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.
Animal Noir #1
Written by Izar Lunacek and Nejc Juren
Illustrated by Izar Lunacek
Reviewed by Kent Falkenberg
Near the end of this debut issue, a hippo mafioso asks PI Manny Diamond to take off his hat while they converse and smoke cigars in his office. “Just a little old fashioned, I guess,” he adds. It’s a near-perfect mission statement for the series’ noir aesthetic – near-perfect, only because nothing can summarize things more succinctly than the title itself. This is animal noir. And this is awesome.
Private investigators wear tan trenchcoats and fedoras, socialites wear pearls or long scarves, and gangsters use brown suspenders to hold up their olive green trousers, regardless of them being giraffes, cougars, or hippos. Black market prey fantasy – lion-zebra hunt porn, to be precise – is dealt out the back of tarp-covered transport trucks in giant reel-to-reel film canisters. And everyone smokes – everyone. There’s not a page in this issue without someone sparking up or stubbing out a cigarette or stogy.
People talk in an old-timey rhythm that evokes the seedy gin-joints of a Tom Waits ballad. “Swap a smoke for some company,” Diamond cracks, while digging for leads on his latest case, a stolen shipment of the aforementioned snuff tapes that’s already drawn a celebrity, a high-ranking judge, and a mob boss into the tangled web.
The solicit places Chinatown as the tentpole antecedent. And it’s dead on in that regard. The morsels of plot and intrigue that Lunacek and Juren have nestled in this story feel like they will sprawl out similarly across the socioeconomic spectrum of this work. “Animal Noir” #1 is infused with such a Forget-it-Jake… quality that it won’t be surprising to see Manny with a massive bandage covering one nostril for sticking his long giraffe neck where it don’t belong in an issue or two.
There’s a looseness to Lunacek’s linework that will set it apart from most books out there. Buildings lean and streets waver: there are few straight lines or right angles to be seen. This ramshackle quality delivers, quite efficiently, the impression things are pretty far from perfect. Its slightly alt-comix look effectively scuffs the sheen off of Zootopia’s celebration of diversity, and repurposes the anthropomorphic setting as one of economic imbalance, corruption, moral decay, and prejudice. Frequent hatching is employed to great effect to both add depth and give a weathered feel to the city and its denizens.
This may be a fairly mature take on the animals as people conceit, but you can tell the creators are having fun in designing this world. There’s offhand reference to underground elephant fights and programs to sponsor zebra prodigies out of their unfortunate circumstances. They’re clever enough on their own, but being thrown out so casually in conversation, they can’t help but sound like simple matters of fact that make the world fully realized. Similarly, the hippo’s mansion at the end is flooded with about 2 feet of water in every room – and a waterfall cascading down the staircase – because, of course that’s how a hippo would live.
It’s those little touches that make the book work in spite of its missteps. The cold open, before we meet Manny, is a little confusing – although, it reads much clearer if you return to it after finishing the issue. And a few conversations are the victim of awkward balloon placement, which makes some dialog tough to follow. But overall, those are minor concerns. “Animal Noir” doesn’t sound like most talking animal stories, doesn’t look like most noir stories, and is so much stronger for both.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – Really strong debut. This is a series to watch for.
Brave Chef Brianna # 1
Written by Sam Sykes
Illustrated by Sarah Stern
Reviewed by Mike Mazzacane
Published through the imprint KaBOOM! and with artist Selina Espirito’s cartooned aesthetic, with coloring by Sarah Stern, “Brave Chef Brianna” writer Sam Sykes fully leans into the new sincerity style of comic coming from places like Boom and various web comics. In a world and story that feels like a well-mixed mash of Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ratatouille, and Regular Show, “Brianna” can’t help but be this melodramatically blunt about things. Which isn’t to say it lacks nuance, issue 1 cleanly sets up the stakes of the series with subtle art.
Sykes structure and the art teams pacing really help make this feel like a complete experience. In 3 pages and 17 panels they setup the conceit of the story: an unseen Patriarch of a cooking business dynasty is dying and lays out a challenge to his children. Whoever runs the most successful restaurant in a year gets it all. While also developing the emotional stakes for the titular Brianna, will she overcome her crippling self-doubt represented as negative self-speak. The depiction of this doubt, literalizing it as an amorphous black cloud always hanging around her, sells the aesthetic of the book before we even get to Monster City and its denizens. Literalizing an emotional concept is earnest but how points toward the representation of cooking in the later half of the book while developing a bit of weight to dampen some of the more manic aspects of the series.
A byproduct of this sincere approach, the “Brianna” art team creates vibrant images, Stern’s pastel pallete warms Espirito’s art just the right amount. In a single page, they take us and Brianna on a tour of Monster City, bursting with hints at the citizenry. Espirito often forgoes background detail (after the setting has been established) allowing Stern hit everything with a single emotionally emphasizing color. While the exuberant mode of the book begs for sharing in Tumblr photosets, the expressive reaction panels and coloring is reminiscent of the melodramatic style 1960-70’s action anime.
As a book built around running a restaurant, food will obviously play a key role. It’s interesting to note how the art team depicts food, or more accurately food adjacent products. Like Ratatouille, “Brianna” isn’t just about the production of food but the spiritual fulfillment deprived from consuming it. The moving imagery and sound of film make getting at both sides of that equation difficult, but possible. Sykes is only allowed one or two images and no audio to get that idea across. The decision to show the quality of Brianna’s cooking and the fulfillment it produces as the explosion doves, the most doves since a quality John Woo picture, is immediately impactful and perfect for the medium.
On the plus side for picking this miniseries up issue by issue, you get recipes at the end!
Final Verdict 8.0 – A strong start that oozes potential and style.
Death of Hawkman #6
Written by Marc Andreyko
Drawn by Aaron Lopresti
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
“Death of Hawkman” has subverted all expectations that fans had surrounding the mini-series due to the morose name of the project. The story focuses on two players in the DC Universe that don’t get the spotlight often enough and their adventures together as superhero duo with a good cop/bad cop dynamic, but the final issue of “Death of Hawkman” throws a sizeable plot twist into the narrative.
We’ve seen it countless times over the mini-series, but Andreyko constantly grounds the narrative with Adam Strange’s self-aware personality and caption boxes. Strange wonderfully introduces readers into tense superheroics with silly asides that you could contrast with Peter Parker himself. Hawkman has played a great bad cop up to this point and the stakes of this issue are actually quite high with the villain of the comic posing a strong threat built up over the course of the past few issues.
Andreyko wisely takes his time fleshing out this conflict between Hawkman Adam Strange and the big villain of the series. The series all feel like it builds up towards the huge final pages of the issue nicely. There’s a few aspects about this story that are slightly muddled, but the huge final moments of payoff make it easy to overlook any flaws in the story itself. With the leads avoiding a massive conflict up to this point in the overall series, it feels perfectly natural for this entire issue to only center around the big fight.Continued below
Lopresti’s work in this issue lends itself well to the more casual tone of Adam Strange’s asides as well as the huge ramifications of a massive battle that Strange and Hawkman wage with the big bad throughout the issue. Lopresti does a great job making the villain of the piece exude impossibly daunting. Lopresti also nicely infuses several huge battle scenes with clarity. There’s a slew of surprises throughout the issue that are well-paced, unfolding at just the right time from Lopresti and Andreyko. At times, Lopresti’s work can seem rushed with linework that varies in quality and accuracy. As shown on the cover and throughout the issue, Lopresti also has a good handle here on experimenting with layouts with well thought-out psychedelic aspects that make this mini-series feel suitably epic.
I hoped that the creative team would be able to keep the momentum going throughout this mini-series, but I didn’t quite expect the full team to make this issue as strong and poignant as it somehow became. “Death of Hawkman” has subverted expectations from the very beginning with a strong dose of humor with this issue nicely introducing . This issue is also somehow able to tow the line organically between a hefty dose of comedy and dour conclusion. Against all odds Andreyko and Lopresti run circles around the finish line in “Death of Hawkman” #6.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “Death of Hawkman” #6 ratchets up the tension of the series, paying off the journey of previous issues with a deadly conclusion.
Green Arrow #18
Written by Benjamin Percy
Art by Eleonora Carlini
Reviewed by Jake Hill
To give Green Arrow depth beyond being Batman with a bow, writers have typically played up the Robin Hood angle- though born into nobility so to speak, Oliver Queen robs from the rich and gives to the poor. In this latest run, he’s proudly labeled himself as a social justice warrior- which you’ve gotta admit would be a pretty cool name for a superhero in and of itself. What do you do with Oliver Queen in politically charged times? You lean right into it and have him fight the Keystone Pipeline.
Benjamin Percy never calls it the Keystone Pipeline (though having Oliver team up with Wally West to fight a Pipeline from being built in Keystone City actually sounds like a great pitch) but the latest arc centers on Roy Harper as he helps a Native American tribe battle the “Cascade Pipeline.” Only the residents of the Spokane Indian Reservation have a lot of history with Mr. Harper, and surprising no one, they aren’t his biggest fans.
DC continuity is a bit of a mess right now, so this issue does a lot of hand holding as it flashes back to the first time Oliver Queen met Roy Harper. It’s a new take on their meeting, one that plays up Roy’s roots in poverty, and in doing so creates some very interesting parallels. There’s Oliver Queen, a rich guy coming from privilege who represents everything he hates. Sure Roy will eat his food and play his X-box, but Queen is a snotty rich boy. Then there are the members of the Spokane who definitely are not coming from a place of privilege, but who reject Roy’s attempts to meddle in their lives. Most interestingly there’s a mob of ATV riding white dudes, who want to shoot protesters with guns. These guys, in their Wild Dog jerseys, are clearly the bad guys, but in terms of race and class, have everything in common with Roy. It’s already a fascinating conflict with a lot going on for all the sides.
In terms of art, DC has been pushing a house style a bit harder than the superhero competition, and Eleonora Carlini mostly sticks to it. If anything, her people are a bit more cartoony than the characters in a Batman or Justice League book, but that also makes them more expressive. Flashback Roy looks like such a doofus- from his dumb hair to his smug smirk, he always looks like he’s one insult away from starting a fistfight in a Denny’s parking lot. As it should be! Oliver isn’t drawn in the likeness of Stephen Amell, but Carlini captures the actor’s affable bro nature in body language. Carlini takes the art a step beyond what the script calls for and contrasts two likable jerks- one is desperate to prove that he’s not as spoiled as everyone thinks and the other has a huge chip on his shoulder.Continued below
Considering how much of this issue is spent establishing characters and conflict, there’s a ton of action. Cars explode, arrows are shot, horses get knocked around. A lot of superhero adventuring happens. On top of that, the book manages to fit in a political discussion; not a prescriptive story that tells you how to vote, but a heroic one where the heroes stand up for the little guy.
In the 1970s, Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil had Green Arrow fight everyday menaces that faced Americans. In that very run Roy Harper turned to drugs, a bad guy Ollie couldn’t shoot with a bow. This newest run of “Green Arrow” continues in that proud tradition.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – A busy issue that finds time to lay groundwork, talk politics, develop characters and blow up some motorcycles
Written by Tim Seeley
Illustrated by Javier Fernandez
Reviewed By Benjamin Birdie
As Rebirth approaches its one year anniversary, threads of disparate books are starting to come together across the line. Traditionally, this usually meant a lot of clumsy, heavy handed shoehorning in of editorially mandated details to serve as breadcrumbs for whatever line-wide crossover was about take over everything. Rebirth, however, is proving to be quite a different animal. The initiative’s best books have developed a strong voice for their characters over several months of storylines, and now those characters are starting to interact, in compelling and organic ways.
In the case of “Nightwing” #16, that means Robin has shown up in Blüdhaven with a bee in his proverbial bonnet about anyone anywhere claiming to be the “Batman” of anywhere. It ties in nicely to expanded role in the DC Universe in “Teen Titans” and “Super Sons” while continuing a long running thread from Grant Morrison’s days on the characters when Dick was Batman and Damian his Robin. Although he’s there to pick a fight, Damian is quickly set straight by Nightwing, in a wonderful encounter that illustrates the complexity of their relationship.
Seeley continues the great work he and Tom King did on their pre-Rebirth “Nightwing” comic: balancing plot driven stories with authentic-feeling character moments. Javier Fernandez returns as artist for this arc, and does a great job carrying that through, with dynamic and detailed action sequences and particularly expressive acting by the characters.
The issue ends with a character reveal that admit I had to look up after reading it. If you’re in the same boat, and thinking of Googling this character, I recommend you don’t. Yikes.
Final Verdict: 7.8 – “Nightwing” continues to be a great book and now that it’s core creative team is back, this latest storyline is working on all the right levels.
Paper Girls #12
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by Cliff Chiang
Reviewed by Nicholas Palmieri
Every issue of Paper Girls is a wholly new experience, in that story-wise, you never know what you’re going to get. The only thing that is certain is the level of craft each of the creators will bring.
This is a series where we switch between one pair of characters unsure of where they are to another group of characters unsure of where they are to a character who isn’t lost, but is exploring a new place. Despite this, the art constantly pushes the plot forward by giving little hints at the greater mystery. One scene, for instance, has a group of characters with symbols on their chests which only completely make sense together once you see the final symbol. We’re able to put together where the symbols came from, but still want to read more to see how they fit into the story. This mixture of mystery and constant tiny reveals keep me eagerly reading, no matter how bizarre the plotting has become.
With a plot as nebulous as this, this issue felt remarkably grounded. There are two things to thank there: the constant recapping through dialogue, and the characterizations of the leads. Vaughan manages the former skillfully, each character naturally bringing up their situation within their dialogue in a way that never feels forced, making sure the single issue readers never get lost month to month. The characterization also shines through this dialogue. Vaughan has a way of writing everything with a unique voice and subtext while appearing simple. Look at the line, “Did you cut yourself rescuing me?” While simple on the surface, it manages to convey emotion, display the character’s sense of burden, and, in context, display her lack of maturity, all while pushing the situation forward. With character interactions this nuanced, the wildness of the plot never threatens to alienate the reader.Continued below
Matching all of that subtlety is Chiang’s art, particularly in the way he draws people. Faces during character interactions are so precise that these characters’ emotions are always as clear and nuanced as Vaughan’s script demands, and the character bodies are equally emotive. Chiang has such a firm grasp on human anatomy that the smallest changes to a character’s stance can completely revamp how we read a character’s emotional state. He and Vaughan have a perfect collaboration here, each bringing layers to the characters that play off each other with stunning results.
When every scene consists of such strong material, who cares if the issue itself only raises more questions for the overall plot?
Final Verdict: 8.3 – There may not be much progress on the plot side, but this collaboration between creators impresses in every other way.
Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
Illustrated by Patrick Gleason and John Kalisz
Reviewed by Gregory Ellner
The characterization of the Superman family in this issue is the highlight of it all. Lois and Clark are portrayed as a loving couple with a young son, with their priorities shifted in a natural, organic, “human” way, from focusing on one another and possible friends to putting a far higher priority on their child and praising him at every opportunity. Every scene with them together can bring a smile to readers’ faces, which makes the latter half of the issue even more heart wrenching, dramatic, and horrifying with that happens to this good life.
The artwork of the issue is very well done. The large eyes of Lois, Jon, and Clark emphasize their humanity and warmth, even though they are not all actually human. On the other hand, not everything is sunshine. The shadows on the seemingly human “Clark Kent” are very foreboding, hinting that he could be truly villainous. Krypto’s glowing red eyes show their own kind of menace, both instilling a sense of safety that he will be protective and a sense of fear at the feral animal he could become. Lastly, we have the white “flames” of destruction that pop up around the latter half of the issue. While they are very convincingly drawn in a way that makes them appear to be fire, and thus susceptible to super breath, their true nature leaves them in an eldritch state of horror, as they eat up everything around them, showing that these white flames are something not even Superman can handle directly.
The only real problem with this issue is its reliance upon earlier works, including those in other series. As this arc, the ‘Superman Reborn’ arc, is set to continue the myth arc of the entire “DC Rebirth” relaunch itself, some readers may be confused by the inclusion of some characters in the opening of the issue if they have not been keeping up with other series most importantly “Detective Comics” and “Action Comics.”
Final Verdict: 8.5- Excellent characterization and artwork that shifts between happily warm and utterly cold, but may require reading other “DC Rebirth” issues to understand parts.
The Unstoppable Wasp #3
Written by Jeremy Whitley
Illustrated by Elsa Charretier
Reviewed by Matt Lune
If it weren’t for “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl”, “The Unstoppable Wasp” would be the most fun book Marvel is currently putting out. Nadia Pym’s enthusiasm is infectious, and by the time this issue ends you start to understand why she’s called “Unstoppable”. There have been three issues so far and we’ve only covered about 24 hours in her life. During that time she’s worked non-stop recruiting girl-geniuses for her new lab, and through Whitley’s energetic scripts we’re introduced to characters new and old at an alarmingly fast pace. None of it feels rushed however, it just feels like the whole issue has the same energy for life that the main character has.
This issue picks up on the cliffhanger from last issue, concerning Nadia’s old friend and lab partner from the Red Room, Ying. That particular plot point hangs around for about 4 pages however before we’re whipped off to another adventure, via Moon Girl, Devil Dinosaur and a giant raccoon. Whitley’s managed to create such a charming world in this series that as this issue takes us from one of Nadia’s recruits to the next, you don’t mind that there are more seeds being dropped for future issues than time spent actually developing much in this one. Several fascinating characters get introduced that, in any other book would be central to the issue, if not the arc, but Nadia is soon off to the next one with little time to dwell. That sounds like a negative but it’s actually a testament to the way Whitley can create so much in such a short time, really laying the groundwork for a strong supporting cast moving forward.
Having a narrative so super-charged with energy would be meaningless without dynamic art to back it up, and luckily Charratier uses such expressive character movement and facial expressions, especially on Nadia, that you really sense the vibrancy as she bounces and flies around the pages. There are several bright, cartoonish moments in this issue – such as Devil Dinosaur battling a pym-particle enhanced raccoon – that really pop off the page, but it’s in the moments that shouldn’t feel bombastic – like Nadia walking out of a phone shop singing adorably about her new purchase – that Charretier uses subtle exaggeration to create a really dynamic scene from what could easily have just been a cute talking heads moment. There’s a lot of script in this issue, but the pages never feel cramped, instead each scene has a clear panel structure that makes it a delight to read. There aren’t as many opportunities to play with the form as there have been in previous issues (such as the panel-in-panel technique employed in issue one, highlighting how Nadia views technology) but the bold, bright colors of Megan Wilson work with Charretier’s line work to boost an already energetic read into a fun and solid issue.
Final verdict: 7.6 – The energy of this series really is as unstoppable as Nadia, and this issue starts to build a solid foundation of engaging supporting characters, making this book stronger moving forward.