This week sees some younger titles thrive into their second story arcs while Dark Horse introduces a promising new property and Valiant proves why it’s here to stay. Happy Wednesday, everybody.
So, the relaunched Batgirl and I got off on the wrong foot. Having lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for half of my 20s, I can’t digest too much hipster pretension in any amount. So when I read a comic about a million mobile screens and drunken hookups and fictional social media platforms and guest list desperation, a huge neon “nope” ignited in my head. I’m the old man throwing shade at the 20-somethings texting in the movie; Batgirl simply wasn’t for me on first blush.
And then I discovered that writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher might not exactly be at odds with my viewpoint. Batgirl got meta in issue #37, in which a crossdressing artist posed as the crimefighter and then ran a gallery of the pictures. At this event, one character commented that “to have this kind of platform, this many eyes on you and not say anything of value is ridiculous. There’s no message here.” How is that not a self-aware slam on condescending critics like me, ignoring this comic book for all the wrong reasons? Sick burn, bros.
Upon further reads, this title isn’t so much a masturbatory attempt to reach Gen-Y with outdated slang and a million paper images of mobile phones (a huge irony within itself), but an examination of how those technological elements inform identity and can antagonize as much as they connect. Think of it as the difference between Black Mirror and, I don’t know, Poochie. Issue #39 brings these topics to a head, as the entity that’s been trying to systematically Catfish Barbara Gordon finally comes to light. The flowing, kinetic art of Babs Tarr and Cameron Stewart — with gorgeous colors from Maris Wicks —also elevates Batgirl as a new monthly must-read.
Deadly Class #11
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Wes Craig
If Deadly Class is the loose autobiography of Rick Remender’s wayward youth, than that man has been through a lot. While it would be a stretch to call this series meditative, its early issues touched on the cannibalistic capitalism of the ‘80s, showing the bad things that can happen to the disenfranchised when the government pulls the social net back a little too far.
But Remender and artist Wes Craig also incorporate another staple of that decade: drive-thru exploitation. What did we expect? Lead character Marcus Lopez joins a school devoted to fostering assassins, splintered through Breakfast Club niches including the Cartel, Yakuza and KKK. It’s an audacious, unsubtle comic and issue #11 marks a huge climax for the series, as Marcus confronts a family of redneck psychopaths and his poor romantic skills between Saya and Maria. The language and characterization can be overblown (the lead nemesis often touts homophobic slurs), but this book revels in glorious, huge violence, like some twisted Technicolor cartoon salvaged from a grindhouse garage sale. Expect an emotional and visceral blood bath.
American Vampire artist Rafael Albuquerque has displayed a startling range of style and emotion through his pencils, tackling set pieces from sun-drenched Hollywood vistas to the Depression-Era Midwest. Albuquerque now turns his eye to sci-fi in this brand new series co-written by Mike Johnson. The tale of a time-traveling astronaut driven to save his ailing wife, EI8HT just sounds cool. One of the key locales is The Meld, a no-man’s-land where technology and dinosaurs coexist in a space-time sinkhole. All of these elements sound like some gorgeous amalgamation of H.G. Wells and Philip K. Dick, projected through a gritty, modern filter. Let’s do the time warp again.
Through its 13 years, Fables has provided one of those rare media experiences where its characters have grown alongside its readers. We’ve charted our own tragic romances alongside Bigby and Snow, wept at the fate of Boy Blue and cringed as Mr. Dark contorted the foundation of an extended fairy tale family we slowly learned to adore. This penultimate issue hints at some devastating melodrama between Snow White and Rose Red, paving the way to the series finale in Spring. But this issue could really feature anything — a tea party, a play recital, 32 pages of the Fables sleeping — and we’d read it just to spend more time with these beloved characters.
Writers: Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters
Artist: Carolyn Nowak
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Lumberjanes has never been a comic to spare its readers from huge, massive shifts in perspective and plot. So when Mal and Mol tumble into a prehistoric parallel reality with an old lady who can transform into a bear, it’s just par for the course. Hey — they got this. Elsewhere, the other campers attempt to snag badges for cake baking and paint drying. Extreme plot contrasts aside, these layered characters reveal new dimensions even while breaking through them, hitting a harmonious stride of adventure and development. Artist Carolyn Nowak has also continued Brooke Allen’s vivid storytelling with her own flourishes and exotic world building.
Multiversity: Mastermen #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Jim Lee
If you thought it was impossible for Grant Morrison to weave anything bigger than the boundless narrative tapestries of The Invisibles and All Star Superman, his Multiversity experiment has definitely threatened that immensity. This is the story of inter-dimensional evil threatening every reality introduced to an 84-year-old publishing line. It’s big. Last month’s “Guide Book” presented a detailed breakdown of all the DC Universe’s alternative realties and the cosmic agar they’re nestled into. We’re still trying to decipher the big picture behind this post-modern puzzle, but this week’s issue promises something slightly less daunting: Hitler squirming on a toilet. Focusing on a pocket dimension where the Nazis conquered the world with the help of a brainwashed Superman, this issue stars Uncle Sam and a band of Greatest Generation brawlers illustrated by Jim Lee. The more interesting question is how a seemingly direct premise like this will tie into Morrison’s haunted-comic dimension-breaking metastory.
The Valiant #3
Writers: Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt
Artist: Paolo Rivera
Event books aren’t supposed to be nimble and fun and funny; they meander along a parade of marketing hyperbole and tie-in books. And they’re usually not very good. So what the hell is going on with The Valiant, Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire and Paolo Rivera’s 4-chapter bombshell that feels simultaneously pivotal and understated? The writers condense an entire universe into an ages-old tale of immortal evil verses good, where a cyborg bonds with the girl next door and they both eat beef jerky. It’s a masterclass in economic storytelling, with a truly horrifying baddie illustrated with goopy dread by Rivera. I don’t know all the characters who pop up in this issue…but I want to. Congratulations, Valiant.