The Saga Re-Read: Saga #31 and the DRAMATIC time jump

Saga #31 was first released on 11/25/2015.

By Zack Quaintance — Well folks, here we are on the back half of the Saga Re-Read Project, examining an issue that features the series’ second (and so far most recent) DRAMATIC time jump. I’m going to take this as a brief and rare occasion to discuss the current ongoing Saga hiatus. After Saga #54 came out, the creators quickly announced that the book would be going on a one-year minimum break, maybe waiting until we all that fateful comic in our hands so as not to tip a major and devastating plot development.

That book came out on July 25 of last year, meaning we’re a scant 4 and half months plus change from the minimum amount of time before it resumes. Rumors have flown suggesting there would be a time jump (I tend to agree), and that the break might be much longer (I’m not sure and am maybe preparing for that so as to not be disappointed. Anyway, it all makes me think about what we’ve gotten from the book so far, which is in my opinion 54 of the best and most coherent issues of any one comic, ever. It’s a wonderful thing, so let’s enjoy the remaining 20 so weeks of re-reading and savoring and discussing this series!

Onward!

Saga #31

Here it is, the official preview text for Saga #31, which was first released back on November 25, 2015, which seems like only yesterday to me. Hey, waitaminute, what if there was a time jump in my own life and I’m just now figuring it out?! Best not to think about it (because it’s dumb), and move on...

After a dramatic time jump, the three-time Eisner Award winner for Best Continuing Series finally returns, as Hazel begins the most exciting adventure of her life...kindergarten!

Wow! That’s downright descriptive relative to other Saga preview text, although I guess a good portion of it was spent celebrating the team’s well-earned Eisner Award accolades. We do, however, learn that going into this issue there has been a dramatic time jup and now Hazel is in kindergarten. Wait, didn’t we see all that on the last page of Saga #30? We did! No matter, let’s look at the individual elements in play here.

The Cover: A very cool Saga cover, one that also clues us in on what we can expect from the upcoming plot, which is maybe a little rarer in Saga than it is in most series. I really like the use of perspective in this image, using the high walls as both a means of showing how small and inconsequential the teacher and Hazel really are (juxtaposed as well against a literal map of the galaxy), and letting us know that Hazel’s current situation is that of a prisoner. It’s all quite striking.

The First Page: One of the cuter Saga openings, and it somehow doesn’t even feature Ghus! Joking aside, I really like this four panel grid as a first page, working in an intriguing way to just straight up clue us in on what’s been going on with an aged-forward Hazel. This is all business that could have felt like an information dump (stories always run that risk following a time jump), but it doesn’t. It’s smooth and welcome all around. It also reminds us—as this book is wont to do at all times—that war and violence are always always always horrific.  

The Summary: The story opens with a few pages of Hazel just being a regular kid in a kindergarten…which is monitored by armed guards. We then flashback to the exact logistics of how Hazel was captured and by whom—the same Robot Kingdom guards who were pursuing Marko and IV, turns out. This is convenient, because as Last Revolution fighter Lexis points out, Drones don’t negotiate, so they can’t use Hazel as a bargaining chip, which means her captors don’t understand what she really is.

Klara, Hazel’s paternal grandmother, concocts a story upon capture that they were in a prison camp, and as a result, Hazel, Klara, and Lexis are sent to detention center for non-combatants, run by the coalition, which are—we remember—the side of the wings. Some shenanigans from ghost nanny Izabel means Hazel doesn’t get a proper medical examination, and her captors are none the wiser about her hybrid status. The majority of the issue takes place in the detention center, which is also where we meet Petrichor, who becomes integral to the plot moving forward.

The major plot point in this issue involves Hazel revealing to her kindergarten teacher that she’s a daughter of the two sides of the conflict...which then causes the teacher to fall and hit her head (quite honestly, I don’t recall whether she was fine, although I think we see more of her).

The Subtext: There’s quite a bit of subtext in this issue about identity, mostly bore out in the scenes of Hazel revealing her wings and Petrichor, a trans-woman, taking a shower, which results in Hazel asking questions about identity. Maybe I’m projecting, but I think the underlying subtext of it all is that antiquated feelings about individual identity are something that can be manipulated to further the goals of power structures. In our society, that often results in political pandering and polarization, and that’s what it seems to do on the page. Case in point, the scene where the Wings guard insinuates that Klara and Hazel are not human because of their species identities and again later when in a nearly symmetrical scene, Petrichor points out that some of her own species didn’t see her as human and she was expelled from the army.

The Art: Saga #31 is less visually-dense than the preceding issue, which had a whole lot of plot. There are three full-page splashes in this one, one of violence and the other two of nude or semi-nude bodies. I haven’t identified any sort of clear trend to which issues have more splash pages or why. I do, however, think all three of those in this issue work well.

The Foreshadowing: It’s pretty spare in this issue, which mostly works to fill us in on some things we’ve missed during the time jump. Hazel does note briefly that Lexis becomes protective of her over the years, but it’s unclear whether that means during the space we missed out on due to the time jump, or in later plot to come. My hunch (and vague recollection) is that Lexis does not end up being all that important of a figure moving forward.

Join us next week as we DRAMATIC time jump an entire month to look at Saga #32!

Saga #31
Writer:
Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics

Check out past installments of our Saga Re-Read.

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

Comics Anatomy: Pushing Boundaries in Captain Marvel #1

By Harry Kassen — Hello everyone and welcome back to Comics Anatomy. As you know, Captain Marvel is coming to the big screen today, so I thought it’d be fun to do a special Captain Marvel article going over some of the craft elements at play in January’s Captain Marvel #1, written by Kelly Thompson with art by Carmen Carnero, colors by Tamra Bonvillain, and letters by Clayton Cowles. While establishing a new status quo for Carol—then abruptly throwing that out—this issue also does some more subtle things with craft that enhance the reading experience. I’m going to talk about one of them here today.

What jumped out to me when I read it is the use of special panel borders to signify something about the action in that panel or in panels around it. A great example of this is in the fight scene at the beginning of the book. There is a two-page splash that shows Captain Marvel and Spider-Woman fighting a giant monster.

This spread can be looked at as four panels, the first panel with the thick black outline showing Carol, the large panel that spreads across the pages is the second, the third is the panel to the right with the double border that shows the monster crashing into the building, and the fourth is the one on the far right with the double border showing Carol floating in the air. The thing I want to address is the phenomenon of the double panel border, but this page is a little trickier to understand without first looking at some other examples, so let’s shelve it for now and look at a different one.

Let’s look next at the two page spread near the end of the book that shows Nuclear Man attacking the four Avengers in that scene.

Like the last one, this one can be broken into four panels, though the first two are the ones that matter for our purposes. The first panel is another with a double border, showing Captain America lifting Nuclear Man. The second is the larger panel that shows Nuclear Man attacking the Avengers and launching them across the page. The double border around the first panel serves as a signal that something big is going to shift from that panel to the next. On one side of the border Cap is picking up a defeated Nuclear man, but on the other side of the border Nuclear Man has turned the tables on the Avengers and has gained the upper hand.

On a later page in this same fight the double border pops up again. The page where the Avengers are attempting to follow Carol through Nuclear Man’s portal has three double border panels showing individual Avengers and a large panel showing them being thrown back from the portal.

In both of these examples, the double border serves as an indicator that something is about to change or that something inside the panel is different than in the rest of the page. In the Nuclear Man spread, the double border panel shows the Avengers as winning the fight, then immediately on the other side of that border, in the next panel, the Avengers are losing to Nuclear Man.

In addition, there’s a shift from a vertical, relatively confined panel to a widescreen and very expansive panel. There’s a clear difference between the two and the double border signals that that change is coming.

Likewise in the page with the Avengers and the portal, the border serves to mark a clear shift in action and format.

The three double bordered panels show the three Avengers moving toward the portal but the rest of the splash shows them being thrown back. On a technical level, the three Avengers panels are diagonal and show left-right movement, but the portal panel is vertical and shows right-left movement. Once again, the double border is what signals this shift.

Which brings us back to the first example.

On this page, there are two double bordered panels. In the main spread, there is a large monster getting punched in the face by Captain Marvel. In the first double bordered panel, this monster is crashing into a building in the background. Lastly, in the second double bordered panel, Carol is hovering over the defeated monster. As with before, each of these panels is a distinct moment of the fight. On the level of story, the punch is the beginning of this interaction, the monster crashing into the building is the middle, and then the monster laying defeated on the ground while Carol hovers over it is the end. Looking at the technique, we can see that the first panel shows Carol moving and the monster being moved by her. This panel is the full two page spread and is horizontal. The next panel, which is tilted slightly, shows the monster moving. Carol isn’t in it. Lastly, the final panel shows Carol and the monster, both still. This panel is larger than the last and tilted even more. The double border serves to signal these differences once again.

This goes to show that the creative team of a comic have control over all the elements of the page’s composition. What counts as the art and storytelling isn’t just limited to the contents of the panels but also the way they’re shaped and how they’re framed. The architecture of a comic is important for developing the book’s visual language and guiding how the reader experiences the story, and Captain Marvel #1 is a great example of how to use this power well.

Captain Marvel #1
Writer:
Kelly Thompson
Artist: Carmen Carnero
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Check out Comics Anatomy: Velvet’s Perfect Page!

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

Age of X-Man Round-Up: Life is not as marvelous as it seems

By Allison Senecal —  I’ve been *dramatic wheeze* deathly ill this week, so y’all are about to get what is likely a very buzzword-heavy Age of X-Man round-up this month. There are twice as many issues to cover in this one too, so brevity is key. All but one of the event’s miniseries have now launched, and we have a lot of great set-up (great, folks) but no deeper action happening just yet. Uncanny X-Men, on the other hand, is rolling along, already getting meaty. Hope everyone stuck with it after the first over-sized issue following Disassembled, because this run is quickly looking like a winner.

As a refresher: these monthly round-ups serve as both reviews and as actual honest-to-god recaps! So you, yes you, don’t have to read absolutely everything if you don’t want to, or maybe you’ll just be titillated enough to try a new series. Either way.

Lights! Camera! Glob!

Previously on Age of X-Man

Age of X-Man: NextGen #1
Writer:
Ed Brisson
Artist: Marcus To
Colorist: Jason Keith
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Released: 2/13/2019
Key Characters: Glob, Anole, Pixie, Armor, Shark Girl, Rockslide

The crux of it? Glob gets bullied for writing X-Men fan fiction, and readers will instantly get the feeling that he remembers more about the pre-AOXM world than he lets on. The young mutants’ study session is interrupted by a house fire, which they rush to fight. Armor catches Blob mind-wiping Bling, who was seemingly attending a revolutionaries’ meeting at the house with Anole, who tells Armor not to tell anyone he was there. The issues ends with Armor confronting Glob with what she’s witnessed and him assaulting her, shouting “This is the only way I can show you the truth.”

The team here gives us a really great world-building first issue. I find “classroom world-building” a little lazy in prose, but it works better in comics, and even more so here. Some teacher narration guides us from major to major so we get a good feel for the ways in which the Summers Institute readies students for the “real world”. In typical first issue fashion for these minis, the utopian setting is normalized before its layers are pulled back, revealing that &%$# just isn’t quite right.

Age of X-Man: Amazing Nightcrawler #1
Writer:
Seanan McGuire
Artist: Juan Frigeri
Colorist: Dono Sánchez-Almara
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
Released: 2/20/2019
Key Characters: Nightcrawler, Meggan, Stepford Cuckoos, Magma

The opener here is an action scene from one of Nightcrawler’s horror flicks (in this reality, he’s the world’s most famous actor), which ends with him and leading lady Meggan popping a power dampener onto the film’s antagonist and having her whisked away for reeducation (eek!). Normal behind-the-scenes hijinks ensue, with brief appearances from Kurt’s trainer, Magma, and agents, the Cuckoos. Kurt and Meggan attend a charity dinner where some folks are overheard disparaging the Cuckoos for showing off their family ties. After the dinner, Meggan kisses Kurt and they retire together. *eyebrow waggle*

Same as the other AOXM #1’s, we get a typical day-in-the-life setup, this time with a Hollywood flair. Some unsettling bits are tossed in to make us whisper-scream “what the…” and we’re left with a good hook for the next issue. McGuire is a great writer choice for Kurt, and the art team is spot-on for the needed Hollywood sleekness. I love the designs for Magma and the Cuckoos. Super sharp.

Age of X-Man: X-Tremists #1
Writer:
Leah Williams
Penciler: Georges Jeanty
Inker: Roberto Poggi
Colorist: Jim Charalampidis
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Released: 2/27/2019
Key Characters: Psylocke, Jubilee, Northstar, Iceman, Blob, Moneta (new character)

This mini has been pitched heavily (by both fans and Williams, bless) as “horny utopia cops” and that’s….yeah. We open on a scene of frivolous normalcy, with Bobby and Jubilee trying to bake “thank you” cookies for the X-Men.  Sexy Blob interrupts everyone to deliver their newest mission, a couple on their third violation of the guiding principles. Grumpy Team Dad Northstar waits in the Vanagon and reads. After a chase and struggle, the couple is iced (thanks, Bobby!) but not before the woman lets slip that she’s pregnant. Oh no! What’re a few horny, and seemingly moral, cops to do?

I have to think this set-up is purposely at odds with their fairly militaristic guest appearances in Alpha and Nextgen. I guess if you’re gonna write about Age of X-Man’s cops, you gotta make them likeable. The main “oh no” factor here is the presence of weird little slur-slinging neo-Nazi Moneta, a mutant to whom we’re just being fully introduced, but want to know more about. Come for Rahzzah’s sexy redesigns, stay for Williams’ deft dialogue skills, including heavy-handed-humor-because-AVOIDANCE Bobby.

Age of X-Man: Prisoner X #1
Writer:
Vita Ayala
Artist: German Peralta
Colorist: Mike Spicer
Letterer: VC’S Joe Sabino
Released: 3/6/2019
Key Characters: Bishop, Beast, Forge, Polaris, Honey Badger, Dani Moonstar

Following the events from Age of X-Man Alpha, Bishop finds himself in mutant utopia...prison! It’s called the Danger Room, because of course it is, and Forge is the warden, because of course he is. Throughout the issue Bishop is plagued by visions of the real world, and via a series of (mostly nasty) interactions with fellow inmates, he comes to find out that Polaris is as well. Jacked up Beast makes several unfriendly appearances, getting upset with Bishop because he won’t leave Gabby (under his protection) alone. Gabby is a little &$#% in this universe and I still love her so much. After Beast attacks Bishop, the prison is put on lockdown, with prisoners confined to their cells, and Bishop receives a note. The dream is REAL. The reality FALSE. Get out!

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Ayala and Peralta (and now Spicer coloring him!) and this was my most anticipated mini going into AOXM. It doesn’t disappoint, even if this is largely another set-up issue in the vein of the other #1’s. If you weren’t familiar with Bishop pre-AOXM, after the events of Alpha and this issue, you’re at least by now rooting for him thanks to the groundwork laid by these creative teams. Of the miniseries so far, I think Bishop makes for the most straightforwardly compelling protagonist. Guess we’ll see how he fares!

Meanwhile on Uncanny X-Men

Uncanny X-Men #12 & #13
Writer:
Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg & Guru-eFX
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Released: 2/20/2019 & 3/6/2019
Key Characters: Magik, Dani Moonstar, Karma, Wolfsbane, Havok, Cyclops, Wolverine, Multiple Man, Strong Guy

Phew. Ok. #12 starts with Scott and Logan breaking into a O.N.E. (remember Colonel Callahan from Dead Souls and Astonishing?) facility. Of course, it goes sideways immediately and they end up fighting some new-fangled Sentinels, which turn out to have *gasp* some of the Transmode-infected New Mutants powering them. Looks like O.N.E have been experimenting on mutants this whole time. The now bolstered team heads inside to free Magik, Wolfsbane, and some Multiple Man dupes, and it’s revealed that Havok’s been used as an energy source for the whole facility since we’ve seen him last. He’s freed but one of the dupes explodes, and Strong Guy seemingly dies while shielding some of his teammates from the blast. After Cyclops stops her from taking revenge, Magik portals them all to safety.

In issue #13 we find out the X-Men are now operating out of the back of a bar owned by one of Logan’s mutant-friendly acquaintances. Cyclops presents the newly formed team with a list of targets, problems he wants to clear up to remind the world what the X-Men are all about. First target? Dark Beast. At his purported location the team instead finds an army of cyborg Multiple Man dupes, and the real Jamie Madrox who absorbs a dying dupe to find out Dark Beast’s actual location. The team tracks him down, a fight ensues (Magik quickly ends it), and they capture him. Back at their hideout, they catch footage of the Mutant Liberation Front on a tv… *ominous music*

I just really love that this series is keeping the action moving while still giving us fantastic character work. Old-school Scott and Logan bickering. Summers brothers emotions. Great carryover from New Mutants: Dead Souls on Illyana and her struggles with being what she sees as a competent team leader. We also see Strong Guy’s redemption arc from previous X-series (most recently Dead Souls) come to a (again, seeming) close with his sacrifice in #12. The scene there between him and Illyana is heartbreaking. I do hope we get more from the other New Mutants in coming issues and they don’t just get lost on the sidelines, but no other real complaints from me on this run. Even Larroca’s art isn’t losing me!

Next Time on Age of X-Man

Age of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #2
Release Date:
3/13/2019
How do you deal with a problem like.... peaceful Apocalypse?

Age of X-Man: Apocalypse & the X-Tracts #1
Release Date:
3/13/2019
Let’s get this show on the road!

Age of X-Man: NextGen #2
Release Date:
3/20/2019
What did Blob do to Armor?? Is Anole ok? Will the teachers find out some of the students share a secret?

Age of X-Man: Amazing Nightcrawler #2
Release Date:
3/20/2019
Will Kurt and Meggan be found-out? Will the Cuckoos be ok?

Age of X-Men: X-Tremists #2
Release Date:
3/27/2019
What will our squad of friendly neighborhood watchmen decide to do with a pregnant mutant?

Check out last month’s inaugural Age of X-Man Round-Up here!

Allison buys books professionally and comics unprofessionally. You can find her chaotic neutral Twitter feed at @maliciousglee.

REVIEW: In Tom King's Batman #66, a major new artist rises

Batman #66 is due out 3/6/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — The ongoing Knightmares story arc—which picks up here after a two-issue interlude that doubles as a Heroes in Crisis tie-in and a crossover with The Flash—is a tough one to review, at least on a monthly basis. The main trouble is that it’s really hard to contextualize the literal nightmare torture state our hero is trapped within without knowing what the payoff will be. We’re even lacking some basic info here, like who’s doing this to him (we can maybe safely assume it’s his father from the Flashpoint timeline), how long he’s been trapped, and, perhaps most importantly, why?

This all makes it a bit tricky to gauge whether this story is working on a larger narrative level. With that in mind, I think it has to then be evaluated on the past merits of this run written by Tom King, as well as on whether it provides an entertaining individual reading experience. Let’s start with the latter: I think this issue most certainly does entertain.

This issue is entertaining for two main reasons, and we’ll start with the first one since I have a bit less to say about. This is the most we’ve seen writer Tom King portraying Catwoman since Batman #50 ended with her leaving Bruce at the altar/on a rooftop, worried as she was that a content Batman would be bad for the world and for Gotham. This issue sees the as-of-late underutilized Question interrogating her about the Bat-Cat relationship and, in a broader sense, her wedding decision.

If there’s one thing King has excelled at throughout this run it’s writing big Bat-Cat moments (with Batman Annual #2 standing out as the pinnacle of this run to date, with the possible exception of the Cold Days arc, which could be the best multi-part Batman story of the past decade). I for one have always found Catwoman the more interesting and less explored member of the pairing, and what this issue does (even if it’s not real real) is give us her more interesting perspective as she drags out a sultry cigarette like a character in a Golden Age Hollywood movie. It’s a great premise.

What makes this issue really pop, so to speak, is the artwork. Jorge Fornes is a superstar artist waiting to happen, and, more precisely, a perfect fit for illustrating noir stories within the extant DC world. He doesn’t quite fit with the publisher’s house style, but he’s squarely within the lineage of the sorts of cartoonist they like to tap when they deviate from the photorealistic, think Shawn Martinbrough’s Detective Comics run with Greg Rucka, or Phil Hester and Ande Parks work on Green Arrow with Kevin Smith and later Brad Meltzer.

It’s the type of Bruce Timm-esque cartooning that really accentuates the classic designs of the characters, we get so many glorious scenes of it here, bet it Catwoman tangling upside down in front of a diamond from a wire, or The Question leaning in with intensity splayed all over his (or her) expressionless facade. It’s truly special work, and if Fornes hasn’t already been tapped for more noir DC Universe cartooning, well that’s a missed opportunity.

The last point I want to make is that in the context of the longer run, this faux reality Knightmares run asks readers for a pretty sizeable leap of faith, and I think that’s just fine. It’s the kind of ask the writer and his collaborators have earned after 66 issues, all but three of which I’ve liked (The Gift) and most of which I’ve absolutely loved. It’s an experimental take on Batman, compared to traditional depictions, and this is nothing if not an experimental arc. I say let them tell the story, give them the benefit of the doubt, and let’s talk again in six months.

Overall: Jorge Fornes steals the show in this issue as Tom King’s experimental dream-state arc of one-shots resumes. In addition to Fornes drawing some of the best noir DC scenes in recent memory, we get King exploring the Bat-Cat relationship yet again. This story might not be actually happening, but the quality with which it’s being told is 100 percent real. 9.0/10
Batman #66
Writer:
Tom King
Artist: Jorge Fornes
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99

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

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

REVIEW: Die #4, a high point for a classic in the making

Die #4  is out 3/6/2019.

Die #4 is out 3/6/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Well folks, it happened. Die landed an issue that knocked me out, blew me away, floored me, thrilled me, you name it. Whatever cliche you want to go with for being impressed, that’s how I felt about Die #4. That’s not to say I didn’t like the previous issues. Hell, I gave very high marks to both Die #1 and Die #2, going so far as to write full reviews about them (which is something I generally only do for debut issues, prominent Big 2 titles, and creator-owned books I really like). In addition, the book is basically always one of our 5 Top Comics to Buy selections, and Die #1 was one of our best new comics the month it debuted.

So yes, I like Die quite a bit. I liked the dark tone it struck from the start, a tone I’ve long thought has been lacking from the wave of popcorn nostalgia-driven lookbacks at role playing games from the ‘80s. I liked how the real villain of this story seemed likely to become the lives we lived after being teens as well as the lessons we didn’t learn, and I loved how the book harkened back to Tolkien with its third issue, portraying the horrors of WWI he is likely to have experienced en route to creating this whole damn genre.

So, with all that praise heaped upon it, how then did Die #4 exceed my expectations even further to knock me out, floor me, thrill me...again, pick your cliche? This is maybe a cardinal sin as a reviewer, but I’m going to have to say I’m not quite sure. My best theory, however, is that through the first three issues, I become much more familiar with the backstories and desires of the lead characters, enough that in this issue when we get complicated stories for basically all of them, I found myself as thoroughly invested as I do in much longer running creator-owned books like Monstress, Saga, or Die writer Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine.

My other theory is that the creators themselves become more comfortable with the world, premise, and characters here, so much so that they were able to shift in this fourth issue to another gear. I certainly think Stephanie Hans’ stunning artwork achieves of level of clarity in this issue among the top tier of graphic sequential storytelling being done right now. Hans leaves us with a number of incredibly memorable visuals, starting at the very beginning with what is so far the book’s best cover. From there the list expands rapildy, with my personal favorite artwork including the establishing shot of the glass city, the characters being celebrated in its streets, wounded Isabelle in conversation with deities in the temple, the stories within the stories, and the list goes on. The year is young, but I think this issue is so far its most gorgeous fantasy book (although, I suppose Isola #6 may take issue with that).

As far as the story, Die #4 is the type of comic that’s told so well it seems like it must have been easy to write, like it all came together by some divine magic into one complete whole. This is a massive feat with an ensemble cast, one that the aforementioned best issues of Wic + Div have accomplished as have some of the best story arcs of B.P.R.D. Those are classic comics, to be sure, and if Die continues to put out out issues like this in the coming years, it will be right in the conversation with them.

Overall: Die #4 is a high-mark for a young series that has classic written all over it. This is the best type of new comic, one that tells a long story comprised of several disparate and wholly memorable chapters. Make space up there with Saga and Monstress, Die is quickly becoming one of Image’s best. 9.6/10

Die #4
Writer:
Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image 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: Astro Hustle #1 is a colorful and sexy space opera romp

Astro Hustle #1 is out 3/6/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Astro Hustle #1 from writer Jai Nitz, artist Tom Reilly, colorist Ursula Decay, letterer Crank!, and publisher Dark Horse Comics is the latest entry in already-crowded science fiction comicbook market. It’s a cosmic story, rather than the sort of sci-fi that hems closer to near-future or body horror or any other number of relatively more feasible concept. Within the broader segment of space-faring sci-fi comics, it’s more of the madcap variety, versus something more realistic, like, say Relay, a favorite of ours around these parts.

What’s perhaps most noticeable about this comic from the cover art on is the lush and vibrant color-palette deployed by Ursula Decay over Tom Reilly’s linework. This series is only four issues, so it may be around long enough to carve out this title, but if I had to guess, I’d say there’s a somewhat significant change that among its sci-fi comic breathern, Astro Hustle #1 could come to be known as the colorful one, at least as it pertains to the artwork.

The story is perhaps another matter. The sense of humor and the pacing of the action are both perhaps more like Wasted Space (another major sci-fi comic favorite of this website’s) than anything else on the shelves, although Astro Hustle lacks the philosophical bend of that book. One of the more distinctive story interests in Astro Hustle is a definite and apparent interest in being sexy, although Lion Forge’s Infinity 8 probably lays a more direct claim to the title of sexiest sci-fi modern sci-fi book (jeez, there are a lot of sci-fi comics!). Indeed, right on the first page this comic has major shot of booty and one lover summoning another (both of them scantily clad) to bed. It doesn’t work out well for them, but it does set a bit of a tone.

The final quality that works to set Astro Hustle apart somewhat from the horde of sci-fi competition is a 17th or 18th century aesthetic, distinct and shinier than the one to be found in the soon-to-conclude Cemetary Beach (seriously, there are a ton of sci-fi comics these days...and all the ones we’ve named here have launched within the past 12 months!). I thought the character and vessel designs in this book were among the top-tier most imaginative, so much so that I intend to finish the rest of this series based on the merits of the visuals alone. They’re interesting and eclectic, and I really don’t think I can get enough of them.

Anyway, so those are the elements I found (relatively) unique to Astro Hustle. The question for a review then becomes, how well do they all come together? And, perhaps more importantly, is this comic worth picking up amid the sea of other science fiction titles vying for consumer dollars and the all-important free reading time? For the first question, the seemingly-disparate elements at work in Astro Hustle do cohere nicely. Nitz’s script is confident in the way it calls for them all to exist in the same world together—the pirates and space lovers and oppressive robots—portraying it all in a way that never once begs a question about whether they can or should all exist. It’s effective.

As for the second question, well, I think it depends. I’ll be reading the entirety of this series (to be above aboard, I’ve read Astro Hustle #2 and Astro Hustle #3, and the series keeps improving), and I have no issue recommending it in full to someone looking for a fairly uncomplicated space opera romp. The introduction to the book’s protagonist is a little less than ideal (it comes almost halfway through the first issue), but once you get yourself oriented within this world, it’s hard not to find it charming.  

Overall: Astro Hustle #1 is yet another solid entry in an already-crowded sci-fi comics market. Colorful and kinetic and even a little bit sexy, this book should offer a great time to folks in search of a relatively uncomplicated space opera romp. 8.0/10

Astro Hustle #1
Writer:
Jai Nitz
Artist: Tom Reilly
Colorist: Ursula Decay
Letterer: Crank!
Publisher: Dark Horse 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: Morning in America #1 marks the start of a compelling new teen adventure

Morning in America #1 is out 3/6/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Morning in America #1, simply put, is a comic about what it feels like to be a teen. It focuses on a group of friends, who are maybe only tenuously interested in spending time with each other. The dialogue in this comic is exceedingly well-written, seeing its characters bickering often throughout, doing so in a way unique to high school, a time when we’re maybe not yet sure what type of person we’d like to be around just yet.

The end result is book with four strong and distinct characters who all feel real, which goes a long way to making the larger plot engrossing. Speaking of the larger plot, there’s also a mystery at work here—it’s 1983 in smalltown Ohio, kids are disappearing, and a new factory has opened up without seeming to provide jobs to anybody. Still, for me the real highlight was the way creators Magdalene Visaggio and Claudia Aguirre gave their young characters so much room to think and brood and breath.   

What also added to the authenticity of the story was the way the characters moved throughout the world. Morning in America #1 never fell prey to that common coming-of-age issue wherein the teens are overly precocious, knowing everything or exerting so much control over situations that it starts to take an audience out of the story. Part of why the four characters at this story’s heart feel so real is that they are surrounded by consequential situations that rely (at least in part) on the actions of the adults in their worlds. Parents bicker about jobs, questions at school go answered, and when the protagonist of the story gets in trouble, the intervening mother and officer tasked with handling it seem more exasperated than concerned. It all rang rather true to my own experiences back in high school, feeling both under-respected and under-cared for.

In terms of the artwork, Claudia Aguirre’s lines are detailed and interesting, augmented by an interesting color palette that displays an impressive tonal versatility. There are pastels for sunsets and brighter colors for actions. What I found most interesting, however, was the book’s first page, which was maybe a flash-forward, showing one of our characters (I think) running from a monster as neon colors disrupted drabber tones that had set over the little city. It’s so attention-grabbing it could potentially function on its own as a poster. I really dug it.

Morning in America #1 is, in the end, a patient comic that sparks an interesting mystery, using its excellent character work in the service of a story that feels compelling and real. I’m not sure what it’s larger thematic interests are. There are hints of globalization affecting industrial smalltown America, although that seems at odds with the 1983 time period just a little bit. Basically, we know we have a group of teens who maybe don’t get along all that well and definitely have troubled behavioral records, and we know we have a monster-mystery unfolding (plus maybe aliens?). It’ll be interesting to see how and to what ends this story brings it all together.

Overall: Morning in America #1 is a rare coming-of-age comic that excels at realistic character work. A compelling start to an interesting mystery, this book is definitely one for teen adventure fans to follow. 8.0/10

Morning in America #1
Writer:
Magdalene Visaggio
Artist: Claudia Aguirre
Letterer: Zakk Saam
Publisher: Oni Press
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

ADVANCED REVIEW: Spencer and Locke, Vol. 2 #1, the return of a book that just keeps getting better

Spencer & Locke, Vol. 2 #1  is out 4/24/2019.

Spencer & Locke, Vol. 2 #1 is out 4/24/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — I’ve been going on about this via Twitter as of late, but the Calvin and Hobbes meets Sin City homage/mash-up Spencer and Locke is, quite simply, a must-read comic, especially for someone like me who bought the Watterson collections at book fairs in fourth grade and spent class time sneak-reading them under my desk. What Spencer and Locke does is imagine Calvin as an adult, still seeing his stuffed tiger (panther here) now as a hard-boiled police detective. That panther, it turns out, has been used all along to cope with trauma.

In Spencer and Locke, Vol. 1 writer David Pepose with artists Jorge Santiago, Jr. and Jasen Smith crafts a compelling and gritty noir mystery while simultaneously deconstructing pretty much every character from the classic Calvin and Hobbes strips. It’s an audacious idea, one that could have come off as ill-advised if the creative team had not executed pretty much everything so perfectly, enfusing the whole ordeal with a massive amount of heart by giving the Calvin character a young daughter of this own (I basically crumbled everytime she interacted with the imaginary panther).

With all this in mind, it would have been easy for the creative team—which has returned here entirely intact—to go back to the Calvin and Hobbes homage well. The book likely has an audience that can’t get enough of it, and so the choice could have been made to go through it all again, this time with just a new case. Pepose, Santiago, and Smith, however, start Spencer and Locke, Vol. 2 #1 by pointing the story in a faithful-yet-new direction: homaging another classic strip, Beetle Bailey.

I’ll talk more about the individual merits of this issue in a moment. First, I’d like to just praise this decision, not only for how it functions in smoothly transitioning to a new story and a new arc, but also for how it opens an entire expanded universe for use in future Spencer and Locke stories, basically enabling the book to draw from nearly 100 years of famed newspaper comic strip characters. Previews for the next issue already seem to indicate a coming send up of Scott Adams and Dilbert, and basically all I’m saying is now we might get a rabid Snoopy cast as a pitbull in the service of a criminal Charlie Brown—just imagine.

So, yes, major points to this comic for that decision. It should be noted too though that Spencer and Locke Vol. 2 #1 is on its own merits an excellent comic, much as the previous installments of this story have all been. Santiago Jr. and Smith continue to impress with their shifting aesthetics. Whereas in the first book the duo bounced seamlessly between Watterson and Frank Miller homages, this new issue requires them to also mimic Beetle Bailey, and with an assist from letterer Colin Bell, it fits right in with the rest of the story.   

Pepose’s script tries some new things as well. What I found perhaps most interesting was the way Spencer (who is the Hobbes analog here) started to become more aggressive, more feral in the way Locke pictured him. Pepose seems to be using that depiction of the imaginary panther to clue readers in on Locke’s fraying mental state. Like the expanded use of comic strip characters, an increased emotional range for the panther seems to expand the plethora of storytelling techniques available to this comic in a vast and welcomed way.

Sometimes a book like Spencer and Locke strikes fire and struggles moving forward to replicate that same energy. That’s not the case here. Fans of the first series—a group I count myself firmly among—can rest easy, this comic has gotten even better.  

Overall: Spencer & Locke, Vol. 2 #1 is the best kind of sequel, one that stays faithful to the core concept while expanding the world in new and exciting ways. The emotional core, the fond homages to classic newspaper strips, the noir mystery—it’s all back and even better here. 9.2/10

Spencer & Locke, Vol. 2 #1
Writer:
David Pepose
Artist: Jorge Santiago, Jr.
Colorist: Jasen Smith
Letterer: Colin Bell
Publisher: Action Lab
Price: $3.99
Release Date: April 24, 2019

Check out Harry Kassen’s recent interview with the creators!

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.

Comic of the Week: KINO #14 is ‘a shining star for the Catalyst Prime line’

Catalyst Prime: Kino #14 is out 2/27/2019.

By d. emerson eddy — KINO began its life in the Catalyst Prime universe under Joe Casey, Jefte Palo, Todd Klein, and Chris Sotomayor. It was always something unique, a series ostensibly about Alistair Meath, one of the astronauts caught in space in the “Event” that sparked this rise of super-powered individuals within a new shared universe. It spent its time split between an espionage story of trying to find Meath's body and in a simulation patterned after old school comics superheroics that was trying to influence Meath's mind and outlook on life. It was very good, something different that played with comics conventions and told a nicely layered story. I highly recommend checking out those first two collections.

Then Alex Paknadel, Diego Galindo, Adam Guzowski, and Jim Campbell came along and turned the series on its ear with issue #10. Basically that issue gave us an “Anatomy Lesson”, guiding us through the implication that everything we knew was wrong, upending Meath's life, and pointing us in an entirely different direction.

Often times I find that this sort of thing doesn't work in the long term, since it tends to alienate the hardcore fans and generally once the initial shock has worn off, the change becomes somewhat boring. That hasn't even been remotely the case here, as the revelations and integration with what came before just get more interesting. It's more that this entire arc has been the true “Anatomy Lesson” and not just that first issue of the new creative team's run. Because Paknadel, Galindo, Guzowski, and Campbell have taken the elements of espionage, political oversight, not knowing what's reality and what's a simulation, and the simulation itself and continued to develop the situation of two Meaths to a very satisfying conclusion. While we were led to believe that everything was wrong to begin with, maybe it wasn't?

This final issue of the story arc is a fairly bombastic fight between the two Meaths, but one of the things that Paknadel has been weaving into the story from the beginning is manipulation. That still comes through in the explanation for what happened and the “true” Meath's victory and plans going forward, leaving a compelling thread to see where this goes in name of queen and country.

The artwork from Galindo and Guzowski is wonderful, stepping up to the task of presenting this final battle on two fronts; the normal ordinary London and one of brightly coloured vintage comics. Jim Campbell, too, deftly changes approach to lettering during these shifts to the superhero simulation, adding in thought balloons and a more visceral, scratchy approach to sound effects. I love the attention to detail that goes into the presentation of the old school comics style, immersing the reader in that world to great effect.

Overall, KINO has been a shining star for the Catalyst Prime line and Paknadel, Galindo, Guzowski, and Campbell continue to make it glow. It's a very unique take on the spy thriller by way of the superhero, revelling in the style and substance of vintage superhero comics, while telling a thoroughly modern interpretation, rife with suspicion, confusion, and shades of grey. Everything may not always be as it seems in this comic, but what is unquestionable is that this story is well worth your time.

KINO #14
Writer:
Alex Paknadel
Artist: Diego Galindo
Colourist: Adam Guzowski
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Lion Forge / Catalyst Prime
Price: $3.99

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

d. emerson eddy is a student and writer of things. He fell in love with comics during Moore, Bissette, & Totleben's run on Swamp Thing and it has been a torrid affair ever since. His madness typically manifests itself on Twitter @93418.

Top Comics to Buy for March 6, 2019 - Die #4, The Green Lantern #5, and more

By Zack Quaintance — At the risk of sounding repetitive, this first Wednesday of the month has really morphed into a monstrosity of great new comics. So much so that I’ve once again extended our usual top five picks to six. Hey, more content’s a good thing, right? Anyway, I could have also easily extended it to seven or eight or nine. It really pained me to cut great titles for this upcoming Wednesday like Doomsday Clock #9, Immortal Hulk #14, and Justice League #19.

But I figure pretty close to most everyone has their mind made up about those comics at this point, so why not shed some light on lesser-known books that are still in their early stages? I’m thinking specifically here of the creator-owned comic Self/Made, which continues to shock me with the high quality of both the its stories and ideas. It’s really turning into something special, the type of book I find myself reading toward the top of the stack each week and coming away shocked at where the story seems to be headed.

Anyway, on to the comics!

Top Comics to Buy for March 6, 2019

*PICK OF THE WEEK*
Die #4 (
read our full review!)
Writer:
Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
"FANTASY HEARTBREAKER," Part Four-Our heroes reach the civilization of Glass Town and do what heroes have always done upon reaching civilization. As in, go to the pub. As it's DIE, you can guess people don't exactly get happy drunk.
Why It’s Cool: We’ll have a more detailed and thoughtful review of this comic later this week, but let me just say here that this is the best issue yet of a series that has been fantastic from its start. This is the smoothest and most immersive issue of Die so far, which I attribute to the previous three issues having done such great work toward familiarizing us with these well-realized characters. With so much of that work behind the story now, the creators are free in this comic to really hit some deep (and troublesome in the best way) emotional beats. Don’t miss this issue; don’t miss this book.

Age of X-Man: Prisoner X #1 (of 5)
Writer:
Vita Ayala
Artist: German Peralta
Colorist: Mike Spicer
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
ENTER THE AGE OF X-MAN!
In the Age of X-Man, when you break the law, you aren't sent to just any prison. You're sent to the Danger Room...a penitentiary filled with the roughest and meanest mutants that don't fit into X-Man's utopia. They each have a reason for being there. And they're all ready to kill each other.  But that's about to change, because the newest prisoner just arrived...Lucas Bishop!
Why It’s Cool: It’s a great combination of concept, creators, and character, with those respectively being the well-conceived and intricate Age of X-Man alternate universe, writer Vita Ayala (one of our favorite rising stars within the industry), and Bishop, always an underrated (if convoluted) X-Man. Seriously, Ayala has just been doing fantastic work lately, be it their superhero book for Valiant Livewire, the creator-owned Submerged, or the installment of the recent Marvel Knights mini-series that focused on T’Challa. These have all just been stunning comics, and we’re expecting nothing less from the Prisoner X miniseries, which follows Bishop into the underbelly of what is shaping up to be an Orwellian faux-utopia of an alternate universe.

Green Arrow #50
Writers:
Collin Kelly & Jackson Lanzing
Artist: Javier Fernandez
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Andworld Design
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99
Spinning out of the events of JUSTICE LEAGUE: NO JUSTICE and HEROES IN CRISIS! When a black ops organization discovers Green Arrow's long-held secret-a mysterious weapon in the form of a box, given to him by the Justice League-they'll deploy their top undercover agent: Black Canary! On opposite sides of this festering secret, Green Arrow and Black Canary will clash as only two lovers can-by aiming straight for the heart! A mystery six months in the making, the box that can destroy the Justice League will be opened...and the Emerald Archer's world will be forever changed. This extra-sized anniversary issue of Green Arrow's life isn't just ending...it's burning to the ground!
Why It’s Cool: This if the finale of one of the quintessential Rebirth books, and it’s also what is quite possibly the last book headlined by the Emerald Archer that we’re likely to get in sometime, what with DC Comics very public intent to keep its publishing line at the slightly reduced level we’ve seen in recent months. The writing team of Kelly and Lanzing are perhaps the best choice for this job too. As I believe Kelly outlined fairly recently online, the duo had a fairly elaborate plan for a 50 issue run that would get to the core of one my personal favorite characters. We’re obviously not getting that, but look for them to give us a truly epic send off that packs in as much action and as many of their ideas from that outline as is feasible. Savor it, too, I know I will. Also, we’ll (sort of) get an answer to the question from No Justice, the natural one that came up when J’onn gave Ollie a box he said was capable of stopping the entire league...

The Green Lantern #5
Writer:
Grant Morrison
Artist: Liam Sharp
Colorist: Steve Oliff
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
"Blackstar at Zenith!" Hal Jordan has abandoned the Green Lantern Corps to join the Blackstars! But to do so, he'll need to convince their leader, Countess Belzebeth, and pass an initiation test. Which means he must survive a series of trials on the vampire planet Vorr, whose entire population wants to feast upon him! It's cosmic goth at its bloodiest...with a cliffhanger that's even bloodier!
Why It’s Cool: This run has been fantastic from start to finish, and this issue keeps it going. As promised by the creative team before the book even launched, The Green Lantern has been a series of quisi self-contained space cop procedurals. This issue builds on all that has come before while telling yet another compelling story built upon some of the key qualities and continuity bits that define Green Lantern. Also, as anyone who follows artist Liam Sharp will surely attest, the detail and imagination in the artwork he’s previewed for this comic has just been astounding, somehow even better than the tremendous heights he’s reached in earlier chapters. Think about it too long, and it will blow your mind as thoroughly as Morrison and Sharp seem hell-bent on doing.

Self/Made #4
Writer:
Mathew Groom
Artist: Eduardo Ferigato
Colorist: Marcelo Costa
Color Flats:
Mariana Cali
Letterer: A Larger World Studios’ Troy Peteri
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
"THE 'TA-DA' MOMENT": Amala has made it to our world-and she is distinctly unimpressed. What's a girl with a new robot body and some pent-up rage to do? Paint the town red.
Why It’s Cool: Simply put, because this is the best comic I’ve read in I don’t know how long that rushes head first at the central questions of life itself. That’s maybe being a little dramatic, but this really has quickly turned into a story with a lot to say about creation. In this issue, we also get some really clever interplay between characters that’s analogous to that between child and parents, plus a tour de force visual journey through a near-future version of Sydney, Australia, along with the now-standard breakneck plotting that’s come to define the book. This is yet another major surprise from Image Comics in the past year or so that more readers should be talking about. I get that you might not be familiar with these creators, but you’re doing yourself a disservice by sleeping on this book.

Top New #1 Comics

Others Receiving Votes

  • A Walk Through Hell #8

  • Batman #66 (read our full review!)

  • Blossoms 666 #2

  • Cemetary Beach #7

  • Doomsday Clock #9

  • The Dreaming #7

  • Eclipse #13

  • Giant Days #48

  • Immortal Hulk #14

  • Justice League #19

  • Killmonger #5

  • Paper Girls #26

  • Red Sonja #2

  • Uncanny X-Men #13

  • Vindication #2

  • Young Justice #3


Check back to the site later this week for reviews of Astro Hustle #1, Batman #66, Uncanny X-Men #13, and more!

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.