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.
Jason Urbanciz is reading…
Written by Chris Burnham
Art by Ramon Villalobos
Colored by Ian Herring
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
“Pat Benatar called, Emma. She says you’re a thousand years old.”
As Secret Wars has blown up the Marvel Universe and reformed it into a patchwork Battleworld made from the shards of alternate Earths, this comic is from the world where Charles Xavier went through with his threat to kill himself to get rid of Cassandra Nova at the beginning of Grant Morrison’s landmark run on New X-Men. Mutants are fast becoming the dominant species, and while many “normal” humans are scared, most are just trying to keep up. With Xavier gone, Magneto has taken the lead of a younger generation of X-Men including Beak, Angel, Dust, and Quentin Quire. While it seems that they have the few threats they face well in hand, Magneto has bigger plans for some of them. Meanwhile, Cyclops and Emma Frost—the last of the old school X-Men—are facing their obsolescence and don’t trust Magneto.
Like the best of the Secret Wars minis, E Is For Extinction‘s pretty much ignores what’s going on in the main series and sets out to tell a What If…? story based on one of the most popular (and quickly retconned away) runs of the X-Men. This comic feels like an alternate Earth copy of New X-Men #115 where Xavier’s showdown went differently. The creators are perfectly chosen; Chris Burnham, a long time artist collaborator of Grant Morrison’s, does a great job of picking up on the way that Morrison wrote these characters, especially the couples at the heart of his run: Cyclops & Emma and Angel & Beak. They’re both pairs who love each other and just want the best for the world, but they’re decidedly on separate sides of a widening generation gap.
Ramon Villalobos is a friend of the site and his art here is wonderful. It’s easy to see the Frank Quitely influence in his work, but he has a more indelicate line that brought to mind indie artists like Tom Scioli and Michael Fiffe in some places. If you’ve seen some of Villalobos’s work on Twitter and Tumblr you know he’s very specific about drawing fashion, and it’s really cool so see him cut loose on those stylized puffy “X” jackets. I honestly can’t think of any other artist drawing this comic.
E Is For Extinction is definitely my favorite Secret Wars series thus far. Grant Morrison’s work on New X-Men had opened up a bunch of exciting storytelling opportunities that Marvel was quick to shut down in the months after he left, and it’s great to see these creators pick up those threads and do something exciting with them, even if it is over a decade later.
Joe Stando is reading…
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Art by John Romita Jr. (pencils) and Klaus Janson (inks)
Colored by Dean White
Lettered by Rob Leigh
“Don’t be afraid. I’m here to help.”
The “first” issue of the “Truth” storyline is finally here (even though we’ve seen the new Superman status quo explored in a couple other books by now), and it’s great. Although it’s going to be a longer, decompressed arc, GLY and Romita give us the defining elements of this run from the first pages: flawed, human looks at the characters, and real, honest conflicts and motivations.
A complaint I’ve seen a lot about Superman comics is that for a man with all the powers in the world, he too often solves his problems with his fists. “Truth” is a perfect answer to those criticisms. For the first time in a long time, Superman is faced with a challenge he can’t find with his X-ray vision or outrun or punch. It’s a threat he’s unprepared for, and that scares him. When Superman is faced with an order from an anonymous blackmailer to let a stranger be taken into custody, it’s a moment of crisis. With his fluctuating power levels, he’s not as easily able to solve this quietly, and with his secret identity at stake, he has a lot more to lose than usual. For a moment, he falters, putting someone else in danger. But the thing about heroes, whether fictional or not, isn’t that they never make mistakes. It’s that they always try to do right, and they work to fix mistakes they’ve made. Clark Kent is still Superman, even if he’s underpowered and outmatched. So when he takes on a van full of hired guns, it feels more earned than the usual punching out a fighter jet or a tank.
There’s a strain of comics fans that’s adverse to change, especially change that forces them to take another look at the characters they love. Superman is a paragon of virtue, and has been used as a shorthand for goodness and perfection for decades. But a key part of his character is his humanity, the fact that he’s one of us psychologically, just as prone to fear and selfishness and other vices. If he was never faced with a moral decision, and if he never for a moment considered taking the easy way out, he wouldn’t be much of a character at all. By stripping away some of his powers and a lot of his mystique, the Superman books have rewritten him as maybe a more inspiring figure: not a flying god who descends from on high to pontificate, but a man who helps those who need it, who might not always make the right choice but will never stop trying to do better and be greater.
Sarah Register is reading…
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Russ Braun
Color by Dono Sanchez Almara
Lettered by Rob Steen
“Giant lizards and pushy broads! What the hell is the world coming to?”
Remember when Michael Bluth opened up a paper bag that said “dead dove” and said, “I don’t know what I expected”? So it goes every time I read a Garth Ennis comic, smiling and muttering “good god” every time I turn the page. Ennis seems to be having a lot of fun taking a pulpy, big-damn-hero type, Karl Kaufmann, and turning him into a misogynist jerkwad who becomes a hysterical puddle anytime he faces real danger. Meanwhile, all of the true grit in the story belongs to Clementine/Clemmie, a strong-willed woman who goes for the gun when confronted with a charging T-Rex and who hyphenates her last name. All of these old-timey values filtered through the crass writing and the violence of what seems to be the Savage Land (I assume?) makes for a comical romp that doesn’t feel like any other comic currently running in the Secret Wars event.
My relationship with Ennis is complicated, because though I love to consume his weird, crass writing, there’s always that part in the story where I think, “Come on, man.” Like when Karl tells Clemmie she can always get a “whatchamacallit….abortion” if she sleeps with him (“good god”), or when a T-Rex gobbles up a tribe of natives and rains down bloody limbs on a retreating Karl. Of course, these unfortunate moments still contribute to the plot, in this case to emphasize that Karl is a terrible human being, and, thankfully, Russ Braun’s art adds a lot of levity and humor. It’s difficult not to laugh at a closeup of Karl’s panic-stricken face as retreats from every monster that tries to eat him, especially contrasted with Clemmie’s sneer and pinup perfect lipstick as she casually shows Karl her gun after he makes a pass at her.
There’s a lot of well-meaning buried under all this obscenity, and honestly Clemmie might be my favorite new female character in comics this year. Plus, dinosaurs are so in right now. Where Monsters Dwell is a delightfully fucked up addition to Secret Wars that in no way pays homage to either its classic title or its protagonist. I don’t know what I expected.
Dylan Roth is reading…
Written by Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart
Art by Babs Tarr
Background assists by Joel Gomez
Colored by Serge Lapointe
Lettered by Steve Wands
“I know, dad. You look…healthy. But please put the mustache back on.”
While the first arc of the relaunched Batgirl wisely separated Barbara from the rest of the Bat-family, the second kicks off with a collision between the events of her ongoing series and those in Snyder & Capullo’s core Batman book that, thankfully, feels like an extension of Batgirl’s story, not Batman’s. While Batgirl has frequently found herself at odds with the police, now her opposition comes in the form of a new state-sponsored Batman wearing a seven-foot tall powered battle armor who’s tasked with decommissioning all the other vigilantes in town. Why is this specifically Batgirl story? If you’ve been reading Batman, you already know—the robocop in question is none other than her own father, Jim Gordon.
The result is a twist on a very old conflict in Batgirl stories—the repercussions of her double life as a vigilante on her relationship with her cop father. While the identity of the new Batman is meant to be a secret, Jim confides the truth in Barbara immediately, something Barbara has yet to do after years as Batgirl. Her father has hunted her before, but never as a giant battling robot. Barbara has always had the upper hand in her game of cat-and-mouse with the police. Now, there’s simply no way for no one to end up hurt either physically or emotionally.
This all sounds really heavy, but Batgirl is still one of the most consistently fun superhero books on the shelves, and that’s primarily thanks to the stellar art team. Babs Tarr’s art has always been expressive and punchy, but now that she’s doing her own finishes, her thinner character outlines result in a markedly less cartoony product than previous issues. This issue in particular also made me appreciate just how much colorist Serge Lapointe makes each panel leap off the page. There’s a painterly quality to his work that helps to give texture to Tarr’s relatively clean lines, and strikes the perfect balance between kooky and foreboding that makes the series so special.
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!