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New comics releases include Marvel’s latest event, a demonic fantasy, and Hellboy at his cutest

Over the past year, Jonathan Hickman has delivered a master class in building a summer event in the pages of Avengers and New Avengers: The former establishes the Builders as a legitimate galactic threat, while the latter has set up story threads tying into Thanos and the Inhumans. The titles have been laying the groundwork for Infinity, which finds all these storylines converging in an explosive start to a sprawling superhero epic. At 64 pages for $4.99 (which includes a free digital version of the issue anda brand new Infinite Comic), Infinity #1 (Marvel) is a fantastic value and a smart way to start an event, especially after the lackluster and expensive Age Of Ultron

Infinity marks Thanos’ big return to the Marvel Universe after making a surprise appearance at the end of The Avengers, and this first issue does impressive work establishing his threat level without having him do much of anything. A large chunk of this issue follows Thanos’ henchmen as they go to different worlds demanding a sacrificial tribute, and Earth is the latest world in the purple villain’s sights. The journey of Thanos’ Outrider takes the creature to Attilan, home of the Inhumans, setting the stage for Hickman to continue the Inhuman epic that has been developing since his work on Fantastic Four. Meanwhile, the Builders are continuing their trek across the universe, modifying worlds they find fit for survival and destroying those that don’t meet their criteria. As the Avengers head into space to counter the Builders, Thanos gets an opening to attack Earth, ending this first issue with some incredibly high stakes. 

There’s always talk that the next crossover will reach all corners of the Marvel Universe, but Infinity delivers an expansive story that manages to affect everyone because Marvel Now! has given the publisher’s line of titles a strong sense of cohesion. The casts of Avengers and New Avengers alone manage to incorporate Marvel’s magic, mutant, cosmic, and street-level characters along with the familiar faces from the movies, and all those characters appear in Infinity. The roll call page shows 51 headshots, establishing a massive cast that is likely going to grow as the miniseries continues. Luckily, Hickman does impressive work introducing these characters to unfamiliar readers, especially with obscure heroes like ’80s cult favorites the Spaceknights. 

Jim Cheung is rotating art duties with Jerome Opeña and Dustin Weaver on this title, and his crisp, detailed work on this first issue captures all the grandiosity of Hickman’s story. His action sequences have an outstanding sense of scale, and the scene with the Builders destroying the Spaceknights’ world is a terrifying depiction of what the alien fleet is capable of. Cheung has always drawn great alien characters, but Infinity marks some considerable leaps in his renderings of human characters. His faces have a tendency to look alike, but the huge group shots of Avengers show how Cheung has started to give his characters more distinguishable bone structure, helping make each hero stand out as an individual. Infinity is a gorgeous, hefty book, and there’s no reason for superhero fans to miss this title when there’s this much bang for the buck… [OS]

The premise of Peter Wartman’s debut graphic novel, Over The Wall (Uncivilized), is as straightforward and on-the-nose as its title: A girl must venture into a demon-infested city to save her brother. From there, the story doesn’t get much more complicated—and that’s part of its beauty. In stark, shadowy black and white and purple, Wartman allows his vividly clear artwork to carry much of the story as it barrels along at an engaging pace. The girl, who lives in a village outside an abandoned city, sneaks through the portal that keeps the city’s demons trapped inside. Her brother had entered the night before with a group of boys undergoing a coming-of-age ritual—only he hadn’t returned with the others. And now, curiously, she’s begun to forget him and even his name. In her memory, only a foggy blur remains where his face once was.

Names play a huge part in Over The Wall. In fact, for the vast majority of the book, none of the characters have names at all. There’s a reason for this besides mere mystery (although there’s plenty of that too), and Wartman unspools that reason in tension-packed threads of exposition that are woven seamlessly throughout the narrative. Just as there are few names, there are few words overall. Wartman’s ability to convey intrigue, emotion, and atmosphere through his characters’ expressive faces and gestures—not to mention his breathtaking draftsmanship when rendering the architecture of the city—gives his sparse dialogue more color and weight. An equally wise choice is to leave his setting as indeterminate as his character’s names; it’s a fantasy world, for sure, but it seems to draw iconography from ancient cultures of Southeast Asia, Central America, and the Mediterranean, and his employment of totems and hieroglyphs become more than panel dressing as those elements begin to play integral roles in the story.

Speaking of those hieroglyphs: In one particularly brilliant bit of exposition, Wartman uses carvings on a wall as a kind of comics-within-comics trick, only in this context it doesn’t bear a trace of meta-trickery. Instead, it’s a quietly profound reaffirmation of the lineage between hieroglyphs and comics, made all the more dramatic by the contrast between the hieroglyphs’ flat, static perspective and Wartman’s own richly cinematic angles and dynamic points of view. Above all of the book’s technical virtuosity is a loving eye for charismatic characters who earn their charm—especially the girl and the demon she encounters as she enters the city, whose wary relationship winds up making for a simple, stunning payoff at the end that’s as heart-piercing as the greatest moments of Jeff Smith’s Bone. The whole our-names-have-power-over-us idea has been done to death in fantasy literature of all media, but with Over The Wall, Wartman adds a fresh, fleet spin that carries with it something far deeper... [JH]


Advance Review: 
Does Marvel need another Avengers series? No. Is it nice to see some underused minority characters back in the spotlight? Most definitely. Mighty Avengers #1 (Marvel) assembles a new superhero team to protect Earth while the main group of Avengers heads into space to deal with the events of Infinity, and writer Al Ewing helps differentiate it from the other Avengers books by taking a more grounded look at the superhero lifestyle. The back has a bit of a Justice League International vibe, following former Avengers leader Luke Cage’s as he rebuilds his old Heroes For Hire franchise with the help of Avengers Academy graduates White Tiger and Power Man. Ewing’s script has a retro feel, especially in the exaggerated characterizations of everyone but Luke Cage. Cage is surrounded by all these flamboyant, headstrong personalities making demands of him when all he wants to do is take care of his wife and kid at home, and tapping into that more relatable conflict adds depth to a fairly traditional superhero story. Greg Land is a controversial artist, but this is the finest his work has looked in a long time, choreographing smooth superhero action sequences that are a much better fit for his photorealistic style than the robot fights in Iron Man. He still relies on his stock fashion editorial poses from time to time, but he’s making a clear effort to bring a greater sense of energy to his layouts and line work. Mighty Avengers #1will be released on September 11…[OS] 

In his graphics novels Cave-In, Climbing Out, and Daybreak, Brian Ralph laced gorgeous line and design work with narratives that softly subverted everything from kids’ comics to the zombiepocalypse. There’s still a bit of all those things in his new book, Reggie-12 (Drawn And Quarterly)—only here, he’s wearing far more sweetness on his sleeve. The graphic novel, which was originally serialized in the Asian culture magazine Giant Robot, is accordingly drawn in a style vaguely reminiscent of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy; the titular main character is a robotic youth whose absentminded-professor of a creator helps catalyze rollicking gags and bang-pow adventures alike. But its teeming yet breezy absurdity gives Reggie-12 and his mechanized brothers and foes plenty of time to crack wise with puns, the sporadic fart joke, and occasionally some flashes of poignancy that never get too overwhelming. And its episodic structure keeps it skimming along the surface of light humor and benign slapstick, even as Ralph’s superbly winning, adorably clunky characters carry what is otherwise a far less substantial example of what the artist has accomplished with his previous work… [JH]

There are a lot of misconceptions about bisexuality, and the fact that people who identify as bisexual don’t have much of a voice in media makes it easy for the general public to live in ignorance. Anything That Loves (Northwest) is an anthology by comic-book creators who live outside of binary sexuality, telling a diverse assortment of stories by men and women who are attracted to both men and women. The book begins with educational shorts by Kate Leth, whose work immediately establishes the book’s balance of raising awareness while exploring how bisexuality has had a personal impact on the creators. From there, the stories range from slice-of-life (Josh Trujillo and Dave Valeza’s somber tale looking at how parents’ wishes for their children can impact adult sexuality) to erotic humor (Maurice Vellekoop’s cheeky peek at a bisexual socialite) and fantasy (Ashley Cook’s and Caroline Hobbs’ take on bisexual mermaids). Ellen Forney contributes hilarious graphic posters tackling the subject through mock personal ads, while queer comics legend Roberta Gregory gives readers a history of the genre with a monologue detailing her own experience with publications like Howard Cruse’s Gay Comix. There’s a vast array of styles showing the different artistic backgrounds of the creators (Jason Thompson and Powflip’s manga-influenced stories are a highlight), creating a comprehensive exploration of bisexuality through graphic storytelling... [OS]

Eel Mansions #2 (Uncivilized) is similar to the series’ 2012 debut issue: It feels as though it’s being glimpsed through dark glasses, both literally and figuratively. From a graphic standpoint, Derek Van Gieson lays on the ink with a jackhammer; thematically, he’s dredging some infernal pits of the collective psyche for images, characters, and surreal situations that add up to a nightmarish skull-fuck of a book. But there’s order, too. Multiple storylines from the first issue continue to be tangled into a knot of occultism, conspiracy, and inhuman creatures who walk among us, and the semblance of a coherent plot only enhances the sense that there’s a hidden logic at play between or just behind the panels. It’s the sort of David Lynch-inspired phantasmagoria that Daniel Clowes flogged to great effect in Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron—but Van Gieson slathers on a retro-hip, record-store-shopping aesthetic that owes just as much to Clowes’ earlier, lesser masterpiece, Lloyd Llewellyn. That said, the contorted flow and retina-clouding grotesquerie of Eel Mansions are all Van Gieson’s own. And the perverse whimsy at its heart helps lighten the eye-load… [JH]

Delilah Dirk—an international woman of intrigue with a flying sailboat and a penchant for stealing treasure—has a thirst for adventure that puts her in the middle of a riveting action adventure set in early 19th-century Turkey. Tony Cliff has considerable experience as an animator, and his graphic novel Delilah Dirk And The Turkish Lieutenant (First Second) has the fluid action and expressive characters of a high-quality Saturday morning cartoon like The Legend Of Korra. Written, drawn, colored, and lettered by Cliff, it’s a beautiful package with a story that matches the lush visuals. Delilah’s most recent excursion results in a partnership with the titular Lieutenant Selim, and their friendship is as essential to the book’s success as the dynamic action sequences. Cliff wisely chooses to keep that relationship largely platonic in Delilah’s debut, but there’s a great sexual tension between the two characters that adds an extra element of will-they/won’t-they romantic drama. The level of detail in the costume and environments is incredible, showing an immense amount of research on Cliff’s part to create an engrossing setting that will hopefully be revisited in future installments… [OS]

DC’s loss is Dark Horse’s gain as the team behind beloved all-ages titles Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures bring their adorable aesthetic to Mike Mignola’s cast of tragic monsters and the Nazis that hate them in Itty Bitty Hellboy #1 (Dark Horse). Mignola has been willing to let others play around in his Hellboy sandbox for years, but Art Baltazar and Franco’s take on these characters is probably the only one where Hellboy and his friends are likely to spend considerable time in an actual sandbox. (In this issue: cardboard refrigerator and dishwasher box forts and a kiddie pool.) Baltazar and Franco have developed delightful comedic chemistry over the years, and Mignola’s distinct designs work extremely well in a brighter environment. (Also evidenced by the Hellboy Animated films.) Itty Bitty Hellboy is cute, it’s simple, it’s exactly what readers should expect from these creators, but with an added touch of irony considering how drastically different this cheerful kid-friendly comic is from its source material. [OS]