Gotham Academy #1
Written by Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher
Art by Karl Kerschl, Geyser and Dave McCraig
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
As DC Comics enters its Ninth Wave of launches since the New 52 kicked off three years ago, they appear to be making some very conscious decisions regarding their appeal to younger audiences, increasingly with a view to attracting new female readers. With Batgirl’s soft reboot on the way next week, Gotham Academy marks a pleasing return to the kind of experimental world exploration that characterized the pre-Flashpoint output of the publisher. Taking the familiar Bat-brand, Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher’s new series plays with a concept that may already have recognition from a wider audience thanks to its references in TV’s Young Justice.
Gotham City’s upper-class prep school welcomes a new student in Mia “Maps Mizoguchi”, so nicknamed because she never leaves home without a flashlight and a compass. A first year and the younger sister of the popular Kyle, his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend and weird kid Olive Silverlock is saddled with the task of showing her around campus. While Olive deals with a mysterious loss in the family, and an occurrence over summer that she won’t speak out, ‘Maps’ takes a ban from entering certain parts of campus as an immediate challenge. Cue the first minor adventure for the Gotham Academy kids.
Cloonan and Fletcher tap straight into the mainline of freshness with this mixture of old school mystery adventure and morning cartoon. Cynical attempts at teen drama in comics are a dime a dozen, most of them failing to appeal to their target market, an irony that isn’t lost on an industry that was originally built around younger buyers. Wasting no time in setting up the history of the academy, the audience is treated with respect, being brought in mid-conversation and barely pausing for breath after that. It not only puts us in the same shoes as Maps, but it also avoids the didactic nature of after-school specials and captures the vibe and energy of millennial enthusiasm, and its sometimes apparent absence. In a telling moment, Olive remarks, “It’s just the Bat-Signal. Same old thing as every other night.”
Karl Kerschl’s art is simply stunning, looking for all the world like it has been grabbed straight out of the animation cels of a cartoon that doesn’t exist. Thanks in no small part to Geyser and Dave McCraig’s colors, Gotham Academy is every bit as cavernous and spooky as the city that shares its name. Kerschl, the man behind the long-running web comic The Abominable Charles Christopher, brings animation influenced art to the table, capturing a youthful exuberance and caricatures of older characters. A cross-section tour across campus in the rain is every bit as imaginative as Bryan Lee O’Malley’s approach in Seconds, and an action sequence atop a crumbling tower (contrasted against a fiery red sunset) is expertly executed.
Perhaps the best way to describe the debut issue of Gotham Academy is that it’s a pilot. It doesn’t manage to avoid familiar tropes entirely, indeed it relies on them at times as a kind of cultural shorthand. Awkward cafeteria encounters, crazy old headmasters and even cameos from local famous billionaires all tick the right boxes, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the sheer enthusiasm of the issue. Kudos where it’s due should go to DC for trying to do something new with the Batman family of books, an impressive feat after 75 years and literally thousands of issues about Gotham City. If this is a mark of where the ‘new’ New 52 is going, then the Bat-Signal is shining a little brighter this week.
Death of Wolverine #3
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Conflict, thy name is Wolverine. I don't just mean the wildly conflicting takes on the character that have somehow coalesced into the samurai/spy/superhero/gangster/Highlander known as James "Logan" Howlett. I also mean that it's easy to feel conflicted reading his adventures. Death of Wolverine #3 is a great example, as Steve McNiven's sublime artwork still has to overcome some true wonkiness in storytelling, as Charles Soule has to hit so many discordant notes in his quest to give Logan a fitting sendoff.
But I'll start with the good. And the good is Steve McNiven. You could pretty much have Wolverine do anything - and you could kind of argue that's exactly what this series does - and it would still look amazing thanks to McNiven. But to Soule's credit, this chapter actually goes against McNiven's typically hyper-violent grain, as they explore the serene, gorgeous settings of Japan. (At least for a little while.) But when the fight comes to Logan - and it always does - McNiven explodes with his choreography, culminating in a superb double-page spread where Wolverine dons samurai armor and fights for the soul of Kitty Pryde.
Yet out of all the characters that Soule has mastered - She-Hulk, I'm looking at you - he still seems like he's getting the kinks out of his Wolverine. He's got some great character moments in this issue, such as when Logan says that he's done being immortal - that he likes the idea of having a finite time to make good, the idea of his choices having weight. Yet there's also plenty of weird tics to this story, including Kitty just so happening to have "regen serum," a cheat which undoes the grotesque injuries inflicted on Logan last issue.
Paradoxically, the book's other main obstacle? Pacing. Namely, that I wish it was longer. Despite some of my misgivings with elements of plot, those sloppier bits are much easier to forgive when you have Steve McNiven's gorgeous fight sequences, but oftentimes those sequences wind up feeling like they've ended just as they were getting started. Logan only gets a page and a half to show his badass ninja sword-fighting skills, and because Soule has so much more he has to get to, not even 21 pages are enough.
And I guess that's the real test of Wolverine's mettle - even when his story takes ludicrous turns, we still want to see more of him. There's conflicts, complexities and multitudes underneath all that adamantium, and Wolverine continues to test and challenge the creators who work on him. And sometimes, in the case of Steve McNiven, even bring the best out of them. It's no lie that Death of Wolverine might leave you as conflicted as its central character, but, like Logan himself, the good far outweighs the bad. We're with him to the end. And that might be as fitting a send-off as it gets.
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Reilly Brown, Nelson Decastro, Pete Pantazis
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
If we’re really honest with ourselves, Lobo was a character that was wearing thin by at least the mid-1990s. His very origins were as an over-the-top parody of the overused Marvel character Wolverine and the violence of The Punisher, his longevity is as baffling as it is endearing. Yet endure he did, and after several appearances in the New 52 in Deathstroke and Stormwatch, it was revealed in last year’s Justice League #23.2 that the cigar-chomping “bastich” we love to hate was in fact an impostor of a more slender, urbane and well-spoken Czarnian bounty hunter.
Dubbed by his harshest critics as the “emo Lobo” before a page had been printed, it’s this newer version of the Main Man that serves as the hero of this series. After rapidly dispatching with the phoney Lobo in the opening pages, a clear signal to audiences that DC is not done with scrapping the old, Lobo is given an offer he can’t refuse. Eight of the deadliest assassins in the universe are converging on a single target. Lobo is hired to stop them, but is none too pleased that he wasn’t one of the group of assassins hired in the first place.
Cullen Bunn has become quite skilled at recasting villains as anti-heroes, kicking off solo series for both Magneto and Sinestro in the last year. The writer immediately humanises the character with some sympathetic details about his nightmares, and some of the reasons why he had to learn his home world. If imbuing Lobo with an emotional backstory and room for character development is emo, then we hope more comics paint their nails black. After over three decades of repetition, Lobo is a character renewed.
Of course, the main thrust of the narrative is fairly familiar, and assassins with a heart of gold are hardly new concepts in or out of comics. Reilly Brown’s straightforward art has none of the delicacy that Ben Oliver’s take on the character had back in Justice League, and elegant dissections have quite literally been replaced with foes being cleaved in half unceremoniously. It’s a tonal shift that never allows the character to soar, and while it is at times inventive and grounded in its own reality, it typifies the struggle to balance this character between the carnage of old and the necessary suppression of that if the character is to have a chance of moving forward. By contrast, there is a flashback sequences that begins with the lightest of pencil touches, and pastel colors signifying happier times. Over the course of three pages, the colors get deeper and redder as the nightmare grows, a wonderful use of the graphic medium to convey deeper angst. Yet this novel approach cannot be found anywhere else in the issue, and that’s just a shame.
Lobo, both the book at the character, certainly works much better in this new incarnation, and there is far more scope and potential for this version than any that has come before. The OG Lobo will undoubtedly have his faithful minions, and that Czarnian will forever remain a part of comic book history, filed under the excesses of the late 1980s and 1990s. New Lobo is still slightly tied to his past, and perhaps a victim of convention, but he’s also undoubtedly a fun new addition to the DCU.
Captain America #25
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Carlos Pacheco, Stuart Immonen, Mariano Taibo, Wade Von Grawbadger, Dean White, Veronica Gandini and Marte Garcia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
We get kind of an anti-climactic issue for Captain America this week, as we’ve known who the new Captain America is for months, but Rick Remender has some fun in closing out this chapter of his run. While the over-sized issue is unnecessarily long for a reveal we’ve seen coming, it paints a pretty clear picture of how Sam Wilson is received. Carlos Pacheco turns in a fine effort but Dean White’s colors still don’t really fit the tone of the title causing this one to stop just short of having “great art.”
In establishing Sam Wilson as the new Cap, Remender had to at least make it look like he made the ultimate sacrifice and an issue that starts almost as a eulogy becomes a celebration. While all the heroes are glad they haven’t lost their friend, Remender turns to Zola and Jet. For all his flaws, Arnim Zola has never wavered from his stance that his wayward daughter is welcome at his side. Ultimately, that pays off for him, and Remender is able to write a meaningful exchange between the two that gives the issue a different kind of energy. The most fun comes from the assemblage of just about every Avenger in history to witness the announcement of a new Captain America. This might be where the issue gets a bit long though, too. There is only so long that anyone can bear to read Spider-Man and Hawkeye quipping back and forth. That said it is a warm, fuzzy display of heroes getting along and the pizza rolls/chimichangas joke is actually pretty funny. Kudos to Remender for making Sam self-aware about his announcement. That went a long way to me enjoying the reveal.
Carlos Pacheco does some great work here. I don’t think that his pencils are a good match for Dean White’s coloring style, but I was honestly surprised by a few panels. The art team specifically nailed a number of close-ups, from old Steve’s face as he realizes that he may have lost a friend, to Arnim Zola’s heartfelt plea to his daughter. But those colors really keep the book from looking grounded. Dean White is a very talented colorist but his almost painted style combined with an odd color palette doesn’t give the book a consistent look. The opening panel is practically a pastel explosion that doesn’t really fit the tone. But the Avengers mansion scene sees him go a more traditional route and those pages are better for it.
We’ve seen the ending of this one coming for a while, but the epilogue was a nice surprise. It seems there’s a fox in the hen house, and the Avengers don’t see it coming. That’s a pretty big challenge for a new Captain America, especially as Jet’s loyalties are now in doubt. I have to say I’m looking forward to the new art team as well, in hopes that they’ll be able to give Sam Wilson’s Cap his own visual style. This big announcement issue is solid through and through. It’s not going to change the world or be anyone’s favorite comic that comes out this week. But it does it’s job, even if it’s somewhat unspectacular.
Written by Van Jensen, Justin Jordan, Robert Venditti, Charles Soule and Cullen Bunn
Art by Ethan Van Sciver, Martin Coccolo, Goran Sudzuka, Chrisscross, Pete Woods and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
To paraphrase Kanye: What's a mob to a ring? And what's a ring to a God?
And what's a God to a non-believer?
Perhaps it's too soon to say. But DC Comics hopes to show us the answer with Godhead, the latest arc featuring the Green Lantern books. A series that's been often maligned, part of the Lanterns' newfound appeal is that they've been given enemies worth their time. First the Sinestro Corps, then the Black Lanterns - now DC's veritible army of Green Lantern writers and artists have teamed up to give the Lanterns a new threat that will legitimately cause them to shake in their boots: the New Gods.
Spanning 38 pages (including a four-page spread), Godhead certainly doesn't lack in scale or ambition. Of course, with scripters Van Jensen and Justin Jordan harnessing their three other colleagues, the story does occasionally sag under its own mythological weight. It makes sense, however - not only do they have to introduce the New Gods, including Highfather, Metron, Orion and the rest, but they have to also incorporate all seven Lantern factions, as well as elude to White Lantern Kyle Rayner, who promises to be the key to the New Gods' plans. While the initial explanations of Darkseid and New Genesis gets a little plodding, Jensen and Jordan speed things up once the New Gods start ambushing the Lanterns - there's one beat featuring a Red Lantern sacrificing herself that's probably the best beat I've read in a Lantern book in months.
With a squad of artists and five different titles to represent, it's also not a surprise that Godhead boasts five different artists. Ethan Van Sciver really channels the spirit of those larger-than-life George Perez sequences, as he establishes the almost biblical struggle between Highfather and Darkseid, each perched imperiously on opposite pages. Chrisscross also dominates in the book's action sequences, particularly as Jensen and Jordan pit Hal Jordan against the ferocity of Orion. The odd man out of this group, Goran Sudzuka also manages to impress, drawing an understated but masterfully expressive interlude on New Genesis, as Highfather reveals his plans to his chosen warriors. Pete Woods, who rounds out the end of the book, delivers a great final page, even though he's not really given enough time to make his best impression. The same fate happens to Marin Coccolo, who's sandwiched between too many striking artists to really get a chance to shine.
The one missed opportunity I see here is that while the New Gods get a fresh new coat of paint thanks to their New 52 redesigns, the writers don't get much time to really dig into their personalities - and it's the characterization that will revitalize these properties to a new generation. You have to know who the New Gods are already in order to really appreciate the magnitude of the threat against Hal Jordan and company - and that makes this iteration of the New Gods seem more like a cover of an established hit rather than a new spin on a hallowed concept. Additionally, while the recap of all the various Lantern books is useful towards bringing new readers up to speed, the character content still feels thin. We know how they got here, but the haven't really established why we should care just yet.
With the New Gods wielding all seven Lantern rings, to mangle Yeezus again, it's clear no one man should have all that power - and it's going to be up to the Green Lanterns to fight back. Pitting DC's premier space cops against Jack Kirby's celebrated space warriors is a no-brainer, and the scale and stakes are high enough to pique reader interest. This sweeping introduction is big enough and bold enough to justify a look - that said, while this book hits all the right superheroic notes, the lack of a human touch to the New Gods and the Lanterns alike may result in Godhead preaching only to the converted.
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
For those looking to get hooked reading about a new person wielding Mjolnir, you'll have to wait a bit longer. Marvel's all-new Thor made headlines a few months back, which certainly garnered a good deal of buzz as well as polarized the fanbase. With this debut issue, Aaron has given us a proper set up for things to come, including heightened tension between Odin and Freyja, Malekith stirring up trouble, and, of course, a Goddess of Thunder makes her debut.
Aaron doesn't skip a step in his storytelling and most of the narrative from his run spills over onto this issue. We're given a grand look at the Asgardian characters, as well as old foes. It's formulaic, sure, but for any Joe Schmoe picking up this issue due to its new main star, it works. Aaron's Asgardians' romantic language defines each individual well, though from the events of Original Sin are mentioned, it is kept as minimalist as possible so no worries about possibly being bogged down. For those that might have thought that the old Thor is going away, we know that he's sticking around in some shape or form here. It's interesting how he's using the old Thor here. He's not really background, per se, but another brushstroke in the grand painting. We see Thor as a broken god, who has fallen prey to his own insecurities and is left vulnerable with an aura of self-loathing.
Much like the new Thunder Goddess, Russell Dauterman is about to make a name for himself. Already on several "artists to watch" lists, Dauterman composes this book with old school Marvel flair with new school sensibilities. While not possibly as cinematic in composition as Olivier Coipel or have a more fantasy art leaning like Esad Ribic, Dauterman pulls pages from the likes of Jim Starlin and Frank Quitely with a touch of Bruce Timm. There's weight to his inks, but still gives colorist Matthew Wilson enough room to play in. The opening reveal of the Frost Giants and scenes like Thor's quiet surrender to Mjolnir gives a small glimpse of Dauterman's range of storytelling here, as I can't wait to see what else he is bringing for the next course.
The big issue some might have with Thor #1 is that it doesn't really deliver the big change until it's almost time to roll credits. True, there is still a mystery afoot on who exactly is the new wielder of Ye Ole Mjolnir, but hopefully that is enough to keep the readers on board who were all ready for the Goddess to come out swinging. Aaron and Dauterman have so much set up here, and surely has the bases pre-emptively loaded, we just need the new Thor to hit one out of the park.
The Fade Out #2
Written by Ed Brubaker
Letters by Sean Phillips
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Honestly, this entire review could just be the sentence “Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser doing a Hollywood noir in the '40s” over and over again and it would still get the point across. But that would look insane, wouldn’t it? Instead I’ll expound on just how well this creative team works together in an age of singular creators taking the spotlight. Even in my own experience, I find myself following a single writer or artist from book to book instead of the creative team as a whole. All of that goes out the window when I see the names Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser on the cover of a book. When I see those names I know that the book I’m about to read will be a singular artistic venture from three separate people working in lock step. That’s exactly what The Fade Out #2 is; another exercise in genre from a creative team that not only works extremely well together, but a team that has no problem challenging the conventional wisdom on what kind of stories can be told in comics.
Ed Brubaker’s name has been synonymous with the noir genre from the very start of his career with Scene of the Crime, but The Fade Out is an altogether different animal from the books that came before it. While Scene of the Crime, Criminal and Fatale were heightened, stylish realities, The Fade Out is firmly rooted in the Hollywoodland era of the 1940s. This tactile settling as well as Brubaker’s painstaking attention to historical detail, as well as the lurid speech of people from that era grounds The Fade Out more than any other Brubaker noir before it. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that this grim tale was non-fiction, seeing as how the fact was more than likely just as ugly as this. Hollywood in the 1940's might as well have been the wild west as far as some people were concerned and Brubaker and his team have no problem shining a bright and unforgiving spotlight on that because it makes for a hell of a yarn.
The plot of this second issue is fairly straightforward, as our protagonist Charlie Parish wanders through the fallout of Valeria Sommers’ murder and tries in vain to set his drunkard writing partner, Gil Mason, back on a path of self-reliance. While The Fade Out as a whole may end up being one of those stories that work much better as a trade, readers of this issue will still be satisfied by the moody, thoughtful tale presented within its cover. Brubaker, ever the steady hand at narration, guides the reader slowly through the day to day of Charlie as he struggles to work and come to terms with his own complicity and possible role in Valeria’s murder. Brubaker is clearly laying the groundwork to the larger mystery throughout, but issue two takes the time to present specific beats for the cast as a whole, including characters that were only introduced in passing in the opening issue like Val’s former kid sidekick Jack “Flapjack” Jones, who is understandably disgusted when he sees that the studio head put Val’s stage name on her tombstone. While the overall mystery of Val’s death may reveal itself in a binge read of the series, The Fade Out #2 still has plenty to offer weekly collectors and casual readers.
Sean Phillips has been a regular collaborator of Brubaker’s for quite a while now, but Elizabeth Breitweiser is a fairly new addition to the fold, but she could not have been a better choice for colorist. Breitweiser’s colors have elevated the pencils of Steve Epting over on Brubaker’s spy epic, Velvet, and here they do the exact same thing for Phillips’ work. Phillips is great, as per usual, so I won’t bore you with repeating the copious amount of compliments have have been heaped onto his work before now. He’s great, and you know he’s great, especially here as he employs the same tight panel grids that made Criminal so compelling and claustrophobic, but it is Breitweiser’s naturalistic colors that steal the issue. Breitweiser has already proved herself to be a deft hand at moody darkness in Velvet, but in The Fade Out each panel seems colored in the style of Normal Rockwell, giving the seedy nature of the story and characters a realistic look under the grime. While the stylish and heightened nature of the art worked for those other books, Breitweiser and Phillips are keeping The Fade Out looking straight as an arrow and it makes the book all the stronger.
Ed Brubaker on another noir book is a no brainer in itself, but the inclusion of Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser on art make The Fade Out a sure fire hit for fans and collectors alike. A creative team that works this well is a welcome change from the dominate singular personalities that make up the industry. Of course, most comics are collaborative efforts between all parties involved, but singular creative visions and statements from a creative team are as rare as some the variants they are covered in. Thankfully, Image Comics seem wholly committed to delivering this singular creative statements on a monthly basis and The Fade Out #2 is just one of many. Hollywood was a tough town in the 1940‘s, but with guides like Brubaker, Phillips, and Breitweiser, we just may come out ahead in the end.
Green Arrow #35
Written by Andrew Kreisberg and Ben Sokolowski
Art by Daniel Sampere, Jonathan Glapion and Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“My name is Oliver Queen.” So begins the first arc of returning Green Arrow scribe Andrew Kreisberg’s fresh run, and it seems at first as though the television and comic book worlds will finally merge conclusively. Kreisberg was last seen around Ollie’s comic book life back in 2010’s Green Arrow and Black Canary, but in the intervening years has become one of the chief creative voices and producers on the successful Arrow show on the CW, bringing the Emerald Archer into the mainstream. However, fears that the ongoing series would simply become Arrow: The Comic are soon put to rest. While television characters are introduced, Kreisberg aims to show he is just as interested in exploring deeper corners of Green Arrow’s past.
Although it follows the events of Jeff Lemire’s recent run, Kreisberg’s story (scripted by fellow Arrow scribe Ben Sokolowski) is clearly designed to beat its own drum. With his trusted sidekick Diggle, Ollie is run ragged trying to protect his city as both Green Arrow and with what’s left of The Queen Foundation. Kreisberg’s first twist in the tale is having a united Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne try and buy out his company. The hotheaded Ollie refuses, of course, while a sinister element in the city searches for a character that will be familiar to longer-term readers of the archer’s adventures. It’s a path that seems manufactured to bring him face-to-face with another familiar face from outside the comics continuity, one that is a pleasing union of a Tv character and a core part of the pre-Flashpoint DCU. Tumblr is about to go wild.
Green Arrow’s publication history has been fraught since the launch of the New 52, but Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s lengthy run on the book ensured that it returned to the themes set up by Mike Grell in his historic run. Like Grell, Lemire achieved this mostly through isolation, siloing is universe and concentrating on refreshing and expanding upon Ollie’s otherwise straightforward origin. As a result, this conscious jumping-on point is a bit like the “CrossRoads” that immediately followed Grell: it opens the floodgates to new and established characters, and is more interested in making a bang at this stage than anything else. Naomi and Emiko are conveniently out of town or tied up on other business, avoiding having to deal with some of the threads Lemire left dangling. There’s some cheesy dialogue between Dig and Ollie (“Call me a sidekick again and you’ll be the Green, Black and Blue Arrow”), but it achieves this with gusto. Curiously, much of the issue is spent in board rooms and restaurants, so apart from an action opening, Kreisberg appears to be more interesting in Oliver Queen than the Green Arrow.
After Andrea Sorrentino’s art over the last 18 months, Daniel Sampere’s far more linear style is a shock to the system. In that previous run, the character design looked functional and utilitarian, but here the "plastic" qualities of the New 52 redesign are once again evident. As mentioned, Kreisberg keeps Green Arrow out of costume for the majority of the issue, perhaps there is a recognition of this up front. For colorist Eltaeb and inker Glapoin, the images work best when they are in the shadows, especially during a darker tonal shift in the final few pages of the issue.
The union of various elements of Arrow and Green Arrow was inevitable, and by the end of this issue it is clear that the line between the two is increasingly becoming blurred. Yet this can only be a good thing in the long-term. Comics are just as much a product of outside influences as they are inspirations for film and television, and two successful television writers are primed to bring some of that style to the funny books.