Don’t have time for long reviews of comics? Then check out these bite sized chunks of comic book goodness designed to get behind the panels and into your hearts. This is Graphic Bits.
One of DC’s biggest weeks of new releases since the inception of the New DC Universe this month, it is possibly the most eclectic as well. We start by featuring BLACK CANARY, which recasts the hero as a punker rocker. Meanwhile DOOMED takes us to monsters university. Speaking of students, one of them gets the helmet of fate in the brand-new DOCTOR FATE. Then HARLEY QUINN AND POWER GIRL is exactly what you’d want it to be, the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA goes widescreen, and we finally get the return of MARTIAN MANHUNTER. Then the youth literally take over the world in PREZ, while ROBIN: SON OF BATMAN emerges from the shadows.
Black Canary #1
Black Canary has always had a patchy publication history, and with the exception of a few solo mini-series (1991’s New Wings, 2007’s Living WIth Sin) and a 12-issue maxi-series (1993), she has been mostly known for her associations with Green Arrow and the Birds of Prey. Partly following the ‘straight outta Burnside’ flavour of his Batgirl series, in which Black Canary briefly appeared, writer Brendan Fletcher (Gotham Academy) looks set to change all of that.
She is presented here as “D.D”, the singer in a punk band with a mysterious past. Billed by the street press (wonderfully called Burnside Tofu) as “more UFC fighter than singer,” she is determined to finish her contract with her ragtag band so that she can rebuild her life and dojo with the money. Until, that is, she is beset upon my strange creatures who may be after her quiet guitarist Ditto. It sounds completely incongruous, and a little nuts but the book Fletcher has described as a “kung fu rock-n-roll road trip” is totally punk and a complete flip on the traditional notion of a superhero comic.
Annie Wu (Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye) has a staggeringly good sense of the audio-visual in this debut issue. Her minor redesign of the titular character pays tribute to the past (let’s face it, she’s always been a little punky), but works effortlessly within the rock tour context. Layouts maintain the aesthetic, flipping between rapid-fire close-ups and clever cutaways of the tour bus. Scenes are framed within online videos, zines or simply disembodied heads floating against a empty background. Action scenes will go for pages without dialogue, and you can almost hear the songs from Wu’s playlist floating through your head. (Handy hint: listen to them while reading). It’s here that colour artist Lee Loughridge’s strengths come into play, using a similar approach to his work on the equally punk art of Wes Craig in Deadly Class.
Bottom Line: A punk-rock spin on Dazzler, but with edge. Put aside any prejudices or cynicism you may have about this reinvention. It’s a punk (re)vision that is completely in the spirit of the character, with the right balance of ass-kickery and hooks to lure in new audiences. Put this one on your reading list immediately.
One of the strangest titles to get a series in the New DC Universe, DOOMED comes with the B-movie premise of a university student infected with the Doomsday virus, turning him into an unlikely hero with the body of a beast. Scott Lobdell tips his hat to Spider-Man as star science student Reiser gets an internship at S.T.A.R. Labs, but accidentally inhales toxic particles when he is put on cleaning duty instead of a project. Setting us up immediately for a classic superhero premise, one that we know from the sneak peeks results in him being seen as a misunderstood monster, it’s got an incredibly surprising sense of humour to it. From the wonderfully dotty Aunt Belle, who Reiser checks in on, to the fact that Clark Kent is his neighbour, there are so many throwaway visual gags and casual references that distinguish this from most start-up heroes. Fernandez’s art even feels like it is from the Spider-Verse at times, a mix of optimism and impending (wait for it) doom.
Bottom Line: DOOMED gets off to a promising start, taking a familiar set-up and infusing it with enough humour and enthusiasm to give us good reason to care about this new character. It’s an outright fun book, and like many of the other debuts out this week, is willing to do something new with an existing idea.
Doctor Fate #1
For most of the New 52, Doctor Fate was a raving loon over on Earth 2. So with the New DC Universe, Paul Levitz‘s DOCTOR FATE adds another name to the lengthy list of wielders of the Helmet of Fate. DC adds to its diversity with Egyptian-American medical student Khalid Nassour, who has an amusingly frank relationship with his immigrant family not dissimilar to that of Ms. Marvel‘s Kamala Khan. Convinced he is going mad when museum artefacts and animals start talking to him, his life is about to change. As the world begins to flood around him, we learn that Anubis seeks to use the floods to cleanse the Earth, and Amun-Ra requires Fate to take up his mantle and combat it, This shouldn’t work quite as well as it does, but the combination of Egyptian mysticism, and willingness to self-mock in the face of the apocalypse is utterly charming. Known for his work on My Faith in Frankie (Vertigo) and this year’s Eisner nominated The Shadow Hero, artist Sonny Liew depicts Fate like never before, a style that is often described as “sketchy” and “quirky”, like a slightly more twisted version of Bill Watterson. Loughridge goes suitably nuts with the colours when called for, restricting himself to a simpler mosaic of gold, blue, grey and brown on most other pages.
Bottom Line: A perfect jumping-on point for anybody not familiar with previous versions of Doctor Fate, or simply keen to find out what this cat in the golden helmet is on about. A storybook journey with some dark turns, it’s mostly a lighthearted adventure from the days of matinee serials, and promises to be a ripping yarn.
Harley Quinn and Power Girl #1
It’s fair to say that Conner and Palmiotti have taken the two leads in this book and made them their own in the last decade, and it was delightful to see them cross paths in the Harley Quinn arc in late 2014. Last week we lamented that Starfire was a little too much along the same formula as the previous works of this dynamic duo. For this limited series, it returns as a direct sequel to last year’s “Power Outage” arc, which was a kind of parody of Marvel’s cosmic universe, complete with a character named Manos who wielded an infinity toe ring! After encountering a cross between Gollum and a horny Yoda, the duo fight all manners of creatures with might and “extraordinary ordnance”, while being drawn towards the Lord Vartox (a character also encountered in the previous series). There’s still a sense of familiarity to it all, with Conner and Palmiotti not drifting too far from their winning formula, and people who haven’t picked up the previous series might feel as though they’ve already missed a bunch of material. Nevertheless, it’s a caper with two characters that the creators clearly enjoy indulging in, and it plays through to the audience as well. Stephane Roux does a fine job of matching the styles that Conner herself and Harley Quinn artist Chad Hardin have set down, while frequent Conner collaborator Paul Mounts provides a continuity to the bright and saturated colours that are needed in a story of this nature.
Bottom Line: It’s Power Girl and Harley Quinn running around the cosmos getting into fights and adventures. This really is a no-brainer: if you like either character (or better yet, both!), there will be very few reasons to turn away from this mini-series. Even if it doesn’t have a scratch-‘n’-sniff element to it.
Justice League of America #1
While the “Darkseid War” rages in the pages of Justice League, the brand new title JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (the fourth series to bear that name) – or simply JLA – kicks off in its own massive style. Taking full advantage of the post-Convergence world where good stories don’t rely on whether Batman is in a robot suit or if Superman is actually finding out some “Truth” on the road. Both in the writing stakes and the art, Hitch opens with killing off Superman (repeatedly), while the rest of the League battle Parasite. This is, as we slowly find out throughout this intriguing debut, simply the start of a bigger plot of which Hitch is only just showing us the tip. Fully versed in delivering epic art on the likes of Marvel’s Age of Ultron, the “end of everything” opening is classic blockbuster Hitch. Like the rest of the issue, it is a glimpse at something bigger that will pay off down the line, with what begins as a mystery for Superman developing into a puzzle for the entire JLA. Either way, Hitch has us hooked on this new DC series.
Bottom Line: The great thing about the post-Convergence world is not just a willingness to tell different types of stories, but a variety of stories utilising the same characters. JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA proves there is room for more than one Justice League book on the block.
Martian Manhunter #1
DC Comics, Rob Williams (writer), Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Gabe Eltaeb (artists)
After being passed around the various satellite versions of the Justice League and Stormwatch during the four years of the New 52, J’onn J’onzz is a character that has been searching for an identity in the latest incarnation of the DC Universe. Which is perhaps what makes MARTIAN MANHUNTER a difficult read for a first issue, in that it is also a book that is searching for its own identity. With several concurrent storylines – from a plane rescue, an improbable murder, an eight-foot tale Martian named Mr. Biscuits and a cat burglar who witnesses another slaying – it feels a little all over the place at times. The unifying thread appears to be a white Martian, although if you did not know that already, it would merely be a horrifying series of violent imagery. Speaking of which, Barrows does a terrific job of conveying MM’s shape-shifting abilities without the need for lengthy exposition. Within pages he is in relative humanoid form, a gnarled version of that and a full dragon in flight. He and Williams have a poignant moment after the plane rescue where a still morphing MM scares one of the children he’s just rescued. “I am not a monster,” are the only words as he flies away with his distinctively heavy brow.
Bottom Line: MARTIAN MANHUNTER fans will undoubtedly be overjoyed to see their favourite green shape-shifter (possibly after Beast Boy) get his own series again at last. However, it is not the most accessible beast just yet, but with any luck it will morph into something more user friendly in the coming months. Still one to watch.
DC Comics, Mark Russell (writer), Ben Caldwell, Jeremy Lawson (artists)
PREZ shares its title with the 1970s comics by Captain America co-creator Joe Simon and artist Jerry Grandenetti (Will Eisner’s The Spirit). The original series followed Prez Rickard, so named by his mother because she believed he would be president one day. Following a constitutional change, he is elected president as a teen, where he confronted everything from right-wing militia to vampires in the White House. This PREZ is set to follow Beth Ross, who will become the first teenage President of the USA. In an age where voting can be done by Twitter, she becomes an overnight sensation as “Corn Dog Girl” when a video showing Beth getting her hair caught in a corn dog fryer goes viral. Unlike the ‘Sneak Peek’ pages released last month, the first issue of Russell’s 12-issue maxi-series takes its time world building, and we do not actually reach the presidency in by the end of this issue. Instead, he introduces us to a world of social media gone mad, an extension of Warren Ellis’ future in Transmetropolitan, if Ellis had been given advance access to Twitter and Facebook. It’s supported by gorgeous Ben Caldwell artwork, whose background as a cartoonist and on several Harley Quinn specials shines through here.The frames always feel busy with movement, but never cluttered. It’s a complete world that he’s co-built with colourist Jeremy Lawson, who uses vivid shades to make this all feel like still frames from animation.
Bottom Line: Unlike previous attempts at obscure retro revivals (such as The Green Team), PREZ works right out of the gate, taking its time to build up its world a panel at a time. It’s almost a shame that this is a finite series, as we could foresee this expanding indefinitely.
Robin: Son of Batman #1
DC Comics, Patrick Gleason (writer), Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, John Kalisz (artists)
Grant Morrison created a character that was destined to die, and over the course of several series, manoeuvred him into a point where that death would have the most impact and meaning. Then, as is the nature of these things, he was resurrected in a convoluted plot that saw Batman going to Apokolips or something. None of that really matters as the jet-setting Robin, now fully embracing his destiny as the Son of Batman and battling his inner demons, goes into full 1990s mode. In fact, if you put Chuck Dixon’s name on the credits, it wouldn’t come as a shock in the slightest. Where Gleason really excels in this issue is in the art department, and his pencils are nothing less than jaw-dropping. The button-nosed Robin might be as cute as he is kick-ass, but an early splash page of him knocking out the teeth of an aggressor has the action-comic timing of Chris Burnham’s work with the character on Batman Incorporated. A sequence in which Robin rides his “Man-Bat” creature Goliath off the balcony of a citadel is breathtaking, but can just as flexibly be tempered by nightmare visions of hellish landscapes.
Bottom Line: This book is unquestionable gorgeous to look at, but it also definitely has the scope of a mini-series. Damian Wayne was always more interesting when defined in relation to his father, a relationship that made up most of Morrison’s run. Cut off from that, it becomes just another story about yet another resurrected Robin.
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