Writer Jim Zub begins #14 with an immediate curveball. After an opening splash page of Rex fighting a freshly hatched Thool (a Cthulhu stand-in), the action jumps to 1876 New Mexico, where we meet Rex Maraud: Wild West monster hunter. While hunting Thool, Rex falls under the god-monster’s mind control, and becomes Thool’s avatar of destruction. He’s given a weapon forged from his very soul, a golden gun he uses to take out Thool’s supernatural competition. Zub’s clever, irreverent writing results in one of the chillest interpretations of Cthulhu ever, and he turns the elder god into Rex’s wacky new partner. Sample dialogue: “While you’ve been mashing monsters, I’ve been making eggs. So many eggs, it’s crazy. I’m a hellspawn hen house in here, lemme tell ya.”
When Thool lays its eggs and begins sending them through vortexes into different worlds, Rex rebels against his master and is sent flying through dimensions into the fantasy world where Skullkickers has been previously set. This sudden introduction of multiple worlds opens up the possibility of the series exploring different genres while retaining its signature style and sense of humor. The idea of getting a sci-fi or superhero or romance issue of this book is exciting, and #14 and #15 show how easily the creative team is able to transition into telling a Western.
Edwin Huang’s manga-influenced visuals make an ideal match for Zub’s mix of action and comedy, and Skullkickers is unmatched when it comes to using sound effects to enhance the humor of a scene. A shootout against a god is a lot more fun when accented with sound effects like “SQUISHY KICK!” and “EVEN MORE OMINOUS PORTAL SOUNDS.” This book has gathered a devoted fan base in a short time, thanks to its mix of silliness and ultraviolence, but the developments in these past two issues show that the creative team is ready to make a good series even better.
As the title would suggest, the selling point of this book is the design, and it’s quite a sleek package. The writing is less polished, and Kidd’s predictable mystery never really finds a strong emotional hook. The metaphor of the decrepit Wayne Central Station as Gotham is nothing groundbreaking, and the late-developing father theme would be stronger if it was present throughout the entire story. The story feels dated but that’s also entirely the point, with Taylor’s artwork emphasizing the period feel in the art-deco architecture and retro costume design. An early two-page spread of Batman gliding through the sweeping Gotham City skyline is an iconic shot that could be sold as a poster. If the story was as stirring as the visuals, Death by Design would be a must-buy.
The format works, but how are the comics? Pretty damn cool. Steve Niles and Kevin Mellon’s “American Muscle” is a post-apocalyptic thriller starring a ragtag, muscle-car driving cast, living in a world where people are transforming into tumor-covered, mindless killers. It’s certainly unlike anything else on the stands, combining the vehicular thrills of films like Bullitt and The Fast And The Furious with the horror and ensemble cast of The Walking Dead. Niles does solid work setting up the premise and characters with a limited page count, sharing just enough information about the world to pique the readers’ interest without bogging them down with exposition. Kevin Mellon showed a talent for gritty hand-to-hand action on Image’s MMA drama Heart, and the wider scope of Niles’ story is challenging him as an artist and pushing him to new heights. Car chases are some of the hardest sequences to draw, but Mellon is able to create a sense of high-speed movement that increases the intensity of the script.
Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti reteam with their Jonah Hex collaborator Phil Noto for “Trigger Girl 6”, starring a similarly dangerous killer who is a whole lot hotter than old Jonah. Whereas “American Muscle” begins with dynamic action, “Trigger Girl 6” opens with ethereal intimacy, showing the white-haired title character naked in an underwater pod surrounded by fish. Gray and Palmiotti know how to work to Noto’s strengths, and the sensuality of the opening sequence is a strong contrast to the chaos that follows when Trigger Girl 6 is sent on her first mission. Sexy, silent, and deadly, Trigger Girl 6 is a complete mystery, but with Gray and Palmiotti’s track record, she has the potential to be the kind of complex female hero that comics could always use more of.
The dynamics of this title shift constantly, and Parker has established this series as one where the status quo is never such for long. The influx of psychopaths in this issue serves as a reminder that this book is about rehabilitating villains, and gives Luke Cage a whole new set of challenges as team leader. Focusing on Cage and Songbird has brought cohesion to the title as it rotates through different iterations of the team, but now Parker’s challenge comes from balancing a cast that is starting to get unwieldy in number. One benefit of having a huge cast of characters is that it gives Declan Shalvey more to draw. Shalvey is an incredibly versatile artist, equally adept at depicting the vicious horror of #175’s opening sequence and the superhero fisticuffs later in the issue. His creative partnership with Parker on Thunderbolts has only increased the quality of his art, and Dark Avengers is a great primer to their work that should send new readers seeking out back issues.
Back in the early ’80s, The New Teen Titans and Uncanny X-Men were the two most popular superhero comics. Both books are remarkably similar; writers Marv Wolfman and Chris Claremont have similar plotting strengths and dialogue weaknesses, and both titles featured some of the best artwork from creators that became superstars in the industry. The New Teen Titans Omnibus Vol. 2 (DC) collects two years’ worth of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s seminal run, beginning with the introduction of Brother Blood and culminating in the New Teen Titans’ equivalent of “The Dark Phoenix Saga”: “The Judas Contract.” These issues are Wolfman and Perez at the height of their game, so it’s disappointing to see a complete lack of extras beyond reprinted introductions by Wolfman and Pérez. Marvel consistently outdoes DC when it comes to their omnibus collections, throwing in bonus content to justify the price tag. In 10 years, there will probably be an Absolute New Teen Titans that contains all that supplemental material, making this omnibus obsolete.