Welcome to another edition of Last Call Comics. Here, as we continually bolster AIPT’s weekly comics coverage, we catch any titles that might’ve fallen through the cracks. Or those books that we might not cover but still deserve a little spotlight. Either way, it’s a chance to explore more comics, generate some novel insights, and maybe add to everyone’s to-be-read pile.
Once more, happy New Comic Book Day to everyone.
The Vigil #5
There’s a genius to The Vigil that’s nigh insidious. The last two issues, for instance, have seemingly been spotlights on Saya and Dodge, respectively. They were moments to build the story of this secret super squad, sure. But mostly, they were a way to explore these dynamic characters and what truths or insights they have to offer in our new understanding of modern hero stories as this larger allegory for our bonkers times. But with issue #5, writer Ram V has unveiled his grandest master stroke to date: the very origins of The Vigil.
I dare not spoil a thing, but it’s perhaps the most Planetary-esque move by this book so far — a massive, gut-wrenching conspiracy unveiled that’ll leave you feeling unnerved and possibly disgusted. And it’s such a delightfully wonderful experience at that! Ram V’s work to shed some light doesn’t just feel like an expert bit of storytelling magic, but it feels so perfectly aligned with the scope of this book as something that cuts to the heart of the DC universe as to fully expose these darker truths and concepts at its core. It’s a bold and inventive move that feels like a proper way to effect this team.
A rather huge part of that success is that this issue is still just as much of a character study as issue #4 and #5, as this time we focus on the life and resulting drama of the (sinister) boy genius Castle. We don’t just see what makes that little creep tick, but how it ties into and enhances the story being told by our good Dr. Sankaran and the ways in which it absolutely wrecks the rest of the team.
In that sense, I think it helps ground some of the results that spin off from his insidious yarn while also creating a kind of partnership between Sankaran and Castle, which only lets us know the duo that much better (while setting up an appearance for another, still mysterious player). If you somehow walk away from this issue feeling not totally icky, then count yourself lucky — the rest of us will be reeling from this metaphysical madness for some time as it literally changes the shape and face of this book in one genius instance.
It’s an accomplishment made all the more impressive thanks to the art team (artists Sid Kotian and Lalit Kumar Sharma alongside colorist Rain Beredo). In a story that’s decidedly heavy on the exposition and narration, they managed to create a suite of visuals that play up the espionage-tinged drama, create the maddening visuals of some alternate dimension, and cast the team in a very grounded, very angry light. It’s a smorgasbord of moments big and small, bloody and all-too-human that feels really important and engaging without taking too much away from the slow build and burn of the story and the Sankaran’s masterful monologues.
In a story with trans-dimensional body horror and universe-building via cognition, the visuals never manage to mitigate the sheer, knife-between-the-ribs intimacy that makes this issue so deeply effective. If anything, it lets the mind wander to some weird places before we’re dropped back into the very intense moment unfolding right in front of your continually slack-jawed face.
It’s my hope that I’m not overselling issue #5’s sheer importance — it feels like a quiet thing that creeps its way through your tear ducts to change your brain chemistry with a really inventive, slightly meta spin on superheroes. It’s an achievement for the creators in building a new and daring corner of DC, and one that I hope will reflect back onto other stories as this tale continues to grow in new and unexpected ways. I said it before, but, seriously, you’re not ready for this one at all.
Final Thought: Really and truly: this is essential reading for all comics fans.
The Forged #4
When it debuted back in March, The Forged was revolutionary despite being wildly familiar. The magic came as the creative team — writers Eric Trautmann and Greg Rucka and artist Mike Henderson — infused this story of badass space marines (the titular Forged) and first contact with a robust visual identity and inventive lore (the whole vibe and hierarchy of the Empress) to make it stand out. More than that, though, it was clear that this story was a tried and true love letter to great sci-fi a la Heavy Metal, connecting the book to a powerful lineage while blazing big, bold, and boisterous new ground.
But it’s not all exploding warships and laser chain guns. This time around, after having traveled to the heart of the Empress’ palace via T-Space, the squad (Victory, CrazyJo, Hap, Pusher, and Harpo) face the worst scourge of them all: palace intrigue. And it’s a speed and pacing that really serves this book well as the team branches into a new arc and hopefully recruit some new readers.
From a visual standpoint, it gives Henderson (joined here by colorist Nolan Woodard and letterer Ariana Maher) a chance to really extend and grow this world. Sure, the alien fights were cool — like a psychedelic Starship Troopers — but there’s so much more power and personality baked directly into the look and feel of this world. Be it the “New Gods on mescaline” of the imperial palace, or the slightly cleaner take on Aliens franchise that informs “The Castra” facility, we get a really familiar but nonetheless inventive series of locales. It’s not about breaking ground, per say, but presenting the best versions of some architecture and aesthetics you’ve seen before, remixing them with new passion and intensity to define something about this world that’s rich and fantastical and nonetheless gritty and accessible. And that shorthand form of identity helps a ton with this specific chapter of the story.
While the members of Scimitar-3 are best suited for smashing alien baddies, they face a more nuanced and sinister problem as they find themselves stuck in the extreme machinations of General Davian. Again, I don’t want to spoil too much of the issue given it’s about really effective world-building, but let’s just say this is sort of like outer space Game of Thrones, and Davian is clearly our Petyr Baelish. Are the team out of their depths amid this empire-altering power play? Totally, and that’s the point. This arc seems to be interested, as I’d said before, in building out the world, and part of that is to give them new challenges and things to deal with that really test the team’s overall dynamic. And in doing so, this issue especially pulls the curtain back, and we learn little tidbits about the team (like why Harpo remains mute) that grow them from a slightly cliched platoon of space marines into nuanced and dynamic heroes in the midst of a giant conspiracy of sorts. Plus, when the fighting does come around, it’s going to be super sweet.
If issue #4 accomplished nothing else, it was to shift what this book was capable of in the eyes of readers. To evolve the book in a way to maintain that buzz and excitement of the first arc while building the look and feel of it in general. It’s a bigger book now, even as some things remain undeveloped for the time being, and one that has real layers. In a big way, that connects it even further to other grand sci-fi franchises, and makes everything feel all the more important. Let’s hope the book can further grow its core world and its characters, as there’s so much here for a title to entertain and re-energize the genre.
Final Thought: Let’s get ready for palace intrigue!
With issue #2 of Scrapper, I noted how wrong I was in my initial assessment of #1. That the creative team — writers Cliff Bleszinski and Alex de Campi and artist Sandy Jarrell — had pivoted into from a slightly uncertain start into a charming enough tale of our titular canine hero battling a nasty corporation in some pseudo-dystopia. Sure, a talking dog is still a little trite, but one with the charm of a Millennial Balto or something is totes working.
With issue #3, the question becomes if that shift was a mere fluke, or if this book had truly found its footing (but with dog paws). And I remain mostly unsure about that query.
Because, on the “negative” side of the spectrum, I was somewhat underwhelmed by this issue’s impact versus what it actually tried to do. I won’t go into too much detail, but Scrapper, Tank, and the rest of their friends tried to make a play against S.M.I.T.E.’s nasty experiments — only for it to go mostly sideways. I think this shift and sense of clarity early on gave the story a real sense of momentum (which feels essential given the mostly playful, lighthearted nature of this story) while creating some real odds for our pal Scrapper.
The issue then is, while it was executed well enough, I couldn’t help but feel like I wanted more. Maybe it was a touch too paint-by-numbers, or that mostly we already knew that we needed to have this kind of momentum swing to stop “super dog with a super advanced collar.” But it felt like the thing that had to happen, and that mostly was acceptable as opposed to being downright compelling. Am I excited for what happens to a down-and-out Scrapper as he continues his fight? Sure, but there’s also the sense we’re locked in a pattern and that we’re just waiting for him to roar back in grand fashion in the next act/chapter.
To an extent, the art tried its best to counter some of that “predictable,” slightly underwhelming momentum with some really solid displays. There’s really simple moments here — Scrapper showing off his super collar, for instance — that exemplify the charm and nostalgic tendencies of this book. And Jarell’s work manages to further mine that old-school, vaguely pulp art style in a way that respects that tradition and lets this book blaze its own trail. (I’m thinking of the climax/the ending, where there’s so much emotion on top of great sci-fi a la 2000 AD and even tinges of horror that play up the shocking twists and turns here.) Was the art a saving grace? Not really, but it didn’t have to be — it’s been a source of endless style and substance across these three issues, and it tries to build the world in such a way that it accomplishes things the narrative and characters alone can’t always do. (Again, as an example, the layers of this world, and how cartoonish talking animals are and yet how grounded and gritty this world feels regardless.)
So, TL;DR: I think I’m mostly going to stick around into issue #4. I think if there’s some overly predictable tendencies abounding here that I can forgive thanks to the inherent charm and joy (and silly threads) that this book exemplifies. Will that be a thing to keep me through issue #6 (aka the finale)? Maybe not, but as issue #3 demonstrated, it’s maybe less about the journey and more the cutesy courage of our canine companion, and how that speaks to us above most things. Plus, maybe an old dog can still learn some few storytelling tricks to further balance things out.
Final Thought: With weirdness and heart galore, this dog mostly has its day.
Wild’s End #4
There comes that moment in every horror story where the heart is revealed. It’s that conversation or otherwise moment of quiet where we see the larger themes of the story, and what the creators are ultimately trying to express to readers/viewers. (See this bit in Thirteen Ghosts.) We’ve reached that point with Wild’s End, as Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard use issue #4 to unveil the story’s deeper humanity.
That’s not to say that this book hasn’t already been deeply human since page one — in a world dominated by anthropomorphic animals, it’s been utterly sincere and wildly approachable in that regard. Rather, as Skipper, Roddy, Edmund, Flo, and Bernie ready to steal explosives to bring down the alien lamp posts, it’s Skipper who breaks it all down. This story’s really about two things: an allegory for war and perhaps the fighting spirit of humanity, as well as how we sort of don’t have it figured out in the slightest. (Those seem deeply related, yeah?) It’s a distinctly unassuming, somewhat deliberate message, but one that enhances the look and feel of this book. It is the thing that pushes this book from the endearing to the realm of important.
Once that moment happens, and we begin to see this story through a specific lens (even one that doesn’t come off as this overly demanding framework), things really click into place. We see Skipper in a new light, and his mix of sagely wisdom and uncertainty feel really important to extending the book’s key themes. Edwin, who has always come off a little lost so far, emerges as a more nuanced and complicated character with something to add to the action and the themes here. Even Roddy, who came off as a slightly one-note villain, may be a little deeper than that (while possibly still being a possible source of tension and whatnot). It was mostly subtle but it felt like the world sort of coalesced in a way — and we got certain potential events and story threads fall into place as characters started to take their final forms.
I would have liked to see a little more of this kind of “evolution” from the visuals, but I also understand why that might not have been the case. The look of this book has been solid throughout its early run, and Culbard has built an identity and an aesthetic that toes the various genre and aesthetic influences here. The end result continues to blend horror and Wes Anderson vibes and ’70s cinema in a really intriguing way. If this issue did anything, then, it was just to show off more of what was genuinely good — the anachronistic design of the quarry, for instance, and the way the city blurs quaintness and some slightly unapproachable tendencies. The biggest feat — beyond a dope swarm of lampposts — may have been seeing through the “eyes” of a an alien lamp, which was cool but mostly felt like another proper accomplishment for this book’s ever-developing narrative.
Which is to say, this issue was all about revelation and understanding. A way to provide information and insight in a way that added to the story and this world while never taking away from the tension and overall pacing. It told us so much and yet let the story remain shrouded to keep us moving right alongside the survivors. There’s still more triumphs and tragedies waiting down the line, but whatever happens, it’s going to be a properly thrilling jaunt into the unknown.
Final Thought: This tale continues to invade our very hearts and minds.
Sirens of the City #3
It must be hard to be Layla, the hero of Sirens of the City. You’re young and pregnant; you have no mother or sense of where you really came from; and you’re knee-deep in the world of the supernatural as a Siren. And issue #3 doesn’t really help with the sheer madness that’s enveloping her life.
There’s some real tension with her burgeoning relationship with Mari (who is becoming a really great and truly multifaceted secondary hero); her “boyfriend” Rome is both helping the situation and also further complicating in some specific ways (Rome is an interesting encapsulation of the tensions and threads at the core of this book); and the long lost mother may be rearing her head. And that’s not even mentioning the stuff with the king of the succubus and the vampire lady and the mound of cocaine!
All of that’s to say that this book is really starting to stir up a swarm around Layla, and it makes for some really great action (more on that a little later) as well as a more textured experience. But the thought did occur to me in reading this issue that, as was my experience with the debut, things can feel a little overwhelming even for the reader. Writer Joanne Starer has lined up so many moving parts, and this issue especially magnified everything by a few degrees. While that makes for a pace that’s ultimately more exciting, there’s no denying that keeping track of who is where and doing what becomes a bit of a chore.
It helps, then, to think about this not just as a metaphor for teen pregnancy, and an exploration of that through a socio-political lens, but as a kind of facsimile of that experience. I’ve never been a teen mom before, but the madness and anxiety and uncertainty of this story feels like a proper recreation of that. In that way, it both informs some of the story’s tornado-like tendencies while allowing us to connect deeper with Layla. And it’s through that connection that things almost even out, and we have a chance to let some of these big moments resonate more effectively. It doesn’t help fully address the sense of chaos, but it does empower the reader enough to take charge in what role they play in parsing through this layered drama.
And speaking of things that help, the art of Khary Randolph continues to be perhaps this book’s core strength. Not only did he get lots of chance to show off — from a bonkers exorcism to a giant-sized Siren battle — but Randolph once more proves that his approach and larger aesthetic inform the book’s messaging and fosters this novel space for the story to dip and weave in terms of balancing the events within. It’s the visuals that give us a shorthand for how all this madness affects Layla, or the ways in which Rome is struggling to do right by her. It’s the tiny moments and grand gestures that build a world where we can enter and try and forge some important connections. Only the best kinds of artists can do that, and Randolph manages to take a supporting role to the story’s deliberate machinations while dazzling us with color and perspective through his inventive work. It’s a lot easier to follow the arc of this world from how it looks but it also reminds us there’s so much more power in a narrative that’s working its butt off to be diverse and still relatable.
I can’t say I fully enjoy the pained struggles of Layla — it’s my hope that things work out for her. And that, I think, is the greatest sign that you’ve got a solid protagonist: when you want them to have their cake and eat it too, even when their struggles are so vital and well done. There’s still likely more troubles for our young hero, but if they keep being this robust and compelling to watch, then it’ll be worth the extended effort to connect to this deeply rich world.
Final Thought: Life is pain, but it sure is super interesting.
Hexagon Bridge #1
It’s be easy to get caught up in the sheer spectacle of Hexagon Bridge. I don’t know how he operated artistically, but given the painstaking detail and careful approach, it feels like writer-artist Richard Blake spent 100 hours on each of the many pages/set pieces.
These grand, brain-melting works of abstract geography give us dazzling views into some truly alien and unfathomably grievous dimension. It’s a place where gravity doesn’t matter and our ideas of the very universe seem to be null and void. You can waste as much time as you want (literal hours) visiting with these little snapshots, trying to sort out their parameters and assign meaning to it all. And if that’s all you took away from this book, it’d be a truly meaningful experience — a way to understand the power of the imagination and our ability to dream up new places as a way to evoke nostalgia and build new bridges into some unseen future.
But lest we forget there’s a real story behind all this visual magic, as a young girl, Adley, and her robot friend, Staden, must traverse this world in order to save her parents, Elena and Jacob. It’s when we drill down to this emotional core that the book really comes alive.
Do you need it to really enjoy the sheer majesty of Blake’s creations? No, but it’s so much better with it. Adley’s presence doesn’t just inform why we should care about the two parents but also provides a keener understanding of the world and what this dimension might actually mean. (It’s early but I see it as this kind of unexplored dream space that is somehow informed by the precognitive and psychic powers of our young hero.) And while it hasn’t been explored just yet, the Adley-Staden connection feels important — especially when he’s the one out in the “new” world searching and she’s back in reality dealing with the fallout of it all. That juxtaposition feels significant, and might speak to some grander truths about this entire situation.
It’s also very much the human aspect that defines and undercuts some of the visual magic — there’s this massive sci-fi dimension and yet the houses all look plain and decidedly from our time. That bit of disconnect speaks to some of the themes I mentioned but also what this book is ultimately concerned with. And so far that seems to be trying to give shape to what this world really means, and how our tiny human context shapes and enhances its robust beauty and existentially stirring capabilities. That this world exists without us but it’s all the more appealing and unerring in its grandeur because of the confines we try to place around it.
In that way, this series feels like some deeply approachable story about our own search for universal meaning, or the importance of teeny human affairs amid an uncaring universe. It never bashes you in the face with such themes or ideas but rather lets you discover them in every gorgeous and surreal corner. And I for one can’t wait to spend even more tim dutifully exploring the true depths of these profound landscapes.
Final Thought: A life-affirming, physics-smashing family story.
The Lonesome Hunters: Wolf Child #3
Maybe it speaks to something about modern comics, but shorter runs or miniseries often get the short end of the stick. Luckily, artist/writer Tyler Crook has made the most of it with The Lonesome Hunters: Wolf Child — and that’s extra true of issue #3 (out of a mere four dang issues).
Sure, there’s a sense that this issue feels a little stunted, but that’s only because it has a few deliberate goals to attain. Mostly, this is really the first time where we’re more acutely aware that this isn’t so much another story or sequel but a continuation of the larger arc around getting rid of Howard’s giant magic sword. In that way, this chapter connects back in a more dedicated and meaningful way to that first arc, and some of the same messages (of second chances and making new friendships out of loss) resonate even brighter than ever. It’s also the way in which the wolf and her child connect back to the larger mythology of the world — they’re no longer outliers but perhaps another notch in the sword’s handle (while still feeling singular in their own right). That just makes for a bigger world, and one that we feel as if we’re exploring right alongside Howard and Lupe.
And speaking of Lupe, she’s pretty much the star of this issue in some significant ways. I don’t want to spoil too much, but she helps connect a lot of threads and facilitate a bulk of the action. That makes her perhaps more of a dynamic figure than Howard, and that’s a really vital part of their shifting dynamic and also playing with some of the bigger motifs here (like Howard’s search for a second chance and to perhaps make up for his own inactions as keeper of the sword). Lupe does in one issue some big things Howard hasn’t in 100 years or so, and while the impact of that ultimately awaits in the finale, there’s no denying the significance of it — Lupe continues her emergence as the main character of sorts and as the driving force for this book’s overt sense of magic and humanity.
In fact, even from a visual standpoint, Lupe has a massive role to play. While Crook’s style is always super expressive, there’s just something about the way Lupe emotes that really draws out the pain, desperation, joy, longing, etc. that she experiences. And having that robust and vivid identity from a visual standpoint only pinpoints her real value all the more, and it also helps extend just how visceral this book is at its core. This idea that under all the magic and overarching intensity, it’s ultimately a story about how we engage with and experience the world and the ways we remain vulnerable to other people and phenomena. If nothing else, Crook also captures fight scenes better than many others, distilling this sense of uncertainty and primal energy across people’s faces and bodies in such a way that you’re drawn into the moment. They’re not arbitrary instances but a thing happening that you’re very much apart of at all times.
And that speaks to a larger strength of this issue: complete immersion. For instance, there’s an opening bit that explores Howard’s origins before dropping us right into the story proper. But it’s not ever wasteful or indulgent; if anything, it only ever makes this world feel bigger and more complicated. And when that happens, as emotions and themes swirl, this book cuts through it all to reveal a deeply human story that does as much to guide us as merely to engage and comfort.
Final Thought: This story might spring on you just like the wolf.
Savage Squad 6 #3
In issue #2 of Savage Squad 6, I made a most profound discovery: this is a g-d horror story! I mean, yes, it’s also about a rag-tag group of soldiers on a mission in a kind of post-apocalyptic Chernobyl trying to steal nuclear fuel, but it operates within the framework and structure of a your standard slasher flick. Not only because we got giant mutant wolves in #2, but the squad of six (Cap, Mags, Shells, Rosie, Hauser, and Nat) is now down two members (Shells and Mags).
Issue #3 really doubles down on that same approach, albeit with a bit more dedication and intention (and bigger results). I dare not reveal who of the team we lose, but let’s just say it’s a substantial loss comparatively. But more than that, these deaths are a little more choreographed, for lack of a better word, and thus we get some time to really engage with these characters and grapple with each and what their loss might represent (even if it comes right at the moment of their demise).
A big part of that is the art (from Dalts Dalton and Geraldo Filho), which continues to develop in some new and novel ways. Whereas before we got something like the cool mega wolves, we get a few more varied set pieces here, including heaps of blood and viscera like Quentin Tarantino directed Empire Strikes Back and a sweet section with zip lines. Through these moments, we get to connect with the rage and desperation of the squad in a way that’s not always afforded through their conversations and the like. While that may feel a little one-sided in terms of the scope of things, and also somewhat limiting, this is an action book and that’s sort of the best way to know these soldiers.
Still, I think the art does find some new ways to balance the book’s grit and heart in some important ways — having that imperfect look of anger in someone’s face, for instance, continues to be a hugely visceral experience given that singular tone here. The look of this book continues to be quite intriguing: even as it feels rough in some areas, there’s a joy and playfulness under the surface, and that continues to be a way to maintain personality amid the carnage and explosions.
Ultimately, we like horror tropes like this not cause they’re groundbreaking but because they force us to empathize and engage with the people on screen before they may get shuffled off this mortal coil. We also like horror because it makes the most of these huge, over-the-top, hyper bloody scenes to foster a level of intimacy. And this book has done all of that thus far, including doubling down across issue #3. It doesn’t exactly mitigate some of the robust genre-ness of it all but it does make it seem like there’s a grander plan at play here. I’ll keep following it as long as there’s at least one soul left to cheer on.
Final Thought: Death is fine when it really means a thing.
Guardians of the Galaxy #6
Through my own sheer ignorance, or perhaps some poorly-worded solicitations, I’d assumed issue #5 was meant to be the proper origin of the dreaded Grootfall. Instead, what we got was some more space battles, some heated arguments and character development from the remaining Guardians, and a cliffhanger as they were sucked up into the gaping maw of the dreaded Grootfall. Was I a tad disappointed? Sure, but it was still a truly important issue — a solid bit of bridge-building for the next chapter. But let’s be honest: if you’ve been reading this book, you’ve been waiting, hungry and ravenous, for the real origin.
And, boy oh boy, was it more than worth the wait.
As if I could ever spoil just what actually happened to lead to Grootfall. But what I can still say is that writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing have really outdone themselves in forging a narrative that both highlights the individual members (and their respective issues/trauma) and aligns them around some profound shared grief. Through a really inventive take on the flashback, we see the role every Guardian played in Groot’s, let’s say, downfall, and how it reflects some fundamental flaw (perceived or otherwise). Be it Nebula’s outsider status, or Rocket’s regret and apprehension, it’s a powerful exploration not just of the moment but why it happened and what it ultimately means for not just the universe but the very core of the Guardians. And it kept us right there in every moment of this agonizing ordeal.
However, I did briefly think during my initial reading that the whole concept sort of ignored Groot. Luckily, it doesn’t really. (The crux of it certainly emphasizes our large tree friend, and spins a bit of lore into the fold for good measure.) It’s largely about how much Groot matters to the team and what significance that holds from these characters’ ever-shifting perspectives. It’s a powerful and profound instance of poignant storytelling, and an issue that nails the essence of these heroes. It sort of reads like a funeral, with each character delivering eulogies, and it’s hard not to engage in the deep catharsis of this extended mourning. Groot, then, is a symbol for our own mortality and need for connection.
And to best capture the massive scope of this singular moment, they went ahead and got two guests in artist Alex Lins and colorist KJ Diaz. Be it a logistical issue or not (regular artists Kev Walker and Matt Hollingsworth have done great work thus far), the team of Lins and Diaz made perfect sense for the specific demands of this issue. Lins, especially, has a style that’s quaint and fun but never any less capable of capturing some greater intensity — and that provided heaps of levity and life in a big, serious issue that needed it in spades. Diaz, meanwhile, brought a lot of the same energy while respecting the tone throughout — his colors capture the vividness of this surreal story structure and still feel appropriately somber and thoughtful.
In a more general sense, the visuals accomplish a few specific things that felt vital. The recurring use of the flower, for instance, drives home Groot’s role while keeping the focus on everyone’s respective expressions. There were also so many cleverly laid out and structured pages — not only were they efficient and super clever but each one aligned to offer something about the characters and helped spell out some of their ideas and intents in decidedly more subtle ways. It felt like the visuals worked as hard as the story itself to marry all these goals and ideas, and it felt like this magical experience you lived through as much as you read.
I think flashbacks get a bad rap sometimes as they’re sometimes just a cheap device to draw out stories. But here, this was treated with the subtle care and intention of any other moment in this book, and it lent a lot of heft and power. It wasn’t so much a quiet moment before the action picks up with the recently-swallowed (gross, sorry) Guardians but a maelstrom of emotion and history colliding together. We understand the team in new ways, and see just how pivotal this moment is compared to their many other adventures. Grootfall is no mere gimmick but a huge moment in the team’s story, and it lands with the expected gravitas of a spaceship parking on your face.
Final Thought: Shut up, you’re wailing into a pillow.
Issue #5 of Terrorwar was, and I say this without (too much) exaggeration, a rather big deal. It recaptured some of the potential of the first couple issues; gave us a decent twist about how the Terrors exist/experience the world; and generally made the story of Muhammad Cho and company feel all the more vivid and lively.
Issue #6, however, wasn’t exactly the same kind of revelatory experience.
A lot of that had to do with some instances of clearly missed potential. The art from Dave Acosta and Jay Leisten has always felt really vital in this book (perfectly terrifying while fostering a lot of the important ’90s nostalgia vibes), but it lacked some of that oomph of prior issues. Even as we got more Terrors doing some especially terrorizing things, it all just felt a little flat. Sure, a giant terror-pterodactyl (terror-dactyl?) is cool, but I guess expected a little more after the body horror madness of the previous issue.
And it’s a shame because a proper emphasis on meaningful monster action could have come at a time when we’re really understanding the monsters in some new ways. A time when we’re trying to ground their role and value in a way only teased in #5 — yet that’s only mostly attempted in this issue’s conclusion. I’m not sure where that shift is headed, but if it somehow recontextualizes these baddies in alignment with the book’s “them versus us” motif, then it’ll be a truly brilliant move.
And speaking of that aforementioned theme, this issue was the first time in a minute that some of those class-centric notions/undertones really got a chance to play out. In fact, an event at the issue’s center lays the groundwork for some bigger moves in that particular department, and it’s a huge chance to drive home this book’s interest in classism and sweeping change for the working class. There’s still some hesitation on that front but we’re clearly in the upswing as the team could be assembling the path forward to a powerful dissection, and perhaps more importantly, a direction that feels truly significant (i.e., this book promises to show us some idea of the union building among the classes that’s necessary to truly stop the true Terrors.)
But for now a lot of thought remains mostly hypothetical, and we have to wait to see if things happen in a way to really push this book toward its larger potential. I have just enough faith given the arc of these last two issues, as each respectively made moves to draw the circle closer around the book’s true strengths (monsters and monster-centric analogies). Let’s just hope #7 is more awe inspiring than mostly good/alright.
Final Thought: Nothing scarier than a good enough story.
Junior Baker The Righteous Faker #1
Back in 2011/2012, Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston teamed up for a book called Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker. About a retired superhero coming out of retirement, that mostly irreverent tome featured Jay Leno and Dick Cheney, orgies, and murdered supervillains. It was well received enough, even if it didn’t exactly rank the highest among Casey’s many wonderful, superhero-dissecting stories (see Godland). Now, Casey returns with a kind of sequel in Junior Baker the Righteous Faker (alongside artist Ryan Quackenbush).
So, what exactly connects this back to the first series? Well, so far both men are named Baker. Only this fella, Daniel “Dizzy” Baker, is not a hero but a “Gonzo journalist” who primarily covers the extraterrestrial and the downright weird. And as such, this book doesn’t really have the same kind of tone — it’s a lot less exaggerated and instead focuses on cerebral, vaguely metaphysical notions of truth and reality and dreams. Oh, and all the superheroes seemed to have died or left in some kind of Crisis-like catastrophe. So, as far as sequels go, at least for now, it seems like an odd choice, even if I think the very premise and approach is a nice way to ground and extend that other story.
Fan though I may be, I think some of Casey’s work here is only so-so. I love that he takes a more visceral and grounded approach to these often meta stories — like a gruffer, less elegant Jonathan Hickman, really. Only, I just think some of the issues here have been explored and dissected to death elsewhere, and it’s hard to feel overly excited about something that, again only far, is basically “protagonist may be losing grip with reality” — even as there’s some really solid tension with a metaphysical spirit guide that enters Dizzy’s life. The real upside, though, is Dizzy himself; he’s a good mix of charming and defeated and that balance feels compelling as he makes his way through this massive existential mystery.
But truly the upside of this book, and what makes some of the more “predictable” subject matter easier to swallow, is the art from Quackenbush. His style really blends the overly gritty and dirty with the psychedelic — it creates these massive backgrounds and scenes that play with your perceptions and cast doubts in the fabric of reality in any given moment. The “magical” guest that interacts with Dizzy, for instance, feels like perfect representation of this aesthetic, and makes us second guess our own beliefs in a way that maybe the story alone can’t really begin to accomplish.
The art has that novel ability to remind us of this slightly exaggerated reality, which is really important when this whole book is focused on making us believe in a world that’s grappling with the latent magic of heroes, and the color and life that’s removed when all of that goes away. It’s about creating these pockets of something more amid the heft and occasionally dreary undertones of our world, and seeing how the brain reacts to these subtle interactions. From the vivid color choices battling subdued human faces, to how a magic being rests in some boring apartment in midtown New York, Quackenbush is a pro in riding a line perfectly as to engage readers head on in a book very much concerned with this confrontation.
I’m interested to see how this book connects back (again, if in any truly significant way) to that original three-issue run. Are we dealing with a son, brother, or other blood relative? Is Dizzy a hero who has lost his way (a la the Paul Jenkins work in Sentry)? And what kind of magic awaits our “hero” at the bottom of a liquor bottle? I think this series raises some big questions, but mostly it just sort of lays out a thing for us to explore of our own accord. Even without big trucks and explosions so far, this Baker has the potential to be just righteous enough.
Final Thought: Weird book generates weird responses.
Jack Kirby’s Starr Warriors: The Adventures Of Adam Starr And The Solar Legion #1
Before he was the undisputed king, Jack Kirby was a young, hungry kid breaking into comics in the early 1940s. One of the projects he tackled in that time was Adam Starr, a spacefaring sci-fi hero of the future that reads like a million other such intergalactic paladins. But Tom Scioli, a genuine disciple of the king, clearly thought there was something to Starr, and he’s remixed Kirby’s own work as part of a brand-new one-shot from Image Comics. (The story goes that Kirby did just three Starr issues before joining forces with Joe Simon to forge comics history.)
As I’d mentioned, none of this is exactly the most groundbreaking stuff — Kirby was 22-ish during this time, and while he was always clearly talented, this book doesn’t exactly escape orbit in terms of innovation and sheer inventiveness. That isn’t to say, however, that it’s not good (especially for the era), and that Kirby at such a young age clearly understood his audience and the subject matter and delivered this entertaining exercise in space pulp. But given the nature of this book, it’s about what Kirby presented as a springboard, and how Scioli responds to that. In that rather specific sense, the work here feels really inspired.
When compared to the Kirby originals, Scioli has stripped out a lot of the color and essence of those original stories, leaving us with more European-inspired fare. That shift, though subtle and seemingly uncomplicated, does wonders for these pages, imbuing them with more depth and nuance. They’re more understated than before, with an air of grace and emotionality that doesn’t so much undercut the adventures here but enhance them in some novel ways. Giant explosions gain an almost elegant sadness, and formerly cheesy villains are recast as slightly mad and a tad bit surreal. It’s an aesthetic that we wouldn’t have seen in subject matter like this for decades, and it feels wholly modern despite retaining this era’s “aw shucks” approach to kooky sci-fi.
And this magic isn’t Scioli’s alone — it could only happen because there’s something there to Kirby’s originals. Scioli is, in a way, almost drawing to what Kirby would become, and casting this work with the same kind of power and heft that would define things like New Gods. In that way, we’re dealing with some kind of time paradox dealy, where Scioli could have only done this because of Kirby, and that creates this pseudo-feedback loop of artistic magic that feels as much a part of this story as Starr and his space adventures. Comics as a rule are full of such homages and love letters to creators who came before, but this one just feels leaps and bounds above all of that. It’s a celebration of who Kirby was, who he came to be, and how we’re all on this journey of creative growth and development.
It’s an exploration of how you might not be able to meet your heroes but you can interact with them in the great abstract that is creative expression. And it’s a solid reminder that the best stories can and will live forever, even if they’re about the one-millionth spacefaring hero. So take your time with this one, and give yourself the space to really explore what it is as this living, breathing artifact. You’ll be bounding across not just the universe but what makes comics such a powerful medium of exploration that has few universal constraints.
Final Thought: There is no past — just more places to explore again and again.
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