It's another installment of Live from the Comic Shop (where I shuffle through the teetering stacks of comics being unloaded and live-review a few gems), the shop in question being Conquest Comics in New Jersey. It's not a widespread thing to have an LCS nearby in the USA, though some are lucky enough to have one within a reasonable distance. I reflect on how fortunate I am on a nearly daily basis, having moved to my current town the very year that Conquest Comics opened only a couple of miles away. Believe me, I know I'm golden in this respect, and it's made a huge impact on me and on my interest writing about comics, especially since my local guys have always been very helpful ordering stuff for me on top of their wide ranging stock. If you have an LCS, give the guys a hug from time to time. They are a commodity.
This week there are plenty of new comics, but largely they happen to be from ongoing series rather than a raft of first issues that crops up from time to time. I'm diving into three ongoing series, and one first issue to see what I find, including Red Sonja 2 (Dynamite), The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys 3 (Dark Horse), Batman L'il Gotham 5 (DC), and the new title Steampunk Corsairs (Antartic Press).
Red Sonja 2 is arriving with several excellent covers, as promised in the lead-up to the series launch, with writing by Gail Simone and art by Walter Geovani. It's no news to say that Dynamite has been impressing the market lately, and Red Sonja is an excellent poster girl for what the publisher can bring to readers. Issue 2 doesn't pull and punches, opening almost immediately with a gripping two page spread of a close-up battle on horseback with blood spatter wet enough to make you wipe your face afterward. But because this is Gail Simone, who routinely displays a unique combination of thinking about comics even as she's scripting them in unequivocally readable terms, she jumps into reflecting on the nature of violence as Sonja comments: "We are every warrior forced to kill and die for a cause no one will remember in years to come". That's page 6 folks, bringing themes in early and memorably. It's a commentary on comics portraying violence in an eye-catching way, lifting things to a universal level and reminding us why we read these stories: they reflect on our human actions, violent or otherwise. Flashbacks take us further into the conflict between Sonja and Annisia, but also lead into some shocking revelations about how close death may be to everyone in Sonja's world. Also, and I have to say it, look out for quite an emphatic kissing scene. Yep, you'll have to pick up the book for that one.
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, one of the best books on the market right now, written by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon with heart-stopping artwork by Becky Cloonan, continually generates the alarming feeling that it's only just getting started. This happens despite the fact that each issue seems like a mini-epic in itself. There's nothing of playing it safe in the pacing of this tale. While Issue 1 seemed to focus on "the girl" and set up the massive backstory to the comic, and Issue 2 branched out into the role of Cherri Cola, Issue 3 pursues the history behind Battery City via the girl's memories, explores the role of Scarecrow Korse, resolves the increasing degeneration of the Porn Droid Red, and sees the girl making decisions about whether to join the wannabee Killjoys team under Val's leadership. The first thing that stands out in this issue are the colors, actually. They were always pretty spectacular, but colors also pop up as a thematic element in this issue. The girl and Cherri Cola shoot at colourful soda cans, and there's a discussion about a violent red lipstick/paint "Doctor Phizzles Poison Red" further on in the issue. In a comic that already comments so heavily on the aesthetic of sound, it's intriguing to see colors coming forward as a specific part of the subject matter. It's amazing how appearance becomes something so embedded in the story of Killjoys. In a world where no one can control their fate or situation, there's still time for a "makeover" and not a half-hearted one at that. Costume and make-up are shaping up to be the prime expression of identity and resistance in the uniform world being imposed by Battery City.
Batman L'il Gotham was a massive success as a digital only comic, leading to its launch in print form, and hats off to Dustin Nguyen who really seems to be pursuing a personal vision for all-ages DC characters on the series with excellent dialogue and manic scripting from Derek Fridolfs. Each issue so far is episodic by seasonal setting, and Issue 5 is set in April, which turns out to be a month of liberation for some of the naughtier denizens of Gotham City. Seeing the already show-stopping Poison Ivy luxuriate in her spring-time freedom at the gates of Arkham Asylum is wickedly charming, and almost eclipses the dominant role of the strangely adorable Mr. Freeze as he shrugs off his orange jumpsuit himself only to find that orange is, after all, his color. Nguyen is one of the few writers who makes Robin a real star in his own right, and that's down in part to the inventive facial expressions and giddy enthusiasm. "The Dark Chocolate Detective" is definitely "on the case" in Issue 5. The thing about L'il Gotham is that it manages to suggest violence and combativeness typical of superhero comics without diving into gore. A few panels are still disturbing if you isolate them for speculation, like the posing of the "Bat-Bunch" getting their style on, with the tag line "Gotta have bats in the Bat-Bunch", double fisting baseball bats. Oh, and for fans of wrestling, you'll get plenty in Issue 5. Nguyen's watercolors are as strong as ever, and have a unique way of rendering dynamism for his L'il Gotham characters who, like children, seem to always be dodging out of the attempted frame of the viewer. He captures them in the split second before they are off into action, action, and more action relentlessly generated by Fridolfs' teeming brain.
Steampunk Corsairs is a comic that hopefully isn't flying under the radar in shops this week. My LCS made a point to get it, with story and art by Rod Espinosa. The artwork is not your mainstream fare, and smacks of indie commitment to personal style, which is exactly what a comic like this needs to succeed. In fact, I'd pose a fine art influence in Espinosa's Gaugin-like amazon female cast. The comic is set in the year 1600, with privateers commissioned by Queen Elizabeth to take on the Spanish fleets, there's nevertheless a lighthearted tone to the storytelling and quite a carnivalesque atmosphere. Part of this is due to an unabashed emphasis on scantily clad boudoir moments, and semi-nudity seems to be the rule of the comic, but it's also down to the colors which are fresh, cartoony, and lavish in all the right places. It's a kind of exuberant conjuring of a steam-punk ethos with a dash of manga quipping in the dialogue and reaction shots. There's a physicality and active feel to the narrative that's bound to attract readers, but if you're into the more gothic aspects of steam-punk, this comic detours from that realm into something abit more bubbly. It might even owe a little influence to Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls, or perhaps the "Shining World" elements in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Check it out for the poster-quality artwork and you may well be charmed into following this multi-national corsair team into future issues.
Other comics out this week that'll no doubt grab your attention are Saga and The Walking Dead, but Marvel's Infinity is also looking grippy (don't miss the Scottie Young cover variant) and last, but not least, get a copy of Titan Comics' They Came, which is currently, apparently, making Rich Johnston's head explode. That is, if you want comics brain-damage. That's all from me this week, and happy reading.
Special thanks to Conquest Comics in New Jersey. You can find their Facebook page here. They are currently dominating POP vinyl collectibles with their White Phoenix exclusive and pre-orders for their Metallic Harley Quinn exclusive.
Hannah Means-Shannon is a regular contributor at Bleeding Cool, writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org, and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.