What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – January 2018

“Then we are living in a place abandoned by God,” I said, disheartened.

“Have you found any places where God would have felt at home?” William asked me, looking down from his great height. (From The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco)

The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom by Cary Bates (writer), Greg Weisman (writer), Will Conrad (artist), Ivan Nunes (colorist), Saida Temofonte (letterer), and Paul Santos (collection editor). $16.99, 120 pgs, FC, DC.

Bates returns to the character he sort-of created (Gill and Ditko created the Charlton character, but Bates gave him a fairly new revamp when DC got him, although it’s close enough to the original that I don’t know if Bates should really be considered a co-creator), along with Weisman (it’s the Eighties all over again at DC!), to revamp Captain Atom once again (the third time it’s been done since DC got the character, or maybe the fourth?). Anyway, this is a better-than-average superhero yarn, as Bates once again tosses Dr. Manhattan – whoops, I mean Captain Atom – through time, as his core is unstable and so he can’t keep himself tethered to the present, which at the beginning of the book is 2012. Nathaniel is thrown back to 1996, and he manages to stay in that time for four years before the “quantum energies” of his body zap him to the present, i.e. 2017. It’s a bit jarring to read Atom’s internal narration about the late 1990s, because superheroes didn’t exist in the Brave New DC World of Rebirth at that time, and his comments on that just remind us, once again, what a dumb move it was for DC to destroy their long history of superheroes. But that’s neither here nor there – Bates and Weisman didn’t create the problem, they just work with it, and they give Nathaniel a love interest and a son, whom he doesn’t know about until he returns to 2017. It’s a fascinating plot, because Atom “dies” in 2012 – at least that’s what the military releases to the public, and then he disappears in 2000, leaving behind a pregnant wife (who conveniently dies in a car accident in 2010) and a son who then believes that his father is a deadbeat who skipped out on his mom. In 2017, the military tells everyone this is a completely different Captain Atom, because Nathaniel’s earlier instability made him untrustworthy as a hero. So Nathaniel has to deal with the fact that his wife died and he wasn’t around, his son grew up without him and hates the idea of a father (they do meet, but the son doesn’t suspect anything, partly because Nathaniel hasn’t aged), and he missed five years of his present life (it must have been fun when Dr. Megala told him who the president was) to boot. Bates and Weisman give him a villain to fight, one that’s similar to him, but the real story is how Nathaniel deals with his losses and how he begins to realize that the military, led by General Eiling (who has also been rebooted into a younger black dude but with the same kind of asshole attitude the other one had), isn’t always looking out for his best interests. I know, shocking.

Conrad has always been a steady artist, a less stylized and slightly slicker version of Mike Deodato (they’re both Brazilian, and I’m pretty sure Conrad came up through Deodato’s studio), and this might be the best work I’ve seen by him. He and Nunes work well together, with Nunes making Megala look a bit too smooth but doing a nice job making Eiling look a bit rougher. It helps, I suppose, that Captain Atom is supposed to be shiny, so the slick digital coloring of a lot of comics works well in this instance. Conrad has never had much trouble with action, so we get some nice fighting in the book, and he and Nunes give the book a nice sense of grandeur, from the special effects from the time-traveling to the energy expended by both Nathaniel and Ultramax, his big bad foe. He uses a lot of Photoshopped backgrounds, too, which are integrated quite well into the main art and, because they’re naturally rougher, makes Conrad’s overall art look a bit more organic. It’s an interesting choice that pays off nicely. I’m never going to love Conrad’s art, but he does a nice job on this book.

I liked this series a lot more than I thought I would. I had some hopes for it, because despite not being a terribly famous writer and despite not having much of a career in comic these days, Bates knows how to tell a story, and it sounded intriguing. Guess what? It was!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Anarky: The Complete Series by Alan Grant (writer), Norm Breyfogle (penciller), Josef Rubinstein (inker), Noelle Giddings (colorist), Felix Serrano (colorist), John Costanza (letterer), and Alex Galer (collection editor). $19.99, 178 pgs, FC, DC.

Alan Grant is a good writer, but I got this, of course, because Norm Breyfogle, one of my all-time favorite artists, drew it. Breyfogle is a terrific artist, and he somehow managed to draw all eight issues of this series without taking a break – it’s uncanny! This is back in the days (20 years ago) right before the Bendisian/Ellisian comics revolution, with its emphasis on decompression and wide-open spaces, so Breyfogle really packs the pages, too, giving you your “money’s worth,” if that’s your thing. His line in these comics seems a bit stronger than when he drew Batman, although it could be because by then comics were using slicker paper and he (or Rubinstein, inking him) felt the need to make his line thicker and stronger due to the paper (I know some? most? comics were using slicker paper in the late 1990s, but I don’t know if Anarky was one of them). This highlights, for me, one of his only weaknesses – details in faces, as he’s never been the best at giving his faces much nuance, and the hatching on faces in this book (which, again, might be Rubinstein) does a little to alleviate that, but not much. That’s such a minor detail, though, because, weirdly, Breyfogle is really good at giving masked faces subtlety, so the fact that he’s mostly drawing masked figures works for him (Lonnie’s mask, which is always presented as a rigid Greek theater mask, moves quite often, but like Iron Man’s armor not really acting like armor, it’s something we have to suspend our disbelief for). Breyfogle is brilliant at action, and this is a frenetic book, so he’s in his element, as bodies slide and jump and twist throughout the entire series. He’s great at perspective, so he doesn’t always use traditional page layouts or points of view, which adds to the energetic vibe of the comic. He has a great design sense, too (he designed Anarky’s costume, and while it’s a rip-off of V’s, among comics work, and plague doctors from actual history, it’s still cool as fuck), so we get a weird, reality-bending monster in the first arc, Anarky-as-a-Green-Lantern, and a pretty cool supervillain, Buzzword (yes, the name isn’t super, but her design is keen). He also gets to draw Zombie Founding Fathers (years before they showed up in Deadpool!), so that’s nice (and after seeing him draw the Spectre for only a few panels, I really need to get his work on that character, because I’m sure it was awesome). He uses mixed media à la Kirby to show the distorted reality in the first arc, and it’s cool and bizarre. Breyfogle is an underrated artist simply because a lot of people don’t know about him (which is weird, considering he drew Batman during the height of the character’s popularity, but that’s the way it is), but he’s absolutely fantastic, and this book is a visual feast.

As I noted, Grant is a solid writer, and that’s what we get from this book. There’s a three-issue arc about some reality-altering monster trying (inadvertently) to destroy the world, and I have a feeling Grant wrote it only so Breyfogle could draw a cool-ass Green Lantern costume on Anarky. Then there’s a three-issue arc in which Ra’s al Ghul is trying to start World War III, like he does, and Lonnie has to stop him. At this point, DC had to know the book was going to be cancelled, yet they forced Grant to shoe-horn in an absolutely pointless “Day of Vengeance” tie-in issue. Grant was taking the book somewhere, as a corrupt senator was about to target Lonnie, and obviously if the book was getting cancelled his sub-plot wouldn’t have gone anywhere anyway, but issue #7 grinds the book to a halt, and it’s unfortunate. Sure, it’s a nifty-looking issue, as George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln rise from the graves and Anarky has to team up with the guys in the Haunted Tank to fight them (despite making J.E.B. Stuart a noble character – blech – there can never be enough Haunted Tank in DC comics, damn it!), but it’s still pointless. Then, the final issue takes our hero to Arkham, where he’s trying to find out if the Joker is his real father. This is another dumb idea that’s there solely to get the Joker into the story, but Grant turns it into a jailbreak, so it’s okay. The idea is bad, and it doesn’t really matter if Lonnie’s father is the Joker (fiction writers are so concerned about family legacy, and it’s really annoying most of the time), but the issue is fine. Unfortunately, it’s the last one of the series, so Grant set some interesting things up and then had two issues that were completely unconnected to the bigger narrative. I get that he probably had fewer issues than he wanted to work with, but he couldn’t have put together a two-issue arc that followed up on the end of issue #6? It’s frustrating with cancelled comics, because we never know what’s going on behind the scenes and how long Grant knew the book was doomed.

This isn’t really an essential comic in any way, but Breyfogle’s art is always fun to see, and Grant is one of those guys who just knows how to put a comics story together, so the book is a charming read. I don’t know if the creators get any residuals from sales of this (they’re credited as creators, but I don’t know what that means), but considering the Breyfogle had a stroke a few years ago and probably is still recovering, any money going his way would be keen, and maybe this will get him some!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Green Arrow volume 9: Old Tricks by Mike Grell (writer/penciller), Shea Anton Pensa (artist), Rick Hoberg (penciller), Bill Marimon (penciller), John Nyberg (inker), Gray Morrow (inker), Julia Lacquement (colorist), Steve Haynie (letterer), and Jeb Woodard (collection editor). $24.99, 326 pgs, FC, DC.

This is the final volume of Mike Grell’s 80-issue run on Green Arrow, with The Wonder Year, which he wrote and drew (with Gray Morrow on inks/finishes) and which only covers one case, not an entire year (false advertising!). There’s not much to say about this, except that Grell’s entire run is well worth a read, as he took the “grim-‘n’-gritty” aesthetic that DC established in the mid- to late-1980s and crafted a really nice story of an aging vigilante and what happens to him when he ages. Yes, people still have some issues with “The Longbow Hunters,” but I don’t, and it brought it a whole new outlook on Oliver, making him a “grandfather” (Roy, whom he always considered a son, had a kid) and putting his relationship with Dinah into sharp focus. Grell breaks them up here, mainly because Oliver is tempted by a much younger woman, and Grell even manages to make that clichéd scenario not play out too painfully. Of course, Grell also continues to poke at the government, generally through the aggressiveness and ineptitude of the CIA, but that’s also part of what makes the book work so well – Oliver is a crusader, which makes his continued vigilantism tolerable even when you think he really should grow up and get a job. Grell goes back to his first year of Green Arrowing, in 1972 (obviously, DC in the 1990s allowed for a longer timeline, something they’ve lost in the innumerable reboots of the 21st century), and shows how a good capitalist might also be a Social Justice Warrior. Grell has never been the most subtle of writers, which is why a blowhard like Oliver is really the perfect character for him to write. I always wanted DC to collect this, and I guess we have the CW and Stephen Amell’s abs to thank for these collections. So thanks, Stephen Amell, and keep working that salmon ladder!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Misbegotten volume 1: Runaway Nun by Caesar Voghan (writer), Eric Granger (writer), Justin Case (writer/artist), Casey Bailey (artist), William Bohm (colorist/letterer), Ryan Oyler (editor) and Jay Murphree (editor). $14.99, 99 pgs, FC, Action Lab.

You know, when the cover of the first issue of a comic book shows a Marilyn Monroe clone dressed like a sexy nun about to breastfeed a robot baby, your expectations are raised that this comic is going to be batshit insane, and man, is Misbegotten one batshit insane comic. Now, that doesn’t automatically make it a good comic, but at least the creators are committed to living up to the implied promise of the first issue’s cover.

It’s tough to even describe this book, because it’s so weird. It’s the future (2097), and for once the dystopian future is not caused by a nuclear or viral disaster but the collision of an asteroid with the Earth. A new, oppressive regime revolving around an Americanized form of Catholicism has arisen, and set against them are the so-called free thinkers of Harlequin Island, which is run by a megalomaniac who likes to clone famous dead people, which is how we get Marilyn there. The ruler of the island, Sir Gottfrey, keeps his internal organs in glass boxes connected to him by a group of tubes (don’t ask), and he has cloned the man who was wrapped in the Shroud of Turin and tried to convince him that he’s Jesus. He plans to sacrifice the “Jesus” clone in a few days, thereby proving that God doesn’t exist, I guess. It’s wildly unclear. Jesus, unfortunately, is in love with “Marilyn,” so when she escapes to get help for him, he falls into a funk and won’t go willingly to his death. The Pope sends one of his trusted lieutenants, Father Elano, to the island to rescue Jesus and try to take down Sir Gottfrey. Elano is the hero, and he’s a decent man, but what’s interesting about the book is that neither side is, you know, noble or anything. We first meet Elano, in fact, when he’s taking down some anti-technology hillbillies whose only crime, it seems (besides owning guns, a no-no in this new world, as real men only use blades) is that they don’t recognize the authority of the Church. Meanwhile, Gottfrey is a full-on psycho, but he also seems to be getting punished solely because he won’t fall in line. Yet Elano is definitely the hero, so this quandary (if indeed the writers recognize it as such, which is seems they do) will only get thornier as the series progresses.

There’s also lots of violence, nekkidness, an oracular child, clone Hitlers, clone Gandhis, clone Freuds, a panty-sniffing Jesus, gladiatorial games, a cyclopean killer geisha, and a guy who may or may not be a clone of Richard the Lionheart. You know, standard stuff. The writers (yes, this took more than one to put together) throw a lot at the wall, and it gets messy, but it’s never dull. It seems like it took a long time to put this together, and we get two different (and wildly dissimilar) artists for four issues, so I have no idea how long it will take to get more out, but it’s fairly intriguing and it is, as I noted, bonkers. Case is much slicker in his style, using what appears to be a lot of photo referencing and cramming a lot onto each page. He actually does action fairly well for the style, which seems to lend itself to posing, but his storytelling could use some work, as it’s perhaps a bit too busy on the page to follow along. Bailey uses a scratchier line, with less detail but a bit more flow to the art, and while the art looks a bit more organic, it also doesn’t quite get across the insanity as well as Case does. I mean, yes, Bailey gets to draw the one-eyed naked geisha mounting our hero as Elano is chained up, so “insanity” is relative, but his looser style dampens the craziness just a little bit. “A little bit” being absolutely relative, of course.

I should point out that the trade is organized really poorly, which is weird. In the middle of the issues are random pin-up pieces of art, which is odd, and at the end of issue #1, there’s a two-page summary of the entire story arc, so you’ll be wanting to avoid that (I read it after I read the entire thing, and something is summarized that doesn’t appear to happen on the pages, too, so there’s that). I don’t know why the trade is so bizarrely organized, but such is life. It seems like it took a while to get this project off the ground, so I have no idea if the creators are going to be able to finish it or even get another story arc out. That might dampen your enthusiasm for the book, but it’s definitely something to check out, because while there are issues with it, it’s really unlike almost everything else out there, and the creators appear to have a clear vision about what they’re doing, which is always nice to see.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Nightwing volume 4: Blockbuster by Tim Seeley (writer), Miguel Mendonça (penciller), Minkyu Jung (artist), Javier Fernandez (artist), Vicente Cifuentes (inker), Diana Egea (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), Carlos M. Mangual (letterer), and Erika Rothberg (collection editor). $16.99, 148 pgs, FC, DC.

So let’s talk about romance in superhero comics, shall we? Tim Seeley hooked Dick Grayson up with Shawn Tsang, the sidekick villain once known as Defacer, and then he proceeded to destroy said relationship, bringing it to a crappy end in this volume. Why did Seeley even put them together if he wasn’t going to do anything with it? Now, maybe in the next volume there’s more with them, but Seeley piles on so many clichés in this volume that I wonder why writers even try to write romances in superhero comics if they’re not going to try anything. First, he has them have an idiotic argument that makes no sense whatsoever. She wants him to go to a job interview and he doesn’t because … I don’t know, it’s stupid. It really makes no sense. Then she dumps him, which makes a little bit of sense, and she thinks she wants to be a villain again. She gets her head out of her ass and realizes that their argument was stupid, so she goes to see him … and, of course, sees him banging Helena, with whom he’s just has a Spyral adventure. Sigh. It’s so goddamned stupid I can barely believe that Seeley did it. First, the argument is dumb. Dick seems to want to be in a relationship, but maybe not? Maybe he wants to stay a little kid, and maybe he doesn’t think he can live without a Nightwing identity to fall back on? Maybe? Shawn wants him to be Dick but she also knows he has to be Nightwing, but she wants him to get a job, which really isn’t that awful a request? I don’t know, it’s dumb. Then, Seeley falls back on the hoariest of romance clichés, the dude on the rebound who immediately has sex with someone else and the girl he just broke up with finding out. GAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!! I assume most comics creators are in decent relationships – I know a few that have flamed out spectacularly, but I also many people who are in perfectly loving relationships with a minimum of drama. I don’t know if that’s Seeley’s situation, but let’s assume he knows how a normal relationship works. I get that drama drives stories, so we’re probably not going to get a decent romance in a superhero comic (usually – there are exceptions), but why do writers have to take the easiest way out? I mean, I would bet that most guys, after getting dumped, especially by someone they claim to love, do not immediately jump in the sack with the first woman they see. Do they? Maybe they do? I’ve never been dumped one-sidedly, so I don’t know. But it’s such a stupid and easy way to make the break irrevocable, especially because the original woman always finds out. I mean, I know Defacer was flying by so it’s a little unusual, but come on, Dick, you know she’ll find out eventually! This part of the arc made me so made I almost didn’t enjoy the rest, which is too bad because it’s a solid (if a bit depressing, beyond just the romance falling apart) superhero story. But writers shouldn’t give their characters a romance if they’re just going to end it in the dumbest way possible. Do better, writers!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Stained by David Baron (writer/colorist), Yusuf Idris (artist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $15.99, 110 pgs, FC, 451 Media.

David Baron is a long-time colorist in comics, but Stained is his first writing gig. It’s not bad – it’s about Emma, a bounty hunter in the near future who’s part machine. She’s a slightly more human Ladytron, in other words (hey, Nightwing beats up Ladytron in the trade above this one, unless it’s just a bad rip-off of Ladytron!). She is “stained,” in other words, with machinery. Anyway, she’s a bounty hunter, and she gets on the trail of a human trafficker, and lots of people get beaten up. It’s a perfectly fine story, drawn rather nicely by Idris, who has a nice scratchy line and who handles the many action scenes well. It’s an entertaining and largely forgettable action comic – it’s fun to read, but it doesn’t leave much of an impression. Baron knows how to construct a story, but there’s nothing here that makes me believe he can be a great writer. If you like female action stars kicking ass, this is a decent comic. I’m very puzzled why Emma is a cyborg, though. It makes her strong and less vulnerable to bullets, but there’s no reason whatsoever to set this in the “near future” except Baron wanted to make Emma a cyborg, and there’s no reason for her to be a cyborg. It’s very weird. There is almost nothing except Emma that is out of place in the present – the communication devices are marginally more advanced than what we have, but that’s it. So why is Emma a cyborg? Does Baron know? Is it in a future story that he wants to tell? The book is largely open-ended – Emma survives, and you can always write stories about finding bounties – so maybe he has more planned. But it really bugged me. I know, weird things bug me. But it did.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Aquaman volume 4: Underworld by Dan Abnett (writer), Stjepan Sejic (artist/colorist), Steve Wands (letterer), and Betsy Golden (collection editor). $16.99, 128 pgs, FC, DC.

Dan Abnett has been writing Aquaman since the reboot, but this is the first volume I’ve bought. Why? Well, Sejic came on as artist, and Sejic is a really good artist, so I thought I’d give it a try. He doesn’t disappoint. He has the skills to blend a hard pencil line with the digital coloring that is often the bane of pencillers, especially if it overwhelms weaker lines, but because Sejic is coloring this himself, he can use the digital coloring well to highlight his lines with a flatter tone while still giving Atlantis and some of the other things in the book an ethereal, even watery look. For Arthur/Orin/Aquaman himself, for instance, he uses hard lines and a flat palette for his face and hair, but a nicely rendered digital look to make his armor shiny. He does the same thing with Mera. For Dolphin, whose skin itself turns silvery, the effect is even more impressive, because the digital work could easily wipe out his lines, but Sejic knows what he’s doing, so it doesn’t. This is a good thing, because Dolphin doesn’t speak, so her body language helps her communicate. Sejic also keeps her features strong so that she can communicate with her facial expressions, and his Dolphin is one of the delightful things about the arc. He uses nice, thick black lines in many close-ups, so that we can “read” the characters perfectly well, but when he wants to, he can simply add digital effects like the magical dome over Atlantis or the various luminescent undersea stuff and make it look more “realistic” than if he were drawing in the lines. The book is nice and crowded – it feels longer than it is, and that’s partly because Sejic makes Atlantis a real place, so that we can see architecture in the background and people milling about in bigger scenes. Sejic makes the book look unique, which is all you can ever hope for in a comic.

Abnett, meanwhile, is one of those writers who knows how to write a decent comic but is never someone you really seem to seek out. He’s like another Dan, Jurgens, in that regard (he’s better than Jurgens, but not significantly). You know you’re going to get an entertaining story, and the story he tells here is fine. Arthur was supposedly killed in an earlier issue, and the new king of Atlantis, Corum Rath, is a would-be tyrant who wants to use magic to defend Atlantis and purge it of all the “undesirables.” Arthur has been lurking in the deepest slum in Atlantis, and he sees the bad conditions that prevail now that Rath is king. Dolphin eventually gets across to him that he needs to be a hero, not a king, and he begins helping the resistance. Of course. Meanwhile, Mera has been living on land, but she figures out that Arthur is alive, so she heads back to Atlantis to find him. And there’s a faction that wants to put her on the throne. It’s all boilerplate stuff, but Abnett does it well, and reveals some interesting things at interesting moments, and so far there’s no hint of romance between Arthur and Dolphin, which is a very good thing and probably won’t last. It’s a decent story, but nothing amazing.

I doubt if I’ll get the next arc, as Sejic doesn’t draw (any of?) it, and the artists that have replaced him so far aren’t quite as good. I’ll see. This isn’t the greatest trade, but it’s nice-looking, and that makes it almost worth your time.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Incidentals volume 1: Powers, Lies, and Secrets by Joe Casey (writer), Larry Stroman (penciler), Rob Stull (inker), Snakebit Cortez (colorist), Saida Temofonte (letterer), and Joseph Illidge (editor). $14.99, 125 pgs, FC, Lion Forge.

Lion Forge, like so many nascent comic companies before it (Valiant, CrossGen, even Dark Horse), wants to create (yawn) a unified superhero universe, and at least they’re going about it in a fairly decent way – so far, each trade has told its own story, and they append the “origin story” of the superheroes – an asteroid was about to hit the earth, and piece landed near a beach and gave everyone in the vicinity superpowers – to the backs of the trade so that readers can catch up on it no matter which one they read. They’ve gotten some good talent, too, which is always crucial (although, as with every company, it’s how long they can hold onto the talent that counts). Joe Casey is always an interesting writer, and he does just enough weird things with this book to keep it from being just another superhero book, even though it really is just another superhero book (JASB). There’s a team looking for others with powers (SPT), and a billionaire is funding them. They keep trying to find one young woman, who’s also being chased by a stereotypical shadowy government agency (SGA). I mean, I presume they’re from the government, because they look the part. There’s a police detective who, it appears, also has powers, but he’s not flashy about it. The billionaire has a dark secret, of course (DS). And there’s an MMA fighter who also has powers, and the billionaire wants him and his ex-girlfriend to join his team, but they’re both somewhat reluctant. So we have:

SPT + new person + billionaire + DS + SGA = JASB. Such a good formula!

Casey, however, keeps the action hopping along and twists things just enough that it’s not too boring. It’s not a great book by any means, but Casey knows how to put together an entertaining comic, and Incidentals is that, even if it’s largely forgettable. Stroman does good work, too – he’s never going to be as good as he was back in the early 1990s, I suppose, partly because he hatched things more back then, and while hatching doesn’t make everyone’s work look good, it seems to work for Stroman, and these days, he just doesn’t do it as much. The slickness of digital coloring clashes a bit with his idiosyncratic style, but it’s still nice-looking work, if you enjoy the way he draws (it’s not for everyone). One thing that Stroman has always had trouble with is just simple storytelling – very often his angles are wonky and his points of view are bizarre, so reading his work can be a bit frustrating, and that’s the case here – where characters are in relation to each other, for instance, is occasionally a bit difficult to suss out. Still, I like Stroman’s art, so I can forgive some of his deficiencies. You might not be able to.

I’m going to get all the first trades of these Lion Forge books, I think (so far I haven’t seen a creative team I really want to avoid), just to see what’s going on with them. Casey is always someone who works better in the long game, so I’m not ready to jump ship on this book yet. But so far, it’s just kind of decent. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it could be better.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Savage Things by Justin Jordan (writer), Ibrahim Moustafa (artist), Jordan Boyd (colorist), Josh Reed (letterer), and Scott Nybakken (collection editor). $19.99, 176 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Justin Jordan writes violence well, in that I mean he writes action-packed comics but he knows how to show the horrible consequences of violence quite well. He does so in Savage Things, but unfortunately, that’s pretty much the only noteworthy thing about this mini-series. Jordan writes about a … wait for it … shadowy government agency (SGA!!!!!!) that takes children from their parents (which means the parents get killed) when they see that the kids are exhibiting sociopathic tendencies, which they then mold. They turn the kids into assassins for all the dirty jobs the U.S. doesn’t want anyone to know about. So yeah, it’s that kind of book. The agency shut down the program and the killers scattered, and one of them, Abel, is brought back by the head of the program because his “best friend,” Cain (yep), has started killing in unusual ways, presumably to get the government’s attention. Abel wasn’t quite as perfect as the program heads wanted, as he tried to help Cain when they were both children, but he’s still formidable. So Abel is tracking Cain, with the help of a police detective who is … wait for it … more than she seems! Lots of people get killed, and Jordan, even though he keeps the pace moving, shows the awfulness of all that killing – it doesn’t affect Abel, but it’s still visceral, and it’s well done. The rest of it … well, this is a bleak book, and I’m not sure what the point of it was. We’re fairly confident that we know who’s going to die, and Jordan doesn’t really do anything tricky with the story. I mean, there are some surprises, but they’re telegraphed so much even I could figure them out (and I’m terrible at that sort of thing). The entire book is just an exercise in violence, and we don’t even really get to know Abel that well, so as a protagonist, he remains an enigma. It’s tough to care about any of this when it’s a question of bad people fighting slightly less bad people, none of whom are really good characters. Moustafa does his usual solid job on art – he’s definitely not flashy, but this book needs his gritty realism, and he delivers – but it’s in the service of a mildly entertaining story that has nothing else to recommend it. Too bad – I like Jordan’s writing in some cases, but this just isn’t that good.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Time and Vine by Thomas F. Zahler (writer/artist), Luigi Anderson (colorist), and David Hedgecock (editor). $24.99, 164 pgs, FC, IDW.

Zahler is a hell of a nice guy, which I know doesn’t mean you should buy his work, but it’s true. He just seems like he really enjoys making comics, as if he can’t believe he can actually do it for a living (although I’m not sure if he does it exclusively, as too often it’s not enough to make a living). It doesn’t hurt that he’s a really good creator, but it’s a lot of fun talking to him, because he’s such a nice dude.

Anyway, Time and Vine is his latest creation, and it’s quite good. Love and Capes, his superhero romance, might always be his epic, but he does excellent work here, too, as he gives us an interesting, quirky story about time travel. As some of you might recall, I have a contentious relationship with time travel stories because they make my head hurt, but Zahler doesn’t really care too much about the mechanics of time travel, as he doesn’t ever explain how the time travel works and one protagonist explains early on that they can’t affect past history, so that takes care of that. Those are the two things that bug me about time travel – how does it work and will you screw up history – so Zahler handwaves that away, and we’re off!

Zahler gives us Jack, who owns a winery in upstate New York, and Megan, an elementary school teacher who shows up one night when her friends decide she needs a night out. Megan’s mother is going through the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and she’s depressed. On basically a whim, Jack shows her the wine cellar, where if you drink a bottle from a certain year, you can travel back to that year. It seems you can pick a day, too, but it’s not clear how. The “machine” even dresses you in period-appropriate clothing as you leave it – Zahler really didn’t want to explain time travel! – but you have to stay relatively close to the winery, because it yanks you back to 2017 after a period of time (which isn’t predetermined), and you just disappear from wherever you are, which would freak people out. So they go off to explore, and when Megan goes back to 1985, she sees her mother with a woman she calls her sister, but in the present, her mom denies having a sister (after Megan makes up a story about hearing someone say something about it). So Megan tries to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, Jack is still in love with his wife, who’s been dead for 30 years, and he goes back to see her whenever he can. So both of them are missing something, and time travel gives them a handy way to keep those memories alive.

Zahler has always been good about creating characters who act like real people, which allows his comics to have real emotional heft to them. Nobody is a cliché, which means the story, while fairly predictable (we know what’s going to happen to Jack early on, and while Megan’s elusive aunt is a bit more of a mystery, we can figure most of that out as well), never feels like it’s just going through the motions, because the characters are experiencing it and living it, feeling real emotions along the way. Zahler writes naturalistic dialogue even when he’s expositing, so the characters seem like they have actual relationships, which makes the fantastical parts go more smoothly. Part of this has to do with Zahler’s art, which is blocky and cartoony but which is amazingly expressive. A book like this, which relies on people talking to each other, is made much more interesting if the artist knows what to do with heads tilting or eyes looking skeptical, and Zahler is quite good at that. Megan’s reactions to finding out the secrets about her mother are terrific, full of sadness and a little fear and hopefulness that she’s going to gain an aunt. Her mother’s own fear and sadness is evident, too, which makes the secret even more interesting. Jack’s love for his wife radiates from his face, and Zahler also gets that he’s a bit of a rapscallion when it comes to time travel, as he knows more than Megan and enjoys it when she finds out about something. All the characters have beautiful expressive faces, and Zahler also does a nice job making the time periods feel like their time periods even though Jack and Megan never get too involved in any specific time (with a bit of an exception in one instance, but I won’t give it away). Anderson does a nice job, too, shading the characters very well and making the past a tiny bit less vibrant, but not without color. It’s a neat trick.

Zahler is an excellent comics creator, so I’m glad he keeps making them. This is a nice thick trade (it’s essentially eight issues long, even though it came out as four issues), and it’s a fun story with characters you want to spend time with. Give it a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

**********

I don’t have much to write about that’s non-comics-related right now, except to say that you should all root for the Eagles in Sunday’s Super Bowl. The Eagles have never won the Super Bowl, and they’re playing the Evil Cheating Empire that is the New England Patriots, and no one south of Connecticut wants to see those bastards win another championship. I actually feel pretty good about the game …. a feeling which will last until kickoff, and then I’ll be a mess. Anyway, let’s get to the Ten Most Recent Songs On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. “Hurricane Drunk” – Florence + the Machine (2009). “Then you lean and kiss her on the head and I never felt so alive, and so … dead”
2. “Mama Said Knock You Out” – LL Cool J (1990). “I’m blastin’, outlastin’, kinda like Shaft, so you could say I’m shaftin'”
3. “But, Honestly” – Foo Fighters (2007). “And all the wants I gave to you – something borrowed, something blue; if you want them back … I’ll give it to you”
4. “Clone” – Metric (2012). “Nothing I’ve ever done right happened on the safe side”
5. “Flowers In The Rain” – Stress (1991). “Some say heaven’s here on Earth but it’s nowhere to be found now”
6. “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”1 – Billy Joel (1977). “Cold beer, hot lights, my sweet romantic teenage nights”
7. “A Month Of Sundays” – Don Henley (1984). “I sit here in earshot of the bypass and all night I listen to the rushin’ of the wheels”
8. “Summer’s End” – Foo Fighters (2007). “Come inside, my friend, getting bad out there”
9. “Alone”2 – Heart (1987). “But the secret is still my own and my love for you is still unknown”
10. “Is It Too Late?” – World Party (1990). “Talk about biting the hand that feeds, sitting there watching as it bleeds”

1 If you do nothing else today, watch this video. It was made by students at a university in Mexico City with what seems to be no money whatsoever, and it’s amazing.

2 Exploding piano, bitches! All videos should have exploding pianos in them, whether a piano is being played in the song or not.

So that’s it for me. If you’re interested in any of the trades in this post, I provided a link to Time and Vine below, but you can get any of them and I get a little piece of that. It’s up to you! And remember:

GO EAGLES!!!!!!

11 Comments

  1. I loved Bates twist-concept of Captain Atom (which I’ll be writing about here in another context eventually). I was delighted when he brought it back. And yes, the erasure of DC’s past was a bad call.
    As I’m currently rereading the Unwritten TPBs, I find the idea of yet another Cain and Abel take in Savage Things funny (Unwritten’s version of Cain was right to grumble about how we’ll never stop telling his story and just forget him).
    Seeley’s Nightwing has been frustrating. He seems to get Dick as a hero and I’m glad to get back to Nightwing basics, but the romance hasn’t gone anywhere good and a lot of the other parts don’t work either.

    1. Greg Burgas

      frasersherman: Yeah, that’s the best word for Nightwing: “frustrating.” As a superhero book, it’s pretty good. Seeley wants it to be slightly more than that, though, and he’s just not getting it right in that regard, even though he’s so close. It’s vexing.

  2. Hm! You’re making me pretty curious about that Captain Atom miniseries. I skipped it because I have zero interest in the New 52 iteration of the character–which I guess this series leaves behind somehow? But I did really like the post-Crisis Bates series a lot, so I may have to check it out.

    I’ve picked up all those Grell GA collections, because those I know I like, even if I haven’t gotten around to rereading them.

  3. I wasn’t going to get that Captain Atom miniseries because I have zero interest in the New 52 version of the character (which I guess this leaves behind entirely?). But I did really like the old Cary Bates series, so you’ve convinced me to check it out.

    I have been getting those Grell GA collections, though I haven’t had a chance to (re)read them yet.

          1. Well, it was also not the thing I normally get, where I can see my comment but it says it’s awaiting moderation. It was the thing I used to get when this site first started but haven’t had happen in a while, where my comment just vanishes entirely, as if I’d never written it. Maybe there are tiers to the filtering?

            Anyway, that happened also happened to the next few comments I posted on various posts until Le Messor found me trapped in the Phantom Zone.

            I think my short comment directly above yours in this thread is the first one I’ve ever written here that just published immediately without waiting for moderation.

            Anyway, not a big deal. I’m just happy to be here!

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