You know him, even if you don’t know his name. Pepe The Frog has become famous across the world—or, at least, across the internet—almost completely removed from the context of the stories in which he first appeared. Before the memes, the gifs, and long before “dat boi,” Pepe was just a humble cartoon amphibian in Matt Furie’s Boy’s Club. Pepe lives with three similarly inebriated friends, Andy, Brett, and Landwolf. Their lives are seemingly free of consequences. They are blissfully high all the time, each face permanently plastered with the same slack-jawed grin, signifying that no one is home.
As a wise man once said, big things come from small beginnings. The original Boy’s Club had a tiny print run and was originally published by Buenaventura Press in 2006. There was no expectation that there was anything abnormal going on, at least no more than you would find in any other funny stoner comic. But something happened soon after the original publication: Pepe, who had originally appeared in a strip on Furie’s MySpace page in 2005, was plucked from context to become a meme. You know this dude. Many generations of memes have come and gone since Pepe first gained notoriety on 4Chan, before metastasizing outward to the internet at large. The best measure of Pepe’s cultural penetration is his resilience: Even though the original meme has long since faded into the digital ether, Pepe’s face can still be seen popping up periodically to signify whenever something “feels good” or is particularly “dank.” Somehow Pepe even got press-ganged into supporting Donald Trump, although chances are very good the frog is too high to remember that particular endorsement.
The strangest aspect of Fantagraphics’ new collection of the Boy’s Club series is that it took this long to be published. The original comics are long out of print and commanding serious money on the secondary market, but the stories themselves remain funny. It is exceedingly odd that such humble pamphlets became so significant. Boy’s Club is funny precisely because of the small stakes involved. There really is nothing resembling a “plot,” no themes or subtext. Pepe and his pals like to get high, a lot. Furie likes his characters despite, or rather because of, their idiocy. They’re so completely useless in every way that they’re utterly benign.
Stoner comedy isn’t perhaps to everyone’s taste, but Furie excels at this surprisingly difficult genre. He’s especially talented in drawing disgusting things in a resolutely cute manner, be it bodily fluids or nasty monster faces. His characters are pretty chill, all things considered, mostly content to while away the days hanging around the house. Furie likes to show people losing their minds, transforming into giant cats or snakes, or just getting naked and dancing around the living room to the accompaniment of a strobe light. One would hesitate to label Boy’s Club is a milestone in the history of the medium, but if you like comics about getting high and eating pizza, these simply cannot be beat. Feels good, man. [Tim O’Neil]
Bringing Bee And Puppycat creator Natasha Allegri on board for an issue of Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! is one of the best editorial decisions made by a superhero publisher in recent memory. Allegri is a perfect match for the light-hearted adventures of Marvel’s premier feline-themed superheroine (sorry, Tigra and White Tiger), and she fits right in with the adorable, bright aesthetic of regular artist Brittney Williams and colorist Megan Wilson. Allegri joins writer Kate Leth for a delightful standalone issue that takes Patsy Walker and friends to Coney Island, where they enjoy a day of carnival rides, ice cream, and deadly games courtesy of the supervillain Arcade.
Sadly, the Hercules-starring parade on the cover doesn’t happen in Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! #6 (Marvel), but the story does deliver on the cover’s promise of summer fun, captured with an art style that makes everything warm, soft, and delightfully childlike. The series already had a strong manga influence thanks to Williams’ work on the first arc, but Allegri takes it to another level with her art for this issue, using the visual vocabulary of Japanese comics to heighten the energy and humor of Leth’s script. The characters are stout and rounded with big eyes and small mouths and noses, their expressions and body language are hugely exaggerated (even more so when they go chibi), and the coloring has a shoujo-inspired luminosity that adds a layer of dazzle to the linework.
Allegri is both a highly skilled animator and comic artist, which means sharp moment-to-moment storytelling between panels as well as bold page design that takes advantage of the flexibility of the comics medium. The issue looks great on paper, but reading it in guided view on Comixology plays to Allegri’s strengths as an animator and highlights how well each image flows into the next. Patsy Walker isn’t the book to read if you want hard-hitting superheroics, but it will appeal to anyone that gets a kick out of cartoons like Steven Universe, Teen Titans Go!, and Allegri’s own Bee And Puppycat. It’s vibrant and silly and proudly proclaims the power of friendship, which makes it sound a lot like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but the storytelling styles of the two series are very different.
Squirrel Girl is madcap and hyper whereas Patsy Walker is sweet and smooth, like a comic-book ice cream cone compared to Squirrel Girl’s shot of espresso. They’re both invigorating reads in a way that a lot of other mainstream superhero comics aren’t, and are indicative of the high quality across many of Marvel’s lowest-selling titles like Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur and the recently canceled Weirdworld. It’s a pity these books don’t move larger numbers because the creative teams clearly have a passion for their material, and that enthusiasm has made for some of the year’s best superhero comics. [Oliver Sava]
When he died last year at the age of 93, World War II veteran Shigeru Mizuki left behind an incredibly rich and vibrant oeuvre. Over the last few years, Drawn & Quarterly has slowly published a number of his works, including Showa, Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler, and Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. But The Birth Of Kitaro (Drawn & Quarterly) is the first in an earnest attempt to publish the entirety of the adventures of Mizuki’s most famous and longest-lived character. Drawn & Quarterly had previously published Kitaro, an anthological compilation of various stories, but The Birth Of Kitaro is the first volume in an unabridged series, and as the title may suggest, it begins at Kitaro’s beginning.
Opening with a historical essay by translator Zack Davisson, The Birth Of Kitaro introduces readers to Kitaro, the last member of the Ghost Tribe of yokai. As Davisson explains in the supplementary material, yokai is a broad Japanese term that encompasses ghosts, spirits, demons, gods, folktales, monsters, et al., though yokai are sometimes good and sometimes bad. As a yokai, Kitaro has mysterious powers (including weaponized hair), and his adventures largely concern his conflicts and friendships with other yokai. These stories are sometimes serious and sometimes comedic, but they all function exquisitely as ethnographic elucidations of common Japanese superstitions. Mizuki’s reputation as an expert of the supernatural is evidenced with precise explications of all the phenomena, though, it has to be said that while these trivial details are interesting, they’re not totally engrossing.
The main draw, however, is Mizuki’s superb cartooning. Superior to anything in the other works of his that Drawn & Quarterly have translated, Mizuki’s style in these early Kitaro stories is varied and complex. The figures are drawn in a way that readers familiar with Mizuki’s other works will recognize: stylized anatomy, bizarrely shaped and oversized heads, minimal facial features, expressive eyes and lips. The backgrounds are shifting, dynamic, complex, and surprising. At points Mizuki emulates the E.C. style of pulpy horror, and he drapes his characters in deep shadow—their bodies soaked in thin streaks of rain, their faces contorted in crude expressions of shock and revulsion. Other stories, or even single panels within the same story, see Mizuki rendering incredible tableaus of dense foliage and scurrying fauna. Here his pen is restless, and he grants precise details to each blade of grass and every leaf on each tree, each line given a unique and particular weight. The effect is a stunning tactility and dimensionality. Varied further still, Mizuki illustrates certain characters as two-dimensional and flat; their bodies are implied, and Mizuki draws them as outlines of white lines on otherwise-opaque black panels.
The aesthetics on display in The Birth Of Kitaro are diverse, and Mizuki’s ability to affect three or four different complex styles in the same story is mesmerizing. His stories are quaint and fun—certainly enjoyable to read—but the way he draws establishes him as a titan, and his reputation as a major talent is confirmed again and again. [Shea Hennum]
The news that some characters from Marvel’s Supreme Power were being brought back seems to have been overshadowed both by movie releases and the imminent start of Civil War II. It’s hard to compete with so many SuperFights™, but frankly if any of the Squadron Supreme had a chance, it’s Hyperion and Nighthawk, who excel at the whole punching thing. Hyperion #1 came out back in March, but it took until May for Nighthawk #1 (Marvel) to make its way to shelves and the hands of readers.
Written by David F. Walker, who’s been at the helm of both of the Shaft miniseries as well as Marvel’s Power Man & Iron Fist revival, Nighthawk tells the story of a wealthy vigilante crime fighter attempting to keep the streets of Chicago safe for its citizens. Raymond Kane, as this version of the character calls himself, is a black man who spends the first third of the book beating up a crew of drug and weapon smuggling white supremacists, a scene that’s both visceral and cathartic thanks to Ramon Villalobos’ art. Villalobos has a gritty but semi-realistic style that’s beautifully highlighted by Tamra Bonvillain’s color work. There are panels that are reminiscent of Frank Quitely’s style, particularly in the way that Villalobos draws men with firm jawlines and slightly smug smiles. The pages are dynamic and interesting, gory without being gruesome.
It’s no real surprise that the book immediately tackles issues of race, poverty, and privilege. Walker has built a reputation for just this kind of comic, and Nighthawk is a character perfectly suited for both heavy action sequences and social commentary. Nighthawk delves into the mind of a man who’s driven by anger and a need to save people who have too long been abused by those in power. It’s compelling storytelling, and overcomes what was Supreme Power’s defining characteristic as well as its largest weakness: the nearly overwhelming cynicism. Nighthawk was the one character that the cynicism and darkness perfectly suited, given his backstory and the world in which he operates.
By removing Nighthawk even more from the rest of the Squadron Supreme’s sphere, it allows an interesting character a chance to shine. But the book itself admits that Nighthawk might struggle to find a niche to fill by comparing the titular character to Frank Castle. While Nighthawk can easily be seen as a corollary to Batman—particularly in the context of Supreme Power’s take on the Justice League—he also occupies the center of a Venn diagram created where the Punisher, Black Panther, and the Midnighter overlap. While Midnighter’s solo run just ended over at DC, Punisher and Black Panther have only recently started their series, and there’s no small concern that Nighthawk might get lost in the shuffle between the two, already starting behind with less name recognition, a #1 that came out last, and no apparent involvement in this summer’s blockbuster event comics. Walker writes great comics. Villalobos and Bonvillain make dynamic, beautiful panels that pop off the page. But if the target audience is already tangled up in other books, Nighthawk may struggle to find its readers. [Caitlin Rosberg]