In an attempt to revive some of the blogging I did on a previous site, I’m going to bring back my semi-regular mini-column, “Four Color Comics.” The premise behind the feature is rather simple – I’ll pick four properties (99% DC or Marvel, right?) on which I’d like to see a particular creative team (read: writer/artist). This thought experiment is partially based on a series of Jeff Lemire tweets from nearly ten years ago and bar conversations I had with my comic book regulars and friends.
Or: There’s an Oldsmobile Joke that I Can’t Quite Land . . .
Mister Miracle #2 of 12
W – Tom King
A – Tom Gerads
The last time we really heard from Mister Miracle prior to the King/Gerards revival was close to ten years ago, in the midst of Final Crisis, after Shilo Norman had emerged as the heir to Scott Free’s mantle. I find myself transfixed by this book to a certain degree. To start, Mitch Gerads’ artwork is conversion worthy material for pencil purists. But is isn’t Gerads alone. He and Tom King seem to improve with every issue of every project. In the days of frequent shipping and rotating groups of artists, it is both refreshing and relieving to see a writer/artist team collaborate at such a remarkably consistent rate. I think that the first issue of this Miracle Man maxiseries took many readers off guard. It had a far darker tone than most would have assumed. It also felt tangential to the DC Universe, appearing much more reminiscent of proto-Vertigo/early Vertigo DC Universe releases. I found myself asking the same questions I do when I read those books: “Is this a superhero book?” and “Where does this fit?” Ultimately, neither King nor Gerads are going to answer either query, and the fact that DC is comfortable with that level of ambiguity says a lot about the company’s continued relaxation of its sometimes crippling continuity. That, or it’s just going to all loop back OR function as a major catalyst for an important event. Either way, right? Spoilers after the jump.
Cartoonist – Stan Sakai (backup w. Julie Fuji Sakai)
Cover Colors – Tom Luth
Believe it or not, Usagi Yojimbo turned 30 this year. (Don’t tell him he’s a millennial). When the epic finally wraps, it should enter a fairly unique club. Along with Jeff Smith’s Bone, the Hernandez Brothers’ Love and Rockets, and (yes, fine, begrudgingly) Dave Sim’s Cerebus, Usagi Yojimbo holds a fairly strong claim to the title of definitive creator owned comic. In fact, I would contend it easily beats our two of the other three contendors since Sakai neither sold his creation to Scholastic (no judgement, just a disqualification in this particular barstool debate, though Usagi made his way into our living rooms as part of the extended TMNT cast) nor . . . how should I put this . . . got weird (??) (sorry, Dave). Along with Love and Rockets, Sakai’s commitment is remarkable and consistent.
Mage: The Hero Denied # 1 (of 15), Image Comics – $3.99
Full disclosure: I am predisposed to love this book. When I first discovered Mage: The Hero Defined, the second “arc” in Wagner’s opus, I was at a formative position in my life. It was near the end of my freshman year in high school, and I was branching into all things independent. There’s a certain punk-rock or independent spirit about Wagner’s story, and that resonated with me in ways that are beyond qualification. So if I gush, sue me.*
This issue follows on the heels of last month’s zero issue that heralded the return of Kevin Matchstick/Pendragon. If you missed the primer, it’s not going to detract from this issue at all. # 1 is almost entirely exposition, as Kevin and his son, Hugo, (a concept that hits home even more intensely since this book is a collaborative effort between Wagner and his son who serves as colorist) stroll through a park in this new community, seemingly years since the events that conclude “The Hero Defined,” tempting fate with proclamations of contentedness.
This is a difficult issue. I mean that qualification to explain both composition and analysis. The last Mage series debuted ten years ago. A key demographic had yet to pick up comics at that point. Stretching back even further, the series first launched under the auspices of Comico in 1986. There’s a significant chunk of that fanbase who may have left comics. Wagner thus has a bit of a dilemma to encounter. He is a comics maverick, to an extent. He more or less follows his own lead, and he approaches projects with a unique perspective. That having been said, he needs to do something to appeal to a new reader. It is a #1 issue after all.
What Wagner does to make issue one friendly both to new readers and fans whose memories aren’t as strong is immediately hit the major tropes of the series. Trouble will follow Kevin Matchstick. He isn’t entitled to a normal life. In lesser hands, and perhaps sans context, this would seem somewhat played. Ok, a new volume has started, and . . . great, the same things are happening. I get it, and I wouldn’t entirely dismiss this criticism. What I would do, though, is encourage the reader to think about the nature of the inevitable disruption of Matchstick and company’s idyllic suburban life. Wagner almost goes out of his way to establish the peacefulness of Kevin’s new life, which can seem like a somewhat cheap, telegraphed plot device out of a corny movie preview: “In a world where Kevin Matchstick finally found peace . . .”
But that’s not what happens here. Wagner works to establish a juxtaposition, not a lamely telegraphed and all to brief foreshadowing. At the point that Kevin and clan have achieved peak mundanity, between strolls through the park in autumn and spousal arguments about repairmen, conflict thrusts itself to the forefront. For new readers, this device works to establish immediate tension. For returning readers, it allows for a meditation about the first two arcs of the trilogy.
Ultimately, Mage: The Hero Denied #1 functions exactly as needed. It establishes a certain immediacy and allows Wagner to jump directly into the action a mere five pages into the story. Wagner picks up tropes familiar to any reader, nay human – familial bonds and the existential dilemma. Life, for Kevin Matchstick, must be defined by the hero cycle. Wagner’s first issue in his return to his semi-autobiographical epic certainly made me excited for the next fourteen installments, and that’s truly the best kind of analysis you can give to any first issue.
*In the 90s, independent things were, paradoxically, becoming mainstream. Built on the back of the various underground movements in the 70s and 80s, independent concepts broke through in the 90s, and comics were no exception. Image launched more as an alternative than an independent. And I think it still occupies a similar position today. It started, with some exceptions, as an independent publisher of mainstream style superhero books. Gradually, though, Image diversified its lineup, and books like Mage helped to foster that transition.
Comic Picks for the Wednesday, August 16
Dark Nights: Metal # 1 (of 6) – DC Comics, $3.99
W – Scott Snyder
A – Greg Capullo
I’m a sucker for summer crossover events. I harken back to a more innocent time, at Breezy Point Swim Club in Langhorne, PA, reading issues of Infinity War with my friends after morning swim practice, trading various and assorted tie-in issues with one another*. When I returned to comics in 2009, I occasioned to walk into a random comic store the week the first Blackest Night book was released. The proprietor asked me what my general comic interests were, and I replied, “I loved Green Lantern, and I’ve always loved summer crossovers.” He thought I was messing with him.
My friends at Third Eye Comics proclaimed, ” If Frank Frazetta and Jack Kirby collaborated with Seasons in the Abyss as their soundtrack — you’d get METAL.” If that doesn’t sell a book, I don’t know what does. The fact that Snyder and Capullo have both said that this book pulls on plot threads from their entire epic Batman run also ups the ante. I’ve been jazzed about this series since I read the announcement from DC. Hearing Scott Snyder wax nostalgically about the series (and Batman in general) for nearly half of his Q&A at Awesome Con ramped up my excitement even more.
Snyder has been a prolific writer of Bat-family crossovers – Court of Owls, Death of the Family, Endgame, Batman Eternal, and Batman and Robin Eternal – but his work outside of the Dark Knight for DC is fairly limited, all things considered. He wrote Swamp Thing for the launch of the New 52, building a great mythos of the Red and the Green via a crossover with Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man, and he penned the Superman: Unchained mini with Jim Lee on art duties. For a guy who is arguably DC’s biggest writing talent, this is a big step. If DC wants to continue the momentum of Rebirth, they need worldbuilders not named Geoff Johns. I think Snyder and Capullo (along with Glapion and Plascencia) are more than up to the task, and I’m dying to get my hands on this book before the interwebs spoils it for me.
Superman # 29 – DC Comics, $2.99
W – Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
A – Dough Mahnke
This is the best Superman we have had in years. Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are the best character builders in comics today, and the rotation of artists through the series has worked far better than I could have predicted. I’m partial to Gleason-draw issues, but I have absolutely no complaints about Doug Mahnke. His arts tends to contrast the lighter tone of Gleason’s, and it should be the appropriate look for a book in which Supes dons a Yellow Ring. Yes. Superman joins the Sinestro Corps. Do you need another reason to pick up this book?
Super Sons # 7 – DC Comics, $3.99
W – Peter Tomasi
A – Jorge Jiminez
Did I mention that Peter Tomasi is fantastic? It speaks to the very nature of the success of serial storytelling when an iconic writer (Morrison) creates a uniquely important character (Damian Wayne) who grows into a deep and complex fully formed creation via the pen of another writer (Tomasi). This issue continues the guest appearance of Damian’s Titans. This series is the response to the (deserving) criticism of the past few years, namely that DC’s overall tone was mired in dark storytelling. Part of this criticism stemmed from the fact the popularity of Batman became synonymous with the editorial direction of the company as a whole. Books that weren’t necessarily dark, such as Green Lantern, took on a darker tone. Mired in all of this were the various Superman titles that had been wallowing in general more or less since the departure of Geoff Johns or at least by the time War of the Supermen commenced. I think DC heard the message, though. At the launch of the New 52, DC tried to be intentional about its inclusion of various non-traditional genres as high profile books. That idea was certainly commendable, but not necessarily successful. With Rebirth, they seem to have righted the course and built a roster of books that (mostly) adheres to standard superhero fare, but spreads out the tonal continuum to a far more desirable degree.
Mage: The Hero Denied # 1 (of 15) – Image Comics, $3.99
Mage: The Hero Defined was one of the first comics I actually collected**, and certainly piqued my interest about independent comics. I thought it was one of the coolest looking comics. I was intrigued by Kevin Matchstick’s thunderbolt shirt and glowing baseball bat. Mage felt like, for the lack of a better description, an “indie rock” comic book. And since punk rock and hardcore dominated my life as a high school freshman, Mage made perfect sense to me. There’s not much that could keep me from procuring each issue of this series on its release date. If I only had $3.99 (plus tax) to my name, I’d still buy this book.
I’ll probably also be picking up:
Uncle Scrooge #29 (IDW, $3.99)
Mother Russia #2 (Alterna, $1.50)
Wicked Righteous #1 (Alterna $1.50)
If I had more walking around money, I’d also buy:
Astonishing X-Men # 2 (Marvel, $3.99)
Batgirl: Stephanie Brown TPB Vol. 1 (DC $29.99)
*The communal nature of youth lends itself to event books. It was a lot easier to trade baseball cards with your friend than it was to buy new packs in the stores, and it was certainly much more economically advantageous to pool collective comic resources to maximize reading content.
** I don’t know when it clicked, when I realized that books connected with one another, or when I even realized that books came out on specific days, but I’m sure I didn’t quite “get it” for a long time. I think that I actually started to collect books in a series around 8th grade, and I believe I came to Mage as a freshman in high school.