Live from the Comic Shop this week managed to dodge the icy weather, settling for a hail of cold rain, and there are so many books out this week that it’s another tough choice for what to read first, and how to find the time to make sure you don’t miss out on some excellent comic art and writing. Marvel books are particularly interesting this week, but we also have Image, Dark Horse, and Red/Circle Archie staking their claim. You will have every good excuse to avoid the weather and settle in for some welcome reading in what they are calling the worst January in 100 years weather-wise on the East Coast. Especially in New Jersey where I’m writing from my local shop, Conquest Comics.
It’s fair to say that I’ve been waiting to see what Loki: Agent of Asgard was going to be like and the title for issue #1 “Trust Me” seemed promising. I’m not alone, clearly, in finding duplicitous characters very interesting, and yep, I have a couple of Loki t-shirts. If a year ago I’d been told I would be so into following the permutations of Loki in comics, I would’ve been surprised, but that’s before I wrote a scholarly paper on the history of Tricksters and felt like I could see the big picture of why they feature so much in our storytelling and how important they are to helping us question our motivations and perspectives. They are like the problem dropped into the middle of harmony that forms the core of so many comic plots, and other mediums of storytelling for that matter. Rather than featuring as pure villains, they engage and force questions that we otherwise might respond to in a simplistic way. So, what about this comic? It’s written by Al Ewing, drawn by Lee Garbett, and colored by Nolan Woodward with letters by Clayton Cowles. The primary cover artist Jenny Frisson does some very interesting character-evoking work here, though I’m curious to see the other covers by Frank Cho & Jason Keith, and Mike Del Mundo.
The written intro to the issue gets my stamp of approval by highlighting the way in which Loki was “trapped” by the definition of his “evil” role in the past and could only escape that by rebirth—that tallies well with the Journey into Mystery and Young Avengers I’ve read and paints the picture of a Loki I recognize. Getting into the narrative, there’s the now infamous shower scene (see Rich’s thought on sexy comics this week), but there’s also the Asgardy-language that adds a dash of style and humor to any good Loki comic like “thusly”. I like the comic’s opening discussion of magic and what it means, bringing it home to a modern reader and breaking down any clichés, like “magic is taking a thought and making it real”, in which case, comics are magic by that definition. “Taking a lie and making it the truth”, well we can argue that one. Oh Loki. What do we learn about Loki in this set-up issue? He’s always thinking, re-reasoning things to suit his own motives, and by the way, he’s a merry thief in his Seven League Boots and other gear this time around too. There’s plenty of interesting meta-commentary, that works with the story but also works on another level, about what is necessary to tell a “very good story” and why Loki doesn’t just fix things up nicely in his own interest all the time. There are also some clever and helpful flashbacks to Loki’s identity in the past which keeps the tying together process for this new comic in motion. His mission in this issue is a salient reminder that Loki changes for us depending on his goal. If his goal is good we applaud and laugh, if it’s bad, we boo and hiss and keep watching to see what will happen. Just like all our Trickster traditions. The twist in this issue is that Loki does seem to be on a particularly significant and helpful mission and that, of course, he’s the only man for an unpleasant task. Thor is going to learn that the hard way. Issue #1 was entertaining, didn’t feel like a radical shift in Loki-storytelling, and gives us a wide cast of Avengers to follow in motion, but if you’re a fan of Thor and his history this will open up some interesting avenues for you, too.
Another, perhaps even more, anticipated comic this week is Ms. Marvel #1. I’ve never read a Captain Marvel or Ms. Marvel comic before, for my sins, and I won’t surprise anyone by saying this is a kick-ass place to start. Today it’s raining, it’s cold outside, I’ve got the sniffles, and I fell into this comic head-first. It was overwhelmingly compelling. It’s the writing as much as the artwork—both are strident, nuanced, funny, and in all honesty—turn the truth cannon on anyone and everyone. The comic is written by G. Willow Wilson, drawn by Adrian Alphona, colored by Ian Herring, and lettered by Joe Caramagna. Everyone on the book seems to be operating at the top of their game. Thematically, no one is safe from this comic, not even main character Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American girl living in Jersey City, from the scrutiny that comments on human behavior and assumptions in the best lampoon fashion. It is, at times, laugh out loud, and head-desk prompting. And it’s all about prejudice, cultural change, resistance, and just plain stupid behavior. But let’s not forget this is a superhero comic, since that’s the point.
Kamala is a huge fan of the the Avengers and even writes fan-fic, but like many young people, probably assumes that a change in her role in life would change the problems of her life, so she’s being given a chance to learn what really happens when you get what you want. In other words, you deal with the same problems on a bigger scale—like her discomfort with her family not “trusting her” and expecting her to follow strictures based on her religion that she feels she can moderate herself. She views herself as a definitive outsider because of her “weird family” and wants to be “normal”. That is laugh out loud funny because she’s about to step into having the weirdest family of all, the Avengers, and will never, ever be normal again. That’s perspective for you, and that’s what the comic is going to offer. Perspective on superheroes. Perspective on how we view them. Perspective of the ways we all perceive ourselves to be outsiders at time and still have no sympathy for those who seem different because of their background, culture, way of life, family (which no one gets to choose). But beware, the truth cannon will be turned on you as well and you will find yourself caught out on some of your own stupid behavior in life. That’s fair because even Kamala is subjected to it, and this comic is all about her journey into identity, to all appearances.
Next up we have Five Ghosts #9, from Image, continuing the “Lost Coastlines” arc. Gruesome cover this week, but it pirates and well, you shouldn’t be that surprised if you’ve been reading Five Ghosts. It is a literary and pulp combination wedded to an action-adventure story and it moves with its own rather ferocious grace. Part of that is certainly Chris Mooneyham’s evolving artwork, which is particularly strong this arc, and the committed writing of Frank Barbiere (of which other publishers like Dark Horse and Valiant have now taken note). Add Lauren Affe’s great instinct for colors and skill in execution on the book and that’s the combination that’s made this a very strong book with plenty of fans. We open with Fabian Gray in chains and still living down that old appellation of “thief” that goes along with his treasure-hunting career. I think Mooneyham’s getting more ambitious and experimental in his panel layouts, and this issue has plenty of spreads that really pop. The issue flashes between a present day torture scene for Gray and past experiences that pertain to the current story as well as events leading up to his capture, making for nicely energetic jumps in storytelling. I like Mooneyham and Affe’s choice to fade into sepia for long-past vignettes—it gives the comic itself a sense of internal history while explaining the roots of this revenge tale. This issue also poses the old question that’s so suited to hero stories, whether a hero deprived of his powers becomes “worthless” or whether its something internal and intrinsic that makes a hero, even a flawed hero like Gray. Also look out for the preview of Doc Unknown included in this issue—it’s a very interesting and energetic pulp-noir comic that’s gaining confidence and readership, worthy of consideration.
Minimum Wage from Image returns this week for its second issue, the much-demanded time-lapse continuation of Bob Fingerman’s reality-is-a-bitch-and-we-know-that, humorous and highly detailed comic Minimum Wage from the 90’s. The first issue reminded us that things don’t always work out for Rob, and sometimes that’s not funny at all as he grapples with recovery from an ongoing divorce and finds dubious comfort in his gang of friends. Moronic answering machine messages for kicks, parental disapproval—yes this is the world that an adult Rob is living in, since some things never change. In Minimum Wage, that’s strangely comforting. Maybe because so much is unpredictable and a little threatening for Rob. Despite the fact that he’s living at his mom’s place, there’s a “new girl” in his life, which makes you tense up a little, expecting mayhem on the horizon. “Arguing with his own brain” is the unsurprising result of his turmoil as he tries to move his life forward but recognizes the sticky, clinging elements of his past holding him back. All the same, life is propelling him forward and he’s forced to adjust.
One of the funniest pages this issue, which has a surprisingly emotive effect, is when Rob, arguing with friend Matt, having come to his house under duress to help him build a Kaiju model, defends himself against accusations of lame accessory choices and just—stops. And the two stare each other down for four panels. And Rob slowly deflates in his own defense. It’s what makes Minimum Wage’s new incarnation so compelling—the full attention given to individual moments and their impact, their human interest, and the way in which Fingerman loads his artwork with that homage to real life. Rob has a lot on his plate, and amid the cacophony of pressures, change, and trying to change bringing on more complication, at least he has those moments of self-awareness to allow the reader to stop and process also. Because it’s all ambiguous and we have to process Rob’s behavior and thoughts along with him. We’re forced to acknowledge that there are no easy answers and no right way to do things—and that’s what Fingerman does not sacrifice in the interest to tidy storytelling. And that is why his readers will keep reading too.
The Fox is back with its 4th issue of 5 from Red Circle/Archie Comics, written by Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid, with full art by Haspiel as silver-age-revival hero The Fox swings deeper into his strange hero-journey. John Workman does an excellent silver-age modern mash-up in his lettering on the series and colors by Allen Passalaqua are a major feature of the smack-you-in-the-face appeal of the comic. The “writhing arms of destiny” deliver us the “dark embrace” of a sleek fox going multi-limbed to start things off. Foes and friends are getting thoroughly mixed up under the spell of the Druid as The Marvel attempts to clear the air with a hail of bullets. This is an issue for show-downs with the Mad King whose slated for rescue, and the Druid himself. Things take The Fox down to an ultimate low but there he finds—something beyond himself with more power than his own non-superpowered self. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but it’s typical of the strong concepts behind this comic that the biggest action scenes (of which there are of course many) are also the points where the storytelling reaches thematic pitch about the forces that drive us in life.
The whole series so far could be read in purely allegorical terms about the endless complications of trying to maintain good intentions while overwhelmed by unreasonable demands in life, telling us that that’s where we come to grips with our own best and worst nature in a kind of rock bottom that’s the turning point for big revelations. That kind of analysis, though, doesn’t do justice to the playful, intense artwork that takes us through the steps of a hero on the run from himself who might just discover what super powers really are in a way that is meaningful for us common folk who pick up the comic in the first place. The big question too is—what does issue #5 as a finale hold? Then we’ll have the complete picture of the developing ideas in the comic. The backup Shield stories in The Fox are paving the way for the series to follow, too, and take you into an even more Silver Age world of galactic sci-fi facing an indomitable hero. And what does this all have to do with The Fox? Things are heating up for a big finale and plenty of reveal, by the look of it.
Grindhouse: Doors Open At Midnight returns from Dark Horse with a new two-part arc, “Bride of Blood”, and like each arc, not only do we have a new grindhouse-homage genre written by Alex de Campi, but a new artist introducing a new world of strange and extreme experiences. This story takes us into a period piece with Welsh elements set in the late middle ages. Here art from Federica Manfredi and colors by Dorothea Gizzi draw us into an alluring world of beauty and grace as a young girl prepares for her wedding, as if her perspective is infusing her world with idealized perfection. But of course this is a grindhouse story and things are going to get very bloody and descend pretty quickly into suffering and barbaric behavior. Manfredi fuses the violence and increasingly disturbing events of the first issue with her unusually visionary Arthurian romance-style artwork, never letting up on facial reactions and point of view perception which suggests we have the framework of a grindhouse story here but content that is shaping up to be a very emotive hero-revenge tale. There’s plenty of revenge in the Grindhouse series so far, as a major motivating factor of the “eye for an eye” sense of the genre, but this story toes the line of breaking into other genres like folktale, like period romances, like medieval epics. The fusion is highly successful and argues for the mission of the series to bring highly original stories to readers while coopting some of the most extreme imagery and plot-elements from grindhouse film tradition. If you can take the suffering of characters and endure with them through to their resurgent drive for righting the wrongs of the world, then you’ll be in a position to fully appreciate the skilled writing and art behind “Bride of Blood”. It really is an excellent addition to this line of comics so far. Each story arc is clearly making its own unique statement in a powerful way.
That’s all from me this week Live from the Comic Shop, but you might also want to check out some other promising books this week, including the collected Red Light Properties graphic novel from IDW, Baltimore: Chapel of Bones #2 from Dark Horse, Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two #2 from IDW, Lobster Johnson: Get the Lobster #1 from Dark Horse, and of course Bleeding Cool Magazine #8 wherein I have a rather substantial feature on Adventure Time based on discussions with the super talented writer on the series: Ryan North.
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter.
Special thanks to Conquest Comics in New Jersey. You can find their Facebook page here. They are currently offering POP vinyl collectibles, a White Phoenix exclusive and also have their Metallic Harley Quinn exclusive in stock.