Deadshirt Is Reading… is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt’s staff, contributing writers and friends-of-the-site offer their thoughts on a diverse array of comics, from name-brand cape titles to creator-owned books to webcomics.
Max Robinson is reading…
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by John Romita Jr. (pencils), Klaus Janson (inks) and Laura Martin (colors)
Lettered by Sal Cipriano
“I thought I was the last son of Earth, but…I’m not alone.”
There’s a lot of Chicken Little complaining about DC’s portrayal of Superman in the nu52 media landscape, and while I still haven’t warmed up to that costume, I’m not convinced that his appearances nowadays are any better or worse than they were 10 or 20 years ago (remember when Mullet Superman carried around a big Liefeld gun? Good times). But with Superman Unchained languishing in some kind of mysterious publishing Phantom Zone, DC’s needed a high profile powerhouse creative team to take point, and Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. are here to fit the bill.
Johns and JRJR are two creators whose recent work has turned me off; Johns’ Justice League work has left me cold, and while I like the experimentation Romita’s been doing on titles like Captain America, his stylistic flourishes sometimes get in the way of things like basic child anatomy. Superman #32, however, was some of the best work I’ve seen either creator deliver in a really long time; this was an excellent issue of Superman that feels like it’s treading fertile new ground.
JRJR’s gorgeous wraparound cover promises quite a bit and its contents deliver; he draws the way Superman punches, with careful consideration and power. While I’m not especially enamored with his character designs here, Romita’s action sequences explode off the page. When Superman punching a giant robot gorilla’s head off is only the second best fight sequence in an issue, you have a good comic on your hands.
Johns has always been at ease writing Superman, and his ability to capture Clark’s genuine goodness is almost unparalleled. What’s great about this issue is that Johns sets about inventing all-new additions to virtually every aspect of Superman’s supporting cast: a new villain (with a mysterious past!), a potential new love interest and, most notably, a new super-powered friend in the form of reverse superman Ulysses. Ulysses’ origin, the sequence that opens this issue, is designed to be familiar to anyone even passingly aware of Superman while laying down some compelling wrinkles and hinting at potential stories down the road. In a sense, that’s why this issue feels so fresh; Superman stars the same Man of Steel we know and love, but Johns and Romita are taking us along for a ride through foreign territory.
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Evan Shaner (pencils and inks) and Jordie Bellaire (colors)
Lettered by Simon Bowland
“More like Flash SWORDon!”
Dynamite’s newly-rebooted Flash Gordon is the single most fun book I read every month and this issue, wherein Flash is forced to fight for his life gladiator-style against an army of animal-men, suggests that it’s only going to keep getting better. Shaner’s artwork here, along with a nicely muted color palette from Bellaire, evokes a retro vibe without feeling in any way derivative of any existing artist. Everything feels painstakingly laid out on the page, the line work is crisp, and, best of all, you can follow the action on the page effortlessly (a rare and undervalued skill in the current comics landscape, let’s be honest).
Parker’s grasp on Flash Gordon and company as characters continues to impress me and, freed from the various overlapping plot constraints he faced on King’s Watch, they are able to get some terrific dimension. Parker’s Flash is a purehearted goof who’s great at everything but common sense, Dale is a brilliant investigative reporter who, three issues in, hasn’t had to be saved by anyone, and Ming’s tinpot dictator cruelty gives Dr. Doom a run for his money. Something Parker does incredibly well here is ending each issue on a sudden cliffhanger a la the old Buster Crabb Flash Gordon serials. Not only is this an appropriate callback to the character’s roots, but the book also maintains the kind of breathless, breakneck pace month to month that a book called Flash Gordon ought to have.
Kayleigh Hearn is reading…
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples
“Yeah, peace out, throat-slitter.”
Saga must be really fun to draw. It’s increasingly rare to find a sci-fi series as gorgeous, original, and flat-out strange as this comic, and it would be nothing without Fiona Staples. Every issue has at least one “holy shit, that’s amazing” moment, and in issue #20 that moment is Alana’s acid trip, as she floats naked, upside-down, with the words “FUCK YES” in lava lamp-letters wrapped around her. That page needs to be a black-light poster, airbrushed onto a van, or at the very least become someone’s elaborate back tattoo.
Plot-wise, Brian K. Vaughan continues to play identity politics with his characters. Who are our parents when they’re not around their children? Their marriage under pressure, Alana and Marko retreat deeper into the new identities they’ve crafted for themselves, and literally hide behind masks. Marko strikes up a flirtation with Hazel’s dance teacher, and Alana, whose maternity leave “was basically spent fleeing,” drops drugs at work. Their brief escapes from the burdens of parenthood could have very big consequences. Significantly, Marko takes the name of his late father Barr, who swore to him that he was always faithful to Marko’s mother. Will Marko be able to say the same thing to Hazel?
“Scenes from a Marriage: Star Wars Edition” pales in comparison to the shocking last pages and the questions they raise. (It’s not a spoiler to say that shit is going down.) Oh dear, I’m making this issue sound very ominous—did I mention the adorable toddler dancing after holographic stars? She’s here, too. Twenty issues in, and Saga’s universe is only growing bigger and brighter.
Jason Urbanciz is reading…
Written by Chuck Dixon
Art by Larry Stroman (pencils), Carl Potts (inks) and Thomas Mason (colors)
Lettered by Gabriela Houston
“Sounds like typical Nomad luck, sir, all bad.”
For a series that has been around in various forms for close to 30 years, Alien Legion was surprisingly easy to jump into with this new mini-series. A lot of that comes from the set-up being pretty universal: while a galactic civil war rages within a war-like race, a small team of commandos is forced to deal with the influx of refugees flying into their space. We’re quickly introduced to Force Nomad, whose job it is to sort out who among the refugees is just that, and who are smugglers or worse.
There’s a fair amount of infodump in the opening pages of this comic, but it flows reasonably quickly and gets the reader up to speed without coming off like you’re reading an RPG sourcebook. It helps that each member of Force Nomad is a different alien race, and it’s much easier to differentiate between them than if they were stock human military characters. While long-time Alien Legion writer Chuck Dixon has been in hot water of late for being kind of a jerk, this is the kind of comic he excels at writing: straightforward military sci-fi that thankfully avoids being political.
On art is another long time Legion creative team member, Larry Stroman (with actual Alien Legion creator Carl Potts on inks). I was a big fan of Stroman’s work back in the ’90s during his run on X-Factor, but his work here is even better. His pencils are a lot tighter and his line is a lot thicker, like a Chris Bachalo at his most reined-in. It might be Potts’ influence there as an inker, but it’s very well done.
The only real problem with this first issue is that it is very much a first issue. It sets up the plot and just barely gets it moving before we hit the cliffhanger to be picked up next month. It’s still a satisfying comic for the most part, but it feels that this will definitely read better as a whole than in monthly installments.
Christina Harrington is reading…
Written by Kate Leth
Art by Ian McGinty (pencils and inks) and Lisa Moore (colors)
Lettered by Steve Wands
Bravest Warriors are four teenagers (Chris, Beth, Danny, and Wallow) who travel around the galaxy and go on various adventures. The comic book is based on the online cartoon series of the same name, the first season of which you can watch here. I highly recommend it–the cartoon is where I was first introduced to these characters and it surprised me not only in how original the stories felt, but how it managed to sneak mature jokes in alongside jokes meant for a younger audience–it’s just good, light sci-fi.
This issue sees the beginning of a new arc (and creative team, with Kate Leth as writer and Ian McGinty as artist) wherein the Warriors, Catbug, and friend Plum have been stranded on a dying gas giant by a snarky teleporter. Catbug is probably the best example of where this issue falls flat for me: in the cartoon he’s voiced by an adorable toddler, and therefore his actions are all underlined by this cute lil’ voice, and I can’t help but think he’s precocious and funny and all that. Here, in comics form, I find him obnoxious. Because of this, his main function in the story, the fact that he can’t seem to remember the pass-phrase that made the teleporter work, seems only to be a mechanism of the plot, and a poorly concealed one at that. Although this is recognized in-story (Beth’s cringed, “That’s so…charming”), it still got under my skin.
All this being said, Bravest Warriors (both the cartoon and the comic) operates on the most basic story engine of all: fun. So I guess the question is, did I have fun with this issue? And the answer is yes. Ian McGinty’s artwork is expressive, and yeah, Catbug is a little annoying here, but that panel where there is nothing but his sad face made me audibly go “awwwwww.” The egg puns throughout the issue were groan-worthy and therefore perfect as far as puns go, and the comedic timing is on more often than it isn’t. Issue 21 is a good jumping-on point for the series, and the heart of the original is clearly still intact.
Patrick Stinson is reading…
Written by Mairghread Scott
Art by Sarah Stone
Lettered by Chris Mowry
“I have more than enough evidence to prove you were deliberately damaging Metroplex to help Windblade stay in power… Well, at least, enough to execute you for it.”
Transformers whodunits are rare, but Scott has already racked up two of them (the other in the early issues of IDW’s Beast Hunters). The secret to a good mystery is to make the initial culprit seem so obvious that you stop believing it’s a whodunit at all, only to then twist the knife right after you’d just convinced yourself one wasn’t coming at all.
The previous issue did a marvelous job of Red Herring-ing Starscream, current sovereign of Cybertron and Franchise MVP, Evil Bastard Category. At the beginning of this issue, he overpowers Windblade and her ragtag band with his own thugs, shows up to publicly “rescue” them, throws the band in jail, and has them half-convinced to roll on the “alien” Windblade, then tortures Windblade half to death…only for it to be revealed that he’s also desperately searching for the one who’s killing Metroplex. A very very very bad guy, but not “The Bad Guy” of this story. The central mystery of the series is left to be resolved in the next and last issue, with SOMEONE rummaging around Metroplex’s brain.
Unfortunately, the action scene at the start of the issue does not play to the strengths of Scott and Stone. Where they do excel is character work. The highlight of the book is Windblade’s lovable team of fan-favorite anti-villains. Not all of us wasted our youths watching their earlier appearances on TV, but fortunately, Stone is on hand to produce images that sum them up nearly as well, making prior familiarity with the cast a bonus instead of a necessity. She also does a tremendous job with expression and emotion, important for a story that revolves around the lead character’s idealism. And now that Starscream is exonerated from being the culprit, it’s clear that Scott’s take on him–inspired by the version of the character from the Transformers: Prime TV series she also worked on–restores a lot of his menace and charisma, making it believable and horrifying that he continues to rule Cybertron. He’s well on his way to becoming a David Xanatos-like character from his former state of being, well, Starscream.
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!