I'm reviewing live with first looks at today's releases here at my local comic shop, Conquest Comics in New Jersey, and it's another week of tough choices so I'm casting my net wide and taking in the comics goodness. We've got books from Marvel, Avatar Press, Image, Vertigo, Archie, and Dark Horse just to pick a few of my top choices this week.
First up, Iron Man #19 continues with the second part of "Metropolitan", which is laced with Fritz Lang's Metropolis homage. Kieron Gillen, Joe Bennet, Scott Hanna, and Guru eFX are bringing the quality again to what's shaping up to be a very interesting arc. The cover sets up Iron Man to be a kind of labor revolutionary in front of a burning construction/factory setting, with a phalanx of Iron Men rallying to their social leader. But inside we've got Pepper Potts as the "Resilient Now" spearhead and Tony's plea for help to "build a city". There's a lovely double-page spread of Mandarin City, an apocalyptic and disused space that has lost its leader. There's plenty of exposition to help explain the situation, which actually comes in handy rather than overburdening the plot. And it's drones, drones, drones, as Rich Johnston pointed out today. This really seems to be the strange zeitgeist of recent days, with comics jumping on the bandwagon, but perhaps we should consider Iron Man to be one of the earliest properties to consistently explore the difficulties and benefits of drone technology.
Idealism is remarkably rife in this issue, with Tony stepping in as visionary, and that's a touchstone back to his personality well-placed by Gillen. He delivers heroic lines like 'There's going to be a future. And we're going to build it together". Fans of the film Metropolis will spot the themes of a people's movement, but in this case there's an unusual dynamic between this civil hero and the machines. So it's Stark the builder, Stark the architect of the future once more in "Metropolitan", and that's a satisfying and steady build from the thought-teasing spectacles of the last issue. Also, the colors on this book are particularly striking and fresh, keeping up a tie to the last arc with its sci-fi elements. "Metropolitan" is developing into a potentially iconic arc that's going to give us new windows on the Iron Man character and world, and that's keeping me reading.
Rover Red Charlie debuts this week from Avatar Press (owners of Bleeding Cool), written by Garth Ennis, with art by Michael DiPascale. The cover is outright disturbing with intentional juxtaposition between a burning cityscape and soulful, pleading doggies looking toward the viewer. It's an impressive mythology from the getgo with humans designated "the Feeders" from a canine perspective, one that doesn't comprehend the destruction that humans seem intent to bring on themselves. Talk about eviscerating on the mind–this book uses contrast to full effect as scenes of painful human self-destruction surround the simple, basic instincts of a team of dog friends trying to survive and figure out what the hell is going on in the human world. This approach speaks to the reader, who also doesn't comprehend the causes behind this astonishing animalistic behavior on the part of humans as they set out to destroy each other in gruesome ways, and by comparison, of course, the dogs appear civilized, warm, and a point of identification. It's a world gone mad, and the only sanity lies in the comraderie of this struggling team of canines. The concept is very clever on this book already, the artwork both shocking and rivetting, so for a set-up issue, it accomplishes a great deal. The mystery alone demands the coming issues, so be warned: if you read issue 1, you're in for the full series and like our doggy team, there really doesn't seem to be any going back.
The Image book Velvet is back for its second issue after selling out in its first issue quite rapidly, and the book is already a fan-favorite. This is down to the stunning artwork of Steve Epting and the spare, direct writing of Ed Brubaker, but big props also go to the moody colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser. Here we pick up the pieces of "Miss Templeton's" rogue behavior and the painful light is beginning to dawn that he "sure as hell isn't any secretary". That's a great line for a number of reasons, taking on the misogyny of spy stories where women are often arm-candy, and continues with the driving premise that underestimating Templeton is going to be a long, intense burn for many of the male characters. And wow, we get an "experimental stealth suit" that pits Templeton as something of a spy-superhero, something always latent in the genre itself. The psychological angles on Templeton continue to develop through her internal monologue, something that was a strength of issue 1 as well. She's all about "compartmentalizing" and getting the job done as a "new way of thinking. A way of surviving". We've seen that from Bond-like spy heroes before, but applying it to Templeton casts things in a new light for readers. She's beginning to suspect that an entire "chain of command" have been watching her and piecing together her smaller movements to guess about her goals and future actions, making life that much more eventful for her, and violent. Templeton is a hero in arial feats, underwater exploits, and even high-speed chases this issue, bringing the "adrenaline rush" she feels to the reader. And it's a furious pace, well-laced with information, case-file flashbacks, and a wide array of characters. As we suspected from issue #1, this series is well-planned and paced, perhaps drawing on the best of the spy movie genre to craft an airtight narrative. But if you're reading this, I probably don't need to encourage you to buy Velvet. You're probably proud of yourself for picking up the first issue, and you can pat yourself on the back for that.
Vertigo's trailblazing series Hinterkind is back, written by the cerebral and character-focused Ian Edginton, with art by the highly original Francesco Trifogli. It may not be the most-touted book right now, but it really should be given that it's experimental territory for Vertigo in terms of theme and content, and should be encouraged if we want to see more diversity from the imprint. There's the humor, the little details of ordinary human and trans-species reactions to life that makes the storyline a mixture of light and dark, as when we see this issue open with mythological (evolutionarily unusual) beings watching soap operas. Then there's the perspective of these beings on humans, who see humanity as a particularly "low" rung on the ladder in this nature-world "red in tooth and claw" struggles to find a future for itself with humanity on the wane. But some factions are getting more organized, and actually much, much, scarier about their dominant-species ideology, and that's where things are getting even more interesting in this book. We were amused, perhaps, to see humans taking the back seat, but now we have them, and other species, being treated like throwbacks that should be exterminated. Things just got kicked up a notch on Hinterkind, and the fun and games, for now, are being vastly overshadowed by bigger universal themes about cultures in competition, and some of the very scary outcomes of intolerance.
The Fox, from Red Circle Comics/Archie, also sold out in its first issue, and it's time to jump into issue #2 to see what the bigger story arc holds when you shake up Silver Age elements with a modern, madcap sensibility. Written by Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel, with art from Haspiel that really takes him off the leash in terms of original concept art, this issue also contains the first back-up of The Shield, written by J.M. DeMatteis with art by Mike Cavallaro. The Fox #2 storyline is "Freak Magnet" Part Two, and we're immediately lost in a strange world of popping colors and crystaline structure that breaks through cultural reference to directly citing one of the Beatles' most psychedlic songs, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". A shape-shifting monster with seemingly limitless power is turning The Fox's world inside out in an equally shifting psychological landscape, but things are getting personal when he takes on the mantle of the She-Fox. But the epic struggle is just getting started as Fox encounters various opponents from his life who he's loathe to fight, and let's remember, he wants to walk away from the hero life as it is. In issue #2, there's simply no escape from the conflicts he's already sick of. Keeping up with the permutations of the book is trippy in its own right, but for that reason, it's the wildest ride you'll find in comics this week. Endlessly creative in its visual morphing and strange landscapes, there is simply no predicting where the book is going panel by panel. But all will be revealed as issue #2 sets up the major plot for the arc, the reasons behind The Fox's psychedelic pilgrimage, and just what he has to do to break the spell that has him in thrall. The Fox is wild, weird, and a visual treat, and if you haven't got the second issue, you haven't really even got started yet on unraveling the significance of the book. The Shield back-up in the issue is also setting up the coming series, but drops fans right into the muscular energy of Cavallaro's angular and highly-textured world. His style is more like something you'd expect to see in the best of a Dark Horse book rather than a mainstream superhero book, and that's very, very appealing, particularly with an interesting, lush color palette that brings in superhero primaries and secondaries you might expect from fantasy or horror.
Burn the Orphanage #1 from Image was a very interesting book, and caught plenty of attention, but the second issue is actually, visually, much more developed and coherent. It's polished, tightly-structured, and its aesthetic is bound to make you do a double-take in comparison to the first issue. It already felt indie, but now it feels badass indie on par with Paul Pope's highly idiosyncratic and inky lines. We can hold Sina Grace responsible for kicking things up a notch and really seizing on the potential of the book in terms of art. Sina Grace and Daniel Freedman also bring much more detailed writing to this issue, in comparison to the decompressed but action-packed feel of issue #1. Things get weird very quickly with the introduction of "demons", magic, and a "birthday tournament" Rock is obliged to participate in. Then we're diving into magical worlds and, of course, combat. Maybe it's these bizarre but gripping premises that give Grace the room to break out his skill in costuming and detail. His Elizabethan-style sailing ships are pretty much to die for, but his strange monster-y champions are even better. If you were on the fence at all about issue #1, you might want to reconsider, because this book is showing that it really doesn't feel it has to follow any predictable courses of action or plot. That could mean big things for the future of the book, and it's worth hanging around to find out.
It's here at last! Hellboy in Hell #5 from Dark Horse, mysteriously entitled "The Three Gold Whips". Whenever we have strange objects in a Hellboy comic, things are heating up. It's a classic cover from Mike Mignola, Hellboy in a graveyard with corpsey figures around him. Yes, he's dead. Remember that, but we're not going to get the pin-point locations we desire, since he's still "somewhere in hell". It's a compelling side-plot Hellboy, and readers seem to have been waiting around for, a mysterious cemetery in hell, a devil's bargain in the form of an eerie little dragon, and a few cursed men. There are indeed magic whips for the creation of gold, and of course, riddles. Mignola has made no secret that he draws on multi-cultural traditions for his conception of this particular version of hell so there's plenty of room for folk-tale inspired vignettes. Hellboy's given the chance to play a hero, even in hell, to help solve this little "problem" for some wandering souls. This book sets up an "endless parade of horrors" for readers, and that's how we like it. The devil's grandmother, a kind of netherworld Baba Yaga, is calling all the shots, and that means Hellboy, and readers, are once more in the hands of the unknown. It's a charming tale, another mis-adventure for our hero, and illuminates another dark corner of this expansive grab bag of sepulchral themes introduced by the whole premise of Hellboy in Hell.
But if you go off the beaten path a little this week, make sure to take a look at the third issue of The Occultist from Dark Horse, which is introducing some much more expansive storytelling than the first issue might have made you suspect. That's the virtue of a comic that can include just about any element from occult traditions, accordion-style, and speak to a long comics tradition of the supernatural. With story by Mike Richardson and Tim Seely, and art by Mike Norton, things are fresh and interesting in issue 3, keeping up that "new" feeling on the series even as it progresses. There's an intriguing little aspect of dialogue here on whether the main characters are "Satanists" or not, called "devil-worshiping freaks" which gives Rob a chance to sound off on their mystical bent and comment "You blame things you don't understand on 'The Big Evil'" while real crime runs rampant. But we're back in purgatory on strange journeys this time around, too, with invasive demons and things are getting darker in this upbeat but ambiguous world. The Occultist has a handle on the whole appeal of concepts like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but while combining youthful experimentation and humor with the occult, it's a little darker, even, than Buffy, in its sense of potential menace. The more serious framework behind the comic is spelled out more clearly in this issue as we learn just what kind of role The Occultist, Rob, plays in keeping things in balance between the human and supernatural worlds. Is he up to the task, or has he already let things slip into a dangerous spiral?
Wow, it's been a week of great reading and it's only Wednesday. Aside from these books, I'd also highly recommend picking up the next installment of Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight from Dark Horse, this time written by Alex de Campi, but starting a new two-parter arc drawn by Simon Fraser in "Prisonship Antares". The cover alone will grab your attention with its seventies-evoking purple and orange accents. I hear this one's a real doozy in its grindhouse film homage. That's all from me Live from the Comic Shop this week, and I have no doubt that this week it'll be particularly easy to be happy in your 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 now have their Metallic Harley Quinn exclusive in stock.
Hannah Means-Shannon is senior New York Correspondent 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.