Deadshirt Is Reading… is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt’s staff, contributing writers, and friends-of-the-site offer their thoughts on Big Two cape titles, creator-owned books, webcomics and more. For more of our thoughts on this week’s new comics, take a look at Wednesday’s Deadshirt Comics Shopping List.
Patrick Stinson is reading…
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by John Cassaday
Colors by Laura Martin
Lettered by Chris Eliopaulos
“I just helped you blow up the biggest weapon factory in the galaxy. I put my name on the Empire’s most wanted list for you.”
“That was days ago. You have to stop living in the past, Captain Solo.”
Jason Aaron is revealing a marvelous knack for taking plots that sound like my crappy 4th grade action figure games and making them quite compelling. Part of what’s helping him out is the Disney reboot of the franchise, which terminated most of the problems with severely overused characters such as Luke Skywalker and Boba Fett in one fell swoop. Now we have an issue where the latter stalks the former on Tatooine that’s somehow not awful, because a smaller number of creative voices are letting some logical character arcs play out without sandwiching them in between “canon” stories written by some RPG writer twenty years ago.
The “new” Expanded Universe does share a couple inherent flaws with the old. First, the intended audience for the comics and novels is much older, on average, than the audience for the films. Given that the films establish that Boba Fett and other bad guys are very, very bad guys, Fett’s intensely brutal and callous investigation techniques are justified, perhaps even inevitable. And yet they are shockingly dark, involving the sort of cold-blooded torture, dismemberment, and execution that wouldn’t be out of place in a Punisher comic. This is not a book for your six-year-old niece/nephew who liked A New Hope.
Second, there is a real hesitation to expand on the characters of the film, instead erring on the side of simply capturing their likenesses. Leia and Solo do a great job looking and sounding like Leia and Solo—no trivial feat this, and John Cassaday deserves the highest praise—but they don’t meaningfully interact with any other characters but each other, and their relationship can’t advance, because this is pre-Empire Strikes Back. This at least is justified by the constraints of canon, prequels, etc. But with Luke Skywalker, an opportunity was missed to correct the character’s historically complete callousness regarding the deaths of his adopted parents in A New Hope. Instead he’s still exclusively moping over Ben Kenobi.
There’s such potential here, but rather than making tolerable plots such as “Luke and Darth fight; Han and Leia steal a vehicle and flirt; a mysterious bounty hunter stalks Han; Luke and Boba fight,” I submit that Aaron needs to actively avoid them. I don’t think the audience for this comic needs this many Star Wars cliches and familiar images to get into this book. I guess that sounded really critical, but give this book a chance—I think it’s going to become phenomenal once it expands and deepens its narrative.
Dominic Griffin is reading…
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Mark Bagley (pencils) and Scott Hanna (inks)
Colored by Justin Ponsor
Lettered by Cory Petit
“…I think Doom knows.”
While the Ultimate Universe has had some amazing stories throughout its wild tenure, capital E Events have never been their strong suit. Jonathan Hickman’s short Ultimates run might be the closest this alternate world ever came to sufficiently presenting scope and grandeur without having to resort to multiple double page spreads of needless banter (thanks, Bendis) or gruesome character deaths (hi, Loeb!). It’s the former Ultimate godfather whose influence takes hold here, utilizing the same in media res storytelling every other Secret Wars tie-in is based upon, but without any of the sizzle.
It appears that one of the subnations of Battleworld is an amalgamation of the 616 New York and its Ultimate counterpart, presented here to look, sound and feel like the Ultimate Universe with special appearances from Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Cyclops, Scarlet Witch and others from the 616. Because Bendis wrote this, half the issue is devoted to Pete Parker freaking out that everyone knows his secret identity, which, you know, makes him seem like a complete fucking idiot, given the events of the Spider-Men miniseries and the fact that there are clearly more important concerns at play. Bagley and the rest of the art team do a solid job of keeping the pages brisk and the various doppelgangers distinct, but this feels like an issue-length conversation that goes fucking nowhere. Everyone else is using the Secret Wars event to go batshit insane with dueling realities, and Bendis chooses to send off the universe he helped create with meandering chatter and an eye-rolling deficiency of intrigue. The issue’s conclusion offers a glimmer of hope that this is just a slow moving prologue, but given the execution on display here I’m sure I can say it’s worth following.
Jason Urbanciz is reading…
Written by George Miller, Nico Lathouris and Mark Sexton
Art by Mark Sexton, Leandro Fernandez, Riccardo Burchielli and Andrea Mutti
Colored by Michael Spicer
Lettered by Clem Robins
Cover art by Tommy Lee Edwards
“And in that moment…a loving heart was swept into idolatry.”
Mad Max: Fury Road sped into cinemas last week and quickly into the hearts of all right-thinking people worldwide. I saw it twice last week and it wasn’t enough; I need more. Fortunately, Vertigo is ready to provide with a series of one-shots filling in the backstory of some of the movie’s key players. (Spoilers to follow if you’ve not seen the movie, and really, you should get on that.) In the aftermath of Furiosa and the brides retaking the citadel, life has gone on. In the Brides’ former cage now dwells a storyteller, teaching the children of the citadel the stories of their freedom.
First, the origin of Nux, the Warboy who started hunting Furiosa but came to join her. It’s a nifty little story showing that the compassion that blossomed in him during the movie was within him all along. A product of a loving family who was ground up by the terrible post-apocalyptic world he was born into, Nux lost one family, and in searching for another found himself indoctrinated into something ugly, but not ugly enough to destroy him.
We also hear the tale of Immortan Joe’s rise to power. The Immortan Joe of the past is a soldier who, seeing that the world had ended, seeks to build a new one with himself at its center. Raiding his way across the wasteland, building an army, Joe eventually finds the Citadel. Knowing that it could be his seat of power, he launches a siege against the armed force currently residing there. While this story is interesting, it kind of falls flat because it’s a standard military adventure tale. It doesn’t really get into Joe’s head or fill in who he really is (or why he wears the mask). The Nux story is half as long, but it really gets the emotion of his character, even though he’s only a toddler. Immortan Joe’s tale leaves him as just as much an enigma that he was before.
The art on the book is uniformly terrific. Leandro Fernandez (Punisher MAX, Queen & Country) sets the tone beautifully with his art on the Nux story. Reminiscent of Eduardo Risso’s style, his work really communicates the hard world of Max, as well as the brief flashes of happiness and hope that can still be found within it. On the Immortan Joe story, artist Riccardo Burchielli delivers some excellent art similar to his time on DMZ. He’s had a lot of experience drawing post-apocalyptic military tales, and he does a great job. While each of the artists on this book (including Mark Sexton’s bookend pages featuring the Storyteller) have different styles, the book is held tightly together by the colors of Michael Spicer. Working with a palette similar to the movies, Spicer’s colors are all deep oranges and browns, with brief bursts of bright blue in the sky. It’s fitting that each of the stories has its own artist, but the colors are a great way of communicating they’re all coming from the same teller.
Mad Max: Nux and Immortan Joe is a good read for fans of the movie, deepening the stories of some of the key characters and still leaving you wanting more. While I found one of the stories to be a little disappointing I’m still very glad I picked it up.
Joe Stando is reading…
Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Marc Laming
Colored by Jordan Boyd
Lettered by Travis Lanham
“I’ll do it. On one condition. I want my T. Rex back.”
We’re getting into the first batch of Secret Wars tie-ins and man, are they ever a mixed bag. The worst of them, like Ultimate End, are totally impenetrable mishmashes with unclear status quos, motivations, and pretty much everything else. It seems like the best plan for Secret Wars books that exist outside of the tight orbit of the main book is to focus on a very tight, clear premise and just go full tilt with it. Planet Hulk, probably my favorite book of the week, does that very well.
Planet Hulk has a very simple, zany premise: Steve Rogers is a gladiator, and he fights other gladiators and monsters with his partner, Devil Dinosaur. After an attempt on arena master Arcade’s life earns him the ire of God Doom and Sheriff Strange, he’s dispatched on a covert suicide mission to kill the Red King (presumably a Red Hulk variant, but who knows, honestly). It relishes in the blank slate that Battleworld allows for characters and concepts, and doesn’t get overly bogged down in minutiae. As I said last week, I loved the Game of Thrones influence in Secret Wars, and tie-ins like this that focus on the more fantasy elements of the premise are right up my alley.
Even with the clarity and vision of the book, there’s still a few sticky bits. Rogers is seeking his lost friend Bucky, and in flashbacks they’re depicted as straight-up Captain America and the Winter Soldier. I expect that like any major event with a lot of creative teams involved, there’s going to be a lot of contradictory stuff that’s glossed over. But all in all, this didn’t feel like a tail being wagged by the main series, as much as a fun old-school What If? book that utilizes some of the most clever aspects of the overall premise.
Max Robinson is reading…
Written by Quentin Tarantino and Matt Wagner
Art by Esteve Polls
Colored by Brennan Wagner
Lettered by Simon Bowland
“You in for a heap of pain now, asshole!”
I was completely blindsided when this book was announced: not only was this an honest to god comic book sequel to a Tarantino film, but it’s also an officially licensed crossover with ZORRO. Having read all seven issues, Django/Zorro isn’t a comic that’s going to set the world on fire, but it has turned out to be an excellent adventure series that serves as a very thoughtful exploration of its title characters. We also got a for-real comic book where a character originated by Jamie Foxx briefly assumes the mantle of Zorro, which is nuts.
Tarantino and Wagner’s story extrapolates on Django Unchained‘s arguments about the methodology behind racism wonderfully. We see this in how the key to the villainous Archduke of Arizona’s claim to state relies on a fraudulent Spanish princess (in actuality, a Native American orphan who is little more than a concubine), how Django comes to understand the hardships faced by the Natives gangpressed into the same labor he escaped from and, especially in this issue, Don Diego and the Archduke’s back and forth about the obligations of nobility. Placing Zorro, a historically very static character, in a story that makes him question and defend his privilege is a novel conceit, and it’s accomplished really well here. Django himself is something of a secondary character in the larger plot, but his unease in the role of a more traditional, less self-interested hero is a good character beat.
Esteve Polls’ artwork here is perfectly suited to the kind of story Wagner and Tarantino are laying down and, in particular, it’s remarkable how deliberately stark the differences in presentation are between the Zorro- and Django-centric scenes. His Zorro scenes opt for sharp, angular linework while there’s a smooth, painterly quality to the Django sequences in this issue. Honestly, it really reminded me of Timothy Truman’s Jonah Hex books (high praise).
Django/Zorro is a solid conclusion to a very solid crossover. These kinds of comics live and die on whether or not there’s an interesting dynamic in play, and Dynamite/Vertigo’s decision to pair the oldest and newest heroes of the western canon together yielded some excellent dividends. Although it’s unclear if Tarantino’s live action version will ever be realized, its comic book equivalent is well worth your time. Did I mention Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta” is on the OFFICIAL SPOTIFY SOUNDTRACK for the issue? And it syncs up to a bloody shoot out? What a world.
Thanks for reading about what we’re reading! We’ll be back next week with a slew of suggestions from across the comics spectrum. In the meantime, what are you reading? Tell us in the comments section, on Twitter or on our Facebook Page!