After publishing Red Sonja comics for eight years, Dynamite is re-launching the chainmail bikini-wearing warrior’s comic with an emphasis on female empowerment. Red Sonja #1 (Dynamite) marks the debut of fan-favorite writer Gail Simone on the character, and she presents a version of Sonja that is equal parts hard-drinking badass and skilled military general. It’s a strong introduction to the character but a bit rushed, although naysayers of decompression will appreciate how stuffed the story is. Simone speeds along the story so that she can have Red Sonja leading an army of women into battle by the end, but more time could be spent getting to know the characters and this world. The standout scene is when Sonja tries on a flowing garment to wear to the royal court, placing the heroine in an unpleasant situation that she can’t escape by swinging her sword.
Red Sonja features a female writer and female cover artists, so why isn’t there a female artist on this book? Some might consider it a gimmick to have an all-female creative team, but it would also be a bold statement in a male-dominated industry. Walter Geovani’s art is serviceable but exists firmly in Dynamite’s house style, which is defined by clean linework that places emphasis on action and T&A. Dynamite titles tend to lack a distinct visual perspective, and with a new high-profile beginning for Red Sonja, it seems like the perfect time for the publisher to bring new blood to its artistic talent pool. [OS]
The fabric between realities is weak in Marvel comics after the conclusion of Age Of Ultron damaged the time-space continuum, and Hunger #1 (Marvel) sees 616 Galactus stepping into the Ultimate universe for his next planet-sized meal. Joshua Hale Fialkov’s story centers on teenage cosmic protector Rick Jones, who is pulled away from Earth to prevent yet another catastrophe in space when all he really wants is a fast-food hamburger. The plot shares a lot in common with the current Marvel Now! Nova series, from the relationship between Rick Jones and the Watcher to the Chitauri as major villains, and embracing the lighter tone of Nova at the start helps make Hunger’s climactic moments all the more chilling.
If this series is setting up the end of the Ultimate line, as rumors would have people believe, then this first issue does a great job paying tribute to the history of Marvel’s most successful alternate universe. Major Ultimate threats like the Chitauri, Kree, and Gah Lak Tus all intersect in space, and it’s fitting that they would be taken out by the original Marvel cosmic threat when Galactus steps into their world. Leonard Kirk is an artist who deserves a blockbuster project like Hunger, and this book showcases his talent for depicting spectacular events in an environment that is still heavily grounded in reality. There’s a striking contrast between the Earthbound scenes of Rick trying to get a burger and those of Galactus ripping through the fabric of reality, and Fialkov’s story fully takes advantage of Kirk’s versatility. [OS]
From the Supreme Court’s recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act to the George Zimmerman verdict, 2013 has given plenty of proof of just how volatile race relations remain in America. John Lewis had no way of foreseeing these two particular events when he began writing March (Top Shelf), a graphic novel chronicling his long and storied life—as a child in the South during Jim Crow, then an iconic civil rights activist, and now as a veteran congressman. But the book couldn’t be more timely. That said, the current-day narrative that frames the main story is labored and a bit too self-serving; it’s when Lewis moves past that to get to the heart of his childhood in rural Alabama, his budding friendship with Rosa Parks, and the roots of his involvement with Martin Luther King Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that the book’s economical yet evocative strengths become fully displayed.
Co-written by Lewis’ aide Andrew Aydin and drawn in fluid, sumptuous black-and-white by Eisner-winner Nate Powell, March is the first volume of what promises to be a fruitful collaboration. But it’s Lewis himself—plainspoken yet aware of the resonance of both his voice and his place in history—who carries the day, tying intimate details of his upbringing and nascent worldview into a bigger portrait of 20th-century America that still looms large today. [JH]
Mark Waid has proven himself the top writer in comics for telling stories about classic superheroes that capture the essence of the characters and tone of their original stories without feeling dated. The Rocketeer/The Spirit: Pulp Friction #1 (IDW) is his latest success, teaming Dave Stevens’ high-flying Cliff “The Rocketeer” Secord and Will Eisner’s Denny “The Spirit” Colt as they investigate a bicoastal murder mystery. Waid’s script shows a firm understanding of each character’s unique voice, and the story moves at a breakneck pace as it deftly juggles the crime plot with romantic drama and lighter moments of comedy.
It’s a pity that interior art from Paul Smith has become such a rarity, because he’s one of the best classically skilled draftsman working in the industry. His art on this project finds the perfect middle ground between the work of Stevens and Eisner, with the former’s influence showing in The Rocketeer’s dynamic movement and the pin-up posing of his girlfriend Betty, while Eisner’s skill shines through in Smith’s evocative urban environments and hugely expressive characters. Waid hits the usual team-up beats in his story—the heroes fight before realizing they’re on the same side and their respective female companions become enamored with the wrong costumed man—but the level of craft in the execution elevates the title beyond its stereotypical plot points. [OS]
There’s something unstable about Zak Sally’s Sammy The Mouse: Book 2—and ironically, that feeling only grows the more established the series becomes. Comprising Chapters IV and V of Sally’s slowly unfolding saga (begun at Fantagraphics before moving to Uncivilized), Sammy Book 2 is a continuation of a meandering dream-narrative populated by distorted cartoon archetypes and id-wallowing personifications of Sally’s manifold demons. Carl Urbanski—a disturbingly abused and hapless ringer for Charlie Brown—still crawls along the margins, while a host of anthropomorphic characters, including Sammy himself, writhe under the thumbs of metaphysical forces they can’t evade, control, or understand. Alcohol included. Shakily rendered in sickly browns and greens, the book swims in Schultzian ennui, Seussian grotesquery, and Sisyphian futility. But, you know, in a good way. For those who found out about Sally’s graphic-novel work after being aware of his long tenure in the veteran indie-rock band Low, it makes Sammy The Mouse that much more haunting and perverse. That said, the series stands on its own as a monument-in-progress to the chronic disease that is existence… [JH]
Incidents In The Night: Volume 1 (Uncivilized) has been given an English-language edition, and it’s about time. Modern French master David B. brings the same heightened sense of reality he has to past classics like Epileptic to the start of an even more fantastic tale—a mystery that begins, like Incidents itself, with the opening of a book. With B. himself as a participant in his Umberto Eco-esque detective tale, the narrative zooms inward and outward as history, occultism, and obsession are illustrated in episodic passages of mythic graphics and bibliophile symbolism. Rather than a gradual change in gradation from the mundane to the surreal, B. jumps headfirst in the latter, letting it be instantly, vividly known that little of Incidents In The Night will be made from the dull logic of the awake… [JH]
What if Pokémon and Power Rangers teamed up to fight a war against giant monsters? What if they lost? That’s the concept of Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas’ Gamma (Dark Horse), an ingenious mash-up of ’90s nostalgia that also serves as a fascinating character study of a man rediscovering his will to live. Dusty Keztchemal (“catch ’em all”) is an analogue for Ash from the Pokémon franchise, a world-famous monster-trainer whose life has taken a tragic turn. He starts the story in a saloon where the bartender charges $50 for strangers to punch “the Coward” in the face, and the beatdowns just keep coming when Dusty tries his hand at a monster battle and fails miserably. Farinas’ artwork combines the meticulous detail of Geof Darrow with the off-beat design sense of Brandon Graham, creating an immersive world filled with sly references to Saturday morning TV shows and kids’ toys. The script does some impressive world-building in a limited amount of time, and Farinas and Freitas introduce so many intriguing ideas in this one-shot that hopefully they’ll get the opportunity to explore them further… [OS]
Steve Ditko’s route as a journeyman took him many strange places throughout his career, up to and including the co-creation of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange—characters who, in Ditko’s hands, had a creepy, eerie aura that few artists would ever fully recapture. Accordingly, Ditko’s work in the ’60s for Creepy and Eerie, flagships of Warren Magazine’s legendary horror periodicals, is a fuller exploration of the sordid and slithery side of Ditko’s psyche. Creepy Presents Steve Ditko (Dark Horse) collects an unhealthy helping of those stories, and the book presents a solid cross-section of Ditko’s surreal contortions of the body and the mind. Written by the late Archie Goodwin, these tales of post-EC monsters and malevolence stand up beautifully, thanks largely to Ditko’s teeming linework, much of it overlaid with visceral, black-and-white wash, as if it were a layer of grayscale gore… [JH]
Controversy isn’t a word often associated with The Smurfs; even the current film franchise has brought critics together in harmonious contempt. But Papercutz’s excellent collection The Smurfs Anthology gathers some of the bucolic, blue creatures’ greatest stories from Belgian creator Peyo—and it doesn’t shy away from including “The Purple Smurfs” and “The Smurf King,” which touch on two of the modern era’s most hot-button topics: racism and fascism, respectively. They’re innocent stories, though, not cynical, and Peyo’s whimsical briskness and clear-line precision shine through. Peyo also deserves credit not only for having created one of the greatest series of European graphic albums of the 20th century—right up there with Tintin and Asterix—but also for having the chutzpah to reflect some of the ideological issues that are inherent in a village of creatures who all look—and are all colored—exactly the same… [JH]
Monkeybrain Comics released five new titles to celebrate its first anniversary, and the highlight of the bunch also happens to be free. The all-ages Detectobot #0 (Monkeybrain) is only seven pages long, but it’s a captivating introduction to Bobby and Peter Timony’s adorable robot created for the sole purpose of solving his father’s murder. The story is simple; a scientist with many enemies creates Detectobot in the event that he is killed and keeps him out of commission until that day comes, and when the scientist is killed, Detectobot wakes up. It’s short and sweet, with clever dialogue from Peter and smooth, animated artwork from Bobby, and sets a cheeky tone reminiscent of Monkeybrain’s Eisner Award-winning Bandette. The last two pages provide a rundown of all of Detectobot’s crime-solving features, and it’s going to be a lot of fun watching them in action judging by the quality of this debut. [OS]