Every two weeks, Comics Panel covers recent notable releases along the entire comics spectrum, from superhero/mainstream comics to graphic novels/art comics.
The status of DC’s Vertigo line continues to be a big question mark, but things look to be picking up for the mature-readers imprint over the summer. Astro City will be returning as an ongoing series in June along with a new 100 Bullets miniseries, and Jeff Lemire will be writing and drawing the new miniseries Trillium in August. Vertigo’s big summer begins with The Wake #1 (Vertigo), a sci-fi horror series by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy that takes inspiration from the legend of the Kraken and films like The Abyss to create a chilling story about the horrors that lurk underwater. With American Vampire on hiatus, it’s nice to see Snyder on a book without any sort of editorial restrictions, and his script for The Wake is some of his most focused comics writing.
The Wake begins with a short prologue 200 years in the future, then jumps to the present for the majority of the story before going back 10,000 years for a cliffhanger that suggests things are about to get very bad. In the present, Dr. Lee Archer is a divorced marine biologist who lost custody of her son for mysterious reasons, hired by the Department Of Homeland Security to investigate a deadly sea creature locked up in a secret underwater oilrig in Alaska. One of Snyder’s greatest strengths is his ability to create tension, and he begins the issue with a magnificent action setpiece before quickly switching gears to establish Archer’s situation and build a sense of comfort that will be torn apart by the end of the issue.
The Wake is a sprawling narrative given appropriate scope by Sean Murphy’s stunning visuals, which capture the desolation of future cities submerged in water along with the calming beauty of the open sea. Avoiding the heavy narration that has characterized much of his work, Snyder lets the dialogue and artwork do the heavy lifting. Punk Rock Jesus revealed the massive scope of Sean Murphy’s talent as both a writer and artist, and his strengths as a storyteller allow Snyder to relax his writing.
The splash page that concludes the segment in the future captures the immense force of a tidal wave rushing through a former metropolis, made all the more ominous by the giant creature whose head is slowly emerging from the water. Murphy’s incredible design sense and meticulous detailing create a world that is immediately recognizable, even when there’s a dolphin wearing body armor, and the three different time periods allow the artist to show his full range. Snyder and Murphy are two creators at high points in their careers, and The Wake is the exact kind of high-profile title Vertigo needs to show that it is still a force to be reckoned with in the comics industry. [OS]
When From Hell debuted in the Taboo horror anthology in 1989, the series was largely treated in the comics community as a minor project in comparison to what was supposed to be Alan Moore’s next masterwork: the sprawling, serialized slice-of-life graphic novel Big Numbers. But Big Numbers suffered behind-the-scenes complications and stalled out after two issues, while Moore and artist Eddie Campbell kept plugging away on their retelling of the Jack The Ripper saga, keeping From Hell alive as its own standalone periodical after Taboo folded. The series was completed in 1996 with little fanfare, and the muted reaction continued when Moore and Campbell published a chilling 1998 epilogue that tied the whole phenomenon of the Ripper mystery to life in the 20th century. Not until From Hell finally came together under one cover as a complete graphic novel in 1999 did it start receiving its due as one of the medium’s greatest achievements: a complexly plotted, masterfully rendered dissection of Victorian society and the base origins of evil.
Some of the most fascinating reading during the original run of From Hell were Moore’s endnotes, in which he explained the historical references and revealed how his creative process for the book was steeped in both extensive research and happy coincidences. Now The From Hell Companion (Top Shelf) gives Campbell’s side of the story, as the artist compares Moore’s densely descriptive scripts and rough thumbnail sketches with their finished pages. Campbell explains how he went about applying his sketchy, inky black-and-white style to capturing Moore’s obsessive detail, revealing how much can be conveyed through the power of suggestion. Both Moore and Campbell worked a kind of strange alchemy with From Hell, turning the forensic specifics of a century-old criminal case into an existential horror story, threaded with no small amount of social commentary. The From Hell Companion doesn’t ruin the magic trick that Moore and Campbell pulled off; if anything, it makes their achievement seem all the more astonishing. All these guys did was direct their full attention to minutiae, panel by panel, page by page, until it all accumulated into something grand. [NM]
Art Baltazar and Franco have become two of the most reliable names for all-ages comics, and while it’s nice to see them attached to a mainstream DC book, asking them to revive an obscure Silver Age property seems like a bit of a slap in the face. The fact that they’re able to make The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires #1 (DC) such a fun and engaging first issue speaks to their talent, and it’s a far more successful debut than The Movement, DC’s other Occupy-inspired teen title that landed in May.
The Green Team is a group of filthy rich teenagers who have taken it upon themselves to fix the world, even if that means becoming superheroes to do it. Baltazar and Franco use prince Mohammad Qahtani to introduce new readers to the world of the book, bringing him to a clandestine exposition that the Green Team attends to procure the latest technology. As he makes his way through the room, he meets Green Team leader Commodore Murphy and his companions: movie star Cecilia Sunbeam, oil heir J.P. Houston, and J.P.’s cute sister Lucia Lynn. The exposition can get clunky and some of the teen dialogue is dated (who uses “crunk” anymore?), but the writers give each character a distinct personality and set a strong course for the future of the series. The pace picks up considerably once the exposition is attacked by a group of middle-class thugs who aren’t pleased with the unequal distribution of wealth in this country, showing how the writers are going to incorporate superhero action into a story that is largely about rich kids trying to better themselves and the planet.
The attackers, strikingly designed by artist Ig Guara, are dressed in white rags and leather straps with exaggerated smiley faces drawn on the fabric covering their faces. It’s like an S&M Ku Klux Klan uniform, and it’s extremely effective in showing how ideologically different these criminals are from the Green Team. Guara has a crisp, manga-influenced style that fits the tone of the plot, although this first issue doesn’t offer him many opportunities to show off as it’s all set in a warehouse. Now that the Green Team has been introduced, it’s time to get out and explore the world, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how Baltazar, Franco, and Guara interpret the rest of the increasingly dark and dreary DC universe. [OS]
There’s a moment early in Ulli Lust’s magnificent memoir Today Is The Last Day Of The Rest Of Your Life (Fantagraphics) in which Lust and her friend Edi find themselves in the Austrian wilderness, making their way toward the Italian border, and the two teenage punks suddenly realize just how far from home they really are. Lust’s book is set in 1984, and tracks Ulli and Edi as they spontaneously decide—the way only obstinate young folks can—to blow off the Vienna winter and go take a dip in the sea. But with no money and no passport, they’re soon off the road and in the woods, dealing with steep mountains, darkness, and impassable bramble. Lust discovers that while it’s fine to make homemade anarchy tattoos—and to scoff at the idea that any authority can prevent a person from hitch-hiking hundreds of miles to the beach if she wants to—that spirit of independence doesn’t make it any easier to be cold and exposed in the middle of nowhere.
Today Is The Last Day Of The Rest Of Your Life starts out as an off-the-map travel guide, then develops over the course of its 400-plus pages into a waking nightmare. Ulli and Edi fashion themselves as self-sufficient and sexually liberated, looking forward to the adventure of living off their wits while partying all night with hunky Italians. But Lust learns that there are good sides and bad sides to being a young woman with no resources in a foreign country. Everywhere she goes, men are willing to supply her with enough free food to stay alive, but after dark those same men swarm around her, unwilling to take “no” for an answer. Eventually, Today Is The Last Day Of The Rest Of Your Life takes the form of a post-apocalyptic horror story, wherein the heroine ekes out a meager existence by day and then fights off monsters by night. The book takes an even darker turn when Ulli and Edi both land in Sicily, and find themselves beholden to the Mafia.
Despite its cast of addicts, pimps, punks, rapists, and mafiosi, Today Is The Last Day Of The Rest Of Your Life isn’t all that sensationalistic. At times it’s as matter-of-fact as a postcard. But Lust can bring the suspense when needed, in keeping with her cartooning style, which initially seems rough and simplistic, but is actually full of era-specific and region-specific detail—and can shift into a gripping subjectivity whenever the young Ulli begins to realize just how much trouble she’s in. Lust is never heavy-handed, but Today Is The Rest Of Your Life is a bold feminist critique, showing step-by-step how a woman who begins her trip eating wild strawberries and thinking, “The sweet freshness of the tiny fruits tasted like a promise,” ends it by suffering degradations that no male tourist in a similar situation would have to endure. Lust takes readers inside her experiences, letting them feel how high hopes can devolve into raw survival. [NM]
[Note: Lust is the founder of the online publisher Electrocomics, and the first few chapters of Today Is The Last Day Of The Rest Of Your Life can be downloaded for free.]
Joe Casey loves his shock tactics. His Image series Sex features explicit sexual content in the context of a retired superhero story, and The Bounce #1 (Image) begins with a full-page splash of main character Jasper Jenkins hitting a giant bong. Jasper’s roommate gives him shit for wasting his time smoking weed all day, but Jasper assures him he’s got a “whole interior life thing” going on inside his head, which is code for “I’m a human super ball who fights crime by soaring through the sky.” If Sex is Casey’s twisted take on Bruce Wayne, The Bounce is his adults-only update of Peter Parker, complete with the alliterative name and skewed perception of power and responsibility. That bong hit at the start of the story sets the tone for the rest of the issue, which gets increasingly bizarre and intense once Jasper puts on his costume. Appropriate considering the title, Casey is bouncing around all over the place with his story, and while it creates plenty of narrative paths for the future, it’s a bit too chaotic for a first issue. He’s partnered with artist David Messina, whose linework is reminiscent of artists like Daniel Acuña and Bernard Chang, creating realistic environments yet bringing an animated quality to the characters’ faces. The visuals remain sharp as Casey’s story shifts in unexpected directions, becoming especially psychedelic once Jasper inhales a new mystery drug. Now the story just needs to coalesce into something that makes sense to anyone reading it while sober… [OS]
Graham Chaffee’s graphic novel Good Dog (Fantagraphics) has the look, plot, and spirit of a classic children’s book, though Chaffee smartly steers the story toward a more adult place. Chaffee—a renowned tattoo artist who last dabbled in long-form comics in the ’90s—has an appealing style, with short, confident lines that coalesce into clear figures, alternately resembling turn-of-the-century woodcuts and preschool primers. In Good Dog he draws Ivan, a stray pooch who runs with a pack of wild dogs on the outskirts of a small city in what appears to be the mid-1900s. The dogs swap stories about their past experiences with humans while scavenging for food and wrestling with their canine nature. Though Chaffee’s animals swear and fight, there’s a sweetness to Good Dog as the characters pine for companionship and security in a chaotic, confusing world. The book is like a reassuringly old-fashioned juvenile delinquent morality play, with foul-mouthed dogs taking the place of greasers in leather jackets… [NM]
The brightly colored silliness of The Powerpuff Girls collides with the musical shenanigans of Scott Pilgrim in Subatomic Party Girls #1 (Monkeybrain), a book about the cosmic adventures of Beryllium Steel, Earth’s most popular rock ’n’ roll band. Cleo, Libby, and Vette are three unlucky musicians who are shot into the far reaches of the galaxy by their conniving manager, finding themselves face-to-face with a group of space pirates that are either going to kill them or worship them for their music skills. Writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers and artist Erica Henderson have created the perfect all-ages companion piece for Monkeybrain’s multiple Eisner-nominated Bandette in SPG, a delightfully zany sci-fi adventure featuring a cast of hip, spunky ladies. This first issue begins with a zero-gravity jam session and builds to a battle with a Sphynx cat space pirate named Alassen Raged; it’s light and fun fare, simple enough for kids and clever enough to satisfy adult readers. Henderson’s cartoonish art pops on a digital screen, and she matches the energy of the script with her sleek, expressive linework. And at the low cost of 99 cents, SPG continues to show that Monkeybrain’s digital model allows for great new stories at an affordable price point… [OS]
The ever-prolific Doug TenNapel reaches back into his archives for his new graphic novel Tommysaurus Rex (Graphix/Scholastic), a colorized expansion of a 2004 TenNapel book about a boy who spends a summer on his grandfather’s farm and befriends a helpful dinosaur. Tommysaurus Rex fits the template of TenNapel’s more recent (and more successful) young-adult comics, offering a little slapstick comedy, some boffo action scenes, and a sentimental story about a young person learning the importance of family and friendship. It’s all very pat, but TenNapel’s slick professionalism makes Tommysaurus Rex easy to read and enjoy. By rooting the book in the fragile emotions of a kid mourning the loss of his beloved dog—replaced in his heart by his new pet dinosaur—TenNapel gives both the comedy and the action a purpose… [NM]
Last year, DC Comics attempted to revive the concept of their Silver Age series The War That Time Forgot in the pages of the New 52’s G.I. Combat, putting contemporary military men in the middle of a territory overrun by dinosaurs. It was a lackluster book, and Stephen Mooney does a much better job with a similar concept in Half Past Danger #1 (IDW), a pulp-inspired adventure miniseries set at the height of World War II. When Staff Sergeant Thomas Michael Flynn accidentally leads his troops into an area of the South Pacific populated by dinosaurs, he finds himself the only survivor of a devastating attack and flees the war. While the Irish man drinks away his memories, a beautiful British secret agent, a burly American soldier, and their kung-fu fighting companion arrive to pull him back into the fray. Mooney writes and draws the series, developing an intriguing story about Nazis and dinosaurs that is filled with action. The carnage looks beautiful (Mooney has clearly spent a lot of time researching dinosaurs), but the bloodshed is balanced with a clever sense of humor. When Flynn is thrown through a bar window into the street, he takes a drag from a homeless man’s cigarette before jumping back into the fight. Mooney brings photorealistic detail to his artwork without diminishing the sense of motion on the page, creating a rich 1940s world that will be exciting to explore as the miniseries continues… [OS]
Some of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s best work together was tangential to the superhero genre—in romance comics, monster comics, war comics, and more conventional crime stories. The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction (Titan) collects obscure Simon/Kirby sci-fi comics from the ’40s to the mid-’60s, from the Flash Gordon-like “Blue Bolt” series to the more fact-based adventures in the short-lived comic Race For The Moon. Of particular interest to Kirby-philes will be the many examples—in the ’50s especially—of the future legend drawing the kinds of complicated machines and cosmic characters that would soon become staples of his seminal Marvel and DC comics of the ’60s and ’70s. Largely untethered from ongoing narratives, Simon and Kirby let their already uncanny imaginations roam even freer, conceiving of a galaxy of rock-jawed heroes and mysterious godlike entities, united in their reliance on technology as a kind of higher magic. [NM]