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.
David Uzumeri is reading…
Black Panther #1
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Brian Stelfreeze
Color Art by Laura Martin
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
“I am tired of living and dying on the blood-right of one man.”
Yeah, it’s $4.99 for 22 pages of story plus some really nice design pages and backmatter, and that sucks. But here’s the thing: I didn’t notice the story was only 22 pages long until someone told me. In fact, I kept hitting pages on my first read-through that I thought would be the end, only to discover there was more to come–and I wasn’t disappointed that the end wasn’t there; I was thrilled.
T’Challa, the Black Panther, is my guy. He’s the most fascinating character in the DC or Marvel Universe for me, bar none–he’s King Batman, torn between upholding the moral standards of his superheroic friends and the traditions and compromise that come with being the hereditary ruler of the most advanced nation on Earth. Unlike Bruce Wayne, being a superhero isn’t an escape from his day job, it’s an extension and promotion of it. He doesn’t just represent himself, or his company, or even his family; he represents an entire country, a millennia-old incredibly rich culture, and he does this by smiling on TV while helping Iron Man and Captain America punch Kang in the dick hours after he had to approve a death sentence in his throne room.
Don McGregor and Billy Graham got that. Priest, Sal Velluto, Mark Texeira and crew got that. Reginald Hudlin and his artists, off and on, got that. Jonathan Hickman definitely got that. And I’m so happy to say that Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin absolutely get it. We’re only one issue in, but this shows promise to be as complex, intelligent and nuanced as the best T’Challa stories, albeit with significantly more consistent art. What Stelfreeze and Martin do here is really great work: the layouts are simple, but the design and worldbuilding are impeccable. There’s a bit from Stelfreeze’s notes in the back regarding the evolution of Wakandan personal technology (I don’t want to spoil it) that’s so well-thought-out and integrated with the aesthetics of the place he’s drawing in the main story that it blew my mind, and is testament of what a true collaboration this is with the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Who is, let’s be fair here, the star attraction, and Marvel’s biggest “get” from another medium since maybe Joss Whedon (this may actually be a bigger deal, since Coates’s appeal extends long past nerd circles). The Genius Grant-winning writer of “The Case for Reparations” and Between the World and Me jumps into doing a monthly Marvel superhero book full-bore. This isn’t–like Hudlin’s first arc with John Romita Jr.–a miniseries slotted into main continuity: Coates’s Panther picks up plot threads from McGregor, from Priest, from Hudlin, and especially from Hickman, and uses those to tell a brand new story that nevertheless is incredibly indebted to what came before.
That story, as well, is–if not surprising–playing against the common wisdom of the kind of subjects Coates approaches in his writing. When Coates took on Black Panther, I’m sure a lot of people expected him to use it as a platform to explore issues of race, but there’s very little of that in this first issue. It is, instead, very concerned with patriarchy, both as a social construct and as an actual system of government, and with the conflict T’Challa has between being a liberal-minded, progressive dude and the fact that he’s the monarch god-king of a country that’s gone through the hell of multiple city-razing invasions over the past few years. This conflict is at the core of Coates’s first issue, and the gender and class divisions that form from simply existing in a patriarchal absolute monarchy are the soil he’s growing this story from.
I’m reticent to call this ONE OF THE GREATS! as much as I’d like to, just because we’re 22 pages in and all the promise I see in this first issue could amount to nothing, but I’d be pretty surprised if that happened. This is the Hot New Shit, and the T’Challa book I desperately wanted in 2016.
Andrew Niemann is reading…
Poe Dameron #1
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Phil Noto
“All right, all right! Look at you guys. Looking good. Looking tough!”
In this Year of Our Lord New Star Wars, the new expanded universe of comics continues to get bigger and better. This month sees the debut of the first comic starring an original character from Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the handsome hotshot pilot we all know as Poe Dameron. Soule and Noto’s Poe Dameron #1 is not only a more in-depth focus on the title character, but also an exploration of Black Squadron, whom we briefly see in the climax of the film. The hugely marketable droid BB-8 is also along for the ride, which begins in media res as Poe makes a rough landing on a cavernous planet. The comic is a direct prequel to The Force Awakens, which covers the exact moment when General Organa sends Dameron, her best pilot, on a mission to find her brother’s whereabouts. He seeks out Lor San Tekka, known throughout the galaxy as the Explorer, a Jedi-esque figure who is knowledgeable about their customs but not exactly skilled in the ways of the Force. Leia tasks Poe to build a squadron to complete this mission which fleshes out several background characters from the film, including Snap Wexley and Jess Pava.
Soule has a real sense of how the characters feel and behave from the films, as evidenced from his earlier work on Lando and Obi-Wan and Anakin, so he is absolutely the perfect choice for this book. Noto’s art, in particular, rises to a Fiona Staples-esque sense of expressive animation blended with realism. One can see the heavy feeling of loss and responsibility that Carrie Fisher so eloquently displays in the films as well as Oscar Isacc’s smirking face that made the character of Poe Dameron a fan favorite stand-out. The adorable BB-8 mini comic back-up by Eliopoulos and Bellaire, where the droid plays Cupid to a pair of Resistance fighters, is also not to be missed.
Joe Stando is reading…
New Avengers #9
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Marcus To and Dono Sanchez Almara (colors)
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
“Wait. Sir, are you telling me that Corporal Ziller was—“
Last month’s New Avengers was actually the first issue of the book so far that I haven’t been absolutely in love with, mostly because of the Avengers: Standoff tie-in. One of New Avengers’ main draws is quick, fun arcs that pull from continuity but are pretty self-contained. Last month shifted gears for a plot about Rick Jones and characters from the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, where the primary conflict takes place off-panel. Everyone plays the hand they’re dealt in crossovers, but it was an issue that suffered from outside stuff jammed in.
I only mention this to highlight the contrast with this issue, which is among my favorite issues so far. Ewing and To introduce American Kaiju, one of the characters previewed in Avengers #0. AK is US Marine Corporal Ziller, a volunteer transformed into a giant monster by the US government in an attempt to recreate the Super Soldier serum bolstered with everything from gamma rays to Lizard serum. The result is a twenty-story tall creature emblazoned with stars and stripes, sent to attack A.I.M.’s island base in retaliation for their attack on S.H.I.E.L.D. last issue.
Everything about the execution of American Kaiju is perfect, from Caramagna’s lettering having him yell “U! S! A!” in red white and blue monster voice to To’s Doomsday-meets-Godzilla look. The funniest part, though, is the reveal that (SPOILER) Corporal Todd Ziller was “Marine Todd” of email forward fame prior to his transformation. The whole gag is clever and breezy, poking fun at jingoism and the military-industrial complex without getting dour. And when half of the New Avengers team up to pilot a Pacific Rim-style giant robot into battle? Icing on the cake.
There’s still a fair amount of stuff happening in the background, both with characters key to the event and established ongoing plots. A conversation between Power Man and White Tiger makes it clear that story is just on pause right now, and there’s an interesting bit with Hawkeye and Songbird about S.H.I.E.L.D. This tie-in has one more issue left before we return to regularly scheduled programming, but American Kaiju was just the thing to make it a treat instead of a distraction.
Patrick Stinson is reading…
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #2
Written by Kyle Higgins; Steve Orlando
Art by Hendry Prasetya; Corin Howell
Colored by Matt Herms; Jeremy Lawson
Lettered by Ed Dukeshire; Jim Campbell
“Stop fidgeting, Skull! Heroes don’t fidget!”
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #2 is less overtly flashy than MMPR #1, but it makes me much more confident that this book has a mission in mind and it’s going places. The comic continues its self-appointed mission of bludgeoning the extremely dubious internal logic of MMPR–a television program designed, written, and performed around year-old stock footage of monsters fighting in the streets of Tokyo–into a comic book written for twentysomethings, with all the baggage that medium and genre implies.
Wisely, the creators have created a story arc as a sequel to the most popular Power Rangers story of all time: the five-part saga “Green With Evil.” In the show, the Green Ranger Tommy is instantly accepted into the group after a mind-control spell over him is broken. The comic’s story arc creates space between the end of “Green With Evil” and the next monster-of-the-week episode, presenting a Tommy who’s a less capable fighter and pilot than the rest of the Rangers and who appears to be plagued with aftereffects of Rita’s spell.
MMPR #2 gets in the heads of the two Rangers who are the most insecure, but for different reasons. Billy spends some time working on the Dragonzord and having a heart-to-heart with Trini about how his insecurities are even worse with another “fighter,” Tommy, now on the team. This was a bit of subtext in early Billy appearances that never quite got fleshed out, and it nicely foreshadows Billy’s more extensive use of gadgets later in the series.
Meanwhile, Tommy’s hallucination of Rita is revealed to be more than artistic license, as it becomes more and more impossible for him to ignore. Meanwhile, the real Rita has employed a tactic she inexplicably never used in the series–having her warrior Scorpina teleport into his room and threaten his mother for his Power Coin. It’s refreshing to see the flaunting of the various unwritten rules of the series that didn’t make internal sense, but it makes you wonder how the writers will continue to wedge the comic into the existing continuity.
The best thing this series is doing is updating the storytelling while keeping the premise and characters. Nearly every scene in this issue would have been impossible to put in the actual TV series, so this is our first chance to get striking imagery like working on the Dragonzord on the bottom of the ocean, and Putty Patrollers breaking and splatting when struck. The worst thing it’s doing is updating the setting, with modern pop culture and technology jarringly referenced. The entire point of this book is ‘90s nostalgia, and it even looks like it could take place in the ‘90s, so the “updates” only manage to distract.
Like the series itself, this book features a parallel story about bully/comic relief characters Bulk and Skull. They’ve managed to kidnap a Putty Patroller–an actual alien from another planet–and their big plan is to beat it up in front of Trini and Kimberly to impress them. This is perhaps the most original and yet most in-tune with the TV show thing that could possibly happen. Naturally, things go hilariously wrong.
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!