Why Matt Kindt’s XO Manowar is Valiant’s Best Run Ever

By Toren Chenault — When I started reading Valiant Comics, my first title was XO Manowar by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord, launched in 2013. It follows a Visigoth prince named Aric of Dacia, who is as headstrong and stubborn as a hero can get. But he’s also got a lot of heart. When his people are captured by an alien race, Aric steals a sentient alien suit on their ship, becoming a superhero. Yes, this comic is exactly as cool and crazy as it sounds. Since that issue…

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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.

REVIEW: Black Badge #3 Is a Great Comic—Scout’s Honor

By Bo Stewart — Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins’ Black Badge has been somewhat of a surprise hit for BOOM! Studios, in my opinion. As a fan of the creators’ previous collaboration, Grass Kings, I was initially thrown off by Black Badge’s premise, which is essentially super spies but with boy scouts. It just didn’t seem to fit into their existing body of work. Three issues into this series, however, I am now confident that there is much more to Black Badge than the premise lets on.

That’s not to say that Black Badge has a weak premise. The notion that scouts would make the perfect spies is hysterical, and the creators play off the natural comedy of that scenario without beating the reader over the head with it. Scouts pretending to get lost in the woods truly is a perfect cover for espionage. Kindt sometimes winks at how silly the situation is, but the world is so well developed that he can rest assured that his readers will go with it. The gadgets the scouts use, the casual attitude the team has toward missions (including a trip to North Korea in #1), and the character dynamics of the team all add up to one of the most charming spy tales I’ve read in quite some time.

Like most of Kindt’s work, though, Black Badge’s real charm comes from its central cast of characters. In this issue the scouts are still recovering from the loss of their teammate, Jimmy, desperately trying to figure out how the team will continue, knowing that their friend is no longer with them. They clearly haven’t figured it out yet here, but their superiors don’t seem to care. Instead they hit the scouts with the old I’m tough on you because I care about you argument, and send them out on their next mission. All throughout, this book does a great job of covering up normal teenage struggles with spy thriller trappings.

The highlight of this issue comes from the reveal of how Jimmy died. A mysterious figure called Hook Hand has been sneaking into camps, kidnapping a scout, and leaving only a little red flag behind. The team’s leader, Kenny, fell asleep while on watch the night Jimmy disappeared and has been trying to prove Jimmy is actually still alive ever since. Kenny blames himself for Jimmy’s disappearance, and, over the course of the issue, he makes some rash decisions in an effort to fix things. When little red flags start to literally appear around the scout’s camp, we can’t help but wonder if Kenny is leading the team further down a dangerous path.

Overall: Black Badge mixes spy thriller and coming-of-age conventions to great effect. The mystery of Hook Hand plus The chilling cliff hanger has me eager to continue on with this story. I think you’ll enjoy this book too—scouts honor. 8.0/10

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: Black Badge #1 by Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins, Hilary Jenkins, & Jim Campbell

Black Badge #1 is a polished and confident debut from the same team behind Grass Kings.

By Zack Quaintance — Black Badge #1 is writer Matt Kindt and artist Tyler Jenkins follow up to Grass Kings, and, at first glance, it seems to be a gentler story, one about a group of scouts on a special trip to faraway South Korea. Like its predecessor (and like most comics, really), however, there is also a darker complexity at work here.

There are a few layers to this book. There’s the premise: our heroes are part of an elite troop of boy scouts that the U.S. government sends on covert missions, kind of like green berets with a deceptive and innocent veneer. There’s the thematic interests: merit badges here seem to be standing in for ornamental and ultimately meaningless life achievements, things we convince ourselves we must obtain because we’re told that’s what we should want. And there’s an examination of what it means to be the good scout, or in this case, soldier.

Black Badges #1 is very much a straightforward and well-done introduction to this story. It’s an engaging read, a polished #1 comic that never stumbles by over-explaining who are heroes are, which does the double work here of leaving room for the creators to later build in secrets. We get a four panel grid in which a bully underestimates each of them, saying things like, You brought everything you need? Your tedd bear in there? And, Willy. Dude. you need to lay off the scout snacks. Typical bully snark that shows us how our elite team will be both perceived and underestimated.

This excellent four-panel grid does a great job telling us about our protagonists without feeling like an info dump.

This first issue is well-told, an effective and entertaining means of learning who are heroes are, what they do, and, in part, why they do it. It works well as a hook, although the exact direction of the plot is still fuzzy. There definitely seems to be an exploration of morality in the offing, one that might use the age of the characters to explore idealism as well as the way children are often treated as invisible non-actors (our team’s secret weapon). Previews of future issues also hint at the book taking a look at foreign policy, and they've definitely set up a great lens to do just that. I certainly trust Kindt and Jenkins too, especially after the success they had with Grass Kings, which had a less engaging premise, at least on its surface.

Overall: Black Badge #1 seems to be the start of another great series by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins. This first issue has all the exposition we need plus some intriguing hints into its thematic interests, yet it never feels like an info dump. This is a confident and polished debut issue, one that hints at big things in store. 8.0/10

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

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

Top Comic Book Previews for the Week of July 30

By Zack Quaintance — Our previews feature is back after a week hiatus during our trip to San Diego. Last week we did, however, roundup our picks for SDCC 2018’s 10 Coolest Comics Announcements...so check that out if you haven’t already.

Anyway, no use in belaboring it...on to the previews!

*Preview of the Week*
The Sons of El Topo Volume One: Cain OGN
Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Artist: José Ladrönn
Publisher: Boom! Studios
More Info: December 2018
This is a hardcover original graphic novel from legendary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (Dune) and virtuosic illustrator José Ladrönn (Incredible Hulk) that continues the 1970 Mexican Acid Western film written, scored, directed by and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky himself. This sequel, arriving in stores December 2018, tells the story of El Topo—a bandit without limits and a man with no moral compass. But when his journey through the arid west brought him face to face with a series of rogue outcasts, he found enlightenment in the unlikeliest place and was forever transformed, becoming a holy vessel imbued with the power to perform miracles. This was a journey that took him far from his first born son, Cain, and brought about the birth of Abel.
Our Take: We love Jodorwsky (as much for his films as for his candid appearance in the all-time great art documentary Jodorwsky’s Dune), and while this presumably means an end to any chance of Jodo making a cinematic sequel to the first film, his comics are always imaginative and worthwhile. Oh, and the Ladrönn art is is just stellar.

Blackbird #1
Writer: Sam Humphries
Artist: Jen Bartel
Publisher: Image Comics
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / Oct. 3
An all-new ongoing series from fan-favorite writer SAM HUMPHRIES (Harley Quinn, Nightwing) and red-hot artist JEN BARTEL! In this neo-noir fantasy, Nina Rodriguez is positive that a secret magic world ruled by ruthless cabals is hiding just beneath the veneer of Los Angeles. The problem: everyone thinks she’s crazy. The bigger problem: she’s not crazy—she’s right. Can she unravel the mystery before the Great Beast catches up with her?
Our Take: Oooooo, shiny. Sam Humphries sensibilities and Jen Bartel’s art are such a wonderful fit, and look how nice it is washed over with all that neon. We’re not entirely sure what neo-noir fantasy means, but it looks like we’re in for some big magic fight in hella trendy LA. So, that’s cool.

Bone Parish #2
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Jonas Scharf
Publisher: Boom! Studios
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / Aug. 29
As a drug made from the ashes of the dead continues to spread across New Orleans, the Winters family is forced to defend their turf from the encroaching drug cartels. But some mysterious deaths could threaten everyone in New Orleans...
Our Take: Cards on the table...we haven’t read Bone Parish #1 just yet, but it was one of those books that half our Twitter feed (roughly) turned out to tell us to read. So, we’re on board with that and we’ll get to it when we have chance, plus also this second issue, too.

Harbinger Wars 2 Aftermath #1
Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Adam Polina
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / Sept. 26
The power's back online and the fighting is over... but who are the real victors of HARBINGER WARS 2, and what was truly lost in the carnage? For those who survived the terrible onslaught - and who must now witness the devastating aftereffects of their actions - will there ever be peace again? As the seismic summer event of 2018 comes to a close, Eisner Award-nominated writer Matt Kindt (X-O MANOWAR, ETERNITY) sorts through the rubble of the most brutal confrontation ever felt in the Valiant Universe - and discover what lies beyond the bloodshed!
Our Take: It’s all in the solicit, isn’t it? Who ARE the real victors? We’ve enjoyed this event quite a bit (more than most Big 2 Events, incidentally), and what kind of savage would read and like an entire event and bail for the aftermath? Not us….not us.

Valiant High #4
Writer: Daniel Kibblesmith
Artist: Derek Charm
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / Aug. 1
Save the last dance! Homecoming is here! For the students of Valiant High - the super-powered preparatory academy where tomorrow's heroes learn what it takes to save the world - that means that the biggest night of their young lives is almost upon them...and that the Immortal Enemy is finally ready to make his move! But as Faith, Colin "Ninjak" King, Peter Stanchek, and Amanda "Livewire" McKee try to stir unity amongst their classmates, can teamwork triumph over ancient evil? From rising star Daniel Kibblesmith (Lockjaw) and Eisner Award winner Derek Charm (Jughead), this side-splitting, all-ages reimagining of Valiant's greatest heroes is going out in style!
Our Take: Save the last dance, indeed! Like the Harbinger Wars 2 event serving as a refreshing alternative to Big 2 events, this 4-part series has been a refreshing proximation of Big 2 fun and irreverent character takes. Kibblesmith is pretty funny guy, both in terms of writing comics and on Twitter, too.

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

Top Previews for the Week of July 16

By Zack Quaintance — This is an odd week for previews, with publishers and publicists focused on the upcoming San Diego Comic Con, which starts Thursday. News, of course, has begun to leak with the event's schedule and panel announcements, but deliberate releases of interior art (the back bone of this got-danged feature) have been greatly reduced.

But! We have still managed to find five solid choices that are worth including in our weekly roundup, as well as several others that warranted consideration but fell slightly short. This week we have a triple blast from one of this site's favorite indie publishers, Valiant Entertainment, as well as a look at new forthcoming book from another publisher this is quickly rising in the industry, AfterShock Comics.

Oh yes, and we will be in attendance this coming week at San Diego Comic Con...so look for Tweets/maybe even a site update about all of that!

In the meantime, our regular content will continue as scheduled!

*Preview of the Week*
Black Badge #1
Writer: 
Matt Kindt
Artist: Tyler Jenkins
Publisher: Boom! Studios
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / Aug. 8, 2018
Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins, the team behind Grass Kings, reunite for a new ongoing series about a top-secret, elite branch of boy scouts tasked by the government to take on covert missions. Among their organization, the Black Badges are the elite; the best of the best. They are feared even by the other badges. The missions they take are dangerous, and they will only get worse as their leader's attention is split between their mission objectives and tracking down a lost team member. A team member who disappeared years ago, presumed dead. A haunting look at foreign policy, culture wars and isolationism through the lens of kids who know they must fix the worlds that adults have broken.
Our Take: Holy cow, we were on board with this as soon as we heard it was the same creative team from the recently-ended book Grass Kings, but a haunting look at foreign policy, culture wards and isolationism through the lens fo kids who know they must fix what adults have broken...? And written by Matt Kindt? This is one of our most hotly-anticipated books of the summer. 

THE LAST SPACE RACE #1
Writer: Peter Calloway
Artist: Alex Shibao
Colorist: Natalia Marques
Letterer: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / Oct. 09, 2019
It started as an anomaly. An outlier in the noise that’s so common in astronomical data. But the truth sends the United States—and the world—careening into what will become humanity’s LAST SPACE RACE. Leading the effort for the United States is one man, Sasha Balodis. A fun-loving tech billionaire turned aerospace titan, Sasha’s seemingly perfect life has been gripped by recent tragedy. Building and launching the most expensive, most ambitious and most important project in history—well, it gives him something to live for again. There’s only one thing standing in his way: his arch-rival and chief aerospace competitor, Roger Freeman.
Our Take: This book wonders what would happen if an extinction level threat started flying our way through space and the government was unprepared...and then it answers that by suggesting tech billionaires would have to step up. It's a frighteningly real premise, one that is being executed by TV veteran Petter Calloway (Legion, Cloak & Dagger, Under the Dome). Basically, we wouldn't be surprised if this ends up being one of those comics fast-tracked for TV adaptation.

Ninja-K #9
Writer: 
Christos Gage
Artist: Juan Jose Ryp
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / July 18, 2018
It all comes down to this! Ninjak – plus his black-ops backup squad of Livewire, Punk Mambo, Doctor Mirage, and GIN-GR – have been sent into Mexico City to destroy an indestructible target! But their quarry – The Jonin, the Ninja Programme’s seemingly ageless former sensei – has assembled his own strike force of improbable powers to meet them head on! Now, the biggest hero-versus-villain showdown of 2018 is about to reach a fever pitch in the stunning finale to “THE COALITION” from renowned writer Christos Gage (Netflix’s Daredevil) and incendiary artist Juan José Ryp (BRITANNIA)!
Our Take: Ah, compared to the full-on mayhem about to break out in the next issue of Harbinger Wars 2, this book seems like it will be a nice reminder of a simpler time when sometimes Valiant characters got along. Also, we are straight-up there for it any time Juan Jose Ryp draws the Eternal Warrior, or really any Valiant characters, come to think of it...

Quantum and Woody! #8
Writer: 
Eliot Rahal
Artist: Joe Eisma
Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / July 18, 2018
Quantum and Woody just barely escaped from a surreal atomic realm…and, unfortunately, they’ve brought some pieces of it back with them! As dangerous new threats plunge their city even deeper into chaos, they’ll soon realize that they have bigger problems and bigger grudges than ever before – now if the brothers are anywhere near one another, their powers stop working! The world’s worst superhero team is going to have to go it alone as “SEPARATION ANXIETY” presents a super-powered stress test, courtesy of rising star Eliot Rahal (The Paybacks) and Eisner Award-nominated artist Joe Eisma (Morning Glories, Archie)!
Our Take: Quantum and Woody! is currently one of our favorite things happening at Valiant, as we've detailed in our reviews of Quantum and Woody! #6 and Quantum and Woody! #7, and now the book comes to a full-stop jumping on point with a great new artist, Joe Eisma. In his first two issues, writer Eliot Rahal has shown he can put these character through a wide-range of ordeals. Now, he seems to be returning them back a bit to their status quo, having expanded what's possible within this book beforehand.

Shadowman #5
Writer: 
Andy Diggle
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
More Info: $3.99 / 32 pages / July 18, 2018
As roving gangs ravage the landscape of post-Civil War America, there’s little hope and even fewer chances of escape for those caught in their clutches…except in the shadows! Enter: Marius Boniface – first bearer of the Shadowman loa and Jack Boniface’s own great-great-great grandfather! But as the sun sets, the Shadowman’s coming will lead to more than just a rebellion… Unstuck in time, Jack is about to come face-to-face with the first to bear his curse, and will finally learn the truth about the Shadowman legacy’s connection to his family’s doomed bloodline!
Our Take: Valiant is our favorite underrated publisher, and Shadowman is our favorite underrated character within that underrated publisher. It's all subjective, of course, but damned if that's not how we feel about all of this. Andy Diggle's run on this book has been perfectly morbid and steeped in the occult, and Doug Braithwaite art is always impressive.

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

REVIEW: Harbinger Wars 2 #2 by Matt Kindt, Tomas Giorello, Diego Rodriguez, Renato Guedes, & Dave Sharpe

There is a level of novelty to  Harbinger Wars 2 #2  that  Marvel  and  DC  are no longer capable of reaching.

There is a level of novelty to Harbinger Wars 2 #2 that Marvel and DC are no longer capable of reaching.

By Zack QuaintanceHarbinger Wars is one of the first superhero events in a long while that feels totally justified, in large part because Valiant hasn’t overdone its crossovers. It's a luxury Marvel and DC no longer have, and it adds a level of relevance to this huge story, taking it to a significant place those larger publishers are perhaps not capable of reaching, not anymore. This all occurred to me about halfway through Harbinger Wars #2. Long-running characters were meeting/fighting on the page for the first time—what was this feeling? The story seemed...important? Maybe not quite that, but it at least seemed novel.

It was a feeling I remembered from when I was a much younger reader, and the Big 2 had a few relationships that weren’t quite as rote as they are nowadays. In recent years, event stories at those publishers have seen characters take self-aware, here we go again attitudes toward massive galactic threats. There are exceptions, of course (Hickman’s Avengers stands out), but for the most part, the major dangers of the galaxy or multiverse are met with a wink. As a younger publisher with less continuity, however, Valiant has the luxury of acting like they haven’t been here before, despite this all being a sequel to a previous event.

That to me is the single greatest strength of Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello’s Harbinger Wars 2 #2. Not to give specific plot points away, but there were fights here that had me rooting for both sides with no idea what would happen, which is very rare for superhero comics. There were also character interactions that felt weighted and poignant, like the world depended on them, even if it was just two heads talking. That’s no easy feat, especially given one scene in particular that involved characters Kindt hasn’t recently been writing.

This issue works really well for the most part, even if Giorello’s hyper-realistic artwork felt a little out of place for characters that are usually depicted by less realistic artists, like Animalia and Faith. The range of emotions in this book is pretty stunning, though, specifically in a scene where Kindt uses a young psiot to remind us of something Marvel’s X-Men used to do better—that many of these abilities make lives worse, much much worse. It’s a brief scene of well-tread thematic space, but it’s well executed, reminding us of the human stakes behind the superhero war.

Overall: Harbinger Wars #2 has just enough action as it builds toward what is presumably a gigantic climax in the final two issues of this event. Kindt and Giorello especially excel here at giving character interactions and conflicts the weight an event story deserves. 8.0/10

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

Top Previews For the Week of June 18

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

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADVANCED REVIEW: Harbinger Wars 2 #1 by Matt Kindt, Tomas Giorello, & Diego Rodriguez

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I’ve always thought of Harbinger as Valiant’s answer to X-Men, which is, admittedly, a fairly obvious comparison to draw. Harbinger Wars 2 #1, however, was actually a really nice reminder that this franchise’s significantly more under-the-radar status allows it a degree of agility the now-hulking X-Men behemoth no longer has, and it uses that degree expertly in this issue to play upon current societal woes and concerns. Essentially, the first part of this summer’s Harbinger Wars 2 event is a poignant and engaging story, involving nearly all of Valiant’s best characters (where’s the Eternal Warrior at these days, btw?).

As it should. The Harbinger concept to me is the center of Valiant’s universe (or was until Divinity showed up, anyway), and this event is poised to treat it as such. It’s yet another tale of superheros turning against each, and as common as that has become these days, doing it convincingly is still tricky business. Without giving anything away, I’ll say this book handles it better than most in recent memory, rich as it with solid and believable motivations for the involved heroes to take their respective sides. The action of the shadowy government types here are a little harder to fathom, as they almost always are, but I digress.

But let’s keep it abstract, seeing as this is an advanced review (this book drops May 30) and I don’t go in for spoilers. Let’s get away from details and talk about the commentary. In a sense, the themes in Matt Kindt’s script are nothing we haven’t seen done or attempted by X-Men several times over the years: an outcast population, children on the run because of who they are, a government acting out of fear, a debate over what constitutes proper methods of resistance.

Kindt, however, is an incredibly nuanced writer who doesn’t need to hit us over the end with any of that to make this story compelling. He puts all those questions and themes in here seemingly as a mechanism for understanding the reasons our characters have for fighting, then he gives them all plans that start to pull them together. Each page pulls our opposed characters closer, revealing more about their motivations as it does so and setting the stage for a massive rumble to come.

There’s a cinematic quality to this story, in both its structure and scope, as well as in the way characters from various Valiant franchises are introduced, presented in big splashy panels as if they were leaving room for an applause break. Tomas Giorello hits the artwork here out of the park, as he has during previous collaborations with Kindt in Valiant’s best ongoing right now, XO Manowar.

Overall: Come for the incredibly tense and entertaining story, stay for the subtle commentary on our times—exactly as a book about outcasts persecuted by vast governmental power structures should be. This issue is all rising action, bringing in power players and stopping just short of slamming together. I can’t wait for No. 2. 9.3/10

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

Dark Horse Comics’ Black Hammer and Ether: Two Beautiful Stories of Sacrifice

From  Ether  by Matt Kindt and David Rubin.

From Ether by Matt Kindt and David Rubin.

I recently read one of the best graphic stories to come my way in some time: Ether Vol. 1 by writer Matt Kindt and artist David Rubin. It was about a man who discovers a scientific realm beyond our own, seemingly inhabited by humanity’s notions of mythology. It is a land of living beings, all of whom firmly believe in magic. Our protagonist begins to visit the land and use his knowledge of science to debunk those beliefs and solve crimes there.

This land of mythology is so beautifully-rendered by Rubin. Many panels in this story could stand on their own as independent works of art. Ether, however, is not unique in this way, as many comics these days have a similarly-striking and imaginative visual quality (this is to take nothing away from Ether). Where Ether really stands apart is through the emotional depth Rubin and Kindt aspire to with its story.

That magical land—known to our characters as the titular Ether—moves through time differently, with months in the real world passing for every minute one spends there. When our protagonist first discovers it and begins to visit, he is happily married with a young family. Each of his visits, however, progresses the lives of his wife and daughters by several years past his own. He becomes addicted, their lives slip away from him—heartbreak.

I read this as a metaphor for the plight of anyone who is similarly driven, and as Kindt and Rubin are artists, I presume this metaphor was drawn through their own time lost at the keyboard or the drawing table, travelling through imaginative worlds grown from their own ideas as their families went on without them. As a writer myself, this gave the book—which stands on its own wonderfully as an engaging story rife with heroes and villains and mystery—a haunting undertow as I read, bringing me to tears somewhere during the fourth chapter.

That metaphor, while gorgeous, is not what this piece is about. I assume I’m far from the only one to pick up on it, as critically lauded as Ether has been in comics circles. What I want to unpack today is how another successful Dark Horse Comics property—Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Dave Stewart—could be looked at as a companion piece to Ether, another side of the same artistic sacrifice coin.

Black Hammer  by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Dave Stewart. 

Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Dave Stewart. 

Whereas Ether examines the loss of one’s family as a price for spending life engrossed in work, Black Hammer depicts a different sort of creative sacrifice, one that has to do with being lost in the mystique of a craft, a professional culture, a niche artistic medium driven by nostalgia. Black Hammer is the story of a group of superheroes, all of whom are analogs for various characters from the Silver Age of comics. These heroes face down a global threat and find themselves confined to a mysterious farm for their troubles, lost to the world they were defending and stuck in a small rural area that doesn’t seem to be on any map.

It is, quite clearly, a paean by Lemire, Ormston, and Stewart to superhero comics, which all of them have spent parts of their careers within. It’s more than just a reimagining of a classic superhero mythos. See, there is sinister business afoot in Black Hammer, a mournfulness to the plight of the heroes on that farm, only one of whom seems satisfied with life there (and even then, who's to say he’s not deluding himself?).

Read a certain way it almost seems like the question underlying Black Hammer is what do we give up when we fall so fully into our nostalgia for superhero comics, how much of a risk are we at of being swallowed whole by it? It’s a poignant question in an era when vicious battles are waged online about the future of many pop culture properties, battles in which nostalgia is often held as a causation. I can only suppose the question is more poignant for the creators, whose lives work is being given over in part to these characters.

Lemire’s work is always somewhat obtuse in origin, difficult to figure out thematically (in the best possible way), but let's think about the timeline during which he may have conceptualized Black Hammer, which was in all probability near the tail end of his time writing exclusively for Marvel. When Marvel’s All New All Different initiative launched, Lemire was one of the central writers, taking on some of the publisher’s most prominent characters, including one of the central X-Men team books, Old Man Logan, and All New Hawkeye, which was a followup to the immensely successful run on that character by David Aja and Matt Fraction.

Throughout 2016, however, Lemire slowly began drifting off those titles, reducing his Big 2 superhero output to a mere two books today, one of which is yet to be released. It’s not a stretch, in my opinion, to suppose Black Hammer was a manifestation of Lemire feeling creatively trapped, a sense that maybe he was drawn into this work by nostalgia and had professionally been stuck on a farm. I’m not saying I know any of this to be a fact, but I think there’s a case to be made.

I’ll conclude by saying I find both Black Hammer and Ether to be among the most intriguing titles coming to comic book stores each month, and I find important questions for us all within them, specifically: what must aspiring creators be willing to sacrifice for our crafts?; and is there danger or risk of stagnation that could kneecap our futures buried within the warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia?

I really doubt either book will provide clear or concrete answers for such tough questions—great art is rarely so neat—but I trust there will continue to be a beautiful journey in the asking.

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

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