After months of focusing on the Secret Wars events, Marvel draws its attention back to the far more diverse cast of characters that have been earning press and critical praise for the past few years. Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur #1 (Marvel) is one of the more hotly anticipated new titles, and so far it’s earned that enthusiasm.
Writers Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder are working with a lot of unformed clay. Besides Secret Wars: Planet Hulk, Devil Dinosaur hasn’t been seen in comics for some time, and Moon Girl, a.k.a. Lunella Lafayette, is an entirely new character. Montclare and Reeder have worked together before on titles like Madame Xanadu, Halloween Eve, and Rocket Girl, but their roles were of editor-writer (Montclare) and artist (Reeder) rather than collaborating writers. The lighthearted but earnest tone they’ve hit is perfect for Lunella, a nerdy girl with few friends who’s more interested in inventing than school or socializing. Anyone who felt out of place as a child will identify with Lunella, frustrated by her parents, teachers, and peers alike. One of the chief concerns of some readers was how the book would handle Moon Girl’s predecessor Moon Boy, a small ape-like creature that was Devil Dinosaur’s first companion. The potential for error here—transitioning from an ape boy to a black girl—is not negligible, but so far Montclare and Reeder have navigated those fraught waters well and it will be interesting to see how the story unfolds as Moon Boy’s world invades Lunella’s.
The book is rich with color and detail thanks to artist Natacha Bustos and colorist Tamra Bonvillain. Bustos has contributed previously to Spider-Woman, but Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur is her first ongoing series, and she hits the ground running. The lines are fluid and kinetic without losing any sense of realism. Lunella looks young but not naive, the expressions worn by the adults around her heavy with frustration and concern.The visual gag of rollerskates coming out of Lunella’s shoes might be the best panel in the book, a throwback to one of Iron Man’s more Inspector Gadget moments. Lunella probably has more in common with Tony Stark than most other Marvel characters: She’s an unrepentant nerd, too wrapped up in her inventions to remember that the people around her may want or need her attention.
Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur is an enjoyable read from start to finish, but it does underscore a larger issue at Marvel has: Lunella shares more than a few similarities with Cindy Moon, another young woman of color who has been de-benched rather recently and getting a new #1 post-Secret Wars. Silk got a lot of press prior to the first #1, but since then has received little to no marketing or support from Marvel, leaving it searching for readership in a way other books are not. Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur may be at risk for the same negligence, which is the surest way to kill a strong and promising book. Marvel needs a better overall strategy for advertising books that do not star legacy characters with built-in audiences; Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur would be a great place to start. [Caitlin Rosberg]
Unlike Lunella Lafayette, Matt “Daredevil” Murdock isn’t in any risk of becoming a low priority at Marvel Comics. The character has a successful TV show that is returning for a second season next year, and he’s coming off a multiple Eisner Award-winning run by writer Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee. Matt experiences a remarkable evolution in Waid and Samnee’s run, publicly coming out as Daredevil and relocating to San Francisco, so it’s disappoint that his “All-New, All-Different Marvel” debut backtracks so heavily.
Daredevil #1 (Marvel) has Matt Murdock back in Hell’s Kitchen, and for unexplained reasons, his ex-business partner/best friend Foggy Nelson is the only person who knows his superhero secret identity. Samnee’s neo-classical art style has been replaced by gritty, noir-influenced visuals from artist Ron Garney and colorist Matt Milla, a look that shares a lot in common with the Daredevil comics of the ’80s. This first issue reads a lot like the start of Amazing Spider-Man’s “Brand New Day,” which similarly regressed from major changes for the central hero in favor of a status quo rooted in the past, and also featured a Chinese crime lord as the primary antagonist. Unlike “Brand New Day,” this issue doesn’t reveal why this regression has occurred, and while there’s value in jumping straight into the new status quo, it’s not enough to compensate for the frustration of going backward without any concrete explanation why.
In terms of new, different developments, writer Charles Soule has given Daredevil a new sidekick (the unfortunately named Blindspot) and a new job in the district attorney’s office. Readers that skipped All-New, All-Different Marvel Point One may be confused by Blindspot’s sudden presence in Daredevil’s life, but his introduction is much smoother than the introduction to Matt’s new job, which is saddled with clunky dialogue that bluntly breaks down what working for the D.A. entails. Soule, himself a practicing attorney, is a smart fit for Marvel’s premier superhero lawyer, but as of this first issue, it doesn’t appear as if the cases will be as fun, fantastic, and strange as Soule’s delightful work on She-Hulk.
Hopefully the legal content will become more intriguing, because right now the superhero elements are far stronger, largely because of Garney and Milla’s striking artwork. Garney has always been a reliable superhero artist, but he steps up his game considerably on Daredevil. His composition is more dynamic, his inks more textured, his environments more detailed and atmospheric, and Milla’s subdued color palette puts extra emphasis on the linework by choosing one specific shade for each scene. The red spot-coloring on Daredevil’s costume is a smart way of making the character the focal point of any panel he appears in, and Garney’s new design for the hero is a good mix of his classic comic look and his costume on the TV series. The book is at its best when Daredevil is in action, but there’s still work that needs to be done to make Soule’s Murdock a more captivating character. [Oliver Sava]
Laura Knetzger makes work that feels totally unconstrained by convention. Bug Boys Vol. 1 (Czap Books), the first collection of her self-published series, is no exception. The early issues are simple and straightforward. Rhino-B and Stag-B are anthropomorphized beetles who go on succinct adventures. Knetzger’s aesthetic is simple and clean, though the use of zip-a-tone (or an artificial zip-a-tone stand-in) is an unusual choice that gives the book a hand-printed quality. Her sense of humor is the same Adventure Time blend of fantastic milieu, anime references, and the overwhelming sincerity of dealing with not quite feeling like an adult. Everything about the early stories speaks to Knetzger’s personal connection with the work, but it’s also indicative of a cartoonist who is coming into herself.
As the series progresses, however, Knetzger’s formalist sense of humor begins to show itself, and the bug boys’ adventures become less adventures into dungeons and more adventures into themselves. Her layouts become more fluid and evocative. Her characters become divorced from panels all together, walking between them or floating above them. The book shifts from gray scale to color and then back. All of this playful experimentation reaches its apotheosis in issue #9 of Bug Boys. Here Knetzger uses color, but sparingly, using it specifically as an emotional-narrative device. Green and a pinkish-red appear as this ethereal globs that both Rhino-B and Stag-B chase in separate directions, reconnoitering only to find both the abyss and optimistic limitlessness within themselves. When these two join, Knetzger’s pages completely break down. They become dialectical montages where time and space fall away; figures grow and shrink, colliding and separate in violent cacophony. We watch as two figures—white opacities on black opacities—transmute themselves into abstract shapes that shatter and collide.
As Rhino-B and Stag-B reform, they are completely changed, though they’re unable to articulate what that change is. Their adventure concludes without many fireworks, and the reader is left to parse for themselves what exactly has just transpired. Knetzger writes in her introduction that the series was designed to free her from the paralysis of ambition, and it is in those transformative moments of issue #9 that Bug Boys’ power is most apparent. From the beginning, every moment of the series is Knetzger cutting away the mediation between herself and her audience. She draws the veil thinner and thinner as she shapes her narrative voice. This peaks and plateaus with #9 (almost like Knetzger is repelled by the capital-T truth she uncovers about herself), and this climax is the series’ artistic zenith. Ironic, then, that that zenith is what Barthes would term “writerly text”: art that is shaped predominantly in the mind of the reader. As Knetzger lays herself completely bare, the reader is unable to see anything but themselves reflected back. But, ultimately, maybe that’s what art is supposed to do. [Shea Hennum]
An ominous house ad running across DC’s line for the last few weeks reads, “In battle, boys die faster than men!” This legend has the virtue of being both true and in somewhat questionable taste. The ad is for an event called “Robin War” taking place across the Batman titles in December, and appears to take as its premise the simple fact that there are too many people in Gotham City named Robin.
This is a strange hook on which to hang a story for a number of reasons. For one thing, the proliferation of “official” Robins is a tricky story element for the Batman titles in the post-Flashpoint DC Universe. If Batman has only existed for five years at the outset of the New 52, then the idea that those five years included Dick Grayson’s tenures as Robin and Nightwing, Jason Todd’s death, and the introduction of Damian Wayne is questionable at best. Tim Drake has already been removed from the roster of Robins, now having always been “Red” Robin (not the hamburger restaurant). He maybe knew Batman at some point? Too many Robins, not enough time.
Robin War #1 (DC) compounds the problems already incumbent to the Robin concept by adding another ingredient to the already crowded syllabus: a large group of Gotham teens dressed as Robin and acting on their own behalf with the Boy Wonder as their inspiration. This is a natural outgrowth of the premise of We Are Robin, a book centered on the character of Duke Thomas, young leader of an entire cell of wannabe Robins. “Robin War” begins when a kid dressed as Robin interrupts an armed robbery and, instead of incapacitating the robber, accidentally shoots both the robber and the police officer called to the scene. The reaction to the incident on the part of Gotham city government is swift: Robins are banned, and Robin paraphernalia declared illegal. This is all part of the plan for crooked City Councilwoman Noctua, who has ginned up the anti-Robin laws as part of a bid to join the Court Of Owls.
The problem with this story is simple: kids dressing-up as Robin and trying to fight crime should be illegal. The Robin concept gets a pass historically because of precedent, going all the way back to 1940. Batman trains Robins to be the best, the stories tell us, and readers accept the suspension of disbelief that a kid can effectively fight full-grown adults Three Ninjas-style. Commissioner Gordon looks the other way. But when you have incompetent Robin impostors getting people killed, it’s hard to argue that banning Robins isn’t a sensible solution to the Robin problem. You don’t need a sinister conspiracy by the Court Of Owls to reach this conclusion.
Robin War is the kind of crossover book at which DC excels: the kind where generally well-regarded books like Grayson are forced to interact with less popular books for the benefit of no one. (Wasn’t the whole premise of Grayson supposed to be that he needed to lay low so that people wouldn’t know he was still alive?) Writer Tom King does the best he can setting up the premise, but it doesn’t help that there are five credited artists for just the first issue. Robin is a creaky concept on the best of days, and this kind of scrutiny certainly isn’t doing it any favors. [Tim O’Neil]