Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye has become one of Marvel’s best titles by taking a down-to-earth look at the superhero lifestyle, and The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man #1 (Marvel) applies a similar perspective to the wall-crawlers rogues gallery for a fantastic debut. Nick Spencer’s work for Marvel has failed to live up to the quality of his creator-owned projects, but Superior Foes is the first time the writer lets his unique voice shine through in one of his superhero comics. With Boomerang as narrator, this first issue delves into the personal lives of these supervillains with an appropriate level of grit but also a refreshing sense of humor.
After a quick introduction to Boomerang and his partners in the Sinister Six, the issue shifts focus to Speed Demon and Shocker, who are asked to feed the imprisoned Boomerang’s pet bird and end up robbing a pet store, with Shocker snatching a puppy away from a little girl who wants to give it the stupid name of Inspector. It’s a hilarious plot that highlights Spencer’s skill with quippy dialogue and allows artist Steve Lieber (who penciled half of Hawkeye’s Hurricane Sandy-centric #7) the opportunity to show off his keen sense of comedic staging. The 11th page is a great gag that builds like a Sunday comic strip, complete with cartoonish details like Speed Demon running off and leaving a cloud with the sound effect “pew” in his wake.
Lieber is joined by colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, who uses a muted palette reminiscent of Matt Hollingsworth’s work on Hawkeye. Along with letterer Joe Caramagna, the creative team works to give this book the same visual flair as Clint Barton’s ongoing series. In group scenes, pictograms appear in speech bubbles to quickly summarize what each member of the Sinister Six is talking about, and when Boomerang flashes his middle finger at a fellow inmate, a Comics Code Authority stamp covers the offending digit. Hawkeye is part of this book’s DNA, but Superior Foes has a flavor all its own, thanks to the group dynamic and villainous point of view in Spencer’s story. [OS]
Valiant has done extraordinary work pairing writers with classic characters that match their individual voices, and Quantum And Woody #1 (Valiant) is the publisher’s best match yet. James Asmus’ The End Times Of Bram And Ben showed a talent for writing genre-bending buddy comedy, and he replaces biblical fantasy with superhero adventure for his revival of Christopher Priest and Mark Bright’s beloved mismatched duo. Unlike the previous incarnation, Eric and Woody aren’t just childhood friends, but foster brothers. Asmus uses flashbacks to give the reader a strong sense of the relationship between the two leads, showing both the positive and negative aspects of their childhood and how that has informed their adult selves. It’s a similar relationship to that of Bram and Ben, but taken to an extreme. Woody is an immoral thief who would rather pee in the sink than the toilet, while Eric is a straitlaced military man looking for any opportunity to do good.
Asmus builds a complex dynamic between the brothers that will change considerably now that they both have superpowers, but this issue’s emphasis on character development suggests that the core relationship won’t be overshadowed by their superhero activity. Joining Asmus are artist Tom Fowler and colorist Jordie Bellaire, who together produce bright, crisply animated visuals that punch the comedic elements of the script. Fowler’s characters are brimming with personality, and his balance of realistic detail and cartoonish exaggeration keeps the book grounded as more spectacular developments unfold. Bellaire’s color palette doesn’t go overboard with textures, helping to emphasize the more animated elements of Fowler’s art. While the new Valiant has only been publishing comics for a little over a year, the publisher has quickly established that it is more than capable of competing with Marvel and DC, and Quantum And Woody #1 shows that Valiant is upping its game for year two. [OS]
Age Of Ultron ended with some considerable character rehabilitation for Hank Pym, so why does he seem so crazy in the pages of Avengers A.I.? In order to defeat Ultron, Hank unleashed a sentient, self-replicating A.I. that looks to be just as dangerous as the villain it helped defeat, but Hank is mostly just impressed that he’s created a new race of robots. The latest title in Marvel’s crowded Avengers line, Avengers A.I. #1 (Marvel) brings together various androids from around the Marvel universe, including The Vision, Victor Mancha of Runaways, and a recycled Doombot, who work under Hank’s leadership to contain the new techno-menace only known as Demetrios. Writer Sam Humphries doesn’t completely sell the concept in this first issue, and it’s unclear what exactly the nature of A.I. has become in the post-Age Of Ultron world.
Are robots a new species like mutants or Inhumans? Is the opponent A.I. a parasite? Right now it seems like Hank and his team are working to protect something that is out to destroy humanity, which is counter to the whole Avengers mission. The tone of this book is closer to anime series like Voltron and Gatchaman, especially with André Lima Araújo’s manga-influenced art. The action in this title is spectacular, especially when the creative team takes advantage of what these robot-heroes can do that normal superheroes can’t, like when The Vision releases a swarm of nanobots from its flesh that interrupt the circuitry of an enemy drone. There are some very cool ideas introduced in this issue, but now Humphries has to find a way to combine all of these different elements into a captivating narrative. [OS]
Matt Fraction is a writer who knows how to play to his artist’s strengths, and a crime drama set in 1951 New York City involving a sci-fi television serial and naughty pictures of ladies is the perfect project for Howard Chaykin. Devoid of any elements of fantasy, Satellite Sam #1 (Image) explores the intense atmosphere behind the scenes of a TV station’s top program, which shares the title of this comic. Investors are visiting the control room, lights are going out in the catwalk, and the show’s lead actor is missing, a confluence of events that Fraction brings together in a tense, intriguing narrative. The dialogue captures the hectic pace of a live TV show, while Howard’s black-and-white art depicts the era in evocative detail. From the fashion to the technology and architecture, Chaykin’s meticulous rendering makes the time period an integral character, much like the production design on Mad Men. Satellite Sam is Fraction’s first creator-owned work since Casanova, and it’s wonderful to see him stretching muscles that aren’t used in his superhero writing. That Howard Chaykin provides sharp artwork with considerably less demon penis than his more recent work is the cherry on top. [OS]
Mythological figure Pandora has appeared in every first issue of DC’s New 52 titles, and after almost two years, readers are finally getting the full story of this hooded figure. Turns out she’s the Pandora of Greek myth, cursed with eternal life so that she can see the horrors she’s wrought by opening the box that unleashed the Seven Deadly Sins upon the world. Considering that the character has had thousands of years to develop a personality, Trinity Of Sin: Pandora #1 is awfully bland. Writer Ray Fawkes zooms through Pandora’s history so that he can set up the decision she makes at the end of the issue, which conveniently leads to the inciting incident of DC’s latest event, “The Trinity War,” over in Justice League #22. Daniel Sempere’s artwork is elevated by Zander Cannon’s layouts, but he largely operates in DC’s vanilla house style that pales when compared to the more stylized linework of flashback artist Patrick Zircher. There’s an expansive story for the creative team to explore in this title, but the limitations imposed on Pandora by its crossover tie-in status prevent it from reaching its full potential. [OS]
Charles Forsman has been publishing his mini-comics for years now, including his Ignatz Award-nominated title Snake Oil. With the momentum he’s been building, he could have stuck with his short, sharp bursts of DIY edginess. Instead Forsman opted to go the full-length graphic novel route with his Fantagraphics debut, The End Of The Fucking World. The world should be glad he did. First serialized in mini form, TEOTFW makes for a stunningly sustained, cohesive read; teen lovers James and Alyssa—each numb to reality and themselves in their own haunting ways—go on a crime spree that sees them randomly victimizing a man with even more horrifying secrets than their own. Rendered in a lucid, emotionally neutral, Charles Schulz-influenced style, Forsman’s art eerily parallels his characters’ misanthropy, violence, sexual trauma, and alienation; at the same time it deftly shifts gears from self-mutilation to self-sacrifice without flinching or forgetting the heart. In lesser hands, it’s the kind of story that could easily devolve into empty exploitation. But Forsman’s surprisingly nimble touch and cinematic scope put a pulse in TEOTFW that belies its seeming nihilism. [JH]
Serialization is done more often with webcomics than mini-comics these days, and the former medium is where Heck (Top Shelf) was born. The latest graphic novel from Zander Cannon—best known for his Alan Moore collaborations Top 10 and Smax—gathers Cannon’s online comic strip about a supernatural investigator named Hector “Heck” Hammarskjöld. The twist: His family home hosts a portal to hell, which he uses when people hire him to contact the dead. Contracted with a task that hits a little too close to his own past—specifically the parts of it that involves his late father and his high-school sweetheart—Heck’s pulpy yet poignant descent into the Underworld doesn’t lack kicks or laughs. It isn’t all fun and damnation, though; the pace takes a while to get pumping, the humor straddles the flat-line, and the episodic quality of the book’s serialized origin lends a staccato rhythm to the narrative. Cannon’s chalky, blocky charismatic art, though, has taken on a David Mazzucchelli feel, and it helps his parable of infernal redemption and forgiveness breeze by. [JH]
The writer/artist team of Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen is pretty solidly cemented at this point—most notably in their semi-autobiographical 2004 graphic novel for Vertigo, It’s A Bird, which meditates on the myth, psychology, and philosophy of Superman (and a book Zack Snyder should’ve read). Interestingly, the duo’s new collaboration, Genius (First Second), also dwells on the myth, psychology, and philosophy of a cultural icon: Albert Einstein. Through the eyes of a fictional physicist who can navigate academia and quantum theory more easily than the needs and emotions of his own family, Seagle overlaps cosmology, history, and tragedy in an ever-widening spiral; meanwhile Kristiansen’s muted, multimedia layouts bring a ghostly intimacy to the deeply layered and ultimately heart-piercing narrative… [JH]
Few indie-comics creators today bother to make floppies, opting instead for more cost-effective (read: less shirt-losing) formats. Noah Van Sciver, though, seems to get a perverse pleasure out of doing things the hard way. Published by the small Denver imprint Kilgore—run by the owners of the used book store where Van Sciver works—Blammo #8 (Kilgore) is the latest issue of Van Sciver ongoing grab-bag of odds and ends (launched long before his Fantagraphics debut, 2012’s The Hypo). Issue #8 sports everything from bitter breakup stories to a post-apocalyptic genre send-up titled “Punk V. Lizards” that’s alternately absurd and absorbing. It’s all told in Van Sciver’s vivid, expressive, neo-Crumb style, which has evolved into something uniquely confident. Even if his self-deprecating subject matter is often anything but… [JH]
Many of today’s greatest creators of alternative comics got their start in the zine world, and some, like King-Cat Comics’ John Porcellino, still primarily reside there. Accordingly, there’s something refreshingly uncompromising about As You Were: A Punk Comix Anthology (Silver Sprocket). The folded-and-stapled anthology brings together more than a dozen zine-centric artists to tell tales of DIY punk shows—those held in warehouses, basements, living rooms, what have you—and how the subcultural etiquette and expectations of that scene can be both liberating and confining. Although collecting a wide range of viewpoints and styles, from the cute and cartoony to the scratchy and angst-ridden, there’s a thread of passion, craft, and self-starter ethics that makes the book a unified whole. (As You Were won’t be stocked by the average comics retailer, but it can be readily ordered here). [JH]