There is a lot to cover on Wednesdays. We should know, as collectively, we read an insane amount of comics. Even with a large review staff, it’s hard to get to everything. With that in mind, we’re back with Wrapping Wednesday, where we look at some of the books we missed in what was another great week of comics.
Let’s get this party started.
Action Comics Special #1
Written by Dan Jurgens, Mark Russell, and Max Landis
Illustrated by Will Conrad, Jill Thompson, and Francis Manupal
Colored by Wil Quintana, Romulo Fajardo Jr., and Francis Manupal
Lettered by Rob Leigh and Steve Wands
Reviewed by Gregory Ellner
The various stories in “Action Comics Special” #1, from the primary one by Dan Jurgens to the secondary ones by Mark Russell and Max Landis respectively, each give a different view on the heroes and villains of the Superman mythos, in particular Superman, Lois Lane-Kent, and Lex Luthor. Jurgens tells a classic Superman tale, one with interesting developments and an intelligence all its own, one that showcases the different kinds of heroism inherent in Superman and his supporting cast. While Mark Russell’s storytelling can be a bit on-the-nose when writing about Lois Lane-Kent’s thoughts on the President, the focus in on Lex Luthor’s more villainous mentality (rather than his attempts at anti-heroism) coupled with some hilarious jokes makes for good fun. Max Landis tells a plot with a lot of heart, one of the true compassion of Superman for many people, including even small-time criminals who have a chance to turn their lives around. Together, these three writers show how benevolent the champion of Metropolis can be, and how important his family, both legally and by extrapolation to friends, influences who he can be and vice versa.
While Will Conrad’s artwork in the first story is more detailed than Jill Thompson’s art in the second story, the heavier shadows mostly work due to the more intense, action-packed nature of the plot itself. The lighter lines and lessened detail in various faces and background characters works well to Thompson’s advantage, given the more humorous nature of her story overall.
Wil Quintana excels in his use of colors on the first story, as the glowing lights on the Luthor Warsuit help to showcase its alien, highly technological nature in comparison to the more organic, less bright tones of the scenery and individual people’s clothing and skin. Meanwhile, the lack of the gradients from Quintana’s colors make Romulo Fajardo Jr.’s own colors striking in their own way, helping to keep the audience calm as the more relaxed, humorous second story plays out.
Contrasted with both of these art teams is the work of Francis Manupal, who does double duty as both the artist and colorist on the third story. The art style is so deliberately different from the preceding two that it, with its seemingly watercolor style, helps set the mood for a short story with a lot of heart above all else, enough to leave the reader with a smile.
Final Verdict: 8.0- A collection of different tones for three different stories help to encompass all of what Superman can really be and bring a big smile to readers’ faces, whether from sheer heroism, comedy, or pure compassion in and of itself.
Come Into Me #2
Written by Zac Thompson & Lonnie Nadler
Illustrated by Piotr Kowalski
Colored by Niko Guardia
Lettered by Ryan Ferrier
Reviewed by Matt Sadowski
What’s it like to share your body and mind with another consciousness? Sebastian becomes the regretful participant in this experiment as he learns to live with Becky, his rebellious mental passenger. “Come Into Me” #2 further explores the idea of the “social flesh” as one’s own inner world is shared to an uncomfortable level.
Two characters inhabiting the same body may pose a clarity problem to some letterers, but Ryan Ferrier and Niko Guardia manage to find an elegant solution. Now that Becky is non-corporeal, red caption boxes indicate Becky’s text as she speaks from her host’s mind. But when she fully hijacks Sebastian’s mind and speaks using his voice, a red outline surrounds the word balloon. The encroaching red of Becky’s domineering consciousness is used to great effect, especially with the final two words on the last page. Highly saturated colors further add an intensity that suits the story’s overwhelming sense of unease.Continued below
We catch a few glimpses of what it’s actually like to be imprisoned with Sebastian’s mind, giving Piotr Kowalski some creative license to explore this neural space. To Becky, it’s a maze, or rather a locked room composed of pink brain matter. Once she opens the door to a sky full of neural stars, Sebastian becomes the prisoner in a far sorrier state—drowning in the ocean of his own mind. With a series so focused on one’s cerebral state, more scenes within the mind would be welcome. Journeying deeper into the cerebral cortex, more memories are unearthed, and Kowalski continues to distort these memories using a blur effect. It’s an effective technique that drives home the fallacy of memory—and perhaps Sebastian’s reluctance to share.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – A psychosomatic nightmare of dueling minds within a single body, “Come Into Me” remains a fascinating read.
Dark Ark #6
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated and Colored by Juan Doe
Lettered by Ryane Hill
Reviewed by Reed Hinckley-Barnes
With “Dark Ark” #6, the Shrae and his family have not only been tasked by the devil to look after the monsters on their ark but have also been told that they must make sure Noah and the animals on his ark stay alive.
This issue, unlike the ones before it, has a heavy reliance on flashbacks. We spend a lot of time with Shrae, seeing when he first found out about Noah’s ark, and how he and his children were able to trick people into helping him build his own ark. The way Cullen Bunn creates the dynamics between the children and Shrae is part of what makes this series compelling. Bunn also is starting to compare and contrast Noah and Shrae in this issue, which is its own interesting source of tension.
Juan Doe brings the world of “Dark Ark” to live with his sketchy, exaggerated style, giving the entire story a kind of strange unreality, which is fitting for the tale. The way in which his colors, full of ethereal, otherworldly greens and yellows, make the story feel like it is a kind of fever dream. The monster design is also strange and grotesque in all the best ways. The characters are not especially detailed, but Doe is able to do a lot with not very much, giving plenty of facial features with very few lines.
Overall, this is one of the more satisfying issues of the series so far. The backstory that we get on the world before the flood, and what Shrae and his family were like then is interesting, and the Doe’s rendering of the world and the monsters post flood its own special delight. There are still a few minor problems with the issue. Some of dialogue and the narration is a bit too on the nose, but it’s a minor complain in an otherwise well-done issue.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – “Dark Ark” #6 gives some insight into the backstory of its main character, keeping the series interesting and moving it forward.
East of West #37
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Nick Dragotta
Colored by Frank Martin
Lettered by Rus Wooton
Reviewed by Alan Buxbaum
“East of West” #37 is a well-done issue which mostly focuses on plot and character development. Hickman and Dragotta make an excellent team in serving these purposes. It is easy to tell that this duo have experience working together. The interaction between the writing and illustration makes it feel as if one person is writing the comic. This is exemplified in the four-page introduction, which uses sparse wording to paint descriptive imagery. The various panels capture important screenshots of the scene, so much so that wording is not needed. Although the rest of the comic had this feel, I found that it was showcased the most at this point in the comic.
The dialogue is perfect when it takes center-stage. One great example is when three goons from the prior issue watch our protagonist march past them. One of them says, “So. We going to stick him?”, to which he’s answered by another, “God no. Take a good look. That man has a murderous spirit – ready to unleash it on the world”. This exchange, brief as it is, is exactly inline with the mannerism of our anti-hero. It both confirms and implants this idea in your head further, so as to foreshadow some serious bloodshed that is about to take place.Continued below
Although both Hickman and Dragotta deserve equal credit for this comic, I was most taken with Dragotta’s art. It says everything it needs to without going overboard. I also loved the effect he used when showing the quickness of which several medics were moving. In order to get this across, he blurs the outside edges of the panel. Although not all that revolutionary, it is done subtly to great affect. In addition to this, the paneling is very straight forward and easy to follow. Dragotta’s use of different sized ones puts emphasis on all the right images so that it feels natural.
As far as pacing of the issue goes, it needed to be somewhat slow in order to prepare for the fight ahead. While I understand this need, it certainly puts the issue behind as far as “East of West” ones go. That being said, it surely will not disappoint fans who have stake in the series.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – While this team is one of the best you’ll find on shelves today, the issue is somewhat slow due to plot development. Aside from that, this issue is sure to keep you engaged through a flawless marriage of both art and writing.
Written by Benjamin Percy
Illustrated by Chris Mooneyham
Colored by Nick Filardi
Lettered by Carlos M. Mangual
Reviewed by Gustavo S. Lodi
Right off the opening pages, Benjamin Percy begins his run on “Nightwing” with a clear statement of how Dick Grayson will be portrayed on this series: a true-to-life, realistic hero, often caught in scenarios that are nothing but mundane. The atmosphere that is set right off the bat with the collaboration of Mooneyham and Filardi make this a promising start.
Nightwing’s home town of Blüdhaven is dirty, littered and neon-filled… and it couldn’t be prettier any other way! Mooneyham excelled on depicting the city as a believable space, with an attention to detail that rivals most. Every wall has its own distinct graphiti, every subway station its own filth. Blühaven’s walls frame the issue itself, in a pacing that reads more like an investigation noir than a proper superhero drama. Mooneyham’s attention to facial expressions is equally impressive, particularly in a scene between Dick and Barbara Gordon: despite almost zero exposition, readers can assume a lot of their relationship just by the way they react to one another.
Filardi seems like the perfect partner here, especially in terms of lightning effects: in an issue that focuses so much on mood and settings, his work really takes center stage. Train lightning, neon sings, explosions, all of them converge with the overall art package for beautiful pages.
Heading back to Percy’s script: this is a Dick Grayson fans could love. A hero inspired by his mentor but that stands aside and independent of him, with his own world views and beliefs. The challenge that he is facing is both specific (the threat of technology being used for horrible ends) and broad (the discussion on how society is changing around new gadgets and habits). And while there are elements that could raise an eyebrow or two (a bit outlandish ending and a new supporting cast member), this issue certainly earned the benefit of the doubt to reveal how those can be used creatively going forward.
Final Verdict: 7.9 – A very good start for this new run, with a strong lead character, interesting discussions and a truly beautiful setting. Readers should try this and come back for more.
Rise of the Black Panther #5
Written By Evan Narcisse with Ta-Nehisi Coates
Penciled by Javier Pina and Edgar Salazar
Inked by Javier Pina and Keith Champagne
Colors by Stephane Paitreau
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
Writer Evan Narcisse has been given the ability to craft a Black Panther story that is like nothing else currently available on the market. With the background of T’Challa in the comics being so vastly different from the Cinematic Universe incarnation of the character and full of narrative opportunities, Narcisse has found a wealth of content and fascinating ideas to explore in the story. Readers get a good idea of the background of T’Challa’s hidden family tree as well as some of the history surrounding his relationship with Storm. This script offers lots of great opportunities for readers to get to know the complex and varied comics version of T’Challa, who carries a rich and storied background.Continued below
Narcisse also uses the issue to find some interesting things to say regarding specific social issues. Narcisse is even making points here the “Black Panther” film left untouched. While the theme here is explored a little too aggressively with the constant repetition of a certain phrase, there is still plenty to love about the complicated and endearing message that sums up lots of different themes and threads in the story. Adding social commentary to a mini-series recapping the events of T’Challa’s life is a novel way to keep readers coming back for more. The tale also offers an incredibly endearing first look at the blossoming relationship between Storm and T’Challa which serves an entirely different audience than the typical action-heavy plotting of a superhero comic.
The art here is mostly solid with a few dips in quality when core artist Javier Pina is relegated to the sidelines. While I can’t be sure if Marvel chose to have a fill-in artist Edgar Salazar for the issue, I certainly wonder about the direction the art and the issue as a whole. Even if the book isn’t as consistent as I would like for it to be in the art direction, each penciler here is technically proficient.
“Rise of the Black Panther” #5 is an excellent addition to the story and another solid chapter building upon the strong foundation forged by Narcisse. While I wish the art direction as a whole could have been more focused, I still enjoy the contributions, especially from Piña. It is also good to see the story foreshadowing some moments for the next chapter that will hopefully be paid off very soon. Getting a story touching on some aspects of the character from the comics that will not likely transpire anytime soon is a strong reason to pick up the mini-series.
Final Verdict: 8.3 – Rise of the Black Panther” #5 has a few interesting lessons for T’Challa to learn.
Sherlock Holmes: The Vanishing Man #1
Written by Leah Moore and John Reppion
Illustrated by Julius Ohta
Colored by Ellie Wright
Lettered by Simon Bowland
Reviewed by Jonathan O’Neal
Dynamite’s new four-issue miniseries is an original story featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective. In a nod to Sherlock’s recent televised incarnations, it begins with a cold open before sending readers into a familiar drawing room where the great detective is suffering from ennui and looking for his next fix, an element of the character that has perhaps been overplayed in the modern interpretations. In the absence of a stimulating case, he turns to dope.
But the veteran husband and wife team of Moore and Reppion know what they’re doing, and they lean heavily on the classic “taking the case” tropes and the familiar relationship between Watson and Holmes in what serves as a meaty setup issue for the dual-pronged mystery. The script efficiently presents an intriguing case while also planting some potential red herrings, a classic hallmark of Holmes cases. The only story beat that rings a bit discordant is shoehorning Moriarty into the narrative in a somewhat farfetched way. Must he always be floating around the fringes of Sherlock’s world?
Unfortunately, the main problem with the issue is the artwork by Ohta. His Victorian England has little character. It’s too spare, too clean, and too geometric, with only slight hints to the architecture of time period. The ubiquitous digital Photoshop patterns don’t help. His Holmes and Watson look like Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth or an animated version of Doyle’s famous detective, produced from model sheets, which wouldn’t be bad if those model sheets conveyed even the slightest bit of soot. The cartooning is undeniably skilled, but it feels wrong for the material and a bit half-baked when coupled with the spare backgrounds, eliciting none of the moodiness you’d expect from a period piece, especially a period mystery. Fans of the character will likely find something of value here, but the artistic choices make it little more than a curiosity for others.
Final Verdict: 5.0 – This issue sets up an intriguing mystery for the boys of Baker Street, but it’s derailed by artwork that is a complete mismatch for the material.Continued below
Written by Todd McFarlane
Illustrated by Jason Shawn Alexander
Colored by Lee Loughridge
Lettered by Tom Orzechowski
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane
“Spawn” #285 is a nice example of how style can enhance a moment and how it can also undermine it. Jason Shawn Alexander’s artwork and overall page designs give this book a textured psychological edge and McFarlane’s script at varying times either works in consort with the imagery or detracts from it.
The issues opening sequence, the attempted surgery, play to the books horror roots without monster closets. Alexander’s opening page works so well because of what it doesn’t show(Spawn), as much as what it does(everyone else) as the Government tries to remove the mask. Alexander emphasizes the idea of masks, from the doctors surgical ones, to the various articles that render the agents as non-descript. The page design isn’t super confusing, but his use of light sources in the images to guide the reader is smart and builds tension. The second page plays towards horror with the single large image of Spawn’s skin reacting to the impending bone saw. It’s here that McFarlane’s script is at it’s best as it references the reports that will be made out of this event. It slows the sequence down and makes you think of the impending bone saw and the violent reaction Spawn will have to it. With how chiaroscuro Alexander makes his pages, I wish the third narration box was moved off to the left and into the darkness like the other two and not in the middle of the bright white metal table.
The book has a torturous quality to it as the Government tries to get answers out of Spawn. Alexander does a good job of composing images that have a liminal flow to them, as if everything just flowed together without clear starts and stops. Colorist Lee Loughridge does a good job of spotlighting each act with a particular color. Artistically, these moments largely work and get the point across. McFarlane’s script and omniscient narration creates friction with this art, on one page in particular of Spawn just sitting in his cell with a “all according to plan” pose. The narration tells us instead of working with the imagery to show us. The narration takes a noticeable shift in that direction going forward and the issue becomes lesser for it as it moves plot pieces around instead of telling a story with those pieces.
Final Verdict: 6.5 – “Spawn” #285 is an overall effective man in a box issue with effective and textured artwork, that is weakened by how it uses narration at points.