"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.
The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys #1 (Dark Horse): It’s tempting to say that I was “in” on this book the moment I opened it to the first page and saw the incredibly crisp and vibrant colors of Dan Jackson. I didn’t know who the eff Dan Jackson was prior to this, but he’s the best new colorist I’ve seen in a while, and this is amid a new crop containing some very stiff competition, including people like Jordie Bellaire and Gabe Eltaeb, so I’ll be looking for his name on future books. The truth is, I was “in” weeks ago when I picked up the Free Comic Book Day teaser and was captivated by a fascinating new world that I didn’t fully understand, but wanted to. By now, you’re probably familiar with the Gerard Way pedigree, SVA student and DC Comics intern turned successful rock front man turned Umbrella Academy writer turned former band front man turned back to comics. Whew. We’re glad he’s returned to an original passion. This time he’s brought Shaun Simon with him to assist on writing duties and the ever-evolving enigma that is Becky Cloonan on art. Now, I’m a Brian Wood guy since the late 90’s, so I’ve kind of followed Cloonan by extension, from Jennie One to Demo to American Virgin to 5, back around to working with Brian on Conan and Northlanders. It’s so nice to see her get these larger platforms to showcase her style. Let me state unequivocally that I think this is Becky Cloonan’s most accomplished art to date. It feels very refined, less sketchy and raw as time has gone on, but no less powerful in its ability to capture this pop-punk sensibility that almost reminded me of Michael Allred in spots. It’s a great match for the pitch of the script, which stands up immediately as something different. It’s got this rollicking pace and attitude with the language. Way and Simon propel the narrative through fair intrigue instead of lazy exposition, quickly dropping in memorable names like Tommy Chow Mein and DJ Cherri Cola, amid an equally memorable world-build. It’s a place where you get the sense that the good guys lost the rebellion, with key events already having transpired, fast-forwarding the audience straight into a living breathing universe. There’s something a little Orwellian about the roving bands of thought police mocked up in drac masks distorting reality. When it’s the end times, who better to jump into a wistful trek in the desert and serve as a pseudo-messianic figure than a rebel kid who remembers the past, who remembers the fallen fighters and bears guilt over the squad sent in to rescue her dying in the process, and a girl no less. It’s so refreshing to see this new crop of female protagonists taking over pop comic culture, from Mara to Leia to Belit to Petra from Luther Strode, to Rogue, Kitty, Betsy and all the rest, to The Girl Who Rode With The Real Killjoys. The Killjoyverse is a future dystopia; it’s the kind of post-apocalyptic drudgery I like, socially relevant because it's too easy to imagine as a plausible future, where there’s no longer a line between mega-corporations and the government, where women are forced to work the streets, where a lyrical DJ is the lone voice of the young disenfranchised. It’s an inventive new hit on the stands (with some slick as hell back-matter); kids in the nest vs. the behemoth of Battery City, where “ten years of looking at body bags and tumbleweeds has finally paid off.” Critics are going to try and throw all sorts of clever adjectives at this book, about it being “pop art,” or having “rock attitude” or “punk sensibility,” but the truth is much more simple and direct. Shame on you if you think DC Entertainment’s Superman Unchained #1 was the “it” book this week. It’s the era of Creator-Owned Comics, that's capital “C,” capital “O,” capital “C,” you feel me? The Fabulous Killjoys is one of the most visionary, aesthetically distinct, and attention-grabbing debuts this year. Grade A.
Thumbprint #1 (IDW): Joe Hill being involved in a new series is a big deal after the success Locke & Key has witnessed, so there was a lot riding on this first issue. It delivers. Occasional collaborator Jason Ciaramella (finally a dude with as many vowels in his last name as me) joins to write to Hill’s novella high concept, with Vic Malhotra providing the art. Thumbprint is essentially a basic morality play loaded with all kinds of social relevance, as it touches on the national security vs. civil rights (im)balance, our culture of war and the impact on those souls who must wage it, women in the military, the treatment of our veterans in their return to civilian life, and just outright universally recognizable guilt manifesting in its many variegated ways. Malhotra isn’t an artist I was very familiar with, but he’s one I’m instantly taken by. It’s a convincing neo-noir sort of aesthetic, at times feeling like a heady combination of craftsmen like David Aja or Michael Lark. If you’re a fan of artists in this milieu like Matthew Southworth (Stumptown) or Kody Chamberlain (Sweets), then do yourself a favor and check out Malhotra’s moody but swift style. The inks are fairly robust, emphasizing the heavy emotional toll, but the panels still flow effortlessly, not bogged down by the murky psychology of it all. Mal returns home from serving her country at Abu Ghraib and it’s just not going so well. There’s trouble with reintegrating, the ordeal of a mysterious antagonist messing with her via creepy "notes" and what must be tradecraftian surveillance, not to mention the why of it, and she’s really lost in her own head. She’s still processing the Zero Dark Thirty style interrogations, their efficacy in yielding results vis-a-vis the inhumanity of the means and the infrequency of the ends, and she seems to be seeking the approval of her country, her father, her awful peers, shit – anyone, even the weird stranger denies her that sense of self and identity, but so far she’s just failing miserably. I want to see where it goes. I care about the character. And that’s one of the best things you can really say about a debut. It feels like, perhaps, the most mature work I’ve seen from both Hill and Ciaramella to date, and Malhotra is an artist I can root for instantly, one whose work I’ll be investigating further. Grade A.
Harbinger Wars #3 (Valiant): I don’t have a lot to say about this issue, other than to say that I’m really enjoying it because I think it functions by avoiding some of the things common in Marvel and DC crossover fare. Harbinger and, by extension, Harbinger Wars under the care of writer Joshua Dysart approaches violence in a fairly realistic fashion. It’s unpredictable and nobody ever feels exactly safe. It’s unflinching and unapologetic, whether it’s a depiction of Bloodshot’s flayed head or the newly formed H.A.R.D. Corps gunning down a young psiot. There aren’t really traditionally archetypal “good guys” and “bad guys” either, which is one of the first things that attracted me to Dysart’s writing. There’s just this complex miasma of drivers and personalities and agendas converging in the Nevada desert. We’ve got Pete Stanchek and his Renegades, the remnants of Toyo Harada’s forces from the Harbinger Foundation, two groups of escaped psiots, Bloodshot gone rogue, Project Rising Spirit in chase, and oh, let’s just toss a crazy band of H.A.R.D. Corps operatives into the mix as well, along with some government goons recounting the entire thing in a debriefed flashback. All that said, Dysart is juggling about a billion plot threads relatively painlessly, Clayton Henry bringing it all to life in a very clean style, and the team is able to keep their eye on a fairly simple point of discordance: everyone wants the psiots as an asset. The “War” has really been about what the various players involved are, or are not, willing to do philosophically and physically about that dynamic. That means there’s both heart and action surrounding the tension that’s been created. It makes you care more about the real stakes involved than you would the mindless action and never-ending succession of death and rebirth and cancellation and reboot prevalent in the lines of the bigger publishing houses. Grade A-.