It’s been awhile since I wrote a review column about current comics so it seemed like a good idea to put one together about all of the new launches debuting this month.
Axcend #1 (Image): I was a little iffy about picking this one up in the first place. Video game-themed stories don’t always work for me. Plus, it’s an artist taking his first crack at writing and that can be hit or miss. But I’m glad I gave it a try. I knew Shane Davis mostly from his work on Red Lanterns and his art for Axcend looks great. The story is a little clichéd at the beginning. Teenaged loner gets picked on by bullies, feels hassled by his mom, retreats into video games as an escape. But it doesn’t take long for Davis to pick up the pace. Eric receives an invitation to beta test a new game and uploads his consciousness into virtual reality. He’s given an avatar body and runs through multiple combat simulations. Normally, watching a fictional character play video games wouldn’t be all that interesting. However, the fights are well choreographed, beautifully rendered and they move along quickly. It’s like the training exercise from The Matrix. Eric is learning how to fight- and we’re learning how his avatar’s powers work. Of particular importance, Davis shows us how Eric’s video game avatar reboots every time it’s killed. Back in the real world, Eric suffers through another visit with a psychiatrist as the doctor tries to get him to talk about his deceased brother. Eric walks home, feeling morose, and crosses the street without noticing a bus. The bus hits him, bystanders yell at each other to call 9-1-1 and Eric… reboots as Axcend. The virtual world of video games has suddenly invaded the real world. I wouldn’t normally give away the ending like that, but in this case, the ending is the key to the whole issue. The video game montage was already enjoyable, but it gains greater significance as it connects to the real world. Axcend was a pleasant surprise, and is worth keeping an eye on.
Chewbacca #1 (Marvel): Having previously published mini-series focusing on Princesss Leia and Lando Calrissian, Marvel continues their survey of the Star Wars universe with one about Chewbacca. Gerry Duggan is the writer and Phil Noto is the artist and it is excellent. Duggan and Noto separate Chewie from his pal, Han, to give him a chance to shine on his own. Chewbacca has been sent on a mission for the Rebel Alliance when his ship breaks down and he crashes on an unfamiliar planet. Chewbacca sets out finding the parts he needs for repairs when he runs into a local girl running away from Imperial-allied gangsters. Zarro recruits Chewbacca into her little feud and the results are immediately amusing. Zarro doesn’t speak Wookiee so she misunderstands everything he says. Yet Noto is able to convey Chewbacca’s meaning to the reader with body language and roars. They argue about fighting against the Empire and freeing slaves, with Zarro misinterpreting Chewbacca’s resolve to return to the rebels as apathy about injustice. It’s a wonderfully funny scene and it establishes a wonderfully endearing relationship. Chewbacca is a winner, the best start to any of the Star Wars mini-series so far.
New Avengers #1 (Marvel): I haven’t followed the Avengers titles for a few years but the restart after Secret Wars created a chance for me to check out the bandwagon again. I like the line-up in New Avengers: Songbird, Hulking and Wiccan are personal favorites from their days in Thunderbolts and Young Avengers and it’s nice to see them move up in the world. I don’t know much about this new Power Man but it’s definitely a delight to have Squirrel Girl around. Unfortunately, the art is really distracting. Gerardo Sandoval combines Western and manga influences- kind of like Joe Madureira but with lines that are more jagged and heavily blackened, making everyone look a little bit ugly. His facial features are also inconsistent from page to page, and that makes it hard to stay engaged with the story. The story itself is okay. Writer Al Ewing has a good handle on the characterization, playing off a tender scene between Hulking and Wiccan with a humorous scene about Squirrel Girl. Unfortunately, about halfway through, Ewing shifts focus to Sunspot’s global Avengers enterprise. The business side of things isn’t nearly as interesting as watching a squad of Avengers in action. I’d sometimes give a book like this more time to wow me but stiff competition from other new releases means I probably won’t be back for issue two.
Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (Marvel): This is great stuff! I think there could have been a temptation to keep the current comic as close to the movie as possible. Bendis does that but he does it in terms of humor and style, not by keeping everything the same. The new line-up, with Kitty Pryde as Starlord and a space-faring Thing, is really cool. Plus, it’s always fun to see Rocket Raccoon, Groot and Drax the Destroyer in action. The new Guardians comic is fast-moving, fun-loving and, most important, laugh-out-loud funny. Guardians of the Galaxy continues to upend the apple cart of the status quo while still being true to itself. There’s no comic on the stands today that does a better job of combining action and comedy.
Jughead #1 (Archie): This might make me a comic book heretic, but I’ve never read Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson’s Squirrel Girl so this was my introduction to them as a creative team. I wasn’t sure what to expect. At the same time, I was a little skeptical of all the hype. But Chip and Erica quickly won me over. They totally get Jughead’s nonchalant cool while at the same time they were able to get him riled up in a completely believable and manic way. Henderson’s art is also a great fit for Jughead- a little bit quirky and a little bit smooth. However, the Game of Thrones parody ran a little long for me. I get that Jughead sometimes lives in his own world but that doesn’t mean I want to read six pages of a daydream interlude. It looks like this might be a recurring feature with a Back to the Future sequence next month. That makes me a little nervous because the parody wasn’t as funny as it was probably meant to be. I hope the next one is better or- at least- shorter. In any case, the main story was excellent and that’s enough for me to keep coming back for now.
Dr. Strange #1 (Marvel): Out of all of Marvel’s new releases, this is the title that I was most excited about. I love Jason Aaron’s mainstream work, whether it’s on his hilarious Wolverine & the X-Men or his epic Mighty Thor. And I’ve been a Chris Bachalo fan since his days drawing Generation X. At the same time, I was a little nervous because Dr. Strange can be a hard character to get right. I shouldn’t have been worried. Aaron and Bachalo’s Dr. Strange is brilliant. Bachalo has always had a penchant for drawing in the marginalia that turns out to be a great approach for drawing magical creatures lurking in the background. Aaron’s Strange is alternately charismatic, egotistical, suave and witty. I also loved the appearance of Marvel’s other magicians, Brother Voodoo, Shaman and the Scarlet Witch as a circle of friends. They brought a sense of camaraderie and plenty of jokes. Dr. Strange might just be my favorite of the new number ones I tried in the first half of October.
Uncanny Avengers #1 (Marvel): I still like the core idea of Uncanny Avengers- mutant and non-mutant superheroes working together in a show of unity- even though the title has drifted away from that concept over time. The current incarnation has intentionally expanded to include Inhumans as well as mutants, a natural outgrowth of the team considering the larger Marvel universe. However, it kind of feels like the line-up only plays lip service to the core idea. There are, admittedly, three mutants on the team but two of them, Deadpool and Quicksilver, have only served as X-Men infrequently. Plus, Sensor is kind of a token as the lone Inhuman. She doesn’t do enough to establish herself as a character or a part of the team. Yet, despite, those complaints about line-up construction, I mostly enjoyed Uncanny Avengers. Ryan Stegman’s art has an Art Adams flair to it. And Gerry Duggan does a great job with characterization, especially after the team returns to their base after the first mission. We watch as Brother Voodoo banters with a ghost only he can see and as Rogue secretly tests herself for something that looks a lot like Terrigen mist radiation. Duggan combines interesting hints for the future with a solid first issue story. So far, so good.
Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Marvel): Dan Slott has overseen so many twists and turns in the life of Spider-Man that it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s still the same writer in charge. Yet that’s part of what makes Slott so great as the Spider-Man scribe. He’s not afraid to change the status quo, to make Peter Parker successful, to introduce new girlfriends, to have him trade brains with Doctor Octopus, and, now to have him go global. You never know what to expect and that’s a good thing. The main story involves Spider-Man and Mockingbird fighting Leo of the Zodiac in Shanghai. It’s a fairly straightforward crime-fighting story but it gives Slott the opportunity to establish the new status quo and tease a larger Zodiac plot. I also appreciated that the debut issue included previews for several of the Spider-Man family titles: Silk, Spider-Man 2099, Spider-Woman and Web-Warriors. It was a great way to sample the other titles and it convinced me to try a couple of them (as if I don’t have enough to buy as it is). This was a solid new start for Spider-Man. But what else do you expect from Dan Slott?
Paper Girls #1 (Image): I really didn’t know what I was getting into with Paper Girls. I bought it because it’s written by Brian K. Vaughan and didn’t really look any further. Well, that’s not quite true. I also noticed that it’s drawn by the always excellent Cliff Chiang. So I was a little surprised to discover that the book is literally about papergirls. Vaughan and Chiang introduce us to four intrepid, pre-teen girls who have paper routes. It’s the morning after Halloween and the girls have to deliver the paper while avoiding bullies, pranksters and overbearing cops. It reminded me of The Babysitter’s Club book series or Boom’s Lumberjanes. I started to wonder if I was part of the audience for this book but Vaughan convinced me that it’s possible for a middle-aged guy to enjoy the adventures of adolescent girls. The Paper Girls chase some bullies into a house that’s still under construction. However, they discover a strange device instead of their adversaries. The girls argue about whether it’s a relic from the space program or a movie prop when it suddenly zaps them. The girls aren’t entirely sure what’s happened but when they head back outside, they discover that their senses have been enhanced. They can see things they hadn’t noticed before. Vaughan doesn’t explain the mystery right away. Instead, he allows the reader to share the girls’ confusion. Suddenly, Vaughan’s Babysitter’s Club has meshed with V. It’s YA crossed with sci-fi and it’s curiously unlike anything else I’ve read. At the moment, I’m intrigued to find out what will happen next, and that’s the sign of a good book.
The Game of Thrones parody in Jughead ran a little long for me, too -- but it also had the best joke in the issue, courtesy of Moose.
I read somewhere, possibly in the material in the back, that Jughead will have a fantasy sequence in most issues, including winks and nods to old Jughead stories like Time Police. Since I enjoyed the fantasy sequence more than y'all, that's not a problem for me, but it may be for you -- until they drop the idea, which I think they will. It's too confining, and the same writer won't be on the series forever.
Of the books you mention, Chris, I'm most enthusiastic about Dr. Strange. It really was well done, although I have to note that I've always had a soft spot for the character.
And thanks for commentary on books I otherwise wouldn't sample, Chris, like Axcend!
Fluit, you should give Squirrel Girl a try. A-chan and Z-chan might like it, too.
I’ve read two on your list.
Paper Girls: Liked it.
Spider-Man: Didn’t like it.
Jughead: Didn’t realize it was by the same team responsible for Squirrel Girl, but Tracy and I both read and enjoy that one (even though I couldn’t name the team who writes and draws it). I second Bob’s recommendation for your girls. (He’s the one who recommended it to me.)