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.
David Uzumeri is reading…
by David Lapham
“It’s nice to see you shake off your case of the pussies.”
To a large degree, Stray Bullets has been repeated iterations of the story of desperate and/or horny regular people becoming incredibly fucked-up hardened criminals, and this conclusion to the second arc of its very welcome revival is no exception. It’s been weirdly structured—the first issue was largely a standalone story about how Beth met Kretchmeyer, and how the latter wormed his way into Spanish Scott’s drug-dealing/robbery gang of crime people who commit crimes with guns. The latter two, on the other hand, have focused on good little college boy Orson and his transformation into a dude who’ll hold up liquor stores and rob hardened gangsters’ houses in the interests of getting laid.
In other words, it’s classic Stray Bullets, as people with promising futures throw everything away when presented with the endless possibilities of cheap thrills, hard liquor, and harder, cheaper sex. Beth’s an inveterate, damaged fuckup who’s completely subsumed herself in a world of intoxication and murder; Orson’s a horny dude willing to throw his soul away to impress her. What’s most impressive about Stray Bullets, fifty issues in, is how well the stories work on their own, while gaining even more resonance from their placement in the series’ full (very nonlinear) narrative. Each arc, each issue, is another piece of the puzzle, slowly filling in the full picture of the book’s sprawling cast and their histories. You don’t have to have read the entirety of Stray Bullets, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Craft-wise, Lapham’s as on point as ever, handling every aspect of the issue short of editing and publication (which are handled by his wife Maria). It’s a singular vision from a singular creator, born out of his creativity and experiences from soup to nuts, and as a result it’s an absolute pleasure to read, issue after issue, even as it breaks your heart to see so many good kids make so many unbelievably bad decisions. I really love this comic, and I think everyone who digs well-told, funny, tragic crime fiction would too.
Joe Stando is reading…
Written by Jeff King
Art by Carlo Pagulayan (pencils) and Jason Paz (inks)
Colored by John Starr and Peter Steigerwald
Lettered by Travis Lanham
“The control voice demands we fight!”
Convergence continues to be so, so weird. At this point it’s a little clearer (to me, at least) that it’s primarily a follow-up to “World’s End,” the climactic event for DC’s Earth-2 books. But in terms of the story, and the various tie-in books, it’s a crossover between books that don’t exist anymore, with characters just dropped in at random. This has worked for some of the issues (Gail Simone’s Nightwing/Oracle book captures that era perfectly, Keith Giffen’s Supergirl Matrix book is funny and irreverent) but in general, it’s a lot of sudden twists and contrivances.
This isn’t necessarily bad. I like the idea of an event that’s designed around allowing a variety of stories to be told, and one that caters to older fans without getting retrogressive in storytelling. But the core Convergence book itself has been pretty boring thus far. Flashpoint Batman is a cool character concept, and it’s nice seeing him interact with some more classical heroes. But we’ve had two issues now where an ersatz Justice League throws a lot of punches at a big shapeshifting guy and then gets defeated. It looks like we’re going to be seeing a little more plot next week (which is a benefit of the accelerated schedule), but thus far it’s kind of been more of the same.
The key to a big multiversal crossover like this is that it allows you to tell interesting stories that couldn’t happen otherwise, so I was pretty disappointed that the key moment from the cover and solicits, Thomas and Bruce Wayne meeting each other as Batmen for the first time, happened pretty much off-panel. King’s writing is generally pretty good, but Dick Grayson’s melodramatic soliloquies were cringe-inducing, and I’d much rather have heard what a father and son whose lives had been defined by the other’s death had to say to each other. There are definitely upcoming Convergence titles I’m excited for, but this main story is dropping the ball right now for me.
Kayleigh Hearn is Reading…
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Kris Anka
Colored by Antonio Fabela
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
“It’s funnier when I joke about how dark and crazy mysterious you are…it’s not so funny when you do it.”
As his run on Uncanny X-Men winds down, it’s unsurprising that Brian Michael Bendis’s final issues have focused on the last days of Cyclops’s mutant revolution, as well as his relationships with his brother, his ex-lover, and the mentor he murdered. But Uncanny X-Men #33 is a welcome relief from Scott Summers and his gloomy dramatics, as it features Kitty Pryde and Magik on a self-contained adventure to rescue a mutant child.
Uncanny X-Men #33 is a classic X-Men plotline distilled into its purest form—the X-Men show up at a mysterious location, fight monsters, and rescue a mutant in need. The simplicity of the story will probably have some readers growling that this is a filler issue, but that would be overlooking the issue’s subtle and important character development. Aside from rescuing the new mutant, Kitty and Magik fully mend the friendship that has been strained ever since Illyana’s resurrection, and readjust to life back at the Jean Grey School. Bendis’s trademark circular dialogue is used well here, capturing the rhythm of old friends stuck on a trip together and annoying the black leather hot pants off each other. He also cleverly draws a connection between Magik and the new mutant girl, Bo, as both were once young children seemingly abandoned in a world of monsters.
This is a strong issue for Kris Anka, who has the treat of drawing not only superheroic best friends, but also adorable mutant children and the giant unfriendly inhabitants of Monster Island (“Don’t worry, it’s just a name”). I can’t imagine an artist more suited to this particular issue than Anka, who has proven adept at drawing dynamic and expressive female characters without back-breaking poses or gratuitous fanservice.
To a certain degree, Bendis is putting his toys back in the box for the next writer to pick up (the comic even ends with “To Be Continued in Uncanny X-Men #600!”), but if Uncanny X-Men #33 is his last word on Kitty and Magik, it’s a sweet and entertaining end.
Sarah Register is reading…
Written by Larry Hama
Art by Philip Tan (pencils), Jason Paz and Rob Hunter (inks)
Colored by Elmer Santos
Lettered by Steve Wands
“Always the gentleman, aren’t you, Jean-Paul?”
Convergence takes us back to Batman just after the events of Knightfall, as Bruce Wayne teams up with Jean-Paul Valley in Metropolis to take down the Whale. This skeezy crime boss is planning to plunder the domed-off city’s food supply, and both Bruce and Jean-Paul decide to infiltrate the Whale’s organization from the inside by posing as criminals themselves. They continue this charade even when the Whale has them organize the delivery truck heist. Unfortunately, the undercover job goes awry because Batman and Azrael don’t work well together, like, at all. People die and I’m pretty sure the food truck explodes at some point, and Batman has the gusto to quip that it was all worth it so he could catch the Whale in the act (of a crime he himself orchestrated) so that “they could throw the book at [him] big time.”
I was initially looking forward to this mini series because I thought a spotlight on one of the most famous Batman eras would be kind of fun, however the story, and especially the dialogue, is too contrived to enjoy. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing as characters dictate their own actions in a visual medium, which is actually pretty on the nose for old school comic book storytelling, but it’s too forced to come off as a clever callback. Bruce and Jean-Paul do a little role reversing as the Dark Knight becomes the chiding moral compass to an over-the-edge vigilante, but Batman doesn’t seem very Batman-y as he delivers cringe-worthy zingers and chastises Azrael for punching a bad guy too hard.
The artwork definitely evokes the Shadow of the Bat era with its heavily shadowed, grimacing faces, and sketchy city skylines. There’s a handful of shiny hero shots in contrast with the stark darkness of the book that highlight Azrael’s more impressive costume in the forefront with Batman rightfully lurking in the shadows. Unfortunately, the art doesn’t deliver enough nostalgic feels to compensate for the story, and the foes that Batman and Azrael must battle aren’t enticing enough for me to invest in a second issue.
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!