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.
Sarah Register is Reading…
Black Road #1
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Garry Brown
Color by Dave McCaig
Letters by Steve Wands
“As his world splintered around him, the captain wondered why the fuck the Christians had come this far north.”
Brian Wood revisits the same era as Northlanders with his new ongoing series, Black Road. It’s usually vikings who are known for invading, but in this story, it’s Christianity that is fervently encroaching on the Northmen. Magnus, a viking wanderer with a tragic past, is tasked with escorting a holy man through the deadly Black Road amidst violent clashes between Christians and Pagans. It doesn’t go well. But broody Magnus, driven by his own desire for answers, decides to pursue the path nonetheless, not knowing what else he could find on the other side besides death.
Garry Brown’s illustrations are unrefined and gritty in approach, which is perfect for a comic about vikings. From his stunning cover to the interior hovel of Iskfold, Magnus’s hometown, Brown’s chaotic lines and black shadows bring grim emotion to this heavy tale. After Wood’s wordy backstory introduction, Brown takes over for a few silent pages, informing the main character without a single word. Colorist Dave McCaig sticks with earth tones, avoiding bright primary colors even when blood is spilled to really sell that historical feel.
It’s clear that Wood has an epic story set for Magnus in his own head, though not entirely clear on the page. This first issue is incredibly restrained, almost to a fault, as is the strong, silent main character. This is an era ripe for storytelling, however, and the setting and surrounding characters, notably the women, are intriguing enough to sell me the second issue.
Adam Pelta-Pauls is Reading…
Moon Knight #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Greg Smallwood
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Cory Petit
Ever since Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey gave Moon Knight the Hawkeye treatment two years ago, the character has been used to tell stories about the limits of the vigilante psyche. Each new creative team used Marc Spector to examine how much a hero’s mind could take. Ellis and Shalvey split him in half, Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood gave him a crisis of faith, Cullen Bunn and Ron Ackins put him face-to-face with the worst of this world and the next. Through it all, Spector has persevered, but where does that leave his mind?
Jeff Lemire’s relaunch of the Moon Knight series opens with a dream sequence (rendered brilliantly by Smallwood’s pencils and Bellaire’s colors; seriously, it’s a triumph) before the art style suddenly shifts, jarring us back to reality: Marc Spector has been institutionalized, and his doctors tell him all his identities are figments of his imagination. But Khonshu still speaks to him at night, speaking in riddles, warning him that all is not well in his New York City.
Everything about this book looks great. Smallwood’s art is even better here than it was during Brian Wood’s run, and the layouts he employs, especially for his action sequences, are really inventive and give the book a cinematic feel. Jordie Bellaire continues to be the gold standard for colorists in the industry on this book. Her understanding of palettes is on full display here, and it’s easy to see why her name is on so much these days. I don’t normally notice the letters in my Big Two titles, but Cory Petit does some solid work here, too.
I have to say something about the price, though. Five bucks for 30 pages of story isn’t bad, especially when the quality is as high as it is in this book, but Marvel’s prices have been creeping up all over the place recently. Now, I don’t know if the whole series will be priced like this, but with DC renewing its campaign to “draw the line at $2.99” with its Rebirth launches, I’m surprised to see Marvel starting at least two series this month at almost twice that (the other being Ta-Nahisi Coates’ Black Panther). With Free Comic Book Day around the corner, publishers should be doing all they can to garner new readership. Bringing in new writers and putting big names on prestige titles like this are a great way to do that. Price hikes are not.
Joe Stando is Reading…
The Unbelievable Gwenpool #1
Written by Christopher Hastings
Art by Gurihiru, Danilo Beyruth (prologue art) and Tamra Bonvillain (colors)
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
“Everything always works out for the hero!”
On every level, Gwenpool is a strange character concept. Superficially, she’s a pretty basic cash-in on the success of the Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman book, one that transposes that concept onto Marvel’s current cash cow, Deadpool. She carries a bunch of guns, wears a cute pink and white version of DP’s costume with exposed legs and mouth, and she never shuts up. In execution, she’s even weirder, because rather than actually being a female Wade Wilson, or an alternate universe Gwen Stacy with equivalent powers, she’s Gwen Pool, a Marvel Comics fan from the real world suddenly whisked away to the fictional universe she’s so familiar with.
It’s an interesting idea, at least in terms of justifying the character’s existence, so I decided to check the book out. Well, that’s not exactly true. I’m here for three things, ranked in order:
1. Gurihiru’s art, which I’m ride or die for.
2. Christopher Hasting’s writing, which I’ve enjoyed in the past and which I hoped could take this premise in interesting directions.
3. Anything and everything else, in terms of greater continuity or character appeal.
I have to say, I was satisfied with this first issue in exactly that order. Gurihiru nails this entire thing. Everything is bright, fun and cute. Gwen’s big smiles and reactions sell the often boorish character as someone fun to watch from the safety of your own home. There are a ton of great visual gags, and both the new and existing character are given slick, cool designs. I loved “Misty and Danny Forever,” the Secret Love story, and if this is the monkey’s paw it takes to get a full issue of kinetic, anime-lite art from Gurihiru, I’m down with it. (I was a little less impressed with the prologue art, although Bonvillain’s colors were great.)
From a story standpoint, my opinion changed almost panel to panel. Gwenpool’s deal is that she’s very aware of her existence as the protagonist of a comic book, leading to her taking insane risks and discarding the value of her and others’ lives, because “everything always works out for the hero.” Hasting does some really clever musings on the metafictional nature of these stories with this idea, but it also gets a little grating to have her constantly spewing off ironic deconstructions. (I gotta hand it to them for creating a clever hook that replicates Deadpool’s general vibe without copying it, though.) It’s a comic that’s talking to you on a couple levels at once, and I almost felt like I didn’t get the joke at points. In the prologue, a cop gives a grizzled, sad monologue about the ineffectuality of his job in the face of supervillains, and it’s a pretty dark, thoughtful moment. Gwen then butts in about how this ends up working in her favor as the protagonist, and she’s right. It’s a very self-referential gag, but on a level that’s more tiresome than funny or insightful. Eventually, Gwen comes to realize that things in her comic book existence still have consequences, in a final twist that’s shocking and funny and mean and sad. Is it good or bad? Is the comic? It’s almost hard to say.
Gwenpool is a comic that comments on everything. It comments on the Marvel comics universe, on big hits and recent trends (it’s hard not to read Gwen’s roommate and job situation as a take on recent books like She-Hulk or Hellcat), and on itself, on a couple levels. It’s talking a lot, but what it says is sort of surface level or sophomoric. It’s VERY pretty and fun to look at, though, and between that and the frantic gags and decent action, maybe that’s enough for me to come back to it. I’ll admit, I enjoyed it much more than I expected to.
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!