Scott benefit from it as he battles his depression and makes his eventual escape.

From Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads.

The reason that King and Gerads’ Mister Miracle is such a touching tale is because it is the very embodiment of us, the reader. We’ve grown up to find lives not as the superheroes or celebrities we so desperately wanted to be when were children, but as parents and normal people we swore we’d never become. We endure the scars of perceived—or actual—childhood traumas and live in a world that we don’t exactly recognize every day. While we may not see the embodiment of our doubts and/or depression in quite the same way as Scott—Darkseid is.—we do contend with our own doubts, worries, and fears.

As a new father, myself, it has been clear to me throughout that Tom King and Mitch Gerads really infused this book with their own very personal insights into the heroic business of parenthood. Raising children is exciting and scary, but at the end of the day, far more important than interstellar wars on Apokolips, or any other planet for that matter. Though we may throw ourselves head first into those conflicts, we know the best things are at home with our wives, children, families. Those are the things that keep us going. We can’t forget the problems we face, even when we are on the couch playing with our young children. The dread of the real world is there. We can never really deny that Darkseid is, we merely use it as a footstool and focus that much more on our own little New Gods.

If you’re looking for a comic book that is truly grown up, then this collected work belongs on your shelf.  

Brandon Evans is a freelance writer and comic book lover from St. Louis, MO. He is currently working to find his way into the comic book industry. You can find him on Twitter as @writingbrandon

'Calvin and Hobbes was Just the Tip of the Iceberg': David Pepose, Jorge Santiago talk Spencer & Locke 2

Spencer & Locke Vol. 2 #1 is out 4/24/2019 and can be pre-ordered now at your local comic shop.

By Harry Kassen — Those who were paying attention in April of 2017 were treated to one of that year’s best books. Spencer and Locke—by writer David Pepose, artist Jorge Santiago, Jr., colorist Jasen Smith, and letterer Colin Bell—was an introspective, high octane thriller that answered the unlikely question “What would you get if you crossed Calvin and Hobbes and Sin City?” Now, two years later, the team is reuniting to tell another story about Spencer, Locke, and now, Roach Riley, a new character inspired by Beetle Bailey. David Pepose and Jorge Santiago, Jr. join us to talk about working together, creating the series, and what’s to come in Volume 2.

Batman’s Bookcase (BB): You cite Calvin and Hobbes and Sin City as your influences for Spencer and Locke. What about those called out to you as needing to be combined?

David Pepose (DP): When I first had the idea of writing a comic of my own, I was really into mashup music at the time—weird but fun combinations like Nine Inch Nails meets Call Me Maybe—and I thought to myself, what would a mashup comic look like? Classic Frank Miller was the starting point for the series, since his work with John Romita, Jr. on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear really stuck with me growing up—but then I thought, what could be the weirdest thing we mash up with that body of work, that would still stick the landing?

A lot of the first ideas I came up with felt more like shock for shock value’s sake—which might get you some attention at the outset, but isn’t really a sustainable foundation for a long-lasting readership, y’know? It was only when I thought of Calvin and Hobbes that the whole story clicked into place—I thought about a beat-up cop, grinning wildly in the rain, holding a stuffed animal in his hands. What’s the story with that guy? What kind of home life must he have had, to hold onto an imaginary friend well into adulthood? That’s when I started thinking about childhood trauma, mental illness and PTSD, which became the bedrock of what Spencer & Locke was truly about.

BB: David, what about Jorge’s work made you want him for this project? And Jorge, what about this project made you want to work on it?

Jorge Santiago Jr. emotive artwork from Curse of the Eel.

DP: Jorge’s portfolio immediately impressed me because not only were his action sequences fluid and exciting, but you could really feel the emotion he gave his characters. It was Jorge’s art that really helped sell our initial concept, because he allowed us to play this story as humane and empathetic rather than something over-the-top or hyper-exaggerated.

Jorge Santiago Jr. (JSJ): David’s email came at the right time when I was about to graduate from SCAD Atlanta. I was already interested in the crime fiction and crime comics at the time, and was planning my own mash up of crime stories with horror when David approached me, and it seemed like it’d be fun, so I took a shot at it.

BB: Whose idea was it to have the flashbacks drawn as a Bill Watterson pastiche? Was that always the plan or did that come later?

DP: Yep, that was always the plan—Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips did a similar effect in Criminal: Last of the Innocent, and I thought it was a smart play that could be pushed even further, to remind readers of our influences and reinforce that shift in time. The flashbacks also let us lull readers into a false sense of security with this instantly familiar style—we wanted to weaponize their nostalgia, building up their expectations before flipping everything on its head.

A Bill Watterson pastiche from Spencer & Locke Vol. 1.

JSJ: David wanted those in there from the start, although I’m a huge supporter of using art to tell the story in comics. I feel like a lot of stories, noir ones included, rely a lot on captions to tell the story, and I think that in a story like this, letting the art clue the reader in at key points is essential to an immersive read. Our flashbacks let us avoid a lot of captions that set scenes, so it lets us tell a story without being overly redundant or confusing our readers on what they’re looking at.

BB: There’s a lot of storytelling in the colors, especially in the contrast between panels in full color and panels in black and white with color backgrounds. What’s your process with Jasen (Smith, colorist) for working out what those are going to look like?

JSJ: Generally I don’t really try to lead Jasen too much when it comes to the colors. I will ask for some things if I feel it might help or if I have something in mind that I would like to try, but I trust Jasen to do what he’s on the book to do. My focus is on keeping the panels clear and distinct so Jasen has an interesting but fun canvas to paint on.

Jorge Santiago Jr. artwork with Jasen Smith colors.

BB: I’ve read the first issue of the new series but for our readers, what’s changed since we last saw our heroes?

DP: When we reconnect with Spencer and Locke, we’re going to learn that things have not been great for them since they solved Sophie Jenkins’ murder. Locke finds himself suspended by Internal Affairs following the sizable body count he left in the last arc, which puts both his career and his bid for custody of his daughter Hero in jeopardy. But even more importantly, Spencer and Locke are finding themselves what might be considered an existential crisis - they faced all of Locke’s childhood tormentors and dealt with them about as decisively as humanly possible… so why doesn’t Locke feel any better?

Unlike what Hollywood action movies might try to sell you, catharsis doesn’t come from the end of a gun - and given that Spencer is just a figment of Locke’s subconscious, Locke’s inner turmoil means his partnership with Spencer has become fraught with tension and restlessness. Just because Spencer and Locke confronted their past doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily moved past it - they’re going to have to figure out how to live with their scars, because the world won’t necessarily tolerate their violent brand of crime-fighting.

JSJ: I think the scope of the world has changed with second volume. The view in volume one is limited to Locke and his horrible family, but with volume two, the lens pulls back so we can see more than just a brutal household. The city is more alive in our volume two, and I think that will be immediately clear with the increasing number of cast members and with a villain that literally has come from across the planet to make sure the world hears his message.

BB: The end of volume one very easily could have been the end of the whole story. What made you guys come back? Was this always part of the plan or did you just find that the story was calling you back?

DP: The hardest part about the first Spencer & Locke was not telling anyone our secret—that parodying Calvin and Hobbes was just the tip of the iceberg, and that the plan was to take the Fables-style shared universe approach across the funny pages for volume two. That escalation felt really organic to me, and let us play with the world and raise the stakes in such an interesting way—when I was reading the comics section as a kid, these varied comic strips were all on the same page, so why not put them in the same universe?

But the other thing was, I felt like there was still things left to be said about Locke and his unique journey, ways that we could continue to subvert action movie tropes and tell a deeper story about how we cope with the scars that life gives us. We had so many fans tell us they wanted to see more of Spencer and Locke’s adventures, and even more importantly, we had readers who were themselves survivors of abusive households tell them how much our story meant to them. It’s hard to not want to continue when you get feedback like that.

BB: How does it feel coming back to this world? Is it weird to be working on this again or does it feel like you never stopped?

DP: Honestly, I feel like I’ve been in Locke’s headspace for the better part of five years now, but it’s always fun to discover new things about these characters, or to try a different angle we haven’t seen before. It’s been actually kind of freeing to expand Locke’s world, particularly seeing him interact with foils like Spencer, Roach, Hero and Melinda — each of these characters reveals something different about Locke, which in turn makes the world around him feel that much more vibrant and well-realized.

JSJ: It isn’t so much weird to be coming back, but it’s more that I’ll get to have another chance to show these characters grew or didn’t grow during the events of volume one. I hope that readers understood that in Locke isn’t the typical action movie hero where he gets a happy ending; to Locke, he doesn’t deserve one, so to follow this character around and depict his struggle with his delusions while still trying to be a good person is interesting. I think Locke still has room for change, and unfortunately for him, it’s coming whether he’s ready or not.            

Roach Riley is to Beetle Bailey as Spencer and Locke are to Calvin and Hobbes.

BB: The first volume obviously took some liberties but it took all of its inspiration from Calvin and Hobbes. What’s it like bringing in a new character (Roach Riley) from outside that world and adding him to the world you have?

DP: The biggest challenge for me writing Spencer & Locke 2 was making sure that we built up Roach as a villain who feels as three-dimensional and complex as Spencer and Locke themselves—and honestly, I’m incredibly proud of what we came up with. Roach is very much Locke’s dark mirror image—while Locke had Spencer to help him cope with decades of trauma, Roach has withstood just as much horror and suffering in a much more accelerated time frame. The sole survivor of his platoon overseas, Roach has come back as a relentless killing machine, an apostle of pain who’s looking to spread the good word to as many people as possible.

The thing about Roach is he isn’t just a physical threat—he has a twisted philosophy behind his actions, a sort of nihilistic worldview that if you squint in the right way, might just make a weird sort of sense. The battle between Locke and Roach is just as much a war of ideas as it is a physical conflict, and watching the sparks fly between them really is the highlight of the book.

BB: Roach Riley continues the trend of having flashbacks done in a more classic cartoon style. What went into the style choices for his flashbacks?

JSJ: I tried to study and metabolize the style of Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey and make it work for me in a way. These style changes are usually the first thing people notice when they open the book, and what I’m glad about so far, is that not too many people feel like they were drawn by someone else, which would be the worst thing. With these and the Watterson-esque flashbacks, my goal is to create a hybrid style of my own and theirs because if it looks like someone else drew them, then it might confuse the reader on what they’re looking at. I remember a few years ago, I read a superhero comic that had an ad for a candy bar in a comic style similar to the art of the comic and it confused me for a minute. This was what I was hoping to avoid, and also just straight up ripping off the art of classic cartoonists, because that would have been the height of disrespectful.             

Mort Walker’s  Beetle Bailey  comic strip.

Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey comic strip.

BB: Is there anything you guys changed about your style or approach for this volume? Were there any things from the first volume you were unhappy with that you changed for part two?

DP: Just by virtue of the high concept, we wanted to do everything bigger than before - while the first Spencer & Locke was more of an intimate psychological thriller, Spencer & Locke 2 gets to play out Locke’s psychodrama across an entire city. Whereas the first series felt like Memento, this sequel gets to be more like The Dark Knight or The Empire Strikes Back—the stakes and scale are larger, but we still work to keep these larger-than-life situations personal to our characters.

One of the biggest changes to our sequel is also our supporting cast—in addition to Roach as our big bad, we also get to follow the members of Locke’s surrogate family. I think Locke’s new love interest, Melinda Mercury, is particularly important representation, as a woman and a person of color whose investigation into Roach’s mission will cause some major shake-ups down the line. Locke’s young daughter Hero also plays a big role in our sequel—she’s graduating to more than just a hostage, but a character with her own agency and her own direction. While Spencer and Locke’s unique dynamic is the engine that drives our story, I’d argue that Hero is the heart.

JSJ: I’m definitely glad that now that the focus is off of Locke's family and onto the world at large, we can show a wider cast of different people and build up characters that wouldn’t have fit in the first volume. Like, we have almost a whole issue dedicated to Melinda and Hero this time around, and that might be my favorite issue of the bunch. When I write my own comics, I tend to make the casts mostly women and people of color, so volume two was definitely more in my wheelhouse, although there's still a lot of action that is definitely not in my wheelhouse.

I also wanted this book to be more visually rich than the previous one. With the comic coming to focus on Roach and him being a broken mirror of Locke, I got to play with some really fun visual imagery and symbolism that I hope people will enjoy. I think that Spencer and Locke, as well as Calvin and Hobbes in a way, are really two faces of the same coin. In S&L, Spencer is Locke's nurturing and caring side, while Locke is the practical, cynical side which more represents how he sees the world. I think that having that duality in a main character is interesting, and portraying that struggle of Locke deciding which voice he should listen to as the world burns around him will make this book much more unique of a read compared to our first volume. Also, I put references galore to some of my favorite stories and fans of Resident Evil 2 will notice something around issue two but definitely in issue three and four. See if you can find them all!

BB: Now that you've done Calvin and Hobbes and Beetle Bailey, what funnies character(s) would you guys want to tackle next?

Gary Larson’s The Far Side.

DP: Ha, that would be telling! I'll tell you this—if there's enough demand for Spencer and Locke 2 to justify getting us a third volume, I have not one, but two iconic strips I'd love for us to play with next. We have a long plan in mind here, so call your local comics shop and tell them you want to preorder volume two—because if you thought what we've done to Calvin and Hobbes and Beetle Bailey was wild, you ain't seen nothing yet…

JSJ: I don't know, we kind of cover a bunch in volume two that I'm not sure how we could give them more time or more love. Maybe FoxTrot? I always loved it as a kid, so maybe that would be a fun one to interpret. Or The Far Side, something weird.

Spencer and Locke Volume 1 is available from comic shops and bookstores. The first issue of Volume 2 releases on April 24th but can be preordered now at your local comic shop using these codes: FEB191309 (Jorge Santiago, Jr. Main Cover), FEB191310 (Maan House Variant), or FEB191311 (Joe Mulvey Variant).

Check out this preview from Spencer & Locke Vol. 2 #1:

Harry Kassen is a college student and avid comic book reader. When he’s not doing schoolwork or reading comics, he’s probably sleeping. Catch his thoughts on comics, food, and other things on Twitter @leekassen.

REVIEW: Livewire #3, Amanda McKee faces a far greater danger than anything physical

Livewire #3 is out 2/13/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Three issues into its run, Livewire is now among my favorite superhero comics (right up there with Bendis’ Superman and Immortal Hulk). This book just has such a great combination of honest characterization from writer Vita Ayala, kinetic and clear artwork from Raul Allen and Patricia Martin, and distinct yet connected chapters. Indeed, all three issues in this series so far have had different conceits, with clear thematic throughlines fostering a sense of unity.

Livewire is, in other words, a fantastic monthly comic. Livewire #3 sees our heroine still depowered, on the run, and known pretty much the world over as a war criminal. See, in this past summer’s Harbinger Wars 2 event, Livewire essentially turned off all the electronics in the United States to save her team from slaughter and oppression at the hands of malicious actors within government. This action, which seemed justified on its surface, had the end result of killing a horrific number of innocent people, from folks with pacemakers to hundreds on commercial planes.

In this issue, Livewire escapes to a safehouse before being hunted down by Pan, whom she has known since childhood under Toyo Harada within the Harbinger Foundation (readers needn’t know this bit of continuity to enjoy the series). The majority of this book is consumed by de-powered Livewire and Pan in combat, but the fisticuffs take a backseat, so intense is the discourse between the characters. Allen and Martin’s artwork is among the best in comics right now, and it makes for engaging activity as the argument between the two characters steadily raises the emotional stakes.

Pan and Livewire have a sibling relationship, and they spend the issue arguing as siblings do. This sort of complex discord between siblings is familiar territory for Ayala, who has told similarly-compelling stories about brothers and sisters in some of their best comics, particularly in their series with Vault Comics, Submerged. It’s all in here—the resentment, the rehashing of the past, the accusations of favoritism, the struggle to reframe history—all the well-worn maneuvers from real life sibling rivalry appear, compelling as can be.

What really makes Livewire #3 a white knuckle read, however, is the emotional threat poised to the lead character. In issue one, we saw Amanda McKee run through her status quo on the run, in issue two we saw her suffer physically at the hand of oppressive captors. In this issue, we see her honestly face down the severity of what she’s done in full, forced to do so by Pan’s accelerated empath abilities, which can essentially transfer memories from one person to another. Livewire, as we know, is a hero who believes in her fight and good intentions. That core component of her identity faces down a major threat here.

What Ayala does that’s so impressive is use this setup—the hunt, the character history, the transferred memory, the fistfighting—to illustrate the price for aggressive actions, asking whether regardless of how righteous or justified one feels, if aggression is ever the answer. In other words, can you be as right to fight back as Livewire was, and still find yourself suffering culpability for damage beyond your perception? Fighting a winning fight, even when you’re 100 percent correct, is still fighting, and maybe the nature of aggression is such that we can never truly anticipate how it afflicts the world.

That’s what I took from Livewire #3, and it’s an especially poignant point these days, when the difference between being right and productive has been so thoroughly muddied.

Overall: Livewire is a grounded book with high stakes, grand ideas, and terrifying threats, and in its pages, Ayala, Allen, and Martin are fearlessly addressing everything from Amanda’s intentions to her results to the impact of the wars she’s waged. This comic is, simply put, compelling stuff. 9.6/10

Livewire #3
Vita Ayala
Artists: Raul Allen with Patricia Martin and Scott Koblish
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
Valiant Entertainment
Price: $3.99

Check out our reviews of Livewire #1 and Livewire #2!

Check out more comic book thoughts in our reviews archive.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Mark Millar's The Magic Order #6 pulls a fantastic trick on the audience

The Magic Order #6 is out 2/13/2019.

By Bo Stewart — It’s somewhat of a rare treat to see a writer as established as Mark Millar manage to surprise his audience. I have to admit, before reading The Magic Order, I thought I’d seen every trick Millar was capable of pulling. In fact, I even thought I’d figured out the ending to The Magic Order itself, and my prediction was that this book’s ending would be abrupt. The double-sized finale The Magic Order #6, however, subverted my expectations at every turn. This is, simply put, an exciting and emotional story, and like all good magic tricks, it has plenty of surprises for its audiences as the creators saved the best for last.

Really, every issue of this series has been packed with twists, making this book a page turner in every sense. This is a story about family and what people are willing to sacrifice for love. It’s a little difficult to discuss this issue in detail without veering into spoiler territory, but trust me, you won’t see this ending coming either. It wraps a neat bow on everything we’ve seen before while also leaving the door cracked just enough for a potential sequel (the end says End of Book there could be more coming).

So then, let’s talk a little about the format of The Magic Order. Up until I reviewed The Magic Order #5 in December, I was under the assumption that this was an ongoing book. How could it not be? The premise is brimming with amazing characters, wondrous feats of magic, and endless possibilities to explore. Once I learned it would end with #6, I felt as if we were being denied a closer look at a world I wanted to spend more time in. It is worth noting that the forthcoming Netflix series will help assuage some of this, but even the adaptation the streaming giant will provide aren’t enough to replace the simple desire that I want more comics. Not just a little, a lot more.

In many ways, though, the restraint keeping the series to just these first six issues should be commended. All too often in comics, similar limitations aren’t utilized and the narrative suffers as a result. This is a tight, briskly-paced adventure where every issue justifies itself by being essential to the story.  It’s just a gorgeous book that weaves a tale among the very best of Mark Millar’s many comics.

Overall: The Magic Order far exceeded my expectations left me wanting many more adventures with these characters in this fantastic world. It belongs among the very best of Mark Millar’s prolific career. This comic isn’t merely good—it’s great. 9.0/10

The Magic Order #6
Mark Millar
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Peter Doherty
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

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

Bo grinds for the Man by day so he can create comics by night. He is the lesser half of the Stewart Brothers writing team and can be found on Twitter and Instagram @stewart_bros

REVIEW: Electric Warriors #4, a surprising character dies

Electric Warriors #4 is out 2/13/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Since its start, Electric Warriors has had one of the most interesting concept of any DC comic in recent memory. A six-issue miniseries, this book is set in a future timeline called the Cosmic Dark Age, which takes place after Jack Kirby’s Great Disaster, which eradicated civilized society on Earth and gave rise to characters like O.M.A.C and Kamandi. This time period is, essentially, a bridge between that age and the far more utopian future belonging to the Legion of Superheroes. In Electric Warriors, planets no longer war with each other...instead they send representatives—the titular Electric Warriors—to battle in tournaments organized by the Gil’dishpan aliens that settle militaristic conflicts by proxy. As an extra (and poignant wrinkle) Earth is the only planet with two champions—human and anamorphic—because its population, as usual, can’t get along.

On the surface, the entire system seems like a better one than actually going to war. In Electric Warriors #4, however, the plot picks up on a cliffhanger leftover from Electric Warriors #3, and we start to see what that story implied—that the logistical workings of this battle system are far more sinister than the surface representations of them imply. Essentially, the organizers of the peaceful system are taking the fallen and butchering their bodies for amusement at drunken parties for the galaxy’s elite.

This plot concept was hinted at in #3 and is fleshed out further here in Electric Warriors #4, and I absolutely love it as a smart bit of misdirection. On its surface, this miniseries looked to be another mediation on Earth not being able to find unified peace, with a question about whether violence for some negates the luxury of peace for the vast majority...and now it pivots every so slightly to become a treatise on class warfare, implying as it does that forever war is waged for benefit to and amusement of the .1 percent. It is, in other words, never the hands of the truly privileged that end up with a society’s blood on them, no matter the system.

It all makes for a compelling comic, one that reads exceedingly well in monthly issues. In addition to these larger overarching themes, writer Steve Orlando is spinning a rich narrative here, complete with characters keeping secrets from each other, characters having affairs, and a gentle union between characters to solve a mystery, a mystery we as an audience know the answer to (Firestorm is the Lord Preceptor). This is Orlando telling his best superhero story (with the possible exception of his fill-in run on Wonder Woman) since his breakout work on Midnighter a few years back, and he’s armed with the absolutely stunning creative team of imaginative artist Travel Foreman and colorist Hi-Fi.

The last bit I’ll say—without tipping into spoiler territory—is that this issue features a surprising death, a true rarity during an era of superhero comics where market forces and corporate interests make so many plot twists impermanent and telegraphed months before they occur. This book being set in a relatively unexplored era with all-new characters gives it liberties that feel utterly refreshing. It’s not to be missed.

Overall: With its fourth issue, Electric Warriors remains one of DC’s best comics. This issue packs a surprising death, more insight into what’s really happening with the story, and a deepening of the already rich dynamics between characters. In an era where superhero comics can feel staid and predictable, Electric Warriors is anything but. 9.6/10

Electric Warriors #4
Steve Orlando
Artist: Travel Foreman
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99

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

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.