New comics releases include several superhero debut issues and an impressive graphic novel exploring family and history

New comics releases include several superhero debut issues and an impressive graphic novel exploring family and history

Over the past few years, more and more high-profile creators have been making their way to Image Comics, and Frank Quitely is the latest comic-book all-star to make his debut at the publisher with Jupiter’s Legacy. Written by controversial blowhard Mark Millar (the back of the comic proclaims it as “the greatest superhero epic of this generation”), Jupiter’s Legacy #1 (Image) builds a new superhero universe where the old guard is trying to keep the world together while the young squander their potential. Focusing on three of Millar’s favorite topics—superheroes, celebrity, and politics—it’s a story that explores the shift from Golden Age idealism to Modern Age cynicism, something Millar did remarkably in his Superman: Red Son. Like that comic, part of Jupiter’s Legacy takes place in the past, and Millar does some of his best work when he’s working under the constraints of a more conservative time period. (Working within the boundaries of the all-ages DCAU, Millar told fantastic Superman stories in Superman Adventures.) Things get dark when the action moves to the present, but it’s the contrast that makes the story so effective. 

The year is 1932, and Sheldon Sampson has been having dreams about an island that holds the key to America’s salvation at the height of the Great Depression. Taking a small crew including his brother, Walter, and future wife, Grace, Sheldon discovers an island that grants them all superpowers that help them pull America through the Depression, World War II, and several other troubles the country suffers over the next 80 years. “Superheroes were the summit of American aspiration,” Sampson narrates, “and so our children grew up to remind mankind of everything we could ever hope to be.” That’s when the cynicism comes into play as Millar jumps to the year 2013 and shows how Sheldon and Grace’s children have decided to abandon their legacy in the pursuit of sex, drugs, and fame.  

Frank Quitely is an incredible artist who has only improved with each new project, and Jupiter’s Legacy allows him to stretch his full creative muscle as he builds a new world from scratch. The amount of detail in each panel is staggering, from the individual wrinkles and seams in a person’s clothing to the assortment of glassware on a table, and Quitely’s ability to draw bodies and faces is finally at the same level as his talent for drawing environments and objects. Widescreen panels help amplify the cinematic characteristics of the story, but unlike a lot of Millar’s work, Jupiter’s Legacy doesn’t read like a proposed script for a film. 

This first issue’s coolest moment comes when Walter goes into the mind of Darkseid stand-in Blackstar, creating a psychic painting that forces the villain into mental submission while superheroes beat his physical body. The first panel of the psychic painting is an image that is separated into various stages of the artist process, beginning with Quitely’s pencils on the outside and gradually reaching fully finished and colored linework in the middle of the panel. It’s an innovative way of displaying the character’s powers, showing that even if the story finds Millar falling into some of his bad habits (and the ending suggests that is very much a possibility), the artwork on Jupiter’s Legacy is going to be strong enough to give readers a reason to come back. [OS]


In Rutu Modan’s Eisner-winning debut graphic novel, Exit Wounds, the Israeli cartoonist explored modern life in her homeland via the story of a cabbie and an ex-soldier who ride around Tel Aviv together, trying to find out whether the cabbie’s father has been killed in a suicide bombing. Modan’s second graphic novel, The Property (Drawn & Quarterly), is set in Warsaw, but it too is really about Israel, and how the lives of its citizens continue to be affected by catastrophic world events and fateful choices made long ago. The book follows a young TV producer named Mica as she accompanies her grandmother Regina to Poland, the country where Regina was born and raised before she fled to Israel as a young woman, escaping both the Nazis and a shameful secret. Mica’s been told that their visit is an errand, to reclaim an apartment building their family owned before the war. But Regina really means to find someone she lost when she left, and to hash out what really happened between them. Mica, meanwhile, is juggling the attentions of a handsome local tour guide and a nosy family friend, while working on her own to solve a mystery that her grandmother refuses to explain.

As with Exit Wounds, The Property is beautifully drawn, with soft, flat colors that explode brightly when the scene requires, and with Modan’s thin, clean line matching her clear-eyed depiction of her characters. Also as with Exit Wounds, Modan relies too often on melodramatic storytelling beats, throwing up artificial roadblocks via simple misunderstandings between the characters, to keep the plot churning. But The Property is about more than just its plot. It almost doubles as a travelogue, getting into the particulars of Poland’s historical-tourism industry, which draws Jews looking to reflect on and even relive aspects of the Holocaust. The title of the book refers not just to Regina’s apartment building, but the legacies that get passed down between generations—be they memories, heirlooms, or even attitudes toward other people and other countries. Modan adroitly captures the complexity of the Jewish relationship to Europe, where so many Jews built and lost families and fortunes. There’s a deep ache within The Property, as Modan’s characters think about what might’ve been, and decide to replace that sense of mourning with a sense of possibility. [NM] 


Gail Simone’s dismissal from Batgirl caused such a fan uproar that DC brought her back to the book, so the publisher is trying to stay on Simone’s good side by giving her a new ongoing title. Simone has had mixed results with team books in the past, and unfortunately The Movement #1 (DC) has more in common with her lackluster Gen 13 than her excellent Secret Six. Inspired by the Occupy movement, the series follows a group of teen heroes who are waging war on the corrupt establishment of Coral City by recording police officers soliciting sexual favors from minors and harboring potential serial killers. It’s a fun concept that doesn’t reach its full potential in this first issue, which establishes the larger story but forgets to make the reader care about the characters on the cover. 

Simone spends most of the issue establishing the grim situation in Coral City, choosing to spotlight the police captain who is desperately trying (and failing) to keep his squad in line rather than giving a better idea of the characters who are part of the titular team. The most intriguing member of the Movement is team leader Virtue, but that’s mostly because she’s the only one that actually has any sort of extended dialogue. The rest of the team is made up of characters that at this point are defined solely by their powers: Tremor manipulates Earth, Mouse has control of rats, Katharsis flies and punches things. Simone likely has plans to delve into the personal lives of these rebels, but they could have used a much better introduction.     

Freddie Williams II has been experimenting with his artwork as of late (with beautiful results in Captain Atom), and he utilizes a scratchier line that tries to add grit to his cartoonish style. That lends a sloppiness to some of the finished art, and the best visuals come when Williams employs a more controlled line, like in the striking team shot establishing the Movement’s dominance of their neighborhood. There’s a DIY quality to the costume design that emphasizes the youth of the characters, and hopefully Simone’s story will begin exploring that aspect of the story. These are superpowered young people without resources or prospects, so they’ve decided to make themselves some costumes and take control of their world. There’s a lot of potential there, and Simone has shown that she can do fantastic work in that moral gray area, so despite an uninspiring debut, it will be interesting to see how The Movement develops. [OS]


Almost a decade after the final issue of Rising Stars, J. Michael Straczynski returns to Image to revive his Joe’s Comics imprint with the horror/crime hybrid Ten Grand #1 (Joe’s Comics). Teaming with artist Ben Templesmith, Straczynski creates a chilling narrative about a former hitman who makes a deal with God in exchange for time with his dead wife. Joe Fitzgerald pays for his crimes in life by taking on assignments from heaven, and if he dies a righteous death in the course of that assignment, he’s given five minutes with the deceased Laura before being revived to take on his next task. It’s an inspired blend of genre elements that harkens back to the glory days of John Constantine, offering a unique take on the supernatural that includes hacking computers with the alphabet of angels and talking to heavenly bodies that possess strippers.  

Straczysnki’s recent work has been very inconsistent, but Ten Grand is a huge boost in quality for the writer, who excels when he’s given free reign. His story is fine-tuned for Templesmith’s skill set, simultaneously ethereal and gritty, and the artist creates a world that is breathtaking in its ugliness. Much of that is due to Templesmith’s intense color palette, which grabs the reader’s attention with heavily saturated hues that set the tone for the scenes and add dimension to the linework. Templesmith’s style has moved in an animation-influenced direction with a smoother line and more expressive characters, but he hasn’t lost the grotesque quality that makes him a go-to artist for horror comics. His characters are just better actors now. 

Scanning a QR code at the end of Ten Grand #1 opens up an audio version of the comic so that people can listen and look at the artwork if reading words is too much of a chore. It’s a fun, well-acted experiment, but the audio ultimately disrupts the pacing of the comic. What it does well is shine a spotlight on the noir influence in Straczynski’s script, particularly with Fitzgerald’s hardboiled narration. Straczynski wants to continue to explore ways that modern technology can change the reading experience, but there’s no need for gimmicky extras if Ten Grand stays at this level of quality. [OS]


Thrillbent Comics underwent a huge website overhaul last month, launching Thrillbent 2.0 with a new lineup of digital comics published weekly. The first title released was one of the first Thrillbent books announced last year, John Rogers and Todd Harris’ contemporary fantasy Arcanum, a series that looks at how the modern world would counter threats from magical dimensions. Arcanum Parts 1–5 (Thrillbent) make up the first month, and they spotlight Rogers’ ability to balance extraordinary ideas with personal drama. His work on Blue Beetle showed a talent for world-building and establishing a core cast of characters, and he understands that helping readers know his cast intimately will make the moments of fantasy more significant. The banter between Al and Jimmy, two police officers who are first-responders at an inter-dimensional incursion, eases the reader into the story, creating a sense of comfort and familiarity before a bunch of Tolkien extras burst through a waterfall rushing out the side of a building. 

These mystical forces are likened to terrorist cells; their attacks are quick but devastating, and their trail nearly impossible to follow. Rogers doesn’t focus too heavily on the supernatural elements of the story, instead highlighting how regular humans would react to the events. Al takes on a valiant role when he’s caught in the fray, while fantasy writer Oliver Smyth plays the skeptic academic when the U.S. government brings him in to help counter a future attack. The strongest aspect of these chapters is the pacing, and Rogers doles out just enough information to make each short segment satisfying while building anticipation for the next part. But the major appeal of Thrillbent Comics is seeing how artists experiment with the digital medium, and Todd Harris uses the swipe-centric format to mimic animation in his layouts. There’s a strong sense of movement, from the opening action sequence to a Sorkin-style walk-and-talk in part five, and it will be exciting to see what Harris does with the visuals as the book begins to embrace more of the fantasy elements. Which will be very soon based on the ending of this first month of the story. [OS]


And…

With So Long, Silver Screen (Picturebox), French cartoonist Christian Hincker—who goes by the name “Blutch”—delivers the comic-book version of one of Jean-Luc Godard’s cine-essays, ranting about the phoniness of the movies while also damning them for their power to burn images into viewers’ brains. There’s no narrative per se in Blutch’s book; it’s mostly just an 88-page dialectic between a cranky old artist and a young woman who pushes back against his cynicism. The two main characters change personas throughout, as Blutch draws them into some of the most famous scenes in the history of cinema. So Long, Silver Screen digresses into meditations on Burt Lancaster’s toothy grin, and the motif of monkeys in movies, because allusiveness is the aim here, more so than making one cohesive argument. The book’s still powerful, though, mainly because Blutch threads it with eroticism, emphasizing that regardless of whether film as an art form is worth a hoot, it’s at least provided patrons with more than a century of distracting sexual fantasies. [NM]  

Any comics fan who takes just a cursory glance at the cover of William Stout’s Legends Of The Blues (Abrams ComicArts) will be forgiven for thinking that this book is a Robert Crumb project, because the association is intentional. Stout, a fan of Crumb’s ’80s trading-card series Heroes Of The Blues, agreed to step in for Crumb as a cover artist when Shout! Factory released a set of blues anthology CDs a few years back. And then Stout just kept going, drawing more of his favorite musicians—from well-known names like Billie Holiday and Robert Johnson to more obscure acts like Cow Cow Davenport and Victoria Spivey—while penning brief biographies, and noting their key songs that have been covered and anthologized often. Legends Of The Blues comes with a 14-track CD (produced by Shout! Factory), but Stout’s words and pictures alone do a lot to capture what this music feels like, by describing the dusty farms and city streets that spawned these musicians, and by depicting them in their finest duds, with so much life in their eyes. [NM] 

A media firestorm rained down on DC after staunchly anti-LGBT writer Orson Scott Card was announced as the writer for the first issue of a new Superman digital comic series, and after artist Chris Sprouse made a very public exit from the project, the publisher decided to shelf Card’s story. Instead, Adventures Of Superman #1 (DC) debuts with a story from the Superman dream team of writer Jeff Parker and artist Chris Samnee, two creators that have been doing outstanding work at Marvel over the past few years. Both men have a talent for combining a classic superhero tone with modern storytelling sensibilities in their work, and they’re the exact type of voices that DC could use on their floundering Superman line. “Violent Minds” is a traditional Superman story in the best way, pitting Superman against a junkie tripping on a drug created by Lex Luthor that causes massive telekinetic shockwaves. It’s largely an exquisitely choreographed action sequence that is just plain fun, with the highlight being a hilarious moment where Superman is forced to punch himself in the face. There’s no effort to reinvent the hero or make him “cool,” and it will make readers yearn for the pre-New 52 days when Superman wore his underwear on the outside and didn’t spend most of his time brooding. [OS]

Cynthia Copeland’s Good Riddance: An Illustrated Memoir Of Divorce (Abrams ComicArts) begins with the moment in March of 2001 when Copeland—a successful author of children’s books and lighthearted parents’ guides—discovered emails between her husband and his mistress. What follows is a frank, personal account, mostly about what the next year was like, as she and her soon-to-be-ex figured out how to live separate lives while still sharing parental responsibilities. When Copeland strays from that story—writing and drawing about her kids’ quirks, for example, largely unrelated to the divorce—Good Riddance loses focus. And the last quarter of the book, about her remarriage to someone with kids of his own, feels like it should’ve been a separate memoir. But Copeland has a charming art style (a little like Cathy Guisewite if Cathy were a comic strip about the wreckage of infidelity), and because of her experience in the self-help/instructional publishing field, she brings a welcome specificity to the subject. Good Riddance isn’t a rant against cheating spouses; it’s more a step-by-step breakdown on how it feels to have a comfortable life upended overnight. [NM] 

A lot of children’s books can be summed up by two contrasting messages: “You can be brave, work really hard, and change yourself,” and, “You should be proud of who you are.” True to its name, Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon’s kid-friendly graphic-novel/picture-book hybrid Odd Duck (First Second) tries to reconcile those two ideas. When an eccentric waterfowl named Theodora meets an even weirder new neighbor named Chad, she’s forced to reexamine who she is, and what she wants other people to think of her. At over 80 pages, Odd Duck is longer than most books aimed at elementary schoolers, but the extra space allows Castellucci and Varon to explore the friendship that develops between two weirdos, going into detail about both what makes them strange and how they develop the courage to be strange together. [NM]

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