-J. Michael Bestul is a writer for the Addison Recorder. Stephanie Ruehl is an artist who works in a comic book shop. They’re married and have a lot of discussions about comic books and graphic novels. Combine all that into a biweekly feature and you get “J. & Steph Talk About Comics.”
It’s been a while since we’ve done a recap of recent #1 issues, so we thought it high time to check out what’s come out over the holidays and into the new year. We noticed a recurring theme among recent new books…
-J.: Spoiler alert — I have an antipathy towards prequels. It’s not that I hate them, necessarily, but I expect to disappointed by them. Few ever exceed that expectation. Let’s see if some recent series debuts can do so.
Star Wars #1
Words by Jason Aaron, art by John Cassaday, color by Laura Martin, published by Marvel
Summary: After the successful destruction of the first Death Star, the heroes of the Battle of Yavin try to press their advantage against the Empire.
-J.: Yep, we’re ripping the bandage off right away. Do you know any combination of words more disappointing than “Star Wars” and “prequel”? I thought not.
Steph: It wasn’t that bad…
-J.: No, it wasn’t, and it’s not exactly a prequel, just a story that takes place between Episodes IV and V. Our band of heroes from Star Wars: A New Hope fake some credentials in order to get onto a manufacturing moon in the Corellian sector. We get to see the character relationships regress back to their pre-Empire Strikes Back settings, there’s some good action shots, Vader shows up to be a badass, and it’s all very pretty. It’s a solid story that has potential, but doesn’t do anything to stand out. I guess it technically exceeded my expectations, since I wasn’t disappointed.
Steph: It was fairly bland, full of the one-liners cherry-picked from the original trilogy to give it an authenticity that felt a bit forced.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1
Words by Ryan North, art by Erica Henderson, color by Rico Renzi, published by Marvel
Summary: Doreen Green (a.k.a. Squirrel Girl) has decided to go to college. Moving out of the her secret home — the attic of the Avengers HQ — Doreen tries to live the life of an average college student. When Kraven the Hunter shows up, the balance between normal and superhero life is tested.
-J.: Huh. That was an interesting read.
Steph: Honestly it was a bit ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but it was over-the-top silly.
-J.: It was, but I like silly. It was endearing and earnest, but I’m not sure if a book like this will hold my attention. It might — I still fondly recall Tom Peyer’s offbeat run on Hourman — but quirkiness alone won’t do it. We’ll see how much I can grab onto it. I do like squirrels, so there’s hope.
Words by Nick Spencer, art by Ramon Rosanas, color by Jordan Boyd, published by Marvel Comics
Summary: Scott Lang has had a rough life: jail, divorce, almost losing his daughter to cancer, and being dead for a while. Rough life or not, Scott needs a job, and Tony Stark just happens to be in the market for a new head of security.
Steph: I’ve already met Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, but since there’s all this hype about the new Ant-Man movie I was excited to get to know this version of the super hero. I kind of came away from this issue just feeling sorry for him.
-J.: Hard-luck heroes are a tough sell for me, and Ant-Man… Geez, it’s just one thing after another for him, isn’t it? I mean, you can sympathize with his plight, but my interest in a monthly dose of Scott Lang not letting life beat him down is minimal. The series also earns demerit points for the six-page exposition masquerading as an awkward job interview. It was a clever attempt, but that’s not going to get me coming back. At least it wasn’t a prequel.
Conan / Red Sonja #1 (of 4)
Words by Gail Simone and Jim Zub, art by Dan Panosian, colors by Dave Stewart, published by Dark Horse Comics
Summary: In the time before they were famous warriors whose names inspired awe, Conan and Red Sonja are hired separately to purloin the same priceless jewel from a corrupt monarch. Violence ensues.
-J.: Back to the prequels! Gail Simone and Jim Zub give us the accidental first meeting of Conan and Red Sonja before they were legends. I really enjoyed this story, despite its prequel nature. Then again, I’m a sucker for Simone’s writing on Red Sonja, so this was up my alley. I’m going to have to check out other work by this Zub fellow.
Steph: I liked it too, though the inevitability of Conan saying he’s going to marry Sonja someday did disappoint me for some reason. Too obvious, I guess.
Rat Queens: Braga #1
Words by Kurtis J. Wiebe, art by Tess Fowler, published by Image Comics
Summary: Braga, the badass orc barbarian of the adventuring group Peaches, takes center stage with a peek at her backstory. As the eldest son of her clan’s chieftain, Braga refused to take the throne on any terms but her own.
-J.: Sticking with the fantasy and prequel themes, we’re graced by the arrival of a new Rat Queens one-shot this week.
Steph: I feel like the description says it all as to why I would want to read this book. Those pronouns are all completely accurate.
-J.: Part of my frustration with prequels is that they offer the possibility of using meta-narrative shortcuts instead of honestly developing a character. Wiebe deftly sidesteps such pitfalls, giving us a tale of Braga’s break from her clan. Let the bards sing her fucking accolades.
Feathers #1 (of 6)
Words and art by Jorge Corona, color by Jen Hickman, published by Archaia
Summary: Poe is an eleven-year-old boy just like any other, except that he is covered in feathers. Rescued as a baby, Poe’s father tries to shield him from the oppressive elites and the murderous dark stranger in the top hat and scarf.
-J.: I’m on the fence about this one. I love the art and the concept, I’m intrigued by the framing device, and I like the story of kids who seek adventure without understanding what their parents protect them from.
Steph: Feathers is a sweet story with sinister undertones.
-J.: It is, but I seem to be evading its grasp thus far. This may be the type of story that draws me in slowly, so I’ll have to wait for it to develop. Thankfully, the art is beautiful and keeps me engaged with and interested in the story and its characters.
Fables: the Wolf Among Us #1
Words Matthew Sturges and Dave Justus, art by Steve Sadowski, Shawn McManus, and Travis Moore, published by Vertigo
Summary: Before Bigby and Snow became the twin pillars that held up Fabletown, they were struggling to adapt to their roles in the mundy world. This particular starts when a nameless Fable loses her head…
-J.: This is another “on-the-fence” debut for me. I know what happens, since I’ve played through the video game this is adapted from. I know that I like the opening chapters, that I feel disappointed with the second act, and that I think the third act saves me from too much disappointment. Plus, it’s a prequel.
Steph: Too many prequels. I think I would be more into it if I hadn’t seen the whole story in video game form.
-J.: I am really curious to see how the authors adapt the interactive storytelling of the Telltale game. But that means my interest is less connected and emotional, and far more academic.
Bitch Planet #1
Words by Kelly Sue DeConnick, art by Valentine De Landro, colors by Chris Peter, letters by Clayton Cowles, published by Image Comics
Summary: When a woman is non-compliant she is sent to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, more commonly known as “Bitch Planet.”
Steph: This is a dystopian future story, not unlike Brave New World or 1984 or the Handmaid’s Tale, and all of those books are meant to unsettle. They’re meant to make you think, be aware of your surroundings, because they could, possibly, happen one day. Bitch Planet is a bit frightening for me because you get the sense that non-compliance could be anything. A woman could be sent to a prison planet for virtually any reason.
-J.: I love this comic. Dystopian near-future setting, crisp and clever storytelling, followed by an essay looking at the cultural underpinnings of the series. It’s unblinking, self-aware, and a helluva read. Also: it’s not a prequel.
To Sum It All Up…
The prequels weren’t as disappointing as -J. feared they might be. Some were quite good. But Steph wouldn’t mind if there were maybe a bit less of them next time. The range of new titles is encouraging, from the silly fun of Squirrel Girl to the dark, sharp humor of Bitch Planet.