-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.”
The snow is thawing out here in Chicago, and the season of renewal sees a lot of relaunches and new series. Even with the conspicuous absence of DC titles this month, there were a lot of issues for us to pore through. With apologies to issues we left out — like Blackcross and Southern Cross, which we swear is a coincidence — we kick off this review of new #1 issues with another tale set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Star Wars: Princess Leia #1
words by Mark Waid, pencils by Terry Dodson, inks by Rachel Dodson, color by Jordie Bellaire, published by Marvel
synopsis: In the days following the Battle of Yavin, Princess Leia refuses to play the role of sheltered princess.
Steph: I really liked this. A lot. In the original Star Wars trilogy the title of “princess” never really seemed to be a big deal. She was treated as any other soldier/commander, but in this book we see that she had to fight for the respect and trust she was given.
-J.: I’m still having difficulty getting over the feeling of re-tread with Marvel’s Star Wars titles. This is the first such title where I had more than a passing interest in what happens in issue #2. It uses existing canon in a clever way: we already know that Leia is an adopted royal scion of Alderaan. Thus, taking on a quest to protect the citizens of her destroyed home — against Alliance wishes — is a great way to develop Leia’s character and narrative.
Steph: Leia was never a sidelines kind of girl, and its silly of anyone to think they could put her there. Nobody puts Leia in the corner.
-J.: Truth. It adds a dimension to Leia’s story that always seemed to be there (in core canon), but not explicitly displayed. To have the series illustrated by the Dodson’s is a solid choice, as well. I’m still on the fence about these new Star Wars series, but this is the best so far.
synopsis: 30 years after “the Big One,” Los Angeles has been divided into New Angeles — a paradise where everyone is made beautiful by money and surgery — and Lost Angeles, a wasteland full of everyone else.
-J.: I may be tiring of the dystopian future setting. This one is interesting, and beautiful in a brutal and unflinching manner, but it left me shrugging. It has iconic characters, like the gladiatorial “hero” The Saint (of Sinners). It has more than a few pointed things to say about classicism, empathy, and culture. It intertwines the story of a devout gladiator of a privileged city in his arena of death, against that of an immigrant family just trying to get into New Angeles for a better life. I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t interest me enough to find out what happens next.
Steph: I think I mostly enjoyed the art. Non-empathetic, classist, dystopian future stories are everywhere and they’re starting to make me squirm.
synopsis: In an alternate universe Gwen Stacy is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Woman, and Peter Parker dies in her arms. Now she is trying to become the superhero New York city needs, whether they want it or not.
Steph: I am so excited about Spider-Gwen. Not only does she have the best name and costume currently in the Marvel Universe, she is a much needed addition to the same old line-up of superheroes.
-J.: Standard caveat here: I am not a big fan of the Spider-Man archetype. Spider-Gwen is a really solid re-imagining of Spidey with Gwen Stacy as the title character. And the art is GORGEOUS. It’s a visually stunning book.
Steph: Agreed. Obviously.
-J.: It takes the Spidey character back to the original young vigilante everyone thinks is a menace, which is great concept. It’s just that I have no interest in that type of character. Plus, this #1 falls into one of Marvel’s annoying habits of late — it doesn’t feel or read like a #1. This reads like issue #19, including the “Here’s what you need to know to begin!” Oh, and Matt Murdock seems to be a bad guy in this universe. I know that happens with re-imaginings. Since Daredevil is one of my favorite characters, though, you can imagine how much I want to continue reading a story with him playing shady lawyer serving a villain.
Steph: Mirror good guy/bad guy does happen a lot in alternate universes, and I’m not as attached to Matt Murdock, so his new shady-ness didn’t bother me as much. Spider-Gwen FTW.
words and letters by Ryan Ferrier, art and colors by Valentin Ramon, published by IDW
synopsis: Man created robots, robots destroy man, robots become man, or rather the sentient beings left on Earth. D4VE was a hero when the aliens attacked, but years later when the threat from space was obsolete, so is D4VE.
Steph: This book was described as “brilliant!” and “humorous” and “very colorful” and I think it tries to be those things. I mean its actually colorful, there are a lot of colors in it. And it is kind of funny. But I felt like it fell short of the ‘brilliant’ descriptor.
-J.: Okay, so it’s not just me. It’s a fun read, but it’s exactly what its advertising claims: “…the robots conquered the world, but nothing has changed!” It reads like a pretty standard story so far: robot is war hero, war is over, robot has difficulty fitting in post-war society. As an exercise in applying human drudgery to robot-centric terms, it’s fun. As a narrative, it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
words by Jeff Lemire, art by Dustin Nguyen, published by Image
synopsis: The United Galactic Council — and most of the human race — is annihilated when gigantic robots appear out of nowhere, and attack before vanishing. Ten years later, the remnants of humanity are still searching for answers to what happened.
-J.: This one intrigued me. Drew me in. Seduced me. Nguyen’s watercolors are fantastic, and their combination with the lettering choices provides a nice contrast for the futuristic setting. This issue does a great job in general of creating the world without making the reader pause to digest, which can be an issue with sci-fi or fantasy titles. Not only that, but the creators also give us a crisp opening chapter that ends with a revelation that propels the narrative forward into the next issue. A great #1, and a sci-fi starter that really grabbed my attention.
Steph: The art of Dustin Nguyen is really what caught my eye. I wasn’t as drawn into the story, however, so I’m okay with or without it.
All-New Hawkeye #1
words and art by Jeff Lemire and Ramón Pérez, color by Ian Herring, published by Marvel
synopsis: Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawkeye) and his protege Kate Bishop (a.k.a. Hawkeye) are sent to a hidden Hydra base by S.H.I.E.L.D. to find a weapons cache — and find something much worse.
Steph: I love Hawkeye. I love Kate Bishop, and I am more than pleased with this first issue.
-J.: I… did not expect to enjoy this issue as much as I did. I had not been keeping up on the Fraction/Aja run on Hawkeye, and had no expectations going in. Wow. I love the art choices and how they support the storytelling style — blending flashbacks in watercolor with current action in a stylized comic book style.
Steph: Yup. Never mind that the Fraction/Aja Hawkeye run is behind on their last issue, let the re-launch begin!
-J.: And this is a great example of a #1 issue. There is a pre-existing relationship between Clint Barton, Barney Barton, and Kate Bishop, but you don’t need to know it. The exposition is delivered in an unobtrusive way, the blended stories are always chugging forward, and I want to know what happens next. Just a great #1 issue. Between this and Descenders, I’m going to have to find more work from Jeff Lemire.
Guardians Team-Up #1
words by Brian Michael Bendis, art by Art Adams, color by Paul Mounts, published by Marvel
synopsis: the Guardians of the Galaxy are chased by an alien spaceship piloted by a shadowy figure. They crash-land in a strip mall on Earth and team up with the Avengers.
-J.: It’s a team-up event starring two big Marvel movie franchises, written by critically-acclaimed Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by legendary Art Adams. I think that about sums it up.
Steph: I was about to argue that its more than that, but it’s really not. It was fun, I’ll give it that.
synopsis: Valiant’s popular, highly-trained ninja-for-hire gets his own series.
Steph: I kind of enjoyed this one. Its a bit like Batman meets Bond meets the Weapon X program, and becomes a badass narcissist for hire.
-J.: I’m liking this one so far. You’re right — it wears its influences and references right on its ninja sleeve. But it also goes down unexpected paths with those influences, riffing on existing tropes in ways that keep me reading. Valiant Comics is publishing some good stories of late.
Howard the Duck #1
synopsis: Howard has been thrown into our world via the Nexus of All Realities, and is struggling to find himself in ‘this world of hairless apes.’
Steph: Like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, this was just a fun, silly read.
-J.: It is silly and fun, but it’s more of a cynical fun, rather than the unabashed and high-energy silliness of Squirrel Girl. It was amusing, but it didn’t do much for me. While I cared about the supporting character, I didn’t care what happened to Howard.
Batman: Arkham Knight #1
words by Peter J. Tomasi, pencils by Viktor Bogdanovic, ink by Art Thibert, color by John Rauch, published by DC Comics
synopsis: In the hours following the end of Batman: Arkham City, Batman finds that his work never gets a moments rest, but Gotham may need Bruce Wayne just as much.
-J.: Hooray! Finally, a non-Vertigo DC title! Huh, it’s almost like they’re not releasing new #1 issues because of some big upcoming event…
Steph: You mean Convergence? Convergence is coming! But for now this was surprisingly light-hearted for a Batman comic. Mostly because Bruce has a few moments of witty banter with Alfred. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of violence and death and peril and deadly laughing gas.
-J.: As expected. Yet I found it devoid of surprise, and that’s what I wanted. I love the Arkham Asylum and City games, and I enjoy the detail and little moments of discovery that Rocksteady put into them. I wanted that in this comic, but it feels like the DC equivalent of Guardians Team-Up. It’s the official story between Arkham City and Arkham Knight. It’s interesting, but it isn’t anything more than filling the gap between games.
To Sum It All Up…
Marvel has a lot of solid new (or re-launched) series that hit the stands this past month, including Steph’s favorites (Hawkeye and Princess Leia). -J. found a writer that he needs to read more of in Jeff Lemire. We can only hope to converge in a month’s time with some DC titles that don’t suck.