Finder: Third World is a Travelogue of a Wonderfully Fictional Place

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By Matthew Jent

FINDER: THIRD WORLD

 Story, Art, & Cover: Carla Speed McNeil

Colors: Jenn Manley Lee and Bill Mudron

Genre: Science Fiction

 

“You consider where you are as shaped by how you got there.”

Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder is self-proclaimed “aboriginal science fiction,” which McNeil explains on her website as being about “People who lived close to the earth, or whose ancestors did. People travel, people settle; people look at each other and embrace or else fight…Aboriginal science fiction deals with alien societies. FINDER’s aliens are all one family, but their coming to understand that isn’t going to come easily.”

Finder was first published in 1996 from McNeil’s own Lightspeed Press. The series has since moved to Dark Horse, which has just published Finder: Third World, collecting a story serialized in Dark Horse Presents, with the addition of 17 new story pages and extensive footnotes that have long been a trademark of Finder collections.

Every volume of Finder explores a different facet of a large and complicated science fiction world. It’s presumably set on a future Earth, and technology is sometimes strange but usually recognizable. Society and cultural norms are the same — recognizable but exaggerated versions of the real world. Readers have to pick up a lot through context clues or through McNeil’s extensive footnotes at the end of the book. A given volume’s protagonist may only appear as a background character in another volume. Or he or she may not appear at all.

Third World sees the return of Jaeger, the series’ first protagonist, its most persistent character, and the titular finder of the title. We become reacquainted with Jaeger as he’s interviewing with a job placement agency, trying to move away from a life spent throwing drunks out of clubs, cleaning up dead bodies, and sin-eating — ritualistically taking the pain and guilt from other people into himself. Jaeger takes a job as a package courier, which allows Third World to become a tour of the city of Anvard.

It reminds me of From Hell’s fourth chapter, in which Gull takes Netley on a carriage ride through London and instructs him in the architectural and symbolic history of the city. Except Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell had real maps and real history to rely on and stay true to. McNeil, through Jaeger, is taking us on a tour of a city she’s invented. Jaeger knows nooks, crannies, and secret passages of Anvard like no one else. He has a preternatural inability to lose his way, and this provides the best introduction to Finder’s world that I’ve seen over the eleven collected volumes of the series. If you’ve never read Finder before, you can pick up Third World and become easily acquainted with an always dense and sometimes intimidating story. When Jaeger, carrying a lost old woman on his back, gestures to dirt roads and says, “Farmland, if anybody can still afford sunlight,” McNeil reveals the depths of a science fiction world with an impressive economy of language and art.

Third World is the first volume of Finder to get the full-color treatment, and the colors by Jenn Manley Lee and Bill Mudron are dreamy and resemble watercolors in their brightness and clarity. It brings a sharp distinctness to the world that greatly enhances McNeil’s illustration. McNeil’s art has always looked clean and deceptively simple — she does more with subtle facial expressions than animated equivalents can accomplish — but Lee and Mudron’s colors bring her work to a whole new level. This is easily the prettiest to look at of any Finder volume so far, and Finder is always a really pretty series.

I came to Third World with no foreknowledge of where the plot would go, so I was happy to follow Jaeger around Anvard for the book’s first act. I assumed this volume would be a picaresque journey through the city, introducing different clients and packages (who are sometimes people). I was happy to take that journey, but I was even happier when a sudden narrative turn takes Jaeger out of Anvard and into unexplored territory. The question of Third World becomes, can you get lost if you don’t have a destination? And can you have a destination if you’ve lost track of the road?

Third World is so good that it appears structureless, until you get to the end and realize where it’s been driving all along. I don’t want to say anything specific about the third act of Third World, because it was frankly as thrilling and surprising as anything I’ve read in comics. Simply put, there are more ideas in six pages of Finder than you’ll find in entire films, where they say they need 2+ hours just to set up the rest of a trilogy.

Read this book. Then, go back and read the rest of the Finder library. You might not know what you’re looking for at first, but by the end of Third World you’ll have found something great.

Review: The Star Wars Tries to Soar

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By Matthew Jent

The Star Wars

Credits

Script: J.W. Rinzler

Art: Mike Mayhew

Colors: Rain Beredo

Lettering: Michael Heisler

Cover Art: Nick Runge

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Movie Tie-In

Star Wars the film — the original film, whether you call it “Episode IV” or “A New Hope” or just “Star Wars” — is a religious text. There’s barely been a time since its 1977 release when it wasn’t being enjoyed, debated, worshipped or deconstructed. In a world of reboots, remakes and restarts, it is hard to imagine Star Wars doing anything except continue.

And yet. Star Wars was created by a mortal mind. It did not spring fully formed from the head of some god. Dark Horse’s The Star Wars is a graphic novel collection “based on the original rough-draft screenplay by George Lucas.” It takes place among the stars. It concerns an evil empire being fought by a rebel alliance. There are words herein such as “Skywalker,” “Darth Vader,” and “Jedi.”

But in place of lightsabers, we have “lazerswords.” Instead of The Force, we have “the force of others.” There is a moon-sized space station called, not the Death Star, but “The Space Fortress.” There are echoes and mirror images of familiar characters and designs, such as a familiar group of bounty hunters we encounter about halfway through the story.

It’s long been rumored that the original Star Wars screenplay had enough content for what became the entire saga, and you get a sense of that here. The plot moves at a breakneck pace, which leads to some welcome between-panel jumps that modern comics tend to overexplain. But the downside is that The Star Wars lacks the quiet character moments needed to humanize and soften the space-fantasy archetypes the characters have become. There’s no time taken for quiet character moments or smalltalk over the dejarik table, and there’s no winning smirk when Han espouses his preference for a good blaster. This is just plot, plot, plot.

Mike Mayhew’s art relies on frozen, exaggerated facial features, but it was the charisma and sass of Carrie Fisher that made Princess Leia rise above the cliché and lazy stereotype of a thinly drawn damsel-in-distress. Here, Princess Leia’s character is thinner than cheesecloth. Young hero Annikin Starkiller punches her in the face to keep her from arguing against their escape from the Empire, and a few dozen pages later she proclaims her love for him. The cast of the original Star Wars film is beloved, but they don’t get enough credit for bringing humanity and charm to a screenplay so devoid of it.

It’s not clear in this adaptation how much of the dialogue is Lucas-original, and how much is created by writer J.W. Rinzler, but someone really likes numbers and mumbo-jumbo space coordinates. Quad-tristation configurations, south axis point three-nine-four, point five-seven on the axis — it’s meaningless jargon that makes the story feel militaristic and unengaging, causing the eye to scan nearby word balloons for a familiar name or phrase as an anchor point.

Another Star Wars legend is that the Ewoks of Return of the Jedi were originally going to be Wookiees. This proves true here, but again the process feels rushed. Two-thirds of the way through the story, the Wookiees start talking in translated word balloons instead of unintelligible, roaring vowells. Did we not need to know what they were saying previously? Were they literally just yelling wordlessly? Why is it important that we know when one of them says, “No problem, boss. That hunk of lifeless metal is in big trouble”?

The only nice surprise in the narrative of The Star Wars is the late reveal that the Jedi and the Sith are not so much ancient enemies-to-the-death as much as they are rival clans, capable of working together if it suits their interests. But again, this is treated as a plot device and not a character choice. There is no follow up or second beat to this development, and with the exception of a tiny panel detail on the last page, you are left to wonder what, exactly, becomes of Sith Prince Vallorum.

Likewise the twin boys Biggs and Windy, so important to the plot earlier in the book, are put into artificially-induced comas and lugged around in metal containers when their use as plot devices are over.

The art and color by Mike Mayhew and Rain Beredo make this volume a worthy exploration of Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept designs. Mayhew’s faces are fun and expressive, and Beredo’s colors are softly lit but bold. A late-story splash of Annikin and Leia’s romantic embrace is the highlight of the volume.

The Star Wars is an ambitious and fun concept — taking the rough draft script and original designs and re-imagining a beloved franchise — that fails to rise above expectations. It’s not quite a fiasco, but its story and dialogue do a disservice to the gorgeous art between the covers.

The book’s backmatter contains design sketches and notes on the adaptation process. Regarding the diminished role of the spaceship pilots from script to comic adaptation, it says, “there is always less room on a page than you imagined.”

But should that be so? Isn’t a benefit of the comic book page that you don’t have to build sets, hire actors, or stitch costumes? An artist can draw a space armada with the same tools and time it would take to illustrate a quiet forest glen.

Of course, there are production schedules to be concerned with. Another backmatter page espouses the importance and necessity of having an entire concept art team on hand to flesh out this rough draft, then goes on to say that interior artist Mayhew started drawing issue one before any of those concept artists created a single design. This belies a troubled and rushed production process. Obviously, this collection is one of the final Dark Horse Star Wars publications before the license moves to Marvel, so the behind the scenes reasons for a rush can be presumed.

But that doesn’t make the final product any more enjoyable. It feels like a rush job, because it is one. I won’t go so far at to call it a cash grab, but I’m forced to wonder if The Star Wars is simply a decent version of a once grander plan.

Review: Spider-Man 2099 #1 — Everything new is old again

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by Matthew Jent

Writer: Peter David
Artist: Will Sliney
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Cover: Simone Bianchi

Everything new is old again.

The Marvel Universe of 2099 debuted in 1993 with four titles, one of which was Spider-Man 2099. The bulk of the series, featuring Miguel O’Hara as Spider-Man battling supervillains and the evil-future-corporation of Alchemax, was written by Peter David.

I love Peter David. He’s a wonderful writer who knows dialogue, structure, and character development. David is a superhero in his own right — when he suffered a stroke in 2012, he broke the news himself on his blog a few days later, and he’s been writing comics pretty consistently since his recovery. It’s flat-out wonderful that David is writing a Spider-Man 2099 comic in the year 2014, the actual 21st century.

That said? It’s a big challenge to take on alternate versions of popular characters, especially the Peter Parker version of Spider-Man. Done right, the creators have to maintain the things that make the character fun and interesting, while adding something new. Ultimate Spider-Man does this by going back to basics. Miles Morales is emotionally vulnerable. He’s sometimes unsure of himself and his powers, and he’s trying to balance real-life with superheroics, just like Peter Parker in his heyday. But he also reflects the times. He struggles with familial expectations Peter Parker didn’t have to deal with, and frankly it’s just nice to see a superhero comic starring a Latino/African-American character.

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Miguel O’Hara, the Spidey of 2099 (living in the present-day since a storyline in 2013’s Superior Spider-Man), goes in a different direction. Miguel is … kind of a jerk. It’s an interesting twist on the idea that Spider-Man is a cool guy, while his secret identity is a yutz. Miguel meets three women over the course of this issue, and he’s sarcastic and dismissive to the first, contemplates manipulating another because she might be depressed (which is the superhero-stalker equivalent of “you should smile more”), and nearly kills a third while fighting off the seemingly nameless villain-of-the-issue.

There’s a plot development involving one of these women in the last few pages — not a full-fledged twist, just some good old fashioned forward narrative momentum, as we should expect from Peter David — and it has a lot of potential. It’s unclear if this iteration of Spider-Man 2099 will rise to the challenge of paying off that development, but it certainly points the series in a direction that could be fun and blackmail-y, with everyone working multiple sides.

Miguel has moments of pure Spidey-dom — he has a wardrobe malfunction that’s the highlight of the book — but he ultimately fails to be as engaging a personality as Peter Parker or Miles Morales. When other characters in your own comic book seem a little disappointed that you’re not the real deal? It’s hard not to internalize that as a reader.

Will Sliney’s art in this issue is competent, but not exciting. Most characters look like they’re posing, instead of interacting with one another. He has a good handle on Spidey- poses — Miguel’s fingers are definitely Spider-Man’s fingers when he’s scaling walls, and it’s cool to be able to discern the face underneath his form-fitting superhero mask. But overall, my eyeballs are guided more by the word balloons, and less by the art itself. When out-of-costume, Miguel O’Hara has the unfortunate habit of constantly wearing sunglasses. Unexplained in this issue, they protect and hide his red-colored, light-sensitive, spider-powered eyes. But this results in Sliney’s art making Miguel look like the time-traveling lovechild of Tom Cruise and David Caruso. Which, in my book, is further evidence that he’s kind of a jerk.

This relaunch of Spider-Man 2099 is one-part Spider-Man, one-part Quantum Leap (striving to put right what once went wrong), and one-part condescending anti-hero. If that’s an attempt to hang on to some of the edginess of the Doc Ock/Superior Spider-Man version of the character, it’s a worthy experiment. One of the problems I have with the Amazing Spider-Man movies is that Andrew Garfield seems too cooler-than-thou to be Peter Parker, but he’d make a perfectly infuriating Miguel O’Hara.

Spider-Man’s been around for more than 50 years in real time, and with so many alternate versions of the character, there’s room for lots of different interpretations. It’s not a sin to have an unlikeable main character, but it can be a challenge. I’m inclined to trust Peter David, but even in a world where our pop culture heroes have become Walter White and Don Draper, it’s going to be hard to enjoy a Spider-Man who comes across mean-spirited, condescending to the women in his life, and who never takes off his sunglasses.

In the real-life 21st century, our comics community regularly faces problems with thoughtless misogyny. I hope this isn’t the kind of Spider-Man our community deserves in 2014.

Bio:
Matthew Jent is a writer from the Midwest now living in Southern California. He writes fiction, criticism, and stuff about Ohio at matthewjent.blogspot.com.

ONE AND DONE: The Trouble With First Issues [The Life After #1]

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Sometimes, it’s just not fair to judge a book by its first issue. They’re just so different from what you’ll end up getting on a monthly basis. First issues have an incredible amount of work to do, work that’s extremely hard to do well in 22 pages–in fact, a lot of first issues are a longer than those that will follow.

I say this because, while The Life After #1–written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and illustrated by Gabo–is a well-executed comic book, with great art and deft storytelling that rewards multiple reads, I am far more interested in what might lie ahead than what actually happened. But more on that later.

The Life After #1 begins with Jude, a young man who leads a terribly monotonous life. It’s pretty standard sad-sack stuff, but really well depicted by Gabo, who chooses to convey Jude’s static life in a meticulously composed fifty-panel grid. It’s one of my favorite things about the book, and it’s the first double-page spread.

But something is off about Jude’s life, and we’re clued in right from the start. He’s being monitored. Everyone is. And when he finally decides to break his routine, to break everyone’s routine, he realizes the truth–he’s in purgatory, and so are the people around him. He lives in a mundane afterlife for people who committed suicide. And now that he’s awake, whoever’s in charge isn’t going to be happy.

At this point, my only real gripe with The Life After is all the comparisons I want to make–not to something like The Matrix, although it did come to mind–but to a little-seen 2006 film called Wristcutters: A Love Story. It’s a black comedy about purgatory for suicides that hits a lot of the same beats. Having seen that film, it sort of robbed me of that thrill you get when discovering something entirely new, and I was worried that The Life After wouldn’t be all I hoped it would.

That’s not to say it isn’t good–there is very deep, somber stuff being explored here, and it’s well worth your time. It just felt familiar to me, and I had trouble adjusting to that.

And then Ernest Hemingway showed up, and I think everything is going to be alright.

I’m serious. Hemingway is going to be a big part of the book. Ask the author, he’ll tell you.

It’s not so much Hemingway’s inclusion that excites me, but what it represents. It was that spark I was looking for, that flash of something new and exciting and full of possibility. It suggests that this world, this story, is only going to get weirder and more whimsical, that there might be more afterlifes to explore than this one, that there are interesting questions and ideas to wrestle with here.

The Life After is off to a slow start, but I’m extremely hopeful for the ride that lies ahead. It could be a good one.

As always, support your local comic shop if you can, patronize your local library if you have one, and say hi on Twitter if you like.

SIX-GUN GORILLA REVIEW: All That And More

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Let’s start with that title, shall we?

Calling a story “Six-Gun Gorilla” is a bold and audacious decision, one that’s guaranteed to attract a specific kind of person and give many others pause. If you come to this book cold, you will very likely either somersault with glee or scratch your head and wonder, ‘huh?” And that’s fair.

But after you’re done scratching your head you should grab the book from the comic shop shelf and buy it, or snatch it from you friend’s desk and implore them to let you borrow it, or click on the button that takes a little bit of money out of your bank account and tells the mailman to bring you a copy.

No matter what you think it is, Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely’s Six-Gun Gorilla is more than that. It is a title that simultaneously obscures and illuminates, promising something very plainly while hiding something deeper, something emotional, something meaningful.

At this point, If you’re a culturally savvy purveyor of obscure fiction,  you might start to feel smug. You might be thinking of a certain fifteen-part serial published in a British adventure magazine in the 1930s. You might believe that such knowledge  gives you a leg up on what to expect, and better information on which to base your decision on whether to pick up or pass on this book.

You too, would be wrong. That’s not to say that such knowledge won’t be rewarded in reading Six-Gun Gorilla, it’s just belaboring the point: this book isn’t what you expect it to be. It’s so much better.

The story starts simply enough. Our hero is a librarian who lost everything: his job, his love, his home, his car.  With nothing else to lose, he signs up for a suicide mission to the Blister, a strange frontier where electricity and combustion doesn’t work and the high noon sun will burn you alive. Figuring out why he’s there, and what he’s supposed to do is part of the fun.

It’s a big reason why Ramón Pérez’s cover for the miniseries’ first issue (which doubles as the cover for the collected edition) is just as perfect as that title: it tells you exactly what’s inside the tin, but hints at something more.

Yes, there is a giant talking gorilla with huge freaking revolvers in this book. But what’s up with that there glowing blue face? And why do I need to ‘stand by?’ That’s not very Six-Gun. That’s not very Gorilla.

I can’t wait for you to find out. For you to be treated to Jeff Stokely’s art, which breathes hot, vibrant life into this neo-Western fable. For you to puzzle over this world as pieces are doled out to you in a manner that is spare but never frustrating. For you to be surprised at the depth of emotion hiding in plain sight.

Consider this line a spoiler warning if you’re already intrigued enough to give this book a chance. You don’t have to read anymore. This is for those that need the extra push.

Six-Gun Gorilla is a comic that knows you might think it silly. On the other hand, if it wore its true ambitions on its sleeve, you might think it pretentious. To come out and say that it is a story about stories might be intriguing, but it also does it a disservice, as does the word “meta.” The former denotes a certain self-importance, the latter a smug cleverness. The book is neither.

It’s about fiction and memory, relationships and honesty, pain and loss, beginnings and endings, media and meaning.

It’s also about a big-ass, gunslinging gorilla.

Give it a read.

When you’re done, let’s talk about all the stories we know, and why we know them. Let’s speak of the world’s we’ve been to that don’t exist, and why we keep them on our shelves. Let’s count all the lies we love because they make us feel, and why we need them.

Review: Legendary Star Lord #1 – A Good Start

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By Nick Eskey

Legendary Star Lord #1

Writer: Sam Humphries
Artist: Paco Madina & Juan Vlasco
Colorist: David Curiel
Cover: Paco Medina

Falling in line with the upcoming theatrical release of Guardians of the Galaxy, a couple of the team’s more likable (and perhaps a touch more scandalous) characters will also be seeing some center-stage comic debuts. The token human of the group happens to be one of those lucky two; Star Lord! Perhaps better known in the comic itself by his human name, the character Peter Quill will be appearing in his own reoccurring comic entitled Legendary Star Lord.

The comic does well as a first glance into the individual that is Star Lord; everything from childhood flashbacks, to skirmishes with ugly space pirates who will mostly likely never be seen from again, make an appearance. When we’re lead to believe that he’s nothing but looks, some selfishness, and a quick mouth, eventually we see a that underneath that bravado is actually a quick wit and a readiness for action; though he’s still quite selfish.

The art styling is very finely done. Paco Medina (pencilier), Juan Vlasco (inker), and David Curiel (colorist) all did a magnificent job in creating highly detailed characters. Everything from emotional outbursts to curves of bodies didn’t go unnoticed. It’s good to see that such attention has been placed in this comic. The backgrounds too were such highly polished sets for the events that take place. My big and only irk with the art was that much of the sceneries portrayed were nothing unique or special for the reader. Yes they were very well done, but haven’t we all seen a lone cemetery setting, or a standard spaceship before? Seeing as this is a first issue and reads much like an origin story, I’m hoping the proceeding issues will introduce readers to places they’ve never seen before.

starlordpg6Writer Sam Humphries does a good job to give a cursory glance at what is to follow, though I was somewhat reminded of the opening scene from the first Indiana Jones movie. And in regards to the writing, I couldn’t help but feel that the dialogues were also just that: cursory. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read some particularly painful dialogue in the past, and this is comic is nowhere near those. But I didn’t feel terribly satisfied that much of what the characters said added to, or further developed the overall visual story, but more or less spoke to what was already going on with the portrayed events and emotions.
Overall I’d say that this issue was a good start for the series that is to be. There are a few kinks that need to be ironed out, but nothing that can’t be solved once the comic gets some traction down the line. I personally would love to see what direction Humphries will take this character and his storyline into.

ONE AND DONE: Up, Up, and Away?

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Keeping up with comics is ridiculously expensive if you want to keep up with a number of titles that come out every month. Not everyone can do that–I definitely can’t. So welcome to One and Done, a weekly column where I go to a comics shop and try to find one good book that’s worth the exorbitant price. It’s not easy.

I really didn’t want to spend four dollars on a comic book this time. June has been an expensive month for me, and I didn’t have a lot of leeway this week. Which is a shame, because Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely’s Six-Gun Gorilla finally came out in trade paperback, and as someone who loved Spurrier’s work on X-Men: Legacy I would love to be reading and writing about that right now. But I could only spend four dollars at the shop, not twenty.

Instead, I bought Superman #32. I almost didn’t. Money’s tight, and I know how the vast majority of cape comics work: a dash of plot, a load of action, and a cliffhanger for dessert. Not to mention the fact that publishers are absolutely trigger happy with “events” and “crossovers,” which is pretty coercive and stupid but also has worked for literally ten straight years so of course they’re not going to stop.

Anyway, I should tell you why I bought Superman #32, instead of, say, Trees #2 (which is worth getting, Trees #1 might still be free when you read this. If it isn’t, let me know. I will tweet you a very entertaining plot summary) or Flash Gordon #3 (which I hear is Very Fun Comics). Some of you probably know why, because if you pay even the slightest attention to mainstream comics online, it’s painfully obvious why Superman #32 is A Big Deal. But bear with me for a paragraph or two while I address The Casuals.

On the Hype Scale, Superman #32 lies somewhere between “New J.K. Rowling Book (Non-Harry Potter Division)” and “Apple Releases New iPhone.” This is because Superman–despite bearing the name of and being about the oldest, most famous superhero in the whole world–has not been a very good book for about three years straight. And this week’s issue #32 marks the introduction of an Acclaimed New Creative Team, which makes it the Perfect Jumping On Point. The hope, then, is that this book will stop sucking.

But that’s a very general explanation for the hype. There’s an equally specific one, and its name is John Romita Jr.

Superman #32 is Romita’s first DC Comics work, after a legendary 30-year career of working almost exclusively for Marvel. That’s like Derek Jeter leaving the Yankees to play some games for the Red Sox, to use a sports analogy. He’s joined by writer Geoff Johns, who had an acclaimed tenure telling Superman stories in Action Comics a while back, and has spent much of the last decade remaking the DC Universe in his own image.

He’s a smaller part of the hype, but only because LOOK AT THE TALENT WE POACHED is a much better headline than GUY WHO DID GREAT STUFF HERE ONCE RETURNS TO HOPEFULLY DO GREAT STUFF AGAIN.

They’re joined by Klaus Janson, an inker who a good enough artist in his own right to get people excited about him drawing a book by himself, and Laura Martin, an award-winning colorist. So, the reasons to buy this book are stacked up right there in the credits.

So is it any good? No. Not if you paid four dollars for it.

That qualification is important, and should be adjusted based on how you feel about the reason we’re all here: John Romita Jr.’s art.

I, for one, really enjoy JRJR. He has a distinctive, blocky style that often feels refreshingly blue collar. Sure, his faces tend to all look similar and he can get really weird with anatomy–Superman’s head completely disappears in the fourth figure of that cover illustration up top–but there’s a lot to love about how he portrays things like physique. His Superman–and Clark Kent–is built like a truck, but not bulging with muscles made of marble. This Kal-El is less Greek god, more caped linebacker. It really helps to convey a sense of might, not just strength.

But man, the story on this thing. Let’s start with this. Here is the solicit (that’s comic speak for ad, I suppose) for Superman #32:

““THE MEN OF TOMORROW” chapter 1! A NEW ERA for SUPERMAN begins as Geoff Johns takes the reigns – and he’s joined by the legendary super-talent of John Romita, Jr. in his first-ever work for DC Comics as they introduce Ulysses, the Man of Tomorrow, into the Man of Steel’s life. This strange visitor shares many of Kal-El’s experiences, including having been rocketed from a world with no future. Prepare yourself for a run full of new heroes, new villains and new mysteries! Plus, Perry White offers Clark a chance to return to The Daily Planet!”

There are two plot points mentioned in that solicit. They are the only two things that happen in the book. There is nothing I could spoil for you if I wanted to. There’s some stuff in there about Clark not having much of a personal life and Jimmy Olsen not knowing what to do with his fortune, but they literally don’t go anywhere, as they’re most likely B-story stuff to check in on throughout the run whenever we need a break from Superman punching giant robot gorillas.

Oh, and Superman also punches a giant robot gorilla, but there’s no reason for it other than giving JRJR something dope to draw. That’s something I take issue with. I mean, if you’ve got it, use it, but use it in a justified way. If you want to have a giant robot gorilla fight (and there’s nothing wrong with that, those are awesome), then make it amazing, make it happen for a reason, make the script earn the art it asks for. Don’t waste an artist’s talent or a reader’s time.

One of the things I don’t really understand about how comics are critiqued and received are the standards that we hold creator-owned books like Saga or Fatale or Mind Mgmt to, and the ones that we judge mainstream superhero comics by. Cape comics get a pass on a lot of things: bad dialogue, barely any plot, and a near-sociopathic insistence on buying multiple titles to get a “full story,” as if they still cost ten cents a pop.

You’re going to read a lot of reviews saying how great Superman #32 is. A lot of those reviews will likely be written by people who also adored books like The Wicked + The Divine #1, a book absolutely full of great ideas and hidden meanings and lots of potential energy. Superman #32 has none of these things. So why would we call it good?

Superman #32 is a bad comic book. But ‘The Men of Tomorrow,’ the larger story of which Superman #32 is the first part, could be absolutely fantastic whenever it’s done. Everyone working on it is top notch.

But there are ways to make a good comic book, to tell a good serialized story twenty-two pages at a time. The stands are full of good examples, and we read them every week.

This is not one of them.

As always, support your local comic shop if you can, patronize your local library if you have one, and say hi on Twitter if you like.

 

Be back in a week.

ONE AND DONE: ‘She-Hulk’ #5 and the Joy of Polite Comics

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One of my favorite things about monthly comics is the intro page. It has taken on special significance in recent years–I’d say it’s thanks to the wild success of Hawkeye. But I can’t say that authoritatively, mostly because I’m the guy who only buys one comic per week. But it’s a good example.

Every issue of Hawkeye tells you that Clint Barton is the greatest sharpshooter alive, that he’s an Avenger, and that this book is about what he does when he isn’t an Avenger.

Then there’s a dumb joke. It’s the best part.

The practice is far from new–superhero comics have a long tradition of slapping  a boilerplate paragraph on the title page describing the hero’s whole deal in brief. But recently, with Marvel titles like Hawkeye and Moon Knight and All-New Ghost Rider, these pages have taken on a bigger role than just a reminder of who this book’s about.

They’re a mission statement. A reassurance that All You Need To Know can be summed up in a few lines above the credits. It’s very polite of them.

‘Polite’ really is the best word to describe it. See one of those intro pages in a comic book, and it’s easy to see that the book is doing you a courtesy, making a conscious effort to remain accessible and friendly to the curious (and cash-strapped). The hope is that you can jump right in and be ready to go.

With She-Hulk #5, I absolutely did.

She-Hulk’s intro page isn’t like any of the aforementioned ones. There’s little in the way of style or design to it. It’s mostly just She-Hulk, breaking the fourth wall and telling the reader everything they need to know to appreciate the story they’re about to read–The Blue File. She also says that the currently absent letters page will be back soon.

It’s not very striking at all. In fact, it feels like a throwback. But it gets the job done, and doesn’t tip it’s hand toward the biggest surprise: Ron Wimberly’s art.

Part of the fun of all this, of buying comics off the shelf one issue at a time, is the feeling of discovery you can get. Not of just worlds or stories or characters, but of all the wonderful and diverse work that all occupies the same shelf space. Until this week, I’ve never seen Wimberly’s art before. Now I wish I had.

It’s playful, vibrant, and doesn’t give a damn about what you think. Wimberly plays with perspective, making frequent use of the foreground in panels and rarely elects to settle at eye-level, instead framing his subjects from above or below. Anatomy and proportion are more suggestions than hard and fast rules, with limbs dynamically filling up space to highlight sound effects and make the action pop off the page.

And the color work from Rico Renzi is just as bold. Day-Glo pinks and purples and oranges fill the pages, adding to Wimberly’s visual dynamism. It’s all such cool stuff, and feels more akin to a punk indie comic than a mainstream title.

Charles Soule’s script isn’t as bold and ballsy as the art, unfortunately. That’s not to say it’s bad–it’s clever and funny, with only a few beats that seem to refer back to earlier events that a new reader would be in the dark about. There’s a cliffhanger, and it’s a smart and organic one that holds promise for the rest of the arc, whether it be two more issues or six.

But man, if only it had the stones the art did.

Now comes the tricky part–how do you decide if a book you picked up on a lark is one you’re going to keep picking up or just wait for other options. I’m not disappointed by She-Hulk #5 on the whole–I’m actually very satisfied (it’s also one of the few Marvel books still selling for $2.99, so maybe that helps). But the story isn’t really one I’ll be turning over in my head much–and now that I’ve seen Wimberly’s work, I’ll be inclined to seek it out more than I’ll probably want to reread this issue.

Or maybe I won’t really know for sure until #6 is on the stands and I find myself compelled to jump back in. Sometimes you don’t have an answer right away. That’s okay. I’ve got time.

As always, support your local comic shop if you can, patronize your local library if you have one, and say hi on Twitter if you like.

Be back in a week.

Review: It’s time for Marvel ocarinas

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Ocarinas aren’t just for Zelda fans any more. St. Louis Ocarinas has released an officially licensed line of Marvel ocarinas in a variety of heroes. And they were kind enough to send one to me to review!

Although I don’t talk much about my musical background, I was something of a child prodigy, playing the piano at an early age, writing my own little songs, operas and musicals over the years and learning to play (with various degrees of proficiency) most keyboards, the guitar, the clarinet, the accordion and the penny whistle. Oh, and the Optigan. (I still mourn my grandmother throwing that out.) Yet my experience with the ocarina had been limited until the arrival of my new Spider-Man model.

The ocarina is probably best known to non-video gamers through Ennio Morricone’s use of it throughout his scores for Sergio Leone, most notably the immortal The Good, The Bad and the Ugly theme (the ocarina represented “the ugly.”) It has a warm, earthy sound reminiscent of folk tunes. Although ocarina tones are played via mouth position and covering various holes, as with most wind instruments, its pitch tends to be kind of, um, chromatic and microtonal unless you know what you are doing.

Although I didn’t know what I was doing when the ocarina arrived, I’ve since been tooting away. I love it, and I’m pretty sure the neighbors do too!

In addition to Spidey, STL ‘s Marvel Ocarinas are available in these models:

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Captain America

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Iron Man

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Thor
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Wolverine

Retail is $29.99, and if you are searching for a colorful musical instrument that will put you at one with both The Man With No Name, Link and Thor, these should do just fine.

How To Be A Comics Fan When You Can Barely Afford Them

Nickel_Comics_2By Joshua Rivera

Comics are expensive.

It’s something everyone knows about our favorite hobby, but not many people bother to engage. Reviewers may bring it up when a story is particularly bad, or if a publisher decides to raise the price of a book without adding much perceived value.  But that’s about it.

“The economics of comics is bad,” John Rogers, co-founder of Thrillbent Comics, told me in a recent interview. “No other entertainment form has increased in price adjusting for inflation harder than comics. It’s $3.99 right now for a comic. Which is 10-15 minutes worth of entertainment–which is hard.”

Most basic discussions of economics mention the concept of opportunity cost fairly early on–the notion that making one choice precludes any number of other possible choices.

Even in a big, expensive city like New York–where I am based–if you’re careful, four dollars can land you a decent breakfast, or a subway ride, or admission to a museum, or several slices of pizza. When merely existing in a place is so costly, you become painfully aware of things like this–every dollar you don’t spend today buys you a little more time to live in reasonable comfort later.

Sometimes you need those four dollars. Sometimes it’s really hard to justify buying a comic book.

Because comic books are serial, in buying one you’re introducing a new monthly expense to your budget for however long you decide to read a book. Maybe you stick around for a story arc–six issues ($24). Maybe you’re buying because you like a particular creative team—let’s use two years as a benchmark for a good run($96). Or, God help you, you want to follow a certain character—that’ll be $48 annually times however many comics that character is in.

This of course, assumes you only choose to follow one book.

For a very long time, I had written off comics—something I have known and loved for as long as I could remember—as a rich person’s hobby. When every comic on the stands is hitting you over the head with unending more-ness of the medium, and the cost adds up so quickly, it’s easier to just shut down.

Yes, there are alternatives to buying comics monthly—some of them make shelling out for floppies seem downright foolish. Marvel Unlimited, while a bit janky on the reading experience, is an incredible value. Trade paperbacks are almost always more affordable than buying monthly, and even more so when ordered online. And digital comic sales and promotions across all manner of digital storefronts are frequent and plentiful.

And then there’s my personal gateway drug: the local library, and the inter-library loan system, without which I could not have read many comics at all.

But there’s an opportunity cost. Most of it involves waiting. You have to wait for trades, wait for sales, wait for libraries. But there are others. You can’t support a local shop with digital sales. You can’t loan or give a friend one of your digital comics, hoping to show them why you love the medium so much.

But perhaps the biggest thing you give up on is the culture. From the letter columns to the fanzines to the websites like The Beat, comics have always been about conversation. In sharing how much they mean to us, talking about how much we love or loathe what happened this month—it makes the 30-day waits and delays bearable, because you’re not alone in them.

However, staying current is costly. It’s easy to get burned. It’s hard to take chances.

I want to help.

Because I believe there is value in telling stories in this strange fashion. In twenty-two pages, delivered thirty days at a time. In anticipation as a tool for great storytelling–and not just a crutch for lazy storytellers. In writers and pencillers and inkers and colorists that work together in ways that are layered and profound and moving. In comics.

And so I’m going to write a different kind of review. One that treats your time and money as precious. I will only review one comic per week here–what I decide to spend my money on out of the wealth of comics that come out every seven days. Very rarely, I’ll cover two. Once you get around three or more, you approach trade paperback prices and your money is probably better spent there.

I believe that when you come to comics with this approach, you look for different things in a book. If you didn’t value art or layouts before, you do now–if you’re only getting one book a week, you want the art to be something worth staring at and turning over in your mind, preferably hiding away further layers of story in its lines and colors.

You want each book to tell a complete story, and not just a fragment of a long one. You’re friendly towards first issues, hard on second ones, and have no patience for tie-ins and crossovers. You’re constantly weighing and measuring, trying to determine if a book is worth the monthly cost or better off purchased as a trade or on sale or borrowed from a library or friend.

You start to love comics even more.

Because comics are expensive. Ridiculously so. But that doesn’t have to mean they can’t be  worth it.

[Joshua Rivera is  a freelance writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Kotaku, Fast Company, and The Daily Beast.]

 

Vertigo Gets Back To Its Roots: A Look At Coffin Hill: Forest of the Night

Coffin Hill Volume One: Forest of the NightThere was a time, early on, when Vertigo was considered more of a horror and dark fantasy line.  Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Sandman all being prominent parts of the first wave.  Vertigo’s widened its doors considerably since then to include straight up crime and science fiction titles, as well as fantasy with a lighter tone.  It’s never completely gone away from the horror side of things.  The Wake is something of a genre bender that definitely has a horror element.  The recently returned American Vampire certain fits the bill.  And then you have a new addition to the line, Coffin Hill that really had me remembering the earlier days of the line.

With the first tpb now out (Coffin Hill Volume One: Forest of the Night), we’ve got a return to the more goth and witchcraft horror that’s been absent for a bit.  Novelist Caitlin Kittredge is joined by artist Inaki Miranda for a nifty collection that plays around with a number of different horror conventions.  Flashing between 2013 and 2003, Coffin Hill tells the story of Eve Coffin, heir to a witch’s bloodline in a Massachusetts town named for her family.  The story opens with Eve, a hero cop in Boston, returning home after suffering a gunshot wound and discovering that all is not right in her hometown.  It seems that back in 2003, teenage Eve and two of her friends went out in to the woods to do some magic they didn’t quite understand and one of them didn’t come back.  The result of that spell is still in the woods and Eve needs to put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak… even if she’s not entirely sure what it is.

The storytelling alternates between modern day and flashbacks.  The modern setting is horror meets detective as Eve reacquaints herself with her town, what’s left of the family mansion, and that thing in the woods she was trying to forget.  The flashbacks are teen angst, black magic and a bit of goth.  (When I say teen angst, I don’t mean to say this is over-exaggerated to the level of a CW show, its a bit more organic than that.)

The result seems like a convergence of Twin Peaks, Blair Witch and perhaps just a touch of Stephen King’s It.  Twin Peaks because everything is taking place is the odd little town with layers of secrets in its history and I mean that in a second season, Black Lodge and Killer Bob sort of way.  Blair Witch because of the unknown horror in the woods that does have a bit of history to it.  And that touch of It for having the childhood flashbacks and a New England setting, rather than the Pacific Northwest, as well as Eve’s returning to her childhood home and processing the changes.

Black magic, family secrets, small town gossip — it would not be hard to see Coffin Hill reconfigured for TV into something aimed at the teen demographic — and then horribly overacted once filming began.  By having the dual time periods, the accumulation of over-wrought emotion is sidestepped.  Oh, you’ll get a little bit of it, but then things come back to the present and its more about the puzzle pieces fitting back together.  Or, to use a basketball analogy, Kittredge and Miranda show it and then they take it away.

Now, given all the teen flashbacks, it should be pointed out this is R-rated material.  Lots of blood and violence and bit of nudity at the climax (pun not intended).

All in all, a slick package with some genuinely creepy moments.

Recommended for fans of horror, particularly the black magic/witchcraft sub-genre.  If you have an serious aversion to the CW-style, teen-targeted horror shows, you might want to flip through it first.  I didn’t find it over-the-top, but a lot of those tropes are being played with.

Advance Review: Inhuman #1 bears an Uncanny resemblance – updated

From the creative team of Charles Soule, Joe Madureira, Marte Gracia and Clayton Cowles, Inhuman #1 finally sees release this week, and Marvel have offered an advance copy for review. Originally planned to be written by Matt Fraction, the series saw delays before Fraction dropped out himself, and Soule came onboard the project instead. Following on from a plot point seeded – pun possibly intended – in the Infinity event, this first issue has a few problems, but actually makes for a surprisingly coherent whole.

Update – editor Nick Lowe sent us a message on Twitter explaining that once Matt Fraction dropped out of the project, the pages already produced were all scrapped, and the project started from scratch. So rather than my assumption that Soule and Madureira were not yet actively working together, the truth is that this was a typical collaboration between the pair. This updates my feelings on the issue a little – head to the final paragraph for my newer verdict.

[Read more…]

REVIEW: NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette by Nathan W. Pyle

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NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette
Nathan W. Pyle
William Morrow/HarperCollins
$10, 144 pages
ISBN 978-0-06-230311-0

I kept expecting this book of cartoon tips to be funny and it wasn’t. Then I realized it wasn’t meant to be funny. It was meant to be what the title says: tips and etiquette, like how to order pizza and how not to hang on the subway pole (I admit I do that because I don’t like touching its mega-germy surface), avoiding garbage and similar pieces of wisdom. Most of these tips—like the smelly garbage one—would be germane in 50% of the places on earth, but there is the occasional nugget like the Horror Of The Empty Subway Car (usually involves two or more of the following: a bum, puke, piss, poo.)

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This book started as a webcomic by Pyle, a recent Ohio emigre who came to NYC to produce TV shows. The tips got socialed all around and a book deal followed. Pyle’s art falls into one of the Seven Kinds Of Weak Comics Art categories that I have identified over the years, namely “Thinks He’s Toth, But He’s Not”—relying completely on contrasty pages with stark white and black areas, without really having a great grasp of anatomy or architecture. The simplicity of the imagery does carry it through though, and people like diagrams.

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I have never used this particular TJs technique but might give it a shot.

Despite these flaws, this is a useful book if you have just arrived in New York or even if you needed a brush up on some of the basics. Now that NYC has been turned into a complete shopping mall/holiday for nouveau riche euro trash, Hedge funders, trustafarians and Tom Brady, it’s good to remember the olden days when street smarts—and not the Benjamins—were the key to survival.
I have never used this particular TJs technique but might give it a shot.

No website but there is a FB page.

REVIEW: Avengers Undercover #1– out of the arena

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Written by: Dennis Hopeless
Art by : Kev Walker
Colors by: Jean Francois Beaulieu
Publisher by: Marvel

By Matt O’Keefe

Avengers Undercover is a direct sequel to Avengers Arena, but writer Dennis Hopeless does a great job giving readers all the necessary info in the first page. It sums up the status quo for the survivors, and encourages readers to read Arena if they haven’t yet. They should; it’s a good book. Hopeless continues to demonstrate strong character writing in Undercover. Having Hazmat interact with viewers who think of their time in the arena as a game is an excellent way to expose us to the characters’ new lives. Runaways Chase and Nico bicker on a talk show, which was well-written but hampered by Chase’s new rock star look, which looked too cartoonish to take him seriously.

The issue starts to lose steam with Death Locket and Cammi’s scenes, which largely served to repeat the sentiments of Hazmat, Chase, and Nico with different characters. Bloodstone’s quest for vengeance didn’t impress me; not a whole lot of character development there. I give a lot of credit to Hopeless for including all seven characters a spotlight, though. The cliffhanger didn’t excite me, both because of the lacking second half of the comic and because it failed to offer any new surprises.

As I was reading I found myself straining to understand what was going occurring within the panels. I think that was due to the coloring; the palette was murky enough to pull me out of the story at times. I’m a huge fan of Jean-Francis Beaulieu’s colors on the Oz books and Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird, but those titles were more lighthearted, which encouraged a lighter palette. In my opinion, Beaulieu overcompensated for the darker tone of Avengers Undercover in this issue. My enjoyment of Avengers Arena and some strong character moments are convincing enough to bring me back next month, but I’m hoping for more in both story and art in upcoming issues.

The Aesthetic Hybridity of Fumio Obata’s ‘Just So Happens’

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Just So Happens
By Fumio Obata
Published by Jonathan Cape
Buy This Book

Upon first impression of Fumio Obata’s new graphic novel, Just So Happens, I was struck with a lot of similar impressions that arose whilst reading a related, albeit a hastily associated work, Glyn Dillon’s Nao of Brown. Sure, both recount stories about a Japanese woman who now call London home and likewise are authored by men who have a history of working in animation, but these correlations are as redundant as clumping their narratives into the category of ‘graphic novels’, or even as mere examples of international comics. Where Just So Happens splits from its resemblance to The Nao of Brown is in how it emerges as an end product that investigates cultural identity within globalization in a way that fruitfully hones its roots in not only Japan but also as largely influenced by European visual history. Yumiko takes the lead in the story and upon returning home for her father’s abrupt funeral, finds herself immersed in a confrontation of personal cultural difference, manifesting in reality as well as in the mystic esthetics of Noh theatre. Just So Happens is a unique graphic undertaking in the concept of transcultural works. Obata visually and thematically blends Japanese and European visual culture to compose a tale that is dynamic in its hybridity, and thereby conceives a poignant graphic narrative that exposes cultural identity as a process of constant change. [Read more…]

We’re The Kids in America: G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel #1

By Jeffrey O. Gustafson

MSMARV2014001_DC11_LRKamala Khan is a sixteen year old girl from Jersey City. She has the same pressures as any teenager: friends, family, school, parties. She desires independence and autonomy while her parents try to navigate her through the fraught landscape of peer pressure and the expectations of family. Every teen goes through something like this, but an added layer is that she is a second-generation Pakastani-American. The immigrant experience in America is a varied and challenging one, and the particular pull of religion and old-world culture plays a significant role in the already difficult path of adolescence. And on top of that, Kamala lives in the Marvel Universe, where crazy stuff happens.

Ms. Marvel #1 is the new superhero comic written by G. Willow Wilson (Cairo, Air) and illustrated by Adrian Alphona (Runaways). When announced last year, there was significant mainstream buzz about the book because the creators and the publisher were creating a non-white, non-male new hero, something sadly too rare. The response was a bit much, especially considering that there was no inkling that the book would even be any good, nor if the book would remotely succeed. While it’s obviously too early to decide the latter, it’s safe to say that Wilson and Alphona have more than delivered an entertaining and fresh story that plays with and exceeds the expectations of genre (and the audience).

The story opens with Kamala at her local hangout (such as it is, it’s a convenience store) with her friends Nakia and Bruno. She’s dreamily smelling bacon, intoxicating and verboten. At home, Kamala writes Avengers fanfic. (“Fan feek… What is fan feek? I thought you were doing homework,” her mother laments.) When dinner rolls around, she asks her parents if she can go to a party. Her father objects, and she stomps off in a teen-girl huff and puff. The family dynamic here is wonderful. Her parents, both moderate Muslim immigrants, find their two children taking opposite and equally consternating paths. (While Kamala’s Americanization seems total, her older brother Aamir has retreated into a more conservative and restrictive – if not quite fundamental – view of Islam.) Kamala, desiring the specific normality of teenage freedom (mixed with the added frustrations of religious restriction), sneaks out of her room that night to go to that party. She encounters dancing and alcohol, and then mists come from across the Hudson, Manhattan in all its significance hovering in the background. She has a fever dream of Avengers and mysticism and wakes up dressed as her idol, Carol Danvers, the current Captain – and former Ms. – Marvel. The first issue ends there, but based on the delightful short story from last month’s All New Marvel Now anthology we already know Kamala will be a shape shifter of indeterminate ability, donning the name Ms. Marvel in honor of Danvers.

The obvious model for all of this is the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man. Not the tragedy and never ending world wariness of Peter Parker’s story, but the window into contemporary teen life that connected the book to young adult audiences at a time when superhero funnybooks were the younger kids’ domain. Creators have been emulating that formula for a half-century now, to a frankly tiring degree. But rather than feeling like a well-worn slog of been-there/done-that, Wilson presents the story in a naturalistic, unrushed way that simply feels good to read. There is a universality and timelessness to the basic conflicts Kamala faces as an American teenager in 2014. The first chapter of this new Ms. Marvel isn’t really about superpowers at all, but about finding your identity amidst the dueling conflicts of family, faith, and friends. Superheroism is just that added wrinkle that will inevitably come to complicate things even further. You don’t have to be a Muslim teenage girl to appreciate Kamala’s struggle here, because while the Muslim aspect is important, it is not the total focus. Indeed, because there are so few representations of American Muslims in mainstream comics, it may be far too easy to over-focus on Kamala’s ethnicity and religion.

MSMARV2014001_int_LR-7Thankfully, Wilson presents the characters not as easy stereotypes but as fleshed-out people that don’t quite fit into the standard genre boxes that have been long since built for them. Zoe, who at first blush seems like she may fit into the Flash Thompson role of antagonist, comes off less like a bully and more like a slightly ditzy WASP without the malicious undercurrent of racism or even good old fashioned teenage dickishness. Kamala’s father is just as annoyed by Aamir’s religious stubbornness as he is by Kamala’s wish to go to a party with boys and booze. The conversations about religion and culture that are peppered throughout are far from perfunctory. Wilson uses these moments as a vehicle of elegant exposition that more than anything reflect the bubbling undercurrent of the ongoing conversation being had by immigrants and teenagers of all stripes in the big-city cauldron of colliding cultures found throughout urban America.

Alphona’s art here is, unsurprisingly, quite wonderful. In a chapter light on action, Alphona is able to present the longer sequences of dialog with accessibility and energy. Wilson works with Alphona’s many strengths, and Alphona delivers. Alphona’s stylish illustration beautifully captures the characters’ emotions and physicality. When the superhero action shows up in the short story from All New Marvel Now, it’s stunning.

Alphona and Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways took place on the outskirts of much of the Marvel Universe, creating added significance when bigger name characters appropriately came in (and giving them more freedom of storytelling). It allowed Alphona’s idiosyncratic/accessible art to breathe, and he has only refined his style further. Ms. Marvel is still set within the gee-wiz world of Marvels and Monsters, but the tide of insanity that comes from superhero conflict is largely stemmed by geography. Wilson sets the book in Jersey City, still in the larger New York Metropolitan area but far enough outside Manhattan to give some sense of remove from the ceaseless four color madness that flows from across the Hudson. Almost close enough to touch.

This comic and the potential series has a lot going for it as well as against it. Creating a new superhero is easy; creating a new hero that is both good and successful is much, much harder. Ms. Marvel‘s quality here shines, enough to give it a chance, and enough to overcome the hubbub behind the larger conversation happening about diversity in the people who make and star in comics. That is an important element – G. Willow Wilson has potential to finally become one of comics’ premier creators in an predominantly male industry, and Kamala Khan has the potential to be a breakout success in a very white genre. But more than that, more than any of that, this is a good comic. That’s all that really matters, but we all know good comics, especially those taking chances in the mainstream, sometimes don’t sell. It’s success as an ongoing is undecided, but it’s success as a cohesive comic creation is undeniable. Wilson and Alphona are perfect together, and Marvel is the perfect place to tell this story.

As a piece of serialized fiction, it has some pitfalls. We don’t get the expected transformation until late, and having already been teased by the short story we already kind of know what’s happening. It is not disappointing as much as it is a good reflection of a more delicately paced (though certainly not decompressed) origin, in contrast to the hyper-efficient densely packed origins of the Silver Age whose structure the team here subvert, modernize and improve on. But the characters and setting are compelling, and Alphona’s art especially enjoyable – I loved this comic and am looking forward to more.

Jeffrey O. Gustafson is a New York City-based comics blogger and the creator and writer of The Comic Pusher blog at ComicPusher.com