J&STAC: the End-of-Summer #1s

-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.”

As the summer winds down, we find a plethora of new mini-series, new additions to cult mini-series, mini-series based on cartoons, or video games, and squirrels. Lots of squirrels. But we start with a new story in a new medium from one of our favorite animated mini-series:

Over the Garden Wall #1 (of 4)

words by Pat McHale, art by Jim Campbell, published by KaBOOM!

otgwSynopsis: We return for another misadventure with Wirt, Greg, Beatrice, and Greg’s frog as they try to make their way back home.

-J.: Woo-hoo! A new Over the Garden Wall story, now in comic book form! BUT WAIT. When does this story take place? The animated series this is based upon is such a beloved and perfectly-contained story, how can there be more?! BUT WAIT AGAIN. Wirt and Greg spent so much time in the cartoon wandering through the unknown, looking for a way home, that there’s plenty of room for a few “untold tales.” Hooray!

Steph: …

-J.: I call that, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love this Comic.”

Steph: Over the Garden Wall is one of my favorite things.  The cleverness and fun of the writing, I cannot recommend this animated mini-series more. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now. Seriously. 

-J.: It’s a simple story, wherein a couple of young-ins keep giving Wirt purposefully unclear instructions on how to do their chores. Each time he screws up, he tries to make it up to them by doing more chores until he finally says, “wait a minute…”

Steph: With the unsettling, somewhat creepy undertones the cartoon is known for.

-J.: Naturally. But the issue also captures the whimsy of the cartoon perfectly, as Greg spends the whole issue obliviously playing detective. He wants to know what happened to the missing salt — “missing,” because it was only ever a figure of speech.

Arkham Knight: Genesis #1 (of 6)akg

words by Peter J. Tomasi, art by Alisson Borges, based on the video game by Rocksteady Studios, published by DC Comics 

Synopsis: Leading up the events in Batman: Arkham Knight, the titular villain tells us his origin story while he keeps his allies on track to take down Batman. 

-J.: This is a difficult read for me. I was so utterly disappointed with Batman: Arkham Knight, and I struggled to not let that disappointment seep into my reading of Genesis. I’m not sure I was successful. There are things to like in this issue: Stjepan Sejic did the cover, and Alisson Borges does an awesome rendering of the Joker. That said…

Steph: I had trouble focusing on what I was reading. Maybe I’m also uninspired by the story of Arkham Knight, I didn’t really want to pick up Genesis in the first place.

-J.: It’s not that it’s a bad story. It’s that it reads like the backstory that Rocksteady jettisoned from the game because it’s more exciting to start in media res. It’s also the origin of the Arkham Knight, whose identity was kept secret so as to be a shocking reveal for the player. (Except that the Knight’s identity is revealed LONG after everybody has figured it out, right around the time player disappointment is setting in.) That said, the art is really amazing. But it’s still just a backstory tie-in to a disappointing AAA video game.

Steph: To be fair, this is all just our opinion. We’ve already gotten into debates on Arkham Knight being a favorite of others, so the book may be someone’s cup of tea. Just not ours.

-J.: And now for something completely different.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 1: Squirrel Power

UnbeatableSquirrelGirl3words by Ryan North, art by Erica Henderson, published by Marvel

Synopsis: Squirrel Girl has decided to go college, but can she be awesome and battle the forces of evil while still maintaining her secret identity as Doreen Green, college freshman? The answer is yes. Duh. 

-J.: After we reviewed the first issue, I was curious where this series would go. Where did it go? It went AWESOME. Awesome is were it went, and squirrels dragged us along for the ride.

Steph: Squirrel Girl is light hearted, with serious (but not really) undertones I’ve come to expect of Marvel, turned up to eleven. She is a delight to read, and a surprisingly empathetic character.

-J.: I love this volume because Squirrel Girl’s successes don’t ultimately come from her powers — they’re borne of her cleverness and empathy. She solves problems and saves people with out needing to “win” a fight.

Steph: She takes on Galactus! By herself! Well, with the help of Tippy Toe, her squirrel companion.

-J.: Y’know what I enjoyed almost as much as the story? The meta-commentary running at the bottom of the pages. I completely missed that the first time through the issues, and it is magnificent. Also, the joking meta-text at the end of each issue/chapter involving social media? Easily could be lame, and is instead a lot of fun. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is so much that’s right with mainstream comics today.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

words by Bruce Timm & J.M. DeMatteis, art by Mathew Dow Smith / Moritat / Dan Green & Rick Leonardi / JLAThony Silas, published by DC

Synopsis: In another DC universe, the trio leading the Justice League come from much different backgrounds: Batman is a vampire, Superman was adopted by an immigrant family, and Wonder Woman left the New Gods to become a hippie. These one-shots and miniseries are the prologues to the animated movie of the same name.

-J.: Bruce Timm is here to once again successfully re-imagine more of the DC Universe! And with him is Justice League veteran J.M DeMatteis! This will be great, right?

Steph: Theoretically, but “great” is not the word I would use.

-J.: I joke, but you and I both share a love of Batman: the Animated Series, and I really liked the direction DeMatteis took Hal Jordan as the Spectre. I’m primed to like this, but as with most things DC-related lately, I can barely muster a ‘meh’. The re-conceptualization is fine, the plots are okay, the artwork has the right feel, but…

Steph: Pointing out past things that were great does not make this book any more so.

-J.: Why don’t we move onto another title I’m sure to enjoy, y’know, like something from Secret Wars?

4529614-hank_johnson_agent_of_hydra_conner_coverHank Johnson: Agent of Hydra #1

words by David Mandel, art by Michael Walsh, published by Marvel 

Synopsis: We follow Hank Johnson, a nondescript Hydra minion, as he goes through his normal routine. Hank and his wife argue about hiring a nanny. Hank and his kids show up to the wrong birthday party. Hank tries to get out of the awkward company party. Hank survives another attack by Nick Fury. Repeat. 

-J.: So… this is like the Monarch’s henchmen from Venture Bros., but less interesting?

Steph: I thought it was a diverting little story. I think it would be amazing if every single issue began and ended with Hank falling for, and surviving, the same distraction/attack by Fury.

-J.: Okay, that would be fun.

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1 (of 6)

words by Kieron Gillen, art by Jamie McKelvie, colour by Matthew Wilson, published by Image phonogram

Synopsis: There are a few people who understand that music is magic. Literally magic. Those few who can manipulate reality based on this understanding are known as “phonomancers,” and such manipulations are rarely without consequences.

-J.: I hate myself for not reading Phonogram before now.

Steph: I’m sure that’s not true. That’s what trade paperbacks are for.

-J.: I mean, the first two mini-series came out during a time when you and I moved to Chicago, got married, and otherwise had life put our comic-buying on hold, but still. Phonogram is the kind of comic that I want to read, re-read, and re-read again.

Steph: Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are an unstoppable comic-creating force.

-J.: They create the comics that inspire us, at least, with Phonogram and the other Gillen/McKelvie series, The Wicked + The Divine. Plus, as an added bonus, the story is saturated with music references both implicit (the St. Vincent cover in the backup story) and explicit, like this glossary entry:

Take On Me: A-ha song with a pretty memorable video based on a girl in the real world falling into a comic book. Someone should homage it in a comic book. That’d be really clever and definitely not twee as fuck.”

Steph: I do like that I’ve gotten every band reference thus far.

-J.: What fascinates me about series like Phonogram is that, underneath all the coolness and references, is a human story. It may be about people with magic powers, but it’s about people (and the consequences of their decisions).

To Sum It All Up…

Our late summer jam may be the newest iteration of Phonogram, but it’s far from the only tune playing on our jam box. We love getting another glance into the world that is Over the Garden Wall, and Squirrel Girl gives us a new trade that we’ll be loaning out to friends asking for something new and fun.


The entity known as -J. would be at home in a place like Carcosa or Night Vale, but instead lives near a far more dreary place -- Wrigley Field. He is the patron Addisonian of whisk(e)y and tabletop games, and is often adorned with a waistcoat & his ridiculous mustache.

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