Deadshirt is Reading: Astro City, Phoenix Resurrection, a Heartfelt Goodbye, and More!

Editor’s Note: Hi, folks. It’s been my privilege to be an editor and writer at Deadshirt.net since 2014. During that time I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside writers I admired and see new writers develop their voices. I’m immensely grateful for the friendships I’ve made and the skills I’ve honed here; above all, it’s just been fun at Deadshirt, and I hope you’ve enjoyed our reviews and recommendations. Our last Deadshirt is Reading feature is appropriately giant-sized, and I have to smile at the way the stars (and Marvel scheduling) aligned to allow me to end on an appropriately melancholy and joyous note. Now, to turn the last page…

— Kayleigh Hearn
astro50

Robby Karol is reading….

Astro City #50

Written by Kurt Busiek
Illustrated by Brent E. Anderson
Colored by Peter Pantazis
Lettered by John G. Roshell and Sarah Jacobs of Comicraft
DC Comics/Vertigo

“You never know what’s coming, but something always does, yeah?”

“Yeah. Something always does.”

Astro City is one of those books that’s been around for so long, for so many issues, with the same creative team that I’ve found it easy to forget about. But every time I come back to Astro City, I wonder why I left. Which makes this new storyline all the more appropriate.

Unlike most superhero comics, Astro City is about the titular superhero-infested city, as well as the people who live in it. It usually focuses on the day-to-day life of its denizens, super-powered or not. This arc revisits one of the sadder Astro City stories, “The Nearness of You.” Michael was a normal guy, except for the fact that he woke up one day and his wife was gone and no one remembered her. He found out that due to time travel by supervillains, she was erased from existence, and he was the only one that still remembered her.

It’s to their credit that, for their big anniversary issue, Busiek and Anderson have returned to a one-shot story and used it as a chance to further explore the grieving process and loss. No one is ever going to actually have a time paradox erase the existence of their true love, but everyone suffers loss and watches as the world moves on, unconcerned and unaffected. It’s been years since Teniceck was told the truth about what happened by Astro City’s mystical being, the Hanged Man, and his days are now spent running a support group for Astro City denizens who are working through their own guilt and grief, while wondering why they stick around. We mostly spend our time following Teniceck’s daily routine and his support group, while in the background, superheroes and villains continue their larger-than-life business.

Busiek does a great job of grounding strange, bizarre experiences in realistic dialogue and emotions, while Anderson’s gift for drawing expressive and varied people that look like real people similarly helps. The color palette (different grays and whites for the normal people at their support group; bright primary colors for their encounters with the superhuman world) also clearly distinguishes that these are people who find their lives upended by things beyond their control, while not reducing them to the background of their story.

Since superhero comics only rarely face what grief and loss means (since everyone “important” comes back to life), it’s nice to have a story that about dealing with it over a long time frame. If Astro City is going away for a while (as press releases have stated), I appreciate it going out on this note.

jladoomAndrew Niemann is reading…

JLA/Doom Patrol #1

Written by Steve Orlando & Gerard Way
Art by Aco & Hugo Petrus
Colored by Tamra Bonvillain & Marissa Louise
Lettered by Clem Robins
DC Comics/Young Animal

“Maybe strange deserves a shot.”

I’ve been out of the loop with Young Animal for a bit because I want to catch up with the slowly released trades, but this crossover event certainly caught my interest. “Milk Wars” is set on Earth-Prime where a mysterious place called Final Heaven is trying to create their own wholesome DC Trinity with the help of transformative milk. The Superman of this Earth is a chipper yet creepy individual called Milkman Man. The Doom Patrol are warped to this Earth with the help of Danny the Street (who is now an ambulance) and run into a homogenized (get it?) version of the current JLA transformed by Milkman Man. After a brief fight, Crazy Jane helps restore the JLA versions to their previous selves by psychically showing them the issues of their first comic book appearances.

If this sounds like a Grant Morrison joint, you’d be surprised to know that he has no involvement, besides the use of his characters. However, authors Gerard Way and Steve Orlando absolutely nail the tone and feel of reading a Morrison book. Concepts like “the God of superheroes” and obscure characters like Lord Manga Khan are expertly re-introduced into story effortlessly. This is a weird, wacky, and wonderful book that’s like a high camp cousin to its flashier neighbor Metal. It’s no surprise that Aco’s art impresses too with multiple splash panels, large vicious lettering, and symmetrical dialogue. I guarantee that “Milk Wars” is going to build strong bones for the Young Animal line so now’s the time to drink up.

And I can’t get over the homogenized version of Lobo that’s just Carl Lobo.

David Uzumeri is reading…

byebyebendis

Defenders #9

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez
Colored by Justin Ponsor
Lettered by Cory Petit

Invincible Iron Man #596

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Stefano Caselli and Alex Maleev
Colored by Marte Gracia and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettered by Clayton Cowles

Jessica Jones #16

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Michael Gaydos
Colored by Matt Hollingsworth
Lettered by Clayton Cowles

“A 17-year running gag is not easy to pull off!”

As this beautiful website—which has been my writing home for the past couple of years—comes to its conclusion and we all prepare to graduate, it’s an interesting concurrence that Brian Michael Bendis wraps up his 17-year tenure at Marvel Comics at around the same time. This week, he put out three books—Defenders, Invincible Iron Man and Jessica Jones—which bring varying areas of his career towards a close, and make up some of his strongest work.

Defenders #9 is as beautiful as ever; David Marquez and Justin Ponsor are a dynamite team, and both of them are breaking out of their comfort zones with this title. Ponsor, especially, who’s traditionally colored bright superhero titles, is doing the work of his career here, experimenting with deep blues and purples to create a colorful yet appropriate palette for the Marvel Universe’s premier street-level team. Marquez’s character acting is as impressive as ever, and the result is a beautiful comic that—while clearly wrapping up its plots as soon as possible so Bendis can leave the title with a clean slate—brings a lot of his plot threads from Daredevil and New Avengers together towards what promises to be a grand finale for the street level superhero epic that started back with Daredevil #27 so many years ago.

Invincible Iron Man #596, meanwhile, continues to be two loosely connected storylines—one featuring Doom and drawn by Alex Maleev and Matt Hollingsworth, the other featuring Ironheart and drawn by Stefano Caselli and Justin Ponsor, both dealing with the legacy of Tony Stark. While Stark crawls back to life in a secret lab after being rendered comatose at the end of Civil War II, Riri, Mary Jane, and his mother track him down and Doctor Doom gets his ass handed to him. The most touching sequence, though, is a mysterious conversation between a recovering Tony and his adoptive father, touching on issues around adoptive fatherhood that are clearly close to Bendis’s heart.

Jessica Jones #16, however, feels like a true bookend to Bendis’s Marvel career, providing a truly frightening end to his time with his most important contribution to the Marvel Universe. Jessica Jones was his first whole-cloth creation for the Marvel Universe, and she’s always felt like the character who’s most mirrored his own personal journey and fears. This issue is an absolute corker, a gripping Jessica Jones/Killgrave tale with a truly shocking and fascinating ending that promises to tie a really beautiful bow on Bendis’s work with the character—fears about parenting, about loss, about the responsibility of control over a (fictional) universe. When he started doing this book with Michael Gaydos—who’s followed him all this way, and remains the definitive Jessica Jones artist—he was a young guy grabbed out of indie comics and given a title on a brand-new mature readers line for Marvel. Now he’s one of the most important creators in the entire history of Marvel Comics and in superhero comics as a medium, surrounded by creators of all ages he’s influenced, some of whom grew up reading his work. He’s the god of a fictional universe and he’s given his characters a lot of pain, and this arc feels like it’s about dealing with that responsibility. There’s two more issues left in the arc, and I can’t wait to see how he closes this off.

By this summer, Bendis won’t be on any Marvel Comics titles; he’ll be working at DC on currently unspecified projects, entering a completely new stage of his career with a completely new cast of characters and team of collaborators. It’ll be fascinating to see what artists he brings over and what new ideas he brings to the table, and I think it’ll be a great shot in the arm for his creativity, but it’s wonderful to see him ending his Marvel years with some of his strongest work. We’re closing the cover on this chapter of his career, but I’m excited to see what the future brings, and that feeling extends to all of the wonderful friends I’ve made writing for this website and the brilliant work I’ve read from them and can’t wait to read in the future.

Love y’all I wrote with. Love y’all who read us. Uzi out.
hungryg

David Lebovitz is reading…

Hungry Ghosts #1

Story by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose
Art by Alberto Ponticelli & Vanesa Del Rey
Colors by Jose Villarrubia
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Designed by Richard Bruning
Edited by Karen Berger
Dark Horse Comics

“Good evening, one and all… welcome to my nightmare! Hee-hee.”

Hungry Ghosts, by writer Joel Rose and Angry Chef Man/Food Story Collector Anthony Bourdain is a must read. I’m not recommending this because it’s good. It’s not. It misses the mark of good by quite a bit. I’m recommending this because it’s bonkers and I refuse to experience this alone.

Hungry Ghosts is the first comic in the Berger Books line at Dark Horse, a collection curated by Vertigo founder Karen Berger. It definitely fits the Vertigo rating—there’s no full nudity, but there’s plenty of cursing and more-than-implied sexuality—but it’s not quite at Vertigo quality. It’s strangely paced, the dialogue feels forced, and trying to pack three stories into thirty pages was ill advised. There’s also something unsettling about unmistakably Japanese ghost stories being written by two white men. But all of that adds to what makes this comic so fascinating—it’s a weird balance of ineptitude and off-the-rails lunacy that makes me want to grab people off the street and yell at them to read this.

The framing of the story is that a Russian billionaire hired a group of world class chefs to cook a fine meal for his guests, and once dinner is over, he makes them all tell scary stories for the guests. The framing device is that they’re telling the stories in the context of hyakumonogatari kaidankai, a game of sorts samurai used to tell ghost stories. The setup takes up one third of the issue, and two stories take up the other two thirds. More stories will be told in future installments, and each story will have a different artist.

The quality of the stories is less “Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark” and more “scary stories told around a Cub Scout Halloween campfire.” They’re misfires and don’t live up to their potential but they’re so weird and outlandish and bizarrely written – especially the second story – that it’s hard not to be captivated, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

The first story, “The Starving Skeleton,” is undeniably a letdown. It is less a Ghost Story and more A Story About A Ghost. The title explains it—it is a story about why you shouldn’t say not to hungry ghosts. It’s light on dialogue, but Ponticelli’s art is neat, even if the story never goes anywhere. It’s a simple moral with no plot but it features a giant skull eating a guy, so it has value.

The second story, “The Pirates,” is where things go off the rails. Here’s a quick list of what the story includes:

– Beautiful rustic-esque art by Del Rey
– A “lustful woman” getting thrown into the sea
– A pirate ship full of more horny and stereotypical pirates than the ship can possibly hold
– The phrases “I could suck on that ass till her head caves in” and “it looks like a penis, only smaller”
– A splash page full of pirates grabbing their groins

It’s a car crash, it’s lunacy, and I NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT IT. This story alone is out of nowhere, strangely paced, and perfect in its absurdity. It’s like a revenge story where the bad guys are portrayed by a drunken group of amusement part entertainers putting on a show for themselves after hours.

This is my last piece of writing for Deadshirt, and it’s been an honor to go out on such a ridiculous comic. My signoff message for you all – please @ me.

phoenix5

Kayleigh Hearn is reading…

Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #5

Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Drawn by Lenil Francis Yu and Joe Bennett
Inked by Gerry Alanguilan and Belardino Brabo
Colored by Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettered by VC’s Travis Lanham
Marvel

“Tell me…is that it?”

God, it’s good to have Jean Grey back. Slain at the end of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, the adult Jean Grey has been absent from comics for nearly fifteen years—an eternity in the world of superhero comics. Countless crossovers, Sentinel attacks, and time-traveling alternate universe counterparts later, it’s become clear that something’s been missing in the X-Men franchise: a light in the darkness, a warm beating heart, the hope that a character like Jean represents.

Phoenix Resurrection #5 begins with the X-Men infiltrating the Phoenix Egg, where Jean lives a seemingly idyllic life as an ordinary human waitress surrounded by resurrected teammates and loved ones—think the comic version of Gravity Falls‘ Mabel Land, complete with Scotty Fresh. Old Man Logan, gamely standing in for the Wolverine no one knows is alive yet, slashes through the illusion, but the Phoenix has already sunk its claws into Jean’s psyche. Matthew Rosenberg’s writing is at its best when it leans into the cosmic, surreal horror of the Phoenix Force, the world burning down in the corner of Jean’s eyes. Less interesting are four issues of Jean as a confused, powerless amnesiac that gave me flashbacks to the “Dougie Jones” arc of Twin Peaks: The Return. (She’s even at a diner!)

But oh, the payoff: any qualms with this miniseries melted away with a fantastic Lenil Francis Yu splash page of Jean fulfilling her destiny in fiery Phoenix garb. The comic wisely eschews a conventional superhero fight scene for a confrontation between Jean and the Phoenix that plays like an intense, emotional break-up (“We are never, ever, eating a planet of brocolli people together”) and gives her a much-needed sense of closure. If “The Dark Phoenix Saga” ended with Jean choosing to die as a human being instead of living as a god, Phoenix Resurrection ends with Jean choosing to live as a human being. The wait is over, and the beloved character is back to usher in a new golden age for the X-Men.

Welcome home, Jean.

Goodbye.

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