Superman is many things, and boring isn’t one of them

By Maya Kesh — Superman is boring. At this point, that criticism has become so tired that it’s become boring itself. Still, I can’t help but wonder why it’s such a common attack against one of fiction’s greatest character. Why? The answer is invariably that he’s too strong, leaving no reason to fear that anything will happen to him. Never mind that realistically there also isn’t fear that something will happen to Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man and the rest—the underlying conceit of every superhero story is that good triumphs over evil.

Beyond that, however, I don’t understand why Superman’s powers translate in to him being called a boring character. I’ve been contemplating this criticism a lot lately, and in this piece I’d like to directly address it, making a case for why Superman is easily one of the most compelling characters in all of comics by looking at everything from his powers to his origin to the humanity he displays as Clark Kent.

Superman’s Powers and Origin

He doesn’t use his powers to help himself (Silver Age goofiness aside), as such, he’s not an arrogant god. As many (if not all) fans know, Superman in 1938 was far less powerful than he is now. He was a more of street level character who couldn’t yet fly. The bare bones were there. A baby from another planet. Disguised as Clark Kent. Worked with Lois Lane, etc.

Action Comics #1 (1938).

As the years went by the character’s abilities grew and grew. Soon he could fly. He could move planets around. He was the most powerful character in the DC Universe.

One thing that did not change, however, was his origin. He stayed an alien even as his childhood backstory was expanded upon. Instead of nameless kindly motorists, Jonathan and Martha Kent found him and raised him as their own. He grows up to disguise himself as Clark Kent, who works as a reporter at the Daily Planet. This itself is remarkable. He could do and be anything, and he decided to be a reporter to uncover injustice as he also fought it as his alter ego.

  Superman: Birthright

Superman: Birthright

Superman’s Values and the ‘Nice Guy’ Argument

His core goodness is another trait often pointed to as a problem. He’s too good. Where are his flaws? I’ve always felt this is a larger misinterpretation of what good means. Too often we celebrate the tortured anti hero. Something terrible must have happened to our hero to send him off to right wrongs. How could a man brought up in a stable household with two loving parents understand struggle? What is his motivation?

This brings me to some questions of my own: why does there need to be a motivation to want to help the world to be a better place? Why is a core of decency something to sneer at or dismiss as dull?

This isn’t the same thing as the “nice guy” argument, wherein people performatively act a certain way in order to get rewards. “Why won’t she go out with me…I’m such a nice guy!” That kind of talk is passive aggressive hostility, expecting the world owes one something.

That is not Superman. He is doing what he does because he cares about the planet, never expecting a return on his investment. He truly is a complex character. Just imagine being flung out as a baby in to space, crash landing on another planet, and then as time goes on you find you can do things nobody else can or ever could. You have to hide that side of yourself out of fear that the world would turn against you. You are neither human nor Kryptonian. You walk a line where you never know what it is like to truly belong. 

Superman and Clark Kent, a Complex Whole

I’ve always disliked the “Superman is what I can do, Clark is who I am” line from the Lois and Clark TV show in the ‘90s. I think it is far too simplistic. 

Superman is more than what he can do. Being Superman is an essential part of who he is. Meanwhile, Clark is not all that he is either, because he spent his life on the fringes. He couldn’t race to school. He couldn’t play rough games with his friends in fear of hurting them. He had to learn to control his powers, powers that are as much a part of him as our senses are a part of us.

Superman: Birthright

Superman and Clark Kent are parts of a whole, a whole he can only share with a few trusted people in his life. His parents, a few childhood friends, and, later, Lois Lane.

When he first makes his debut as Superman, you’d expect the population to fear him. Writer Mark Waid and artist Leinil Francis Yu’s Birthright mini-series explores this really well. We see that as Superman our hero is really worried about how he’ll be received. As a result, his joy when Lois Lane meets him as Superman and is not in the least bit afraid is a wonderful moment.

Superman: Birthright

The emotional toll it takes hiding parts of himself on a daily basis, never able to fully be himself as either Clark Kent or Superman is just so rich with storytelling possibilities. 

Action Comics #850

This is a character with emotions, and a character who gets angry and jealous. Sad. Petty. All the normal emotions everyone feels. Being a fundamentally good person doesn’t negate that these emotions roil around within him, and certainly does not make him boring.  However, he does have a greater burden because of his immense power, and he has to be very careful not to abuse it.

There is a scene in the movie Man of Steel where he has to endure the harassment of truckers at a truck stop where he’s working. He indulges his petty side by messing with the trucker’s truck. His momentary lapse doesn’t then mean he’s not living up to the Superman mantle. Not doing something like that is a level of perfection (which I contend is unattainable) that he himself aspires to achieve. He is not a perfect man, no matter how badly he wants to be. Ultimately, he’s flawed like everyone else. 

Superman’s and misconceptions

Another misinterpretation is that he is naïve, that because he sees the best in humanity somehow means he doesn’t understand the worst. I don’t agree with this. I think he understands the worst. He understands evil. How could he not, fighting what the sort of threats he fights? That he manages to rise above the cynicism and continues to battle for justice in hopes that, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., the moral arc though long will indeed bend towards justice. This isn’t willful blindness to the horrors around us but a deep belief that we and he are better than the lowest common denominator.

This, I think, sometimes gets lost. In the rush for the superficial complexity of the tortured hero driven by external forces, we lose sight of the true complexity of those doing good because of a natural internal drive. We as a society have, I think, become cynical towards this idea that people do good because it is the right thing to do. Our default mode is to wonder what the catch could be.

Superman in 2018

I don’t think Superman is boring, especially not given the nature of our modern times. In fact, I strongly believe that Superman needs to be written in the time he is living in. These days the blinders have been lifted, and many of us are seeing first hand a rising threat from global nationalism. A push back against immigrants. A fear of those who look and talk differently. It all makes me wonder: if we can’t accept each other, how would we accept a man from another planet?

The world Superman lives in today is a lot more complex because we’re globally connected in ways we’ve never been before. Communication is instantaneous. The character though doesn’t need to respond with darkness to the events around him.  There will, of course, be frustration. However, not succumbing to that frustration and becoming Batman-lite, if you will, is its own challenge, and a fascinating one at that. How do you live day to day seeing all the destruction happening around you while knowing you could stop it in a second? How do you live while having immense power within and not devolve in to megalomania?

Superman does this literally every day. His core decency and honor should not be dismissed as naiveite or mocked as boy scout behavior. Instead, it should be seen for what it is: a fascinating study of what makes a hero driven by the belief that the universe is better than what he sees in front of him. 

We need heroes like this, heroes who do what they do because they only want to do right. They aren’t searching for external praise or validation or even revenge. There is huge difference in my mind in understanding the challenges of the world around us in a realistic way without succumbing to the cynicism that there is no hope, that we're a doomed species.  

Superman, I think, is one of the hardest of characters to get right because to do so, one has to let go of the idea people are fundamentally in it for themselves, or that believing in nobility is for the foolish. I really don’t think it is. I don’t think honor is a boring trait. I think Superman’s core of kindness, compassion, empathy and decency makes him a fascinating character. It’s easier to fall prey to despair; it’s harder to keep from falling in to cynicism. Yet he does this. Day after day. 

Superman is so much more than the sum of his powers. He is a man who could control the world but instead cherishes the people around him and sees himself as one of us, not an infallible god. When we look beyond the punches?  We see the true hero, and he’s one for the ages.

Maya Kesh is a lifetime comic reader and a writer whose articles often focus on how women are portrayed in comics. You can follow her on Twitter at @mayak46

REVIEW: Amazing Spider-Man #11 alternates between media commentary and laughs

  Amazing Spider-Man #11  is out 12/12.

Amazing Spider-Man #11 is out 12/12.

By Zack Quaintance — Amazing Spider-Man #11 marks the return of this series’ primary art team (or at least the one that gets top billing): penciler Ryan Ottley, inker Cliff Rathburn, and colorist Laura Martin. As such, it’s a bit of a shift. Nothing is lost in transition, but it does require a few moments of quick re-orienting at its start. Perhaps more consequentially, Amazing Spider-Man #11 is also a slight emotional reset for this ongoing story, which makes sense given that it’s a new story arc (although, arcs have so far been a little amorphous in this young run).

As I wrote in my review of Amazing Spider-Man #10, that issue featured a satisfying emotional crescendo for a team-up between Spider-Man and Black Cat, who have romantic history together but have both very much moved on. It used the concept of mine erasure (a very comics-y concept) to get at universal truths about respecting the emotional impact one’s behavior has on an ex, even if nobody’s carrying a burning torch. It was well-done and went straight for the heart strings with its ending. This issue doesn’t involve Black Cat, which is expected because of how the last one wrapped so nicely, but it also doesn’t involve Mary-Jane Watson either. It doesn’t involve Peter’s love life at all. Thus the shift.

In Amazing Spider-Man #11 we get a Christmas story starring members of Peter’s supporting cast not seen since the first arc with Ottley/Rathburn/Martin, almost as if Spencer had his collaborators pick teams from among the massive Spidey friends and family bunch (there are plenty to go around). What we get here is a story that involves the folks Peter knows from the Daily Bugle, mainly J. Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson, both of whom are used well as polemics for philosophies within the modern media industry, plus also for laughs.

Jameson (who scores laughs in almost every panel he’s in) is a cartoon representation of the media at its worst (as he has been for years), wildly oscillating between impassioned stances against/for whatever passes in front of his face. He’s hungry for credit and quick to get egotistical by insinuating his name alone causes seismic shakes in organizational profitability. Robertson, meanwhile, is a thoughtful journalist who Jameson’s behavior has forced into an impossible situation. He can’t pander in the slightest or he’ll be lumped in with Jameson’s ilk, yet a certain segment of his audience is prone to/expectant of blatant pandering. It’s pretty smart media commentary wrapped in an entertaining blanket of Spencer-penned curmudgeonly one-liners. I’m a reporter by trade, and I found it alternately cathartic and funny.

So yes, I liked this individual issue quite a bit. There’s also the question of where does this little story fit into the larger tapestry of what Spencer et. al are trying to do here? It definitely advances Spencer’s commitment to touching more corners of Spider-Man’s deep mythos than have been used in the recent past, incorporating rarely-seen villains like Arcade and the old-timey Enforcers. In an age where the go-to superhero foe has become other superheroes, this book is a well-done refutation to the standard, and I for one am loving it. Spencer is also adept at handling the double-shipping schedule, layering plot developments in a way that blurs the arcs into one long ongoing story. If he can keep it up, a year or two from now we might be talking about this era of Amazing Spider-Man as something truly special.

Overall: Heavy on media commentary, old supporting cast members, and solid laughs, Amazing Spider-Man #11 shifts the tone from recent issues and continues to seed plot points for the team to develop moving forward. Despite the always-tricky double-shipping schedule, this comic is rock solid. 8.5/10

Amazing Spider-Man #11
Writer:
Nick Spencer
Artist: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel 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.

REVIEW: Fearscape #3 continues its dark examination of a failed writer’s mindstate

Fearscape #3 is out 12/12.

By Zack Quaintance — In Fearscape #3, writer Ryan O’Sullivan and artist Andrea Mutti’s meta exploration of the darkness inherent to an unsuccessful creative life gets...even darker. Now deep into its story, Fearscape continues to be a comic entirely unafraid of darkness, intent to use its clever pseudo-New Yorker literary fictive voice to unpack the worst sort of artistic impulses. This combination of fearlessness and form is making for a compelling (and intensely singular) comic, one bent on examining why such feelings (as well as the actions they give rise to) occur, what they mean, and the damaging potential they can have on one’s life and morality.

This third issue opens with some of the delusion that has been present throughout. It starts with what seems like a writer’s fantasy—finding a novel finished, exactly as you would have written it, without you having to do any of the actual work. But not so fast. It’s obviously not that easy (nothing is in Fearscape). The found book is not the work of our hero, Henry Henry, but of the bed-bound mentor whose home he essentially burglarized in the first issue before being swept into the mythical realm of the Fearscape. Henry Henry is not finding a book he wrote without remembering; Henry Henry is stealing whole a finished novel from a sick mentor. For shame!

Much of the rest of the issue is spent elucidating the mindstate of a plagiarist. What’s most impressive to me about Fearscape #3, though, is how it shows rather than tells (that old creative writing canard) a set of feelings that are incredibly personal. O’Sullivan continues to play with form for a third straight issue as he does this, putting rectangular narration boxes over the traditionally round word balloons during a mental episode, which creates a writer’s fantasy of what the hero wants to hear versus what’s really being said. It’s used with great effect to convey how someone as delusionally ego-driven as Henry Henry can justify plagiarism, altering the reality around himself to be comfortable with artistic theft in a way that feels heroic, at least to him, anyway.

Other familiar writerly feelings found in this issue include: the ennui (a very Henry Henry word, btw) of publishing fiction and finding out it’s not the cure to whatever ails you, finding that no one else understands your special interiority, and wanting in alternate turns to embrace and disavow the muse that motivates you to write (to say any more about this last one would give away the climax of this issue).

Fearscape had one of my favorite debut issues this year (if not my very favorite), and little has been lost as this story has proceeded. I am admittedly very much the target audience for this—a comic book reader/author of short fiction who has published here and there but not put out a full collection—yet I’m sure this story has quite a bit to offer anyone who has ever contemplated any sort of career in the arts, especially when its full scope becomes visible at its conclusion. I am, however, now ready for ol’ Henry Henry to either start some kind of growth, or to hit rock bottom. I’m just not sure how much more of his continued descent into delusional awfulness I can take (which is something I’ve said more than a few times about our current president—rim shot—thank you, thank you).  

Overall: A literary comic about what it feels like to be a struggling artist, Fearscape continues its descent into delusional frustration, doing so with a clever narrative voice and some visual tricks that convey a mindstate in ways only comics can. This is a must-read book for anyone who has contemplated the art life. 8.8/10

Fearscape #3
Writer:
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Lettering: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault 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.

REVIEW: The Magic Order #5 establishes this comic as a MUST for fans of Harry Potter

The Magic Order #5 is out 12/12.

By Bo Stewart — WHOA! The Magic Order #5 gives us this book’s biggest twist yet, and I am still reeling from the implications. I’m not going to get into spoilers here—sorry for the tease—but I will, however, talk about what this series is in broader terms, stressing as hard as I can that if you like Harry Potter, you MUST be reading The Magic Order. Harry Potter for adults is the basic premise of this comic, and it’s a concept that has been attempted before, but no one has been able to deliver on that premise with near the amount of success as The Magic Order.

The Magic Order is the first original Millarworld comic to come out after writer Mark Millar agreed to a landmark deal with Netflix, and like the other new Millarworld projects that have been announced, it impresses with its sheer ambition. Millar has never been one to shy away from a challenge, but with The Magic Order, he’s attempting a story as big (if not bigger) than he’s told before, in the process scratching an itch I didn’t know I had. I’m pretty confident in saying that now that there’s only one issue left for the current run of the series. Millar books always move at a brisk pace, but these past two issues have kicked the narrative into overdrive.

The disgruntled villain, Madam Albany, is pursuing the forbidden spells concealed in the ancient text of the Orichalcum, and a group called the Magic Order is the only thing standing in her way. While similar villains are portrayed as straight evil, Albany is laced with nuance. She is perfectly fine with the Order continuing to exist, in fact she wants it to, she just wants to be in charge. To achieve this goal, Albany has unleashed her top assassin, the sinister Venetian (one of the coolest character designs in recent memory, btw), to eliminate those who stand in her way. To counter Albany’s growing threat, Gabriel Moonstone has been unwillingly forced back into the world of magic after settling down into a quiet and domestic existence. Gabe is a gifted wizard and some of the coolest visual displays of magic in this story come from his wand. Magically imprisoning foes in works of literature has really cool possibilities and is one of the best examples of the power that magic has in this world. I hope they revisit this later in the series.

Anyway, I’m a Harry Potter fan, and a lot of what drew me to that story was the depth of world building and the mythos. That’s also a lot of what I like about this book. In addition to this being a drop-dead gorgeous comic (thank you Olivier Coipel), the creators here have established a similar scope and grandeur to this story’s conflict. The world of The Magic Order feels fully realized, and instead of burying the reader with exposition, the creators expect the reader to keep up and fill in blanks for themselves as the plot progresses. I love it when a creator trusts the reader; it makes it so much easier to get lost in a strong story like this one.

Overall: The Magic Order #5 has a shocking ending that drastically changes the course of this story. I won’t give it away, but, simply put, if you enjoyed Harry Potter, you MUST be reading The Magic Order as it heads toward its finale. 9.0/10

The Magic Order #5
Writer:
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: Sara #1 is a direct hit for exciting new publisher TKO Studios

Sara #1 is free at www.tkopresents.com (password: vipaccess).

By Bo Stewart — “Wait…wait…wait.” A call for patience is how brand-new publisher TKO Studios introduces us to its line of comics. Wait for the perfect shot and be sure not to miss. This is the opening to Sara #1, a story about an all-female Russian sniper squadron in WWII. It’s also a fitting one, however, for TKO Studios itself. Just like with comics, a publisher only has one shot at a first impression. TKO had to get this right and if the first issue of war-thriller Sara is any indication, it took full advantage of the opportunity. Like our spirited protagonists on the page, the publisher comes out firing in the real world.

Legendary creators Garth Ennis and Steve Epting are cleverly meta with this first issue, immediately establishing a theme of patience. When main protagonist, the titular Sara, has been tasked with assassinating a Nazi colonel without any clues as to when or where the target will arrive, patience is her only path forward. The result is a perfectly-paced issue rife with tension.  I wanted Sara to take the shot as soon as the colonel is in her sights, but the character knows better. This issue reads as a teaser to the larger story of the book, which is exactly what a good introduction should do.

Allow me also to briefly indulge my inner history nerd. I’ve always been fascinated by the Eastern Front of the European Theater. Something about Nazis fighting Soviets, and the implied clash of political philosophies, fascinates me, and the creators here pick this theater as the setting for their story. We Americans love to point to D-Day as the beginning of the end for the Third Reich, but the East is where the Nazis truly met their demise. This thread of the larger World War II tapestry doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention it deserves, especially not in American media.

All of this is to say that Sara is interested in telling us a story from a perspective we haven’t seen in an under-utilized setting. Following a group of female Soviet soldiers is a stroke of brilliance. We know that the Soviets were very progressive in their views towards women at that time, but we don’t have many fictional stories that explore this dynamic in a military setting.   

I could go on and on about how awesome the creative team is, but most readers already know these guys. We know a book with the names Garth Ennis and Steve Epting on the cover is going to be great. That’s part of the beauty of TKO’s launch. The publisher knows that fans trust these creators and, in turn, that the creators trust their readers. As a result, nothing is over explained and the exposition is mercifully brief. This comic challenges the audience to keep up. Here’s the real kicker–TKO releases the full book all at once, so the depth of the story can be explored without waiting months at a time for subsequent chapters.

Overall: Sara fires on all cylinders. This is a strong, confident debut from industry legends Ennis and Epting. New publisher TKO Studios has its first hit. 9.0/10

Sara #1
Writer:
Garth Ennis
Artist: Steve Epting
Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letterer: Rob Steen
Publisher: TKO Studios
Price: Free via TKO Studios (password: vipaccess)

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: Dead Kings #2, dystopian Russian quest comic finds its stride

Dead Kings #2 is out 12/12.

By Zack Quaintance — Dead Kings #2 is one of those sophomore issues that feels liberated from obligatory debut tacks—setting a hook, doing introductory worldbuilding, landing the obligatory final page cliffhanger (although we do get another one of those here). With that all previously accomplished, this issue instead move the plot forward at a lively pace. What soon becomes clear, then, is that what writer Steve Orlando and artist Matthew Dow Smith have created an epic quest comic, one with a pair of disparate protagonists venturing across dystopian Russia after a shared objective for vastly different reasons.

Cool. Count me in for that general concept. Where this comic hooks me further is with the way it judiciously doles out insights into each character’s past, showing rather than telling us their motivations. We see glimpses of Sasha’s guilt over how he treated his brother. We see that brother interned in a hellish prison camp (in a lightning quick and disturbing interlude), and as such, when we return to the main questing, things feel all the more meaningful. The same is true of the glimpses into Maria’s experience in the war that molded this dystopian world, we see how she has just as much reason to hate the failed systems and nation states that manipulated her during the fighting (as I wrote in my review of Dead Kings #1, the anger in this book seems most strongly directed at the failures of systems, societies, nation states).

That’s all pretty well done, and, to my mind, is another box this book can check as it moves closer to being able to jump entirely into a plot that pushes forward, rather than continuing to alternate past scenes. Another primary strength of this comic is the world that has been built. The ambience and visual touches these creators have constructed is evocative of vintage Final Fantasy, that one Werner Herzog documentary about Siberia Happy People, and also of the anger toward corrupt officials who’ve been abused the trust the public has placed in them. So yeah, this book is imaginative and timely.

I should note I found the back half of this comic to be far stronger than the first half, an effect of the story still having work to do to orient readers within its world and to introduce us to our characters. That’s why I’m so bullish on this book moving forward—once the introductions are over, the fun really starts, letting both Orlando and Dow Smith show off their abilities as swaggering action-based storytellers. Also, I’m still waiting with crossed fingers to see an epic large-scale mech battle, the mech battle were promised, the mech battle we deserve.

Overall: Dead Kings #2 continues to build this story and this world, evoking things like Final Fantasy video games and documentaries about Siberia in the process. The real strength and potential of Dead Kings really shows through in the glimpses of the action storytelling and larger battles the story seems destined to include. Jump on now and get ready. 8.0/10

Dead Kings #2
Writer:
Steve Orlando
Artist: Matthew Dow Smith
Colorist: Lauren Affe
Letterer: Thomas Mauer
Publisher: AfterShock 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. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete his first.

Comic of the Week: Wizard Beach #1 is an under-the-radar debut that deserves attention

Wizard Beach #1 is out 12/5.

By d. emerson eddy — This week has seen a fair number of incredible debuts, end-loading the year with some great reads like Die, The Freeze, and Self/Made from Image, Martian Manhunter and Shazam from DC Comics, and Killmonger and Winter Soldier from Marvel. Any one of those could be considered a phenomenal read this week, and you shouldn't be disappointed. From flights of fantasy to intrigue thriller, intellectual science fiction to lighthearted superhero family drama—these comics have you covered, and I can wholeheartedly recommend any of them. But there's one debut this week that may have flown under the radar and deserves your attention, Wizard Beach #1 from BOOM! Studios.

The main draw for me here is the line art from Conor Nolan. I first noticed his art earlier this year when he was working on Bedtime Games from Dark Horse (with Nick Keller, Kelly Fitzpatrick, and John J. Hill), and the artwork just captivated me. Nolan has a style that looks highly influenced by artists like Bernie Wrightson and early Sam Kieth, with maybe a little Eric Powell, presenting highly detailed, but highly exaggerated artwork that works incredibly well for horror, but now also here for humorous fantasy. Nolan's work tends towards a more refined, almost cartoon-like approach for this story, with a fairly clean fresh-faced design for our main protagonist, Hexley Ragbottom, amidst the scruffier cast of characters.

Joining Nolan to tell the tale is Shaun Simon (previously of Art Ops and True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys) and what we get here is a very unique take on wizarding and a world of magic. Often times in these sorts of things, we'll have an upstart young wizard looking to upend the rules and forge his or her own way, but not so here. Instead we get the reverse. Hexley wants to see a return to the days of old when wizards were powerful and respectable, in part to halt the end of the world and the decline of magic, and also out of what feels like responsibility to his heritage. When his father refuses to help, he searches out his uncle, Salazar, who, much to Hexley's dismay, is a beach bum. It's a very funny reversal of roles and leads to some rather unique predicaments even in this first issue.

Rounding out the creative team are Meg Casey's wonderful colors, presenting an amazing darkness in the opening battles between wizards and monsters, then changing to the brighter atmosphere of the wizard beach itself. And Mike Fiorentino embellishing upon the designs on the page with a nice flair for some of the chapter headings and newspaper articles, giving even the lettering a feel of blending the natures of both a magical and a mundane world.

Overall, this isn't the type of story you'd necessarily expect. It's at turns humorous and irreverent, and plays with some entrenched fantasy themes, turning them on their ear. Simon, Nolan, Casey, and Fiorentino have the beginning to something different here, something different and also something highly entertaining.

Wizard Beach #1 (of 5)
Writer:
Shaun Simon
Artist: Conor Nolan
Colorist: Meg Casey
Letterer: Mike Fiorentino
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Price: $3.99

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 @93418.

Top Comics to Buy for December 12, 2018

By Zack Quaintance — Despite the name of this website (which is ironic!), I’m prone to Batman fatigue. It’s not that I don’t like the character. No, I think it’s pretty easy to make a case for Batman being one of the most compelling characters to ever grow from American fiction. It’s just that I don’t often see much new ground for stories about Batman to cover, so prolific are DC’s Batman releases. That said, I still fairly regularly find myself drawn into and torn up by well-done Batman stories.

This week ambushed me in that way. As you’ll notice shortly, two of our Top Comics to Buy for December 12 star the Dark Knight, while a third gets a recommendation in our new #1 comics section. So yes, this is a great week for all things Batman. It’s also a great week for Marvel’s (arguable) flagship character, Spider-Man, as Amazing Spider-Man hums right along and Miles Morales returns to Marvel’s pages just in time for his big screen review. Coincidence? Hardly. This is Marvel, and synergy is what’s for sale.

Now on to this week’s comics!

Top Comics to Buy for December 12, 2018

*PICK OF THE WEEK*
Batman Annual #3
Writer:
Tom Taylor
Artist: Otto Schmidt
Letterer: A Larger World’s Troy Peteri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99
"THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PENNY!" Alfred Pennyworth has been Batman's most trusted ally and confidant since the Dark Knight first hit the streets of Gotham City. Now, witness Batman's battle for justice from Alfred's perspective and learn how harrowing that journey has been as Batman experiences one of the worst nights Gotham City has ever seen-a night that will push Alfred to the breaking point! Best-selling writer Tom Taylor presents an epic tale that promises to be one of the most Alfred stories ever told!
Why It’s Cool: This is an emotional and well-told Batman story that may have you tearing up within the first three pages. Taylor and Schmidt are a pair of creators deserving of much bigger stages, and hopefully incredible work like this will help them get there. This is also a self-contained story, so even readers who have been off Batman proper for a while, can still pop into buy this comic.

Amazing Spider-Man #11
Writer:
Nick Spencer
Artist: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
J. JONAH JAMESON has a new job as a shock jock, but is the world ready for a pro-Spider-Man JJJ? More importantly, is Spider-Man ready? His post-secret-identity relationship with Jonah was already complicated, but this very public embrace may put him over the edge! Spidey's definitely not ready for the Enforcers to come at him harder than ever!
Why It’s Cool: If it weren’t for Immortal Hulk, Amazing Spider-Man might be our favorite book at Marvel right now (with apologies to Black Panther and Captain America). It’s just been so good since launching with a new #1 issue in July, and now it has artist Ryan Ottley rejoining writer Nick Spencer to presumably replicate the creative alchemy that made the first arc so special. It also has some momentum, with last month’s Amazing Spider-Man #10 ranking as one of our favorite issues of Marvel’s flagship Spidey title in many, many years.

Bitter Root #2
Writers:
David F. Walker & Chuck Brown
Artist: Sanford Greene
Colorists: Rico Renzi & Sanford Greene
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
An evil force stalks the streets of Harlem as Berg and Cullen face off against a deadly creature that may be more than they can handle. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, a mysterious stranger unleashes furious retribution in the name of justice.
Why It’s Cool: The work of building this world and the way it works was set into motion so wonderfully by Bitter Root #1. Now, the creators are free to let us know more about their story and its characters. This is a visually lush and intellectually complex book, one that doesn’t flinch as it depicts monster hunters confronting ghoulish members of the KKK. In this second issue we learn more about the long-standing family dynamics at the heart of the relationships between our character. This book, simply put, continues to be an utter joy to read.

Detective Comics #994
Writer:
Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Inker: Jaime Mendoza
Colorist: David Baron
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
Batman's strangest case begins as the new creative team of writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Doug Mahnke take over DETECTIVE COMICS! Commissioner Gordon calls in the Dark Knight Detective when there's a murder at the Gotham City Aquarium-staged to look exactly like Thomas and Martha Wayne's crime scene, right down to the Playbill and pearls. How does this bizarre homicide tie into the shadowy monster that attacks Dr. Leslie Thompkins? This creature looks to wage a war on Batman-and it's using Joker Gas to do it!
Why It’s Cool: There’s so much Batman goodness packed into this first issue of the countdown to Detective Comics #1000, the comic that launched the character. It starts with a bizarre mystery and just gleefully builds from there. I didn’t quite know what to expect from this Tomasi/Mahnke run and hadn’t heard the kind of buzz one might expect for something like this, but this first issue is poised to build that excitement right back up.

Fearscape #3
Writer:
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Letterer: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99
Having escaped the clutches of the Fearscape, Henry Henry tries to... Aha! You'll use my name, I see, but won't let me speak! That you would require solicitation copy for the third issue, after the genre-redefining brilliance of the first two, is nothing short of a personal insult. The work speaks for itself. Any tale of my exploits should not be hawked to those asleep at the wheel.
Why It’s Cool: This meta story of literary writers’ doubt barrels forward, with protagonist Henry Henry returning from the mythical storytelling Fearscape realm to the real world. This is a singular comic unlike anything else coming out today, and every issue is one to be poured over. This story brims in equal parts with braggadocio and imposter syndrome. For serious patrons of the art and would-be creators, this series continues to be a must.

Check out our reviews of Fearscape #1 and Fearscape #2.

Top New #1 Comics

  • Batman Who Laughs #1

  • Defenders: Doctor Strange #1

  • Defenders: Silver Surfer #1

  • Fantastic Four: Wedding Special #1

  • Goddess Mode #1

  • Magic the Gathering: Chandra #1

  • Miles Morales: Spider-Man #1

  • New Talent Showcase 2018 #1

  • Planet of the Apes: Simian Age #1

  • Sasquatch Detective #1

  • Spawn Kills Everyone Too #1

  • Vampirella vs. Reanimator #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Avengers #11

  • Black Panther #7

  • Cemetery Beach #4

  • Dead Kings #2

  • Electric Warriors #2

  • Hawkman #7

  • Lone Ranger #3

  • Murder Falcon #3

  • Oblivion Song #10

  • Outer Darkness #2

  • Redlands #9

  • Skyward #9

  • Supergirl #25

  • Superman #6

  • X-Men Red #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. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.

The Saga Re-Read #18: End of a well-built arc

Lying.

By Zack Quaintance — I think the fact that we’re doing a literally 54-part series on Saga, which is written by Brian K. Vaughan, speaks to the respect and admiration we have for Brian K. Vaughan as a writer. But you know what? All of these weeks in now, I don’t know if we’ve really heaped much praise on the guy, especially not his scripting.

We’ve talked quite a bit about the plotting and the accompanying subtext he brings this series, but we don’t often get into the nuances of his scripts, not past just saying he writes great dialogue most of the time. Here he does one of the things I think is supremely valuable for a good comic book writer to know how to do: he walks an expert balance between stepping aside and incorporating prose-based flourishes, stepping aside during the action and arguing, and incorporating a brief and rapid flourish to almost eulogize poor D. Oswald Heist.

Mom and Dad wanted to stick around for a proper burial, but my devastated Granny argued that Heist would have appreciated where he ended up...mixed amongst the ashes of his creations.

It’s good stuff. Now onto the rest of the issue!

Saga #18

Here’s the official preview text for Saga #18, first released on Jan. 29, 2014, which is (duh) juuuuuust over 4 years ago. So so so much has changed right? I was still living in Austin, Texas back then! Anyway, summary time…

Our heroes' stay on Quietus reaches its inevitable conclusion.

...the ol’ inevitable conclusion. We’ve known this issue has been coming since pretty much the start of this arc, since it kind of tipped what was about to happen (while withholding most of the context) back in issue #13. If you are savvy enough to know these things happen in increments of six, well then, the writing has been on the wall.

The Cover: One of my favorite characters here...but not one of the my favorite covers. It’s an ultra-detailed closeup where Lying Cat has gore of something slain hung from its lips. For those who don’t know the outcome of the arc, though, maybe this whole thing plays as ominous, which makes sense given the shadows. The idea of this cover being aimed at generating suspense connects right on to the issue’s first page...

The First Page: ...which is Lying Cat sticking its fangs into Marko’s mom’s face, while a voice off panel (presumably Gwendolyn's) tells it: If she gives you any trouble, kill her. Now that, folks, is a suspenseful opening to the finale of an arc that has essentially been three plot points heading for a single intersection.

The Surface: The plot in this issue all felt sort of inevitable, which is a testament to the good and thorough job the creators did throughout this arc building up to it. While a bit predictable, the execution is engaging as hell, with the scene where Alana rises up on her wings to save the day (and show us her and the baby aren’t dead) inspiring me to all but through up a fist in triumph. There’s almost a happy ending all around here for a our three separate sects of characters, albeit with Marko’s mom weathering the loss of Heist. Oh! And a time jump at the end of this one sees Hazel develop from infant to toddler.

The Subtext: Like most of the rest of this arc, this issue was pretty light on subtext. Really, there was just too much rapidfire plot for that. The scene with Gwendolyn and Marko felt real and familiar, but it was still pretty overt. I do suppose, though, that the journalist being magically silenced under threat of death (and deciding to ultimately drop their story) is a metaphor for how vulnerable the press can be at times when targeted by vast resources and power structures. Again, as a former newspaperman my own self, I dig this sort of thing.

The Art: The thing that maybe most amazes me about Fiona Staples work on this series is how she continues to improve throughout. The art in this issue is phenomenal, with a panel in which Prince Robot IV emerges ominously through smoke and flames as a standout visual (although all the shots through the flames are absolutely stellar, and also so is the action storytelling and Gwendolyn’s face when she confronts Marko and Alana, and...), but you know what? It’s not even her final form. Not even close. The work in this issue will be topped and then topped again and on and on until we continue through this series.

Foreshadowing: I didn’t think there was any in this issue...until Doff tell’s Upsher No story’s worth dying for...and my heart just about cried out through my chest. Oof. Why am I doing this to myself? It’s only going to get worse...and I can’t wait for the devastation. See you all next week! We are now fittingly within nine months of finishing this long long long reading project.

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.

Top Comics of November 2018: A body horror extravaganza

By Zack Quaintance — As the year winds down, some clear favorite comics have emerged for us, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, you’ll see that born out in the Top Comics of November 2018 (as well as in the Top Comics of 2018...coming at the end of December!). What have we liked the most this year? Apparently, it’s all things Vault, Immortal Hulk, and the start of what is fast becoming a madcap and epic Superman run.

What is perhaps more telling about the overstate of comics (and not just our tastes) is that outside of the regulars, our Top Comics lists have also featured a steady rotation of creator-owned comics, with books like Hot Lunch Special, Ice Cream Man, Seeds, and all things Jeff Lemire regularly finding their way into our top 5 section. This month is no exception, with the conclusion to the excellent body horror tale Come Into Me landing among our favorites. Anyway, did I mention we’ll have year-end lists (shameless, I know)? Because we will. Lots of them coming at the end of this month!

And now, onto the comics!

Shout Outs

I wrote an Amazing Spider-Man #10 review, so I’ll be brief, but this issue right here sums up why I like this new run.

I also wrote a Cover #3 review, so I’ll be brief again, but this is probably the best comic about making comics I’ve yet read.

I don’t get excited about anniversary issues with multiple stories/artists, but Avengers #10 (#700) made it count. For the first time since Hickman, it feels like we’ve truly started a new Avengers era.

The first arc of this book felt Twin Peaks-y, but with Gideon Falls #8, the creators have found new territory all their own—and the comic is better for it.

X-Men Red #10 makes me wish they’d have just transitioned this book into the new Uncanny title. It’s that good.

Writer Scott Snyder says his Justice League run will be quieting down next; if that’s the case, Aquaman Justice League Drowned Earth #1 was the perfect totally bonkers and grandiose adventure to go out on...for now.

As it speeds toward its third anniversary, Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Black Panther run has gone full-blown sci-fi epic...and it just keeps getting better. See, Black Panther #6.

I wasn’t crazy about the plot of this series, but New World #5 makes our list on the merits of Tradd Moore’s imaginative art alone.

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #7 sees Jeff Lemire teaming with Rich Tommaso to go full-blown Grant Morrison-meta, speaking to the nature of stories, storytellers, and the meaningfulness of the character who inhabit our minds.

One day, you just look up and all of a sudden your favorite comic at DC (Superman and Batman aside) is Hawkman. Hawkman #6 continues the best adventure this character has had in years.

Top Comics November 2018

5. Fearscape #2, Friendo #2, and These Savage Shores #2
Writers:
Ryan O’Sullivan, Alex Paknadel, & Ram. V
Artists: Andrea Mutti, Martin Simmonds, & Sumit Kumar
Colorists: Vladimir Popov, Dee Cunniffe, & Vittorio Astone
Letterers: Andworld Design, Taylor Esposito, & Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Vault Comics
The trio of books from the creator collective White Noise Studio (via Vault Comics) cumulatively captures our no. 5 spot. We don’t usually like to give comics without at least an arc behind them top placement, but all three of these series have been so fantastic (track down more nuanced takes in our reviews section) that we just couldn’t resist.

4. Mister Miracle #12
Writer:
Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: DC Comics
Tom King and Mitch Gerads wrap-up their meta sad superhero epic Mister Miracle...which may have spanned planets and generational warfare...or may have all taken place in Scott Free’s head as he grappled with sliding into middle-aged existence. The true nature of what actually happened here (or, rather, what didn’t happen) is deliberately obscured, and we like this 12-part maxiseries all the more for it. It’s probably below King’s earlier work on The Vision in our all-time sad superhero family rankings, but this is still a very good series nonetheless.

3. Superman #5 / Action Comics #1005 / Supergirl #24
Writer:
Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Ivan Reis & Ryan Sook
Inkers: Joe Prado & Oclair Albert
Colorists: Alex Sinclair & Brad Anderson
Letterers: Josh Reed
Publisher: DC Comics
Immortal Hulk aside (more later), my other favorite thing happening in superhero comics right now is Brian Bendis’ dual run on Superman and Action Comics (plus Marc Andreyko’s ancillary run on Supergirl, which was also strong again this week). I know it’s not to everyone’s tastes, but I’ve found this run to get increasingly satisfying as its continued. Action Comics seems bent on touching as many corners as the Superman mythos as it can and updating them in ways suitable for 2018. Superman, meanwhile, is working hard to tell a tense adventure story that really leans into the hero’s role as a cosmic entity. Together, it’s turning into a clear new era for one of modern fiction’s oldest characters, brimming with ideas.

2. Come Into Me #4
Writers:
Lonnie Nadler & Zac Thompson
Artist: Piotr Kowalski
Colorist: Niko Guardia
Letterer: Ryan Ferrier
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
With a healthy body you feel nothing. Like it’s not even there. And with that, writers Lonnie Nadler & Zac Thompson pen one of the most relatable and poignant lines I’ve read about health all year. That line, like much of the rest of the excellent four-issue series Come Into Me, wouldn’t be possible without the nuanced interiority this story has aspired to and reached. It does all that with straight up solid writing and artwork, just good all around visual storytelling. That line is also noteworthy because of the larger metaphor it speaks to, one about complacency in the face of things going well. Indeed, what also makes this comic (and the miniseries it concludes) strong is its thematic interests.

The first and most obvious of these is the biotech angle, the one that involves a new innovation that enables consciousness to switch bodies. Look past that, though, and one finds subtler questions about empathy, ambition, data privacy, cooperation, and entrepreneurial tech values, all of which are applied with grand vision to a narrative apt for 2018. I, admittedly, have a tendency to extrapolate metaphors to be about the state of our country. But this story is about two very different people vying for control over one body in violent, chaotic, and untested ways, searching for a commonality as forces (perhaps beyond their control...at least in part) cause rot to set in. They work toward understanding even as reality makes it clear that two such disparate entities in one body might not be feasible. What could be more timely?

Oh, and I found the ending to be absolutely perfect here. To my mind, the best fictional storytelling leaves readers with far more questions than it does answers, and this series definitely does that, albeit quite grotesquely.

1. Immortal Hulk #8 & #9
Writer:
Al Ewing
Artist: Joe Bennett (w/Martin Simmonds)
Inker: Ruy Jose
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
I just keeping waiting for Immortal Hulk from Al Ewing and Joe Bennett to ease off the excellence even a little bit...and it just doesn’t happen. Now here it is yet again making one of our top monthly comics lists. Something that’s becoming clear about this comic (and making it my absolute favorite superhero book right now) is that it also has an ambitious scope, one that spans beyond stringing together single issues (which it’s definitely doing, btw). In November, some of the scope became clearer, with the stories in Immortal Hulk #8 & #9 elucidating plot material with implications on both past and future chapters.

Ewing and Bennett have apparently set out to tell a structured long-form tale about the Hulk, one that spent its first few months re-inventing the character as a full-on monster, both for the man who hides him inside and those who encounter him outside, one that isn’t just born from anger but now seems to be some sort of supernatural entity, almost biblical in the scope of its malice. That’s all great, and maybe able to stand alone on those merits. What the team also did last month was absolutely nail the biggest horror moments, akin to a traditional superhero comic that figures out how to make both conversations and slugfests compelling. Issue 9 also gives me hope that there’s no shortage of stories for this book, showing once again how good this book is when it pulls over shared universe characters into the titular undead Hulk’s orbit.  

Check out our Best New #1 Comics of November 2018 plus more of our monthly lists here.

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