The fan reaction to seeing so many new (read: female) faces in the Spider-Verse events last year was overwhelmingly positive, so the February launches of two female-led Spider-books have been highly anticipated. Unfortunately, Spider-Gwen #1 (Marvel) doesn’t land on its feet quite as gracefully as Silk did, proving that even when you’ve got a talented team and a fresh idea with a lot of fan support, you can still miss the mark. Most people know Gwen Stacy as one of Peter Parker’s doomed girlfriends. Her fridging is stuff of legends, and the impact her death has on Peter is immense. However, this version of Gwen Stacy is Spider-Woman, bitten by a radioactive spider and forced to reveal her identity to her father in the previous issues.
And that copycat backstory is really the root of the problem here: This Gwen is basically female Peter. Her sense of humor, her fighting style, everything screams “Peter Parker in a teenage girl meat suit,” rather than Gwen Stacy. The abrupt killing of her friend Peter in a previous issue leaves readers with even less incentive to check out this gender-swapped universe. There is no real threat to Gwen’s psyche, no promise she will change because of the consequences of her actions, especially because the death that we expect will shape her was so insignificant that it happened off-panel.
Perhaps if the book was planned to be more than a one-shot in Edge Of Spider-Verse from the start, writer Jason Latour would have been able to avoid these problems. But while Silk drew comparisons to Batgirl with style, Spider-Gwen shares more than a little with Batgirl in terms of plot: technophile cop’s daughter, framed as a vigilante by the media, and fighting with her rockstar best friend. Spider-Gwen #1 is struggling against the weight of far too similar Batgirl plots that go all the way back to August 2013, as well as the limitations of the Dan Slott Spider-Verse. That can’t be blamed on Spider-Gwen’s one-shot origins.
Robbi Rodriguez’s art and Rico Renzi’s colors look really great, and there’s a lot of fun visuals, including a cameo of what appears to be a Hamburglar parody called the Bodega Bandit. The colors feel Lisa Frank retro but the neon has a strong, cool effect on muted pages. It may be apocryphal, but the story is that Rodriguez spoke to cosplayers before designing her costume, a huge nod to the type of fans (read: female) that later got Spider-Gwen her solo title. On the other hand, it’s really glaring that there are no women on the core creative team. As much as the attempt is appreciated and the idea is a fresh and desperately needed one, Spider-Gwen ends up feeling like Marvel will happily take women’s money, but isn’t interested in hiring any of them to tell the story of a young woman, instead of yet another clone of Peter Parker. [Caitlin Rosberg]
Hot on the heels of Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor, Andy Poyiadgi’s Lost Property (Nobrow) is another entry into the “man finds himself/purpose/meaning of life in art” canon. The strength of Poyiadgi’s comic, however, lies in its scale, and subdued humor and charm, making it’s ideological catechism a more engaging prospect.
Gerald Cribbin, a quiet unassuming postman, goes about his duties in a competent, routine fashion each day. On one of his rounds, he misplaces an inscribed letter-opener and receives a call from the local lost and found to inform him that it’s been handed in for him to collect. His visit there takes a turn for the strange, as he realizes that every single item housed there belongs to him—or did at some point—even Agatha, the lady who runs the place, is an old school friend of his. A couple of days of pondering and some prodding from Agatha reveals Gerald always wanted to be an artist—a sculptor, in fact—and so begins a project to fashion arrangements from this itinerary of personal, physical history.
It sounds like standard fare, more in the “do what you love” and “make art” vein, but Poyiadgi stays wise in framing and presentation, keeping things tight: Gerald’s life doesn’t undergo any drastic changes; he carries on with his job, working on the sculptures in his spare time, and he does it because he wants to. The support and belief from Agatha, who is able to see him beyond the role of postman as he rediscovers his lost self, also factors in his undergoing an internal galvanizing. The comic ends before the opening night for the sculptures: Their success, then, can’t be ascertained by popularity, acclaim, or commerce, but in the act of making itself. Which isn’t to say Poyiadgi doesn’t offer his own ideological statements—make art for the love of it, success is in creation, etc.—but he also suggests that the individual is an important part of this. Gerald’s art isn’t slanted good or bad, it just is. It retains an ambiguity that allows for maneuvering.
Poyiadgi’s work to this point has largely focused on the comic as physical object, and that origami approach translates to a very clear, precise layout, with lots of small panels, at times almost diagrammatic: There’s a beautiful, white backgrounded two-page spread that maps all the objects connecting to Gerald over the course of his life in an interconnected web. That careful placing mirrors the order in which Gerald’s attempted to contain his life, while losing and ignoring what’s important to him. The soft color palette contributes to the light whimsy of the narrative tone—again suggesting this is not quite a real story.
The only discordant note comes via Poyiadgi’s decision to add some expository backstory via the discovery of an old, unread letter, the inclusion of which feels too pat and rather awkward: Nothing is really added by explaining Gerald’s motives either way and it’s a find too far. [Zainab Akhtar]
Is Noah Van Sciver the hardest working man in alt comics? The evidence seems to point in that direction. In just under a decade, Van Sciver has built a sizable body of work through force of will and pluck. (And yes, in case you were wondering, he is Ethan’s younger brother, not that there’s probably a lot of crossover in terms of readership.) It all began with a self-published mini called Blammo Funnies back in 2006, and it continues today with the significantly more polished Blammo 8½ (Kilgore Books).
Van Sciver’s earliest work was, well, unformed. It was rough, and he was criticized accordingly. But he kept at it, pumping out minicomics at a tremendous rate, appearing in every anthology that would have him. There is something endearing in Van Sciver’s dogged determination, and it’s hard to fault the guy for playing by the rules, building his career the old-fashioned way. He didn’t jump to the head of the line with a Tumblr comic that snagged him a book deal six months into his career. (That’s not a dig at anyone who did, mind you.) Van Sciver needed to pay his dues to get to where he is today, and the results speak for themselves.
Despite the fact that he’s got multiple books in print from industry-standard Fantagraphics (2012’s The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln, this year’s Saint Cole, and forthcoming Fante Bukowski), as well as being a regular contributor to MAD, Van Sciver understands the importance of staying true to your school. Hence Blammo 8½: too slick to be a proper minicomic per se, but charming nonetheless. It’s in full color on slick paper, still ashcan size, just small enough to be a hassle to properly store—like God intended. It’s comics equivalent of the 7-inch of punk covers tossed off by the famous guys who just released their third album on Warner Bros.
Despite its smallness, it’s the kind of lovingly constructed package that was built to be lingered over. For a minicomics guy, Van Sciver has a good hand for color. There are a few pages of daily diary strips that gain immensely from some childlike crayon coloring, the perfect foil to the potentially emo subject matter. Apropos of nothing there’s a two-page spread of an old-timey 1800s gang fight, complete with bright red exit wounds and soiled blue plaid trousers. There’s no “main” feature, but rather a series of interesting bits that seem like they would have been hard-pressed to fit elsewhere. There’s a one-page transcription from Limp Bizkit’s 1999 episode of Behind The Music that is sublime in its absurdity—anything more would be belaboring the point, but it’s just short enough to make its point and leave before the joke wears thin. A few pages built around splicing an old Phantom comic strip with pornographic anti-Communist propaganda defy easy description—again, not the kind of feature you could build an entire book around, but a hoot in this one-off context. [Tim O’Neill]
Writer Dan Abnett and artist I.N.J. Culbard have developed a strong creative relationship over the last few years, regularly teaming up for miniseries that mash up different genres. Their Vertigo title The New Deadwardians combines Victorian mystery with zombie and vampire horror, their Boom! Studios endeavor Wild’s End casts anthropomorphized animals in a War Of The Worlds-like narrative, and their newly collected Dark Ages (Dark Horse) incorporates cosmic sci-fi elements into a tale of medieval mercenaries.
Billed as “Starship Troopers meets Kingdom Of Heaven” by the publisher, Dark Ages follows a group of soldiers of fortune that are yearning for a war to fill their pockets. They find one when an alien vessel crash lands near their camp site, unleashing deadly creatures with razor sharp tongues, piercing horns, and the ability to reanimate those they kill, but unfortunately these men won’t be making any money from this battle. Culbard’s dynamic action staging makes for thrilling scenes of human-on-alien violence, but he’s equally skilled with building tension during the moments when people aren’t getting ripped to shreds, creating an uneasy atmosphere that lingers until the very last page.
Abnett’s script spends a lot of time exploring the relationship these men have with religion, particularly the mercenary Galvin, who has earned the nickname “Lucifer” for his skill with bombards and black powder. Galvin doesn’t have much faith before he learns about the cosmic war that has come to Earth, but by the end of the story he has a considerably different relationship with his Lord, one born from desperate, horrifying circumstances. Abnett delivers some sharp commentary on the detrimental effects of religion in his story, praising it as a “fine guide to morals and an instructional text for humanity,” but decrying the recursive ignorance, stubborn beliefs, and fear that are spawned in its wake. Those negatives are what leave humanity vulnerable when aliens arrive, but Galvin’s more open-minded nature makes him immensely valuable to the fight.
As engaging as the story is, Culbard is the real star of the show here. His refined art style makes for a very smooth reading experience, with thick, unfussy linework that renders very expressive characters and evocative settings. He makes excellent use of negative space; the final page of the first chapter that shows a giant vessel looming over a darkened castle, represented by a huge chunk of black blocking the stars. He also letters the book, and makes some subtle but effective choices in this regard, like linking the letters in a series of “BOOOOM” sound effects to highlight the force of an explosion. He’s a bold artistic talent (to see what Culbard can do on his own, check out his adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft stories), and his collaborations with Abnett have spotlighted his huge range by giving him the opportunity to play in different genre sandboxes. [Oliver Sava]