The second debut of Rick Remender’s three new Image ongoing series, Deadly Class #1 (Image) sees the writer revisiting his youth as a punk kid in the ’80s with an action comic about teenage assassins in 1987 San Francisco. This first issue spotlights Marcus Lopez, a 14-year-old homeless orphan who may have burned down the boys’ home he was placed in after a bridge jumper landed on his parents and instantly killed them, depicting a situation that exaggerates universal adolescent feelings of alienation, rage, and desperation. In an essay at the end of the book, Remender writes that this title is a magnification of what he experience as a teen, and he evokes those sensations of danger and confusion by putting his lead character in overwhelmingly bleak circumstances before throwing him into a high-octane action sequence that turns everything upside down.
There’s nothing subtle about this first issue, but that bold point of view is what makes it so breathtaking, particularly in the artwork from Wesley Craig and colorist Lee Loughridge. Craig is as adept at highlighting the emptiness of the world during more dramatic introspective moments as he is creating a lively, chaotic atmosphere for moments of intense action, a skill that is bolstered by Loughridge’s highly saturated color palette, which uses every color of the rainbow to dictate the tone of each sequence. The page is doused in greenish gray when Marcus’ begging is being ignored on the street, bright red when he remembers his parents’ deaths, and deep blue when he’s contemplating suicide.
Craig’s layouts adjust with the action, switching to a more dynamic diagonal structure for a bracing chase scene, and he uses smaller panels to build tension by taking time to break down a moment for maximum impact. At the end of that chase, the layout becomes a mishmash of scattered panels with a sickly green hue, reflecting the character’s queasy disorientation through structure and color. Deadly Class #1 is a beautiful book that is a drastic tonal shift from Remender’s Black Science, but there’s a passion in both projects that shows the writer’s skill when he’s given free rein and paired with collaborators that are similarly unshackled. [OS]
Early in Michael DeForge’s Ant Colony (Drawn And Quarterly), an ant discovers a sugar crystal, a wondrous gift from the heavens that could feed the ant, his boyfriend, and other members of their colony for days. Another ant passing by senses the sugar and rushes to it like a junkie, immediately attaching his mouth to the sweet boulder and sucking down the poison that causes him to bleed profusely from his eyes and mouth. The sugar is actually Sweet’N Low, deadly to ants and one of the myriad dangers that proliferate the tiny world of DeForge’s graphic novel, originally published online under the title Ant Comic.
With an unusual style that is equal parts adorable, grotesque, psychedelic, and earthy, DeForge tells an epic story about the fall of an insect society through the deeply personal lens of a few surviving ants, including the aforementioned gay couple, a young prophet with microscopic earthworms coursing through his veins, a police officer, and an infertile female. Their stories are told through interconnected vignettes, exploring a broad spectrum of human emotions through these bugs’ efforts to survive, while also showcasing the creator’s pitch-black sense of humor.
Over the course of this story, the reader is exposed to the horror of war, the confusion of growing up, the disenchanted boredom of being an adult stuck in a routine, and the disconnect that can develop between lovers as their relationship ages, all presented through DeForge’s idiosyncratic style that makes the environment even more bizarre and alien. This NSFW sequence, which introduces the colony’s queen, is indicative of the disturbingly gorgeous, mind-bending visuals that spring from DeForge’s mind, and the hallucinatory imagery works wonderfully with the emotional honestly of the writing to make Ant Colony an outstanding spectacle with personality and depth. [OS]
Butterflies and rainbows have never been more ominous than they are in Inio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph (Fantagraphics), a psychological horror story that turns the field behind an elementary school into a grim reminder of the darkness that exists within each person. Alternating between past and present (with a peek at the future in the final pages), Asano’s story paints a bleak portrait of the people whose lives have been affected by their traumatic experiences at Nijigahara, events that revolve around a mysterious little girl with a butterfly pendant. When the girl’s classmates knock her down a shaft to appease the beast in the Nijigahara tunnel, they set off a chain reaction that reverberates years later, awakening a malevolent force that manifests as butterflies and rainbows—calming visuals that are traditionally positive, but become harbingers of doom as the story progresses.
The cyclical, abstract plot asks more questions than it has answers for, making for a challenging title that forces the reader to confront terrifying situations without offering much comfort afterward. Moments of violence are especially tough to witness, with the art zooming out to depict the events in stark detail with no ornamentation. Asano is not dictating how the reader should feel in those instances, instead presenting graphic snapshots of the violence that that briefly touches these characters, but leaves a lasting impression.
A sense of place is especially important when a location is part of the book’s title, and Asano creates the setting by seamlessly incorporating photographic backgrounds in his art. Adding subtle linework to these photos prevents them from clashing with the animated characters and helps maintain a sense of realism in a story that goes to some very strange places. Nijigahara Holograph can be hard to stomach at times, but Asano’s skill delivers a haunting story that ultimately delivers substantial rewards, even with it’s unsolved mysteries. [OS]
Decades of legal disputes kept Alan Moore’s Miracleman from being reprinted, but his landmark story is finally hitting stands courtesy of Marvel Comics. The publisher is milking this event for all it’s worth, churning out multiple variant covers and a first issue that costs a hefty $5.99, but Miracleman #1 (Marvel) is a disappointing start. As part of his ongoing bridge-burning with the American superhero comics industry, Alan Moore has requested that his name not be used in any way for these reprints, from promotional materials to the actual product itself, so he’s credited as “The Original Writer,” but that silly legal compromise is the least of this issue’s problems.
Miracleman #1 contains 25 pages of the ’80s run and 39 pages of back matter that should be bonus material in a collection. Nobody is buying this book for reprints of Mick Anglo’s Golden Age Marvelman comics; Marvel already released those and they caused as much of a stir as most Golden Age reprints. Also included in this issue are original concept designs by artist Garry Leach, an essay on Marvelman’s origin, and a Q&A between Marvel Chief Creative Officer, Joe Quesada, and Anglo. It’s a regular Miracleman museum, providing loads of context for Moore’s story, but skimping on the main attraction. It’s like going to the movies and finding out the feature is just a trailer and the rest of the film is behind-the-scenes footage for something that will require more money next month.
If Marvel’s going to release Moore’s (and later Neil Gaiman’s) work on a monthly basis instead of just publishing collections, it needs to give readers a reason to spend extra money on each issue. Recoloring Leach’s art to highlight the detail in his linework and ground the events in a grittier, grayer world boosts the appeal, but it’s not enough to justify the needless padding of this first installment. [OS]
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Batman’s creation, and though it isn’t explicitly part of DC’s official celebration, Detective Comics #27 (DC), which shares an issue number with Batman’s first appearance in 1939, is clearly the pre-party. Naturally, 75 years worth of stories includes some classics and a good many tales readers would rather forget, and in that regard, this edition of Detective Comics #27 is a microcosm of Batman’s long history. The story from writer Brad Meltzer and artist Bryan Hitch story that opens the book is muddled—Batman narrates what’s happening in two separate sets of boxes, for example—and confusing. What’s most likely a lettering mistake makes it impossible to know which of two key, new characters is saying what. It also paints Batman as damaged and broken, rather than an aspirational hero—which is common in Meltzer’s work, but getting tiresome in superhero stories—with detailed, but stilted art from Hitch.
The story that closes the issue, by Batman writer Scott Snyder and his The Wake collaborator Sean Murphy, does a far better job of honoring Batman’s history by establishing a legacy that reaches far into the future. It’s tells a grand story in just a few pages, which is ultimately the goal of these short anniversary stories. Artist Murphy not only establishes an immediate mood, but he also makes changes in era readily apparent in each panel. Other stories by Peter J. Tomasi and Ian Bertram, Gregg Hurwitz and Neal Adams, Francesco Francavilla, Mike W. Barr and Guillem March, and Detective regulars John Layman and Jason Fabok all explore different aspects of the Dark Knight, with various degrees of success. How better to encapsulate thousands of comics over seven and a half decades? [MW]
When it comes to a new series, few things build as much confidence as a great twist, especially in the world of superhero comics, where truly surprising developments tend to be in short supply. Writer Stuart Moore and artist Gus Storms’ EGOs #1 (Image) takes an incredible left hand turn in its final pages, moving in a direction that puts the preceding events in a brand new context, while revealing the double meaning of the series’ title. A disbanded superhero team in the vein of early Image properties like WildC.A.T.S., Youngblood, and Cyberforce, the EGOs (Earth Galactic Operatives) are reborn when a foe from the past returns, but there’s a secret behind this new group of heroes that adds a layer of psychological complexity to the story.
Moore and Storms build a strong foundation in this first issue, with the writer setting up multiple storylines, while clearly defining character relationships, as the artist designs an immersive atmosphere that is more sci-fi than superhero. Like his Image artist contemporaries Riley Rossmo and Nick Pitarra, Storms has a detailed but animate line that pops with his lighter pastel coloring, a palette that immediately distinguishes EGOs from other superhero comics. Pairing casual, inviting narration with a quickly paced story balancing action and exposition makes this a highly entertaining and accessible debut, and that final twist boosts the momentum into overdrives to promise a thrilling journey ahead. [OS]
Crudely drawn artwork is a common trait of comic strips from college and independent newspapers, but there’s often a lot of personality and energy in those coarse illustration. That’s undeniably true of Steven’s Comics, the series of mid-’90s strips by cartoonist David Kelly collected in Rainy Day Recess: The Complete Steven’s Comics (Northwest Press), newly available on Comixology. Over the course of four years of strips, Kelly’s art certainly improves, but it’s the rough edges that give the strips their charm. Steven’s Comics could easily wallow in sadness as they document the difficulties of a boy coming to terms with his developing homosexuality in the ’70s, but instead, they have an upbeat, childlike wonder. Steven deals with sadness and uncertainty, but he also has amazing moments of joy, and Kelly does a wonderful job of relaying the thoughts and feelings of a child with incredible emotional resilience… [MW]
While the recent full-color reprints of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series have a “director’s cut” feel, with redrawn panels and a larger-format presentation on par with the movie adaptation, the hardcover reprint edition of O’Malley’s first graphic novel is a considerably more low-key affair. For Lost At Sea: 10-Year Anniversary Edition (Oni Press), the story has been recolored, with blues and pinks replacing the black and gray tones, and Oni has also added in a few never-collected short stories as back matter. Fans may be disappointed that O’Malley’s debut hasn’t earned a full-color reprint like his later, more popular work has, but the more subdued treatment seems appropriate for this personal story about a girl who is desperate to keep a part of herself hidden from the rest of the world… [MW]