This summer’s blockbuster The Avengers introduced Marvel’s resident archer Hawkeye to millions of viewers, and Marvel is taking advantage of the character’s big-screen exposure with Hawkeye #1 (Marvel), a new ongoing by the creative team that turned The Immortal Iron Fist into one of the company’s best titles. Since Iron Fist, Matt Fraction has become a prolific writer at Marvel, tackling some of the company’s top characters and penning summer crossovers like Fear Itself and Avengers Vs. X-Men, but his best work is on solo superhero titles where he’s able to focus on a singular character voice. (Brian Michael Bendis is in the same situation.) What this first issue of Hawkeye does so well is establish Clint Barton’s personality, differentiating him from Iron Man or Iron Fist with his lovably gruff attitude.
Fraction emphasizes Clint’s lack of superpowers, painting him as the blue-collar everyman of the Avengers. Any man with a bow and arrow is going to call to mind Robin Hood, and Fraction embraces the “steal from the rich, give to the poor” tradition with this first issue. After being released from the hospital for injuries sustained in-costume, Clint returns to his apartment building in Bedford-Stuyvesant to find his neighbors being evicted by greedy landlords trying to sell the property. After his offer to pay rent for the entire building is rejected, Clint resorts to more physical methods, but there’s surprisingly little action in this title. Scenes of Hawkeye jumping out of a building or taking out a backroom full of thugs are balanced by quiet moments like Clint at a rooftop barbeque or waiting to find out if an injured dog is going to survive. The result is an issue that clearly defines who this character is and what he fights for, making him more than just a guy who shoots arrows.
The artistic talent at Marvel right now is extraordinary, and David Aja is one of the best, combining gritty realism with dynamic layouts to create a world that is familiar yet heightened. Detailed but still loose, his linework naturally adjusts to the tonal shifts in Fraction’s story, changes that are accented by Matt Hollingsworth’s colors. Hawkeye is a character who is all about precision, and that concept is embodied in the artwork, which utilizes of multitude of close-up panels to show how Clint views the world. It’s similar to how the Daredevil art team depicts that character’s senses, but rather than the expansive scope of Daredevil’s radar, Hawkeye’s vision is pointed and specific. This team’s synergy has only improved since Iron Fist, and there’s a confidence to the storytelling that makes this one of the year’s most satisfying first issues.
With its attention-grabbing title, gorgeous black-and-white artwork, and piss-off-everyone story, Punk Rock Jesus #1 (Vertigo) is a comic book that wants to be noticed, and it’s the kind of memorable debut that Vertigo has been lacking recently. Since his 2005 graphic novel Off Road, Sean Murphy has primarily worked as an artist, but his new miniseries reveals his remarkable talent for creating a multi-layered, engaging narrative with a massive scope. In the year 2019, the world is preparing for the biggest reality-show event of all time: J2, the cloning of Jesus Christ on live television. Like Image’s America’s Got Powers, Murphy uses the high concept to examine our country’s obsession with reality television and how corporate machinations tear lives apart, but adds an extra layer of commentary regarding the current relationship between science and religion in America.
Despite the heady subject matter, Murphy doesn’t get bogged down in ideology, beginning the issue with a flashback to the childhood of J2 Security Chief Thomas McKael as Belfast authorities raid the home of his IRA-affiliated parents. The story may not seem conducive to action sequences, but focusing on Thomas gives Murphy the opportunity to include moments of badassery between moral discussions regarding the cloning of the Messiah. As strong as Murphy’s script is, it’s outdone by his artwork, which realizes the futuristic world in extensive, monochromatic detail. The attention he gives to his characters and environments is remarkable, and he doesn’t take any shortcuts with his linework. With writing and art of this caliber, it’s a shame that Punk Rock Jesus is only running for six issues.
Image’s creative renaissance over the past few years has established it as the premier mainstream publisher for unique creator-owned work, and in a year of outstanding debuts, the Wild Children (Image) graphic novel is one of the company’s most innovative new works. What begins as a story about armed teenagers taking over their school because they’re “tired of society’s sterile attempts to grow slaves through the mind-numbing ‘educational’ system” grows into a metatextual, psychedelic dissection of the nature of existence, and it’s an exhilarating ride. Newcomer Ales Kot makes one of the most impressive comic-book debuts in recent memory with his script, an abstract journey that doesn’t end with any neat answers, only more questions. It’s a challenging book that forces the reader to question preconceived notions of reality, but it has a youthful energy that differentiates it from the metacomics of Grant Morrison or Alan Moore.
Unsettling and provocative, Kot’s story still manages to make his group of gun-wielding teenagers the heroes of the book, playing with the comic-book form to make readers question the validity of the students’ threats. What you see isn’t always the truth; the guns may fire bullets, but they’re not actually real. It’s all just a comic book. Artist Riley Rossmo is tasked with bringing Kot’s complex script to life, and his malleable visuals are an ideal fit for the constantly shifting story. His character designs are instantly memorable, separating the young from the old with the students’ off-kilter fashion sense. Once the acid that the teens drugged the teachers’ coffee with sinks in, Rossmo’s art really takes off, creating trippy images that alternate between beautiful and horrifying. That dichotomy between the splendor of the greater universe and the shittiness of everyday life is the driving force behind Wild Children, rocketing the book to its tragic yet serene conclusion.
The ongoing success of The Walking Dead all but guarantees a steady flow of undead-related comic-book series, and DC is getting in the game with National Comics: Eternity #1 (DC), the start of a new series reviving old properties with one-shot stories each month. DC golden boy Jeff Lemire tackles this reimagining of Kid Eternity, removing the “Kid” and keeping the character’s ability to bring back the recently deceased. Joined by artists Cully Hamner and Derec Donovan, Lemire crafts an engaging supernatural procedural, following formerly dead coroner Christopher Freeman as he pulls people from limbo to help him solve their murders. The plot has shades of the television series Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me, and this book could easily be translated into a television pilot if DC wanted to, with absolutely no costumes in sight.
The lack of a superhero presence makes it a mystery why DC didn’t decide to launch Eternity as an ongoing Vertigo series, and it would be great to see what Lemire and company could do with less content restrictions. As is, Lemire still tells a mature, effective done-in-one story that sets up Christopher’s backstory, current situation, and future obstacles, essentially doing everything a great first issue should do. The animated art style of Hamner and Donovan works to highlight the comedy of Lemire’s script, and it keeps the visuals from getting too severe as the script moves into more gruesome territory. The issue ends on a cliffhanger but DC hasn’t announced any future plans for the character, and the smartest thing the publisher could do is get this creative team to commit to at least a miniseries. Lemire has come up with a concept that has real crossover appeal, and DC needs more books that non-superhero comic readers will find engaging.
The comic-book industry’s fascination with the living dead continues in Revival #1 (Image), the latest Image series to puts a new twist on the concept. This “rural noir” by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton takes place in a small Wisconsin community under quarantine because dead people just won’t stay dead. The solemn girl on the cover is Martha, the newest “reviver” who has been keeping her condition a secret from her police-officer father and sister. The issue follows Martha’s single-mother sister Dana as she goes about her daily routine: dropping off her son at his dad’s house, investigating the mysterious death of a zebra/horse hybrid, and watching her sister get scythed in the neck and survive. It’s an uncharacteristically subdued story from Seeley, whose work on Hack/Slash and Witchblade is much more aggressive, and he captures the stillness of rural life with the relaxed pace of his script. Norton’s clean artwork is an unorthodox choice for a horror comic, but the clarity of his storytelling makes the moments of terror all the more striking. The frightening aspect of the “revivers” is that they’re seemingly ordinary people with the potential to snap at any time, and Revival’s greatest strength is how Seeley and Norton create a normal, recognizable environment where the danger isn’t immediately apparent.
Kurtis J. Wiebe has quickly become one of Image’s busiest writers, and with each new series, Wiebe reveals just how versatile he is as a creator. From atmospheric fantasy noir (Green Wake) to war fairy tales (Peter Panzerfaust) and horror-tinged romantic comedies (Grim Leaper), none of Wiebe’s projects are alike. Debris #1 (Image) reunites Wiebe with Green Wake artist Riley Russmo for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story set in a world overrun by trash and populated by biomechanical creatures born from the rubbish. It’s a fairly standard dystopian tale, with a community living on the outskirts of civilization and a heroine tasked with the protection of her tribe, but the real draw of this book is Rossmo’s artwork, which finds the artist moving into a cleaner, richer art style after his sketchier early work. His designs for the book’s creatures are heavily inspired by video games like Final Fantasy, but that doesn’t make them any less striking, and Rossmo has done spectacular work combining biological elements with machinery. The action sequences are fluid and visceral, establishing the book’s heroine Maya as a true force to be reckoned with. Maya’s journey may not be a completely original one, but what Debris lacks in innovation, it makes up for in visual spectacle.
Howard Chaykin has never shied from sexuality in his work, and nowhere has he been more explicit than in Black Kiss, his pornographic vampire crime comic published in the late ’80s. Chaykin returns to his erotic project with Black Kiss 2 #1 (Image), a prequel that is light on plot, heavy on fucking. The book opens on a movie theater in 1906 Manhattan, where the patrons get raped by the two-faced, multi-dicked sex god of the cinema. Images of men and women getting penetrated by tentacle-penises are joined by narration examining the cultural significance of film, a semi-successful attempt by Chaykin to elevate the raunch. He makes an interesting point about cinema as a euphoric, communal experience, but he’s certainly not very subtle about it. The second half of the issue shifts to the Titanic, moments after it hits the iceberg, where aspiring actor Charlie Kenton is searching for a “moist quim to replace his spit-wet right hand.” Rather, he gets raped by the same demonic force from the movie theater, catching the venereal disease that will turn him into a sex-crazed vampire. Black Kiss 2 has a ridiculous plot, but the passion project also has Chaykin turning out his strongest work in years. He draws detailed genitalia, but more importantly, he’s thoroughly researched the fashion and architecture of the time period. The book’s content may be overly salacious, but there’s legitimate craft beneath the smut.
Boom’s Adventure Time series has become one of the most consistently entertaining comics of the year, embodying the spirit of the TV series while brilliantly making use of the full-page comic-strip format. Meredith Gran, creator of the hilarious slacker webcomic Octopus Pie, writes and illustrates the first Adventure Time spin-off, Marceline And The Scream Queens #1 (Boom), and she’s a perfect fit for a story focusing on the series’ main female characters: hipster vampire Marceline and brainy Princess Bubblegum. As Marceline and her band prepare to go on their first tour, they face adversity from Bubblegum, who considers their music “a bunch of brainless sound goo.” Gran has a firm handle on both characters’ voices, and in signature Adventure Time fashion, crafts a story that is rooted in a realistic situation and then amplified by the fantastic setting. Marceline’s popularity intimidates Bubblegum, prompting the cruel words that cause Marceline to doubt her creativity. The two are ultimately united through art, as the Scream Queens put on an epic show that completely changes Bubblegum’s point of view. Over four silent pages, Gran dramatically captures all the energy and theatricality of Marceline’s show, aided by Lisa Moore’s vibrant color palette of complimentary reds and purples. Like the main Adventure Time series, each issue of Marceline features a back-up story by an alternative comic-book creator, and Jen Wang contributes an inspiring story about Marceline reconnecting with her dead dog Pickles. It’s a short but sweet way to end the issue, a refreshing dessert after Gran’s satisfying main course.
Neal Adams’ first stint on Uncanny X-Men was when the book was on the verge of cancellation; things have changed for Marvel’s mutant team since then, as they have for Adams. His last superhero project, the incomprehensible Batman: Odyssey was an artistic and narrative mess that flew wildly off the rails immediately. Adams has co-writer Christos Gage to rein him in on The First X-Men #1 (Marvel), a new ongoing that sees Logan (Wolverine) and Creed (Sabretooth) tracking down young mutants and protecting them from a world that hates and fears them. Part Wolverine And The X-Men, part X-Men: First Class, First X-Men is a redundant addition to the already crowded line of X-titles. The characterizations of the feral duo at the center of the book don’t gel with previous depictions of the two during this time period, and their attitudes have been subdued to make their roles in the plot more plausible. Gage’s assistance with the script has given Adams more time to focus on his artwork, and his pencils are a considerable improvement from his Odyssey work. A two-page splash of new mutant Holo’s powers in action proves that Adams still has the talent, making it all the more unfortunate that the story is so forgettable.