We're back! Down with con crud last week courtesy of the madness of New York Comic Con, I'm catching up on my books, but if there's one thing that'll get me out of bed and down to my local shop, Conquest Comics in New Jersey, it's a new Hellboy book. And it is worth it. Yes it is. So this week we have some new Image books, craziness from Marvel, and the Midnight Circus at last.
First up we have Velvet, written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Steve Epting, colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser, and letters by Chris Eliopoulos. The cover I've got has sepia tones and a movie-poster feel, but turning to the interiors, we get quite a lively pop noir combination color scheme with some love for sea green, purple, and orange against substantial and flowing-line inking. There is a cinematic feel to the panel choices, from plenty of "wide-screen" effects during action scenes to a noir focus on close-ups of intense tete a tetes. Paris in the '70's makes for a good Bondish start, and I have to say, I like the automobiles, architecture, and the interesting choice of presenting blood-spatter like a powdery spray frozen in time. This book is very sharp visually and the pacing keeps up with the style. When you pick up a new series, you tend to look for whether the first issue feels unified and has a sense that it knows what it wants to accomplish. Velvet has got it down and has a fully-fledged feel throughout. Super comics historian Jess Nevins even provides a backmatter essay on "A History of Spy Fiction Through the Cold War", a stonking bonus. As for the plot, having a central female agent engaged in hard-boiled international espionage, Velvet Templeton, is a strong selling point, and her internal monologue is one of the elements that holds the city-hopping first issue together. The realism of Epting's style will win you over pretty quickly, but the strong personal voice that Brubaker establishes for Templeton will keep this book on track for longer arcs.
Sex Criminals #2 is currently "in review" by Apple for content, which might be enough to suggest you should buy the book since Saga has had similar issues. It's another striking cover for the series from artist Chip Zdarksky, this time flipping over to intense yellow from issue 1's hot pink, and writer Matt Fraction provides a hilarious recap on the interior that trails off in its page by page summary of issue 1. We get a recounting of Jon's history recognizing his sex-driven "powers" that preserves the original contrast established in issue 1 between the gleaming, sparkly magic world and the harsh, almost brash art style and colors of the "real world" of Jon's memory. There are plenty of hilarious observations in the issue, including things that "glow like ET" but one of the most winning aspects of issue 2 is hearing how Suzie and Jon try to create a common vocabulary for what has happened to them and what is happening to them. Their powers become "the secret", and the place Jon goes to, at least, he dubs "Cumworld", the title of the issue. Things are building toward some revelations in issue 2, including mysterious white-suited figures, but for that we'll have to try to get a hold of the next issue, something that may be increasingly hard to do with this popular book. It continues to be a book unlike any other on the market right now, not just due to its highly original concept, but because of Zdarsky's neo indie sensibilities and Fraction's unwavering insistence on fairly bizarre but intriguing dialogue.
Again with the Image books, I know, but they just keep bringing new material out for our consideration, and often with great success. Pretty Deadly debuts this week, with script by the never-a-wallflower Kelly Sue DeConnick, art and cover by Emma Rios, colors by Jordie Bellaire, and letters by Clayton Cowles. I'm going to be up front about this: it's an absolutely gorgeous book. The wrap-around cover is eye-catching, Rios' feathery inks create a world all its own, and the color choices manage to bring a kind of nostalgia to the harsh Western setting. Eerie childhood mythology origin stories featuring animals, the "girl in the vulture cloak", a rain of tarot cards; DeConnick is putting it all on the table in terms of creating a new iconography for a new book. We're familiar with vengeance heroes, but a "reaper of vengeance, a hunter of men" still has an appeal for readers, and all the better if her story is told in dream-like visual terms that keeps you trying to piece together where the mythology is headed. There's also an interesting extra in issue 1, a time-line from DeConnick of the genesis of the book spanning years and influences. The combination of DeConnick and Rios on this book may well have quite an explosive effect on readership, at least it should. They are breaking new ground in interesting ways when it comes to how to tell a story. Things move more like music than in strict chronological terms, and though there are plenty of harsh and realistic Western scenes, there's a dark fairy tale hiding in this book that wants to get out.
Marvel Now What?! The title was actually my reaction. I somehow have never read one of these comic compilations before, though my comic shop guys assure me that they happen from time to time. This collection of satirical shorts by a variety of artists, starting off with cover artist here, Skottie Young, actually seems to strike a tone for Marvel right now. They've always been prepared to have a sense of humor about themselves, and the extremely pervasive Skottie Young variant covers for Marvel books have kept that in the public eye (as well as the humor in Marvel heroes films). And this book is not only fun but quite funny. There's inherent wackiness in the premises of the Marvel universe, particularly in the powers of certain characters, and being honest about that, giving the humor a room of its own, as it were, is a breath of fresh air. We get crossovers of the "Marvel Then" and "Marvel Now" Avengers teams, poking fun at Marvel's own choices, unfettered hyperbole from Doc Ock, a focus on The X-Men of the 90's, Captain America in cartoony love, the ladies of Marvel brunching, and even plenty of Watcher buffoonery. Skottie Young provides the "ego-stroking end" to the anthology issue and a kittie Deadpool seals the deal. This is a book that needed to happen. Bravo.
Last, but so very much not least, the long-awaited Hellboy: The Midnight Circus, written by Mike Mignola, with art by Duncan Fegredo and colors by Dave Stewart in a prestige slim hardback. These hardbacks are a win for a number of reasons, but one of them is certainly Dark Horse's decision to lay the artwork for the cover right onto the matte hardback with rich colors. Then there are the endpapers, also highly decorated with Fegredo's art in a grey-themed wash and plenty of accompanying interior art like a matchbook-themed title page, splashes of kiddie Hellboy holding a flaming match, and then an extinguished match, and that's all before the story even gets started. Set in 1948, we have young Hellboy going walkies on his guardians to sneak a cigarette. His encounters with a straggling performers from a circus have some of the eerier resonances of his encounters with fairy folk in The Storm, and the narrative switches between flashbacks and his circus wanderings let Fegredo loose to pursue a highly effective artistic choice. He uses two visual styles in the book, the pulpy, highly-colored and contrasty "normal" Hellboy world story and a heavily painted, ethereal depiction of the world of the circus.
Once Hellboy is inside, the circus world is crowded with visual detail of the epic and magical variety, and stories become a major theme. The stories Hellboy has read, and those that haunt him, particularly the story of Pinocchio. There are visions of his future, dark echoes of things to come, all wrapped up in a Huckleberry Finn like journey for the little red guy. This book is in many essential ways a novel that hints and expounds on Hellboy's life in very evocative ways. I'd venture to say that this is one of the most interesting Hellboy books of the past few years, and that's contending with the alarming developments of Hellboy in Hell. And actually, this is even a book that a new reader could pick up and enjoy. It might even provide a good starting point for the Hellboy-curious. It's one for the library, Hellboy fans. But you probably already knew that. Go get it.
That's all from me this week Live From The Comic Shop, but if you missed it last week, just a tip to pick up the stunning Coffin Hill #1 too. Or there's the new hardback collection of MIND MGMT Volume 2, which is essential reading. Other recommendations are to continue reading Tom Strong: Planet of Peril and the new Dark Horse series Kiss Me, Satan which has enough occult and offbeat humor to keep you amused and guessing. On the East Coast, it's a rainy day and that's pretty much the perfect weather to explore all your new books. Enjoy.
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.