Marvel has recently started to get back in the business of creating original graphic novels with its series of Season One books retelling the origins of popular characters, but Avengers: Endless Wartime (Marvel) is the publisher’s highest profile OGN yet. Writer Warren Ellis returns to superhero comics to pen an Avengers story set in 616 continuity but targeted specifically to fans of the Marvel films, featuring a team composed almost entirely of heroes that have appeared on screen (Captain Marvel is the sole exception). Focusing on Thor and Captain America, who conveniently have movie sequels coming out in the next year, the graphic novel pits the Avengers against monstrous mythical creatures powered by Nazi technology. They’re not the most interesting villains, but they do allow for some great fight sequences from artist Mike McKone.
Ellis has a tendency to write his superheroes as slight variations of the same asshole personality, and never has that been more evident than in Endless Wartime. No one on this team seems to like each other—mimicking the group tensions of The Avengers film—despite having worked together for years. Ellis’ use of narration for exposition works well, but when he switches to dialogue for the same purpose, the results are very clunky, like this line from Captain Marvel: “But, yes, I am a genetically stable fusion of human pilot and an alien soldier race from the Large Magellanic Cloud.” The characters voices generally feel off, especially self-righteous curmudgeon Captain America, whose icy demeanor makes him a less-intriguing central character.
McKone’s art is slick and does nice work finding a middle ground between the comic and movie universes in terms of design and atmosphere, providing detailed visuals grounded in reality with flashes of superhero spectacle. His rendering of Captain Marvel’s costume shows just how fantastic Jamie McKelvie’s redesign works for the character. Additionally, the look fits well with the cinema-ready costumes of her teammates, which includes Wolverine in leather rather than yellow-and-blue spandex. (The Marvel movies could definitely use an extra super-powered female, and the costume is just one reason why Captain Marvel should make the jump to the big screen.) The art makes this a very good-looking package, but the story fails to excite, making for a disappointing use of the immense talent at hand. [OS]
In 2010, Fantagraphics scored a surprise hit with Newave! The Underground Mini Comix Of The 1980s. In retrospect, it’s not difficult to see the appeal. Bound in a fetching, compact brick of a book that features hundreds of pages of obscure yet seminal, self-published comics of the ’80s, the volume is a vital document of a vibrant scene that wound up exerting a far vaster influence on the medium than anyone might have guessed. The same can be said of Newave!’s follow-up, Treasury Of Mini-Comics Volume One (Fantagraphics). Again, Fantagraphics—and in particular, editor Michael Dowers, who also compiled Newave!—has zoomed in on a seemingly narrow sliver of DIY comics, although it stretches from the late-’60s underground era to the indie boom of today.
But Dowers quickly makes the scope of his project, and the subgenre, apparent. From Matt Feazell’s stick figures, which humbly deconstructed superheroes in the ’80s as remorselessly as Watchmen, to the groundbreaking immediacy and Zen-like absurdism of John Porcellino’s autobiographical King-Cat Comics And Stories, the Treasury exploits the super-concentrated format of Newave! by underscoring just how much freedom and innovation can flow from the pens of autonomous, self-published creators obsessed with smallness. Included is seminal early work by Naughty Bits’ Roberta Gregory, whose Devolution sports a poetic (yet punchline-punctuated) lushness up through Complaints—a Pekar/Crumb-esque piece with a working-stiff rant that shows the far less somber side of The Hypo’s Noah Van Sciver.
The interviews with featured artists, though, are sporadic and scant (not counting an in-depth essay on the late artist and publisher Dylan Williams written by comics scholar Tom Spurgeon), which allows too much of the content to whiz by without sufficient context. That’s a minor complaint, though, considering how much care and historical perspective Dowers invests as a curator—especially now that up-and-coming graphic novelists like Chuck Forsman are helping keep scratchy, scrappy mini-comics alive and relevant in the webcomics age. [JH]
Matt Fraction’s Satellite Sam for Image Comicsis an entertaining period piece, but it’s not nearly as progressive and playful as the writer’s other creator-owned work. Sex Criminals #1 (Image) delivers the type of forward-thinking storytelling Fraction is known for, using the comic-book medium to brilliantly depict a poignant story about love, loss, growing up, and stopping time through orgasm. Much of the book’s success is due to artist Chip Zdarsky, whose skill capturing the stark, depressing reality of Suzie’s life following her father’s death beautifully contrasts with the psychedelic special effects that flood the world after she orgasms. Suzie learns about her special talent while masturbating as a young girl, and this first issue outlines Suzie’s history from a sexually curious child to an experienced adult who discovers her latest partner has the same gift. Naturally, they decide to use their ability to rob a bank after fucking in the bathroom, ending the first issue with a cliffhanger that is an incredible hook for the rest of the series.
Comic books have a unique way of depicting the passage of time through still images, and the creative team plays with this in interesting ways. Sometimes it’s for comedic effect, like when a panel freezes on the goofy face a man makes when he ejaculates, but there are also more sophisticated applications, like the full-page spread showing the first meeting of Suzie and Jon. The two move through that detailed still shot of a party, a figurative freeze in time that foreshadows the literal one that comes after they do. The concept may sound a bit juvenile, but the book offers fascinating insights into the nature of sexuality, examining the escapist qualities of physical intercourse, but also the fear and anxiety that can follow. Behind the cheeky cover (which features the Image logo as the clitoris on an abstract vagina) and panels of crudely drawn sex positions, Sex Criminals offers a mature yet dazzling look at sexual awakening. [OS]
The future is always uncertain for young adults, but what happens when a group of friends finds out they will be responsible for the coming apocalypse? For the five central characters of The Bunker #1‑3 (Hoarse & Buggy Productions), digging up a time capsule reveals pieces of the future rather than the past when they find a mysterious room containing messages from their older selves. These letters outline a horrific future where genetically modified food paves the way for a super-flu that kills 5.5 billion people worldwide, and each person plays a part. There’s a strong Lost influence in Joshua Hale Fialkov’s story, which begins with a mysterious hatch and flashes forward to a different person’s future in each issue. And like that series, the focus on character relationships brings weight and realism to a sci-fi story.
Fialkov has done solid work at Marvel and DC, but he’s at his strongest on his creator-owned projects, building immersive worlds that linger in the reader’s mind long after the last page. That setting comes to vivid life through Joe Infurnari’s vivid black-and-white artwork, which is equally adept at capturing nuanced personal emotions and hauntingly detailed dystopian settings. His evocative artwork is the ideal fit for Fialkov’s story, filled with heavy shadows that embody the new fears and anxieties introduced into the lives of these characters now that they know their future. Available digitally online or through Comixology at the attractive price of $1.99, The Bunker is a smart, challenging comic book from two creators taking a risk and stepping outside of the traditional publishing model. [OS]
Three years after Seth’s long-running indie comic Palookaville hit #20 and graduated from floppy to deluxe hardcover, the Canadian cartoonist has unleashed Palookaville #21 (Drawn & Quarterly). As with its immediate predecessor, the results are mixed. The expanded, extravagant format allows for a fuller manifestation of Seth’s vintage, Art Deco-meets-midcentury aesthetic. But it also has given him license to indulge in things like rubber-stamp diaries, which, as promised, is a project Seth has been undertaking over the past few years that entails using a handful of rubber stamps of his own sketches to quickly create panels of a diary. Graphically, it’s an interesting break from the rest of the issue, but it’s sloppy and rushed. The charming humility of the project is belied by the fact that it feels like filler in a very expensive book, and Seth himself apologizes for it in the strip’s intro.
Luckily the rest of the issue makes up for it. The first, long installment of a new series, “Nothing Lasts,” is typical Seth comics-memoir, but he’s boiled his thick, meticulous linework into something consummately iconographic: 1) The story itself, tracing the geography of his childhood hometown, is rich with longing, haunted memory, and 2) the 20-panel-per-page grid that he adheres to, then flaunts, shows masterful control. The issue is rounded out by the fourth installment of his long-running period piece “Clyde Fans,” which nudges its unsavory, unsympathetic main character Abe Matchcard gratefully closer toward what promises to be a conclusion with at least a hint of spark. Even then, Seth’s breathtaking rendition of industrial, blue-collar banality tests the limits of narrative dissonance. [JH]
Knowing Ted May, one of the crass cartoonists behind the Ignatz-winning cult hit Injury, it’s not a stretch to assume that Men’s Feelings (Revival House)—his first solo comic in almost a decade—is maybe just a little sarcastically titled. What’s surprising is just how eerily, creepily poignant the comic is. Veering from scatological to metaphysical with a smooth swipe of May’s brush, these eight new vignettes scan like mundane-yet-twisted short stories as imagined by a glue-huffing, notebook-doodling Raymond Carver. Shot through with silence, suffocating open space, and May’s demented sense of downbeat humor, Men’s Feelings is what happens when a master of gleefully absurdist art starts to age slightly and grow pensive about his grotesque character studies and poop jokes. Then again, with an Eisner nomination under his belt this year, it’s becoming increasingly clear that May has had this depth in him all along—and it’s made all the more evocative by the stark contrast with his goofy side… [JH]
Matt Kindt’s freelance superhero work hasn’t matched the quality of his creator-owned projects, but Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #1 (Marvel) sees the writer embracing a more experimental point of view for a trippy story pitting the wall-crawler against 99 villains. It’s a strong first title to re-launch the Marvel Knights brand, providing an out-of-continuity Peter Parker tale for all those people who can’t stand Dan Slott’s Superior Spider-Man. Artist Marco Rudy does his best David Mack impression with his unconventional layouts and different rendering techniques, but the design occasionally gets in the way of the visual storytelling. Things can get a bit confusing at times, but it seems like that’s the point as Peter’s perception becomes increasingly warped the deeper he ventures into the haunted house. The imagery is spectacular and Rudy pushes himself further than ever before (check out the meticulous crosshatching on Frankenstein’s monster), and his imaginative use of the medium distances this book from other superhero titles. There are a lot of ideas thrown out in this first issue, and while it’s still too early to tell if they’ll all successfully come together in the end, Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #1 is a gutsy, gorgeous debut… [OS]
Image’s Saga has received accolades for using a space-opera context to tell a hip, relevant story for adult readers, and what Saga does for sci-fi, Rat Queens #1(Image) does for sword-and-sorcery fantasy. The tone of writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and artist Roc Upchurch’s series is considerably lighter, and this first issue suggests that the story is only going to get more fun as it continues. After causing considerable chaos and public damage after a night of heavy partying, the Rat Queens, along with the rest of their village’s young crews, are sent out on various missions as punishment. As they bitch about their civic duty, they have no idea that someone is hunting them down, and that balance of comic banter and horrific dread keeps the book moving at a quick pace. Wiebe has a great handle on the individual voices of his four lead characters, and Upchurch’s designs immediately establish personalities, while offering modern twists on traditional fantasy garb. The Rat Queens may exist in a world of magic and dragons, but they act like contemporary young women, adding a Bridesmaids-like dynamic with their lewd, hilarious interactions. Wiebe’s sharp dialogue and Upchurch’s lush, expressive artwork make Rat Queens a delightful twist on fantasy, bringing a hip point of view to a genre that is heavily rooted in tradition. [OS]