The X-Men are about evolution, and the best writers on the franchise aren’t afraid to shake up the status quo, as long as they remember the team’s core mission: protect a world that hates and fears them. Jason Aaron has been doing solid work on Wolverine for the past few years, and X-Men: Schism (Marvel), now two issues into its five-issue run, gives him control of the entire X-franchise for a miniseries that promises lasting changes for Marvel’s merry mutants. Lasting changes don’t mean shit in the superhero world, but if Aaron is able to maintain the level of quality of these first issues, Schism may go down as one of the best X-Men stories in recent memory.
Mining the stories of Stan Lee, Chris Claremont, and Grant Morrison for inspiration, Aaron puts the X-Men in a position where they’re hated and feared again, bringing back Morrison’s anarchic Quentin Quire to destroy the X-Men’s reputation. As the title suggests, this miniseries will split the X-Men into two teams, and when Quire seeks sanctuary on Utopia, Cyclops’ choice not to hand Quire over to the humans proves to be Wolverine’s breaking point. Aaron writes the relationship between Wolverine and Cyclops well, and by emphasizing the respect these men have for each other, he sets up their looming split for maximum emotional impact. While Wolverine continues to believe in Xavier’s mission of helping mutants control their powers and integrate with human society, Cyclops’ militaristic actions force the mutant race into deeper isolation. As the world’s Sentinels malfunction and the new Hellfire Club prepares to join the assault, Cyclops’ aggressive decision proves more damaging than anything humanity throws their way.
Each issue is drawn by a different A-list artist, with Carlos Pacheco and Frank Cho taking the reins for the first two issues. Sleek pencils and a firm understanding of panel composition and human anatomy have made Pacheco one of most reliable names in comics, and after his recent Uncanny X-Men issue, his return is much welcomed. Faced with a script heavy on dialogue, Pacheco has no problem with the quieter emotional moments. But when the characters put on their fighting gloves, his panel layouts open up to capture the chaotic intensity of battle. Frank Cho gets the opportunity to draw his characteristically full-bodied female figures, but his work is about more than T&A. Cho’s facial expressions come close to rivaling Kevin Maguire’s, and his anatomy is especially strong when it comes to the contrast between Cyclops and Wolverine. Cho’s rendition of Scott “Slim” Summers lives up to the nickname, and the way Cho depicts his rail-thin frame next to Wolverine’s bulky, slouched posture shows how Cyclops has become more confident as Wolverine grows wearier. With future issues featuring the talent of Daniel Acuna, Adam Kubert, and Alan Davis, and Aaron’s story accelerating to its conclusion, Schism is beginning to look like a solid start of a new X-era.
Just in time for his summer blockbuster, Steve Rogers is back as Captain America and launching a new ongoing series while his old sidekick Bucky takes over the previous volume. Ed Brubaker has been doing consistently strong work with the characters since 2004, and splitting writing duties between Captain America #1 (Marvel) and Captain America And Bucky #620 (Marvel) hasn’t diminished the quality. Even though the racks are currently flooded with Captain America books, Marvel knows how to pull attention to the character’s ongoing titles during summer movie season. Illustrated by superstar artist Steve McNiven, Captain America is a fast-paced spy thriller reminiscent of Brubaker’s early Cap issues. Co-written by Marc Andreyko, CAAB is a flashback book recounting the early days of James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, and the first issue gives the complete Bucky origin story with gorgeous artwork by Chris Samnee.
Wisely avoiding the recent developments of Fear Itself, both books are completely accessible to new readers. By beginning the new ongoing with Peggy Carter’s funeral, Brubaker incorporates the movie’s female lead without distracting from Steve’s current companion, Peggy’s niece Sharon. Future issues look to feature Peggy more heavily as Brubaker introduces Codename: Bravo, Peggy’s ex-beau with a grudge against Steve Rogers for stealing his girlfriend, and Bravo’s connection to Cap’s past promises World War II flashbacks, one of the best elements of Brubaker’s run.
Set entirely in the ’30s and ’40s, Brubaker and Andreyko’s Bucky origin is an emotional story about living in a father’s shadow and trying to honor his memory, and the writers balance the bleakness of Bucky’s situation with the hope that the military, and specifically Captain America, represent for the character. Considering Andreyko’s history with Brian Bendis, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for him to set up shop at Marvel, and Bucky’s story plays to his strengths as a writer, allowing him to get in the head of a regular human thrown into a fantastic world.
As strong as the stories of both issues are, the real selling point is the art. Marvel is making sure that it has its top talent on these books. Steve McNiven has been steadily evolving since his Crossgen days, and now that he’s finally out from under Mark Millar’s thumb, he’s able to work on a book worthy of his talents. His panel composition makes action fly across and off the page (an image of Cap throwing his shield at the reader would look amazing in 3D), and the clean lines and sleek style show off every little detail of the locations and characters.
Samnee’s work on CAAB is moody and muted by contrast, but it’s a perfect fit for the emotional story. Samnee captures not just the clothing and architecture of the time period, but the spirit and tone of Depression-era, pre-World War II America as well. The grittiness prevents the world from appearing too idealistic, which complements what has made Brubaker’s run on the character so memorable: He isn’t afraid to show the brutal, dirty reality of war that the Golden Age Captain America stories were trying to avoid.
With all of DC’s titles preparing for the upcoming revamp, War Of The Green Lanterns: Aftermath #1 (DC) is the company’s only in-continuity first issue of July. It seems like a missed opportunity to have the ongoing Green Lantern titles in the middle of a mythology-heavy crossover when the Green Lantern movie opens, but then again, that movie was pretty bad; there probably aren’t too many new fans racing to their comic shops to pick up three different Green Lantern titles. Tony Bedard is a capable writer who has shown a fine understanding of the franchise’s complex history. But given the unenviable task of wrapping up an underwhelming crossover in the face of a line-wide revamp, Bedard’s story feels inconsequential.
The issue’s cliffhanger has already been spoiled by previews for the relaunch, and while it may be the journey that counts and not the destination, it’s easier to enjoy the journey when everyone isn’t whining all the time. These are Green Lanterns, isn’t willpower supposed to be their thing? Everyone in the cast is either brooding or moping, which grows almost as tedious as the power-struggle between the Lanterns and the Guardians that has been going on since before Blackest Night. As the Guardians’ transgressions pile up, why do the Green Lanterns continue to serve them? Salaak stands out as the issue’s most empathetic character and the only Lantern that tries to approach their problems from a point of reason, but he also follows the Guardians blindly.
Miguel Sepulveda and Tyler Kirkham share art duties, and their significantly different visual styles break up the flow of the issue. Sepulveda’s detailed pencils go for realism, but his figures can occasionally be too static and posed, pretty individual images that don’t flow into each other. Kirkham is a superhero artist from the Top Cow school, which means his body types and facial expressions don’t vary too strongly from character to character, but he can draw explosive action sequences. Unfortunately, this issue is light on action and heavy on the talking heads, and emotional storytelling isn’t Kirkham’s strong suit. In an increasingly competitive market, DC should be using the lucrative summer months to bring in new readers, but most of its books are slowly drowning as the company waits for September.
For the last decade, Matt Murdock’s life has been crumbling around him, with each new Daredevil writer delivering another blow to his sanity. Mark Waid’s Daredevil #1 (Marvel) is a drastic shift in tone for the character, with the fun-loving, womanizing Matt from the Silver Age days returning to New York City to rebuild his law practice and reputation. Matt explains his jubilant personality shift as a forced change to lift him out of his emotional breakdown, but Waid ends the book on an ominous note, as Matt’s partner Foggy worries that it may not be the best idea for him to put up another mask when he should be going to the root of his problems: his alter ego. The densely packed script catches readers up on Matt’s history, but is more concerned with moving forward, setting up the costume and courtroom dramas that define Matt’s life.
Mark Waid is blessed with perhaps the best art team in comics, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, and this issue features some of the most innovative work of their careers. Both artists have a talent for creating fully realized environments, and Matt’s radar sense poses a challenge that the artists approach in different but complementary ways. Rivera uses neon pink lines over black to trace the outlines of people and surroundings, an intricate effect that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the issue’s bright colors. The onomatopoeia and numerous small panels that Martin sprinkles across the page capture the multi-sensory effect of Matt’s superpowers, and there’s one two-page spread that does such a fantastic job capturing a noisy, busy city street that it should be dissected in classrooms. What is essentially a simple story about Matt and Foggy walking down the street becomes a vibrant celebration of one of comics’ best friendships through Martin’s pencils. For the first time in a long while, Matt Murdock is smiling again. With this creative team, it’s easy to see why.
Joe Casey has had a complicated relationship with superheroes. He’s written major titles at DC and Marvel, but recently he’s turned his attention to producing creator-owned work that comments on the genre. Vengeance #1 (Marvel) is the culmination of Casey’s work in the Marvel Universe, taking an alternative approach that blurs the line between hero and villain. Reviving the Silver Age concept of the Teen Brigade, a group of teens that secretly helps heroes, Casey assembles an underground team made up of morally ambiguous new characters like Ultimate Nullifier and Miss America Chavez and forgotten players like the depowered mutant couple Barnell “Beak” Bohusk and Angel Salvador. The first issue covers a lot of ground, providing the necessary background on the team’s function while cultivating multiple storylines that extend to all corners of the Marvel Universe. While Ultimate Nullifier messes around with mutant hussy Stacy X and takes down Magneto, Miss America breaks the In-Betweener out of a government prison and ex-Nighthawk Kyle Richmond meets with a federal agent to look into who is selling state secrets to the Teen Brigade. It’s a lot to take in, but Casey’s artistic collaborator Nick Dragotta is such a strong storyteller that his last big book—the final issue of Fantastic Four—didn’t even need words. His tight pencils are done in the classic Marvel house style, evoking Jack Kirby and John Romita, but his panel layouts and character designs give the book a modern feel, creating a look that is simultaneously retro and progressive, much like Casey's script.
Jonathan Hickman tackled time travel in his 2007 miniseries Pax Romana, but for his return to creator-owned comics, he takes the chronal manipulation to another level. The Red Wing #1 (Image) is a millennia-spanning epic that fits right in with the rest of Hickman’s impressive output, incorporating elements of space opera, historical fiction, and fringe sci-fi into one exhilarating story. The issue opens with a Red Wing pilot racing through time, pursued by enemy fighters as he flies past dinosaurs and the Colosseum. The entire issue feels cinematic, from the striking title card done in Hickman’s signature white-washed style to the Star Wars-meets-Back To The Future plot. After the intro, the story shifts to Dominic and Valin, two rookie Red Wing fighters training to fight in the war that took their fathers’ lives. Hickman's war through time is a fascinating concept that seems almost too broad to be fully captured in four issues. Clearly, he and artist Nick Pitarra have done a lot of research to depict each era. Pitarra draws like a less-refined Frank Quitely, doing a particularly strong job in giving the environments different textures: His prehistoric Earth is lush and clean, ancient Rome gritty and harsh, the future sleek and shiny. The attention to detail makes the jumps through time even stronger visually. The Red Wing is the kind of imaginative, sophisticated story that has put Hickman at the forefront of the industry, and Pitarra more than rises to the challenge of capturing the writer’s ambitious concept.
Remember the Goon? Ugly hulk of a guy, has a sidekick named Frankie? Used to have a comic a couple of years ago? The Goon #34 (Dark Horse) ends Eric Powell’s nearly two-year hiatus from his breakout character, and his first issue back has the Goon and Frankie facing glittery vampires and the deeper evil that spawns them: tween girls. Powell can do high drama when he wants to, but this issue is the creator at his irreverent best, using the Goon to pummel the most irksome cultural phenomenon he can find. After beating down sparkle vamps in the intro, a drunken Goon fights a pink demon that takes the form of a little girl and screeches deafening boy-band music. The book doesn’t take itself seriously, but Powell is serious about his craft, turning in gorgeously grotesque artwork that balances the horror and humor of the script remarkably well. Part H.P. Lovecraft, part Harold Gray, Eric Powell is a twisted genius with the talent to compensate for his perversion. The Goon is back in true form; now Powell just has to stick to his bimonthly schedule.
Joe Hill took home the Best Writer award at this year’s Eisner Awards, and Locke And Key: Clockworks #1 (IDW) shows why he’s quickly become one of the medium’s top talents. For the start of Locke And Key’s fifth volume, Hill rewinds the story to the Revolutionary War, answering the mysteries of what the series’ magic keys are made of, where they come from, and what exactly lies behind the black door that can only be opened by the Omega Key. Hill’s background as a novelist comes through in his plot structure, and though Clockworks breaks from the main action of the story, it’s a significant break. Hill’s understanding of the world he’s created allows him to leave clues and teases in early issues that get picked up later, and this issue serves as a prequel to the events recounted in the key descriptions Hill penned for the Locke And Key collections. Flashback stories can be hit or miss, but Hill doesn’t waste any time turning up the stakes for these characters. By keeping the tone tense and unpredictable, he keeps things from getting too expository when the revelations come flying fast and furious. Gabriel Rodriguez has grown a lot over the course of this series, and his exaggerated style has become a perfect fit for Hill’s dark script. This issue is filled with unsettling, graphic images, and the cartoony elements of Rodriguez’s art create a contrast between the style and the subject matter that makes the story even more unnerving.