Comics // List // A Few Great Comic Book Pets

Over the years there have been some loyal animal friends and pets in comics that have been heroes in their own right, often saving the day just in time. Here are a few of my favourites:

Lucky A.K.A Pizza Dog

First Appearance – Hawkeye #1

Created by – Matt Fraction & David Aja

A recent addition to the top tier of comic book pet legends, Lucky is Clint Barton’s, and latterly Kate Bishop’s, loyal canine companion. After Clint and Lucky (then called Arrow) bonded over the defeat of some cruel Tracksuit Mafia goons they have been an unbeatable team since. Issue #11 of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye run featured Lucky, sometimes known as pizza dog because of his fondness for pizza, as the central protagonist and it is an excellent issue indeed. In more recent times Lucky has accompanied the other Hawkeye on her adventures in L.A.

Hawkeye #3 art by David Aja
Hawkeye #3 art by David Aja

Tinker A.K.A 2

First Appearance – WE3 #1

Created by – Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely

WE3 is the tale of genetically modified and technologically enhanced household pets that escape captivity at the military R&D labs and go on the run. It is a captivating story that is powerfully told from the perspective of the cat, dog, and rabbit that have been subjected to experimentation. It is almost like Homeward Bound meets Short Circuit with some intense violence thrown in, and the art and writing are incredibly inventive throughout the 3 issue run. My personal favourite from the team is Tinker the cat, the ginger house cat turned fierce combat specialist.

WE3 #2 art by Frank Quitely
WE3 #1 art by Frank Quitely

Lockheed A.K.A Dragon

First Appearance – Uncanny X-Men #166

Created by – Chris Claremont & Paul Smith

Loyal companion to the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde Lockheed is a small fire-breathing alien dragon-like creature. Although he has been Kitty’s faithful friend for many years Lockheed is also an intelligent extraterrestrial life form and he has been an invaluable ally of the X-Men on many occasions. A personal favourite was when he flew in to put the hurt on Ord of the Breakworld early in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run.

Astonishing X-Men #15 art by John Cassaday
Astonishing X-Men #4 art by John Cassaday

Media // Other Stuff This Week #150327

Finding time to put together full write-ups of all the great books out there each week can be tough, so this quick run through will hopefully provide some pithy (and in some cases spoilerish) thoughts on some of the stuff that I wasn’t able to spend more time on recently

All-New Hawkeye #1 – Stepping out from the shadow of Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Annie Wu’s excellent series was always going to be tough, and although this new start is a perfectly fun one even it doesn’t quite succeed. Jeff Lemire writes a solid Clint and Kate relationship and the set up is ok if a little cliche (the story immediately runs from the low-stakes New York apartment setting of the previous arcs by jumping straight into Avengers missions and mountain top AIM bases). The art is solid too, but nothing in this book is exciting, smart, or funny enough to get me back for another issue.

Batgirl: Endgame #1 – A surprisingly effective instalment in the Batman Endgame event that fortunately requires no knowledge of the wider story without sacrificing any narrative cohesion. This is such a simple story, with Batgirl helping citizens escape from central Gotham and the Joker into Burnside, that it could easily be a throwaway issue, but the inventiveness and creativity on display is delightful. The action is beautiful and effective, there are moments of high tension and wonderful levity, and Batgirl proves why she is one of the best capes out there with some clever heroics.

Gotham Academy #6 – The Gotham city guest stars do not disappoint this issue, but there is never a threat of them overshadowing the defiant and gutsy Olive or the gleefully energetic Maps. Aided by outstanding art the writing in this issue manages to brilliantly balance melancholy, action, angst, and comedy, with just enough resolution to keep things satisfying. The central narrative of this story has been as much about Olive finding her ‘new normal’ as it has been about the mysteries of the Academy’s North Hall and this arc-finale delivers on that promise; with all of the pieces in place the next arc in this book should be a masterwork of joyful exuberance.

iZombie (TV) #1.1 – The trailer for this show came across as somehow underwhelming to me, and the lack of the wider comic book world of monsters felt like a missed opportunity, so I went into this with some negative impressions. Somehow though the show won me round, and whilst it still has a lot of work to do to make its supporting cast more endearing I found myself fully on board with Liv and Clive as a supernatural mystery solving duo. There were moments of fun and a few smart ideas in this first episode, and the show has a lot of potential. If they can balance the slightly flat romantic plot line with the exciting stuff that is.

Jem and the Holograms #1 – I have no familiarity with this property at all so it was the great art and being a fan of writer Kelly Thompson’s CBR columns that got me on board. There is a lot of setup here and whilst there was some good work drawing out the central characters and themes of the ongoing story, I must admit to being left a little underwhelmed by the end. The art is indeed great, but it is rarely in service of interesting visuals here as we get mostly talking heads. This is a perfectly solid start to a bigger story, and may well read better in a collected volume, but as a pilot issue I’m not sure it really grabbed me enough.

Nameless #2 – Grant Morrison gets into the meat of his story after last issue’s complex and mysterious setup. The world of Nameless gets a lot more fleshed out, as do the supporting cast, and there are some smart and tense scenes here. The art also won me over a lot more, and the surprises in store certainly hit hard. All of that said there seemed to be some inconsistencies in the place of magic in this universe – last issue it seemed like everyone was familiar with real magic as a concept, but here there are cliched disbelieving scientists and arguments about its value. This did enough to keep me on board for another issue at least, but it isn’t a must read yet.

Ninjak #1 – I’m a big fan of MIND MGMT from writer/artist Matt Kindt so I approached this book with an open mind, sadly I didn’t find quite what I was hoping for. The story of an upperclass Englishman turned super-ninja-spy could be an interesting one, and there were some nice ideas in this issue, but I never really engaged with the hero or the plot. I was also struggling to work out where this thing is set, England (the castle) or America (that cinema/taxi cab), or if it was just jumping between locations and not telling me.

Silk #2 – Cindy Moon is a fresh and unique voice in the Marvel U and despite being cut from the same cloth as Peter Parker she is distinctive and endearing in all the right ways. This issue manages to keep the laughs coming  even as Cindy battles a goofy (in a good way) Hydra robot and some solemn memories are explored. The beautiful art from Stacey Lee captures the Silk’s toughness and character perfectly, and her world is at once welcoming and fraught with danger. Cindy’s contemporary world could probably do with filling out a little, and some supporting characters may be worthwhile, but the mystery at the heart of this book is already a compelling read.

Southern Cross #1 – Becky Cloonan delivers an intriguing first issue that does a lot of good work creating an interesting universe and central mystery. There are plenty of ways this story could go and almost every character looks like a potential trove of secrets and betrayals. This is a solid start to what could be a very complex and rewarding scifi mystery.

The Flash (TV) #1.15 & #1.16 – Wow, do the writers of The Flash know how to spin a good time travel yarn. Part one set up some excellent, yet inevitably impossible cliff hangers and part two took the story in a very different direction whilst still managing to play with the same themes, events, and overarching character beats. This show remains candy-floss fun with a few depth and character issues, but it is the sweet and kind that keeps you coming back for more. Harrison Wells is superb, I’m cut up about the Linda resolution, and I kinda hope Cisco and Caitlin get together at some point.

The Walking Dead (TV) #5.15 – The second half of season 5 has seen a real upswing in quality for the show (starting from an already good place), and this latest episode delivered some powerful scenes and brilliant character dynamics. Michonne went on a journey of self-discovery and it was surprising where she ended up, even as other characters progressed more or less as expected. Poor Rick though…the writers seemed to put him in a corner for the fun of it, and his inevitable breakdown played a little too much like previous seasons for my liking. Plus, y’know, maybe he’s right!

Comics // Review // They’re Not Like Us #4

Concise

This issue offers some more glimpses into what is really going on with this group of gifted individuals, with a slower pace and some intriguing conversations. There are so many great threads to Syd’s story that it is rewarding to get some forward momentum on some of the unanswered questions, and the hint of revelations is more than enough to keep me in awe of this book. And if that weren’t enough then the art and colouring remain outstanding.

They're Not Like Us #4 Cover

Spoilerful

The tempo of this issue switches gear from the faster, more intense pace of training sessions and brutal beatings that we have seen recently, and instead offers up some rewarding scenes and surprising moments that drive Syd’s narrative forward. We know from Syd’s previous narration that she sticks around the group for a little while, but in this issue she begins to really question what is going on. Like Gruff last issue we are given more shading to one particular supporting character, this time it is Blurgirl as she confesses her nightmare (and almost more?) to Syd. Because we haven’t spent an awful lot of time with Blurgirl it is difficult to know if she is acting out of character here, but it is nice to see Syd question why she came to see her (can anything or anyone be trusted in this house?)

There have been some hints all along that The Voice was doing more than a little bit of mental manipulation so it was pleasing to see some of those suspicions confirmed – he has been keeping Syd’s own powers in check which seems like a reasonable thing to do, but at the same time he has caused every member of the group to forget their own names. This is an interesting revelation, especially in the context of this issue’s many conversations about killing Syd’s parents and severing ties with the past. It seems like The Voice could simply wipe people’s memories of their pasts, or at least wipe the memories of their parents, so why force them to kill them, is it all just a test of dedication and commitment? Similarly, why force everyone to suffer through the intense nightmares and regret of what they have done, surely The Voice could simply remove that guilt, unless he wants them to feel it? Not to mention that it seems like an oversight for him to let them ‘remember’ that he made them forget something. Of course, all of that is secondary to the mind games that are being played on Syd – did anything she experienced that night really happen that way, or have things been rearranged, removed, and replaced by The Voice, did she really complain about everyone’s code names (thank you for acknowledging the awkwardness of the name The Voice!) or did something else take place altogether? As readers all we know for sure is what we see when Syd isn’t present, anything else is fair game for false memories; I’m feeling more and more like Syd is in a lot of danger here.

Although we were introduced to the entirety of the group Stephenson has taken his time parsing through the characters, with the explored cast only slowly expanding a character or two at a time; this is the first time we’ve really seen much of Wire and Fagen, and Misery Kid also gets an opportunity to build on his appearance last issue with a few lines too (we still haven’t seen much of Runt at all). In fact that Misery Kid scene with The Voice, Maisie, and Loog was easily the darkest and most interesting of the issue – is the group considering exiling Syd (or worse) if she doesn’t kill her parents? Maisie remains a complete enigma, as Stephenson intends, with little of her true motivation or agenda really revealed, but it seems like a safe bet that with her ability to see the future she is manipulating events to her advantage in some way. The expressions of Loog and Misery Kid as the walk away are pretty insightful too, Loog clearly angry that Syd might be disposed of, whilst Misery Kid has more than a hint of satisfaction on his face (what is his game? I need to know!)

The ominous tone, complex character arcs, and slowly unveiling mystery of this story are all incredibly compelling, but time and again I find myself drawn deeper into this world by the wonderful art team of Simon Gane and Jordie Bellaire. Gane’s art possesses a rich and patterned depth and he is at home illustrating foreboding nightmare woods as he is at drawing plush and distractingly comfortable house/prisons. I am particularly taken with how Gane draws the fabrics, folds, and creases in clothing, giving everything a lived in tangibility. Take for instance the light creeping in presumably through a window onto the face of Moon/Syd whilst she lies in bed or the glowing intensity of Blurgirl’s dream that opens the issue. And then there difference in lighting and shadow between the bright dinning room (where the powerful characters talk) compared to the murky dusk of the other rooms (where the confused and scared characters talk) that serves to illustrate just how the Voice and Maisie can see everything and everyone clearly whilst most of the others only see things partially.

Every issue of this book brings something new to the table, whilst continuing to enhance and explore what has come before, and the beginnings of Syd’s misgivings about The Voice (and the confessions of others) is really starting to drive this story into unfamiliar territory. Syd is a winning character, and her ‘friends’ are all very intriguing to say the least. This is a story that threatens to step wholly into the superhero, and thriller, and crime, and mystery genres at any moment; instead it expertly manages to draw great elements from them all, and maintains an intense central drama rooted in complex characters. This is great storytelling matched with great art – simply put this is a great book.

They're Not Like Us #4 Panel

They’re Not Like Us #4 // Story – Eric Stephenson / Art – Simon Gane / Colours – Jordie Bellaire // Image

Notes and Observations:

  • I don’t recall seeing Wire’s cat before, but I might have missed it. It’s cute!
  • The continued low-key use of powers like Blurgirl super-speeding to the top of the stairs and Moon’s illusions is inventive, both visually and in how it furthers plot and characterisation; in particular the use of illusory powers in sexual roleplay makes a lot of sense, but it didn’t stop me feeling more than a little sad for Moon.
  • So it is looking increasingly like my Misery Kid hero-watch is a fools errand. Guess I will need to start my new game – Maisie: friend or foe?!
  • The issue name comes from the title of a track by the Jam. The back page quote comes from musician Stephen Duffy’s song C’est La Vie, C’est La Guerre which is impossible to listen to on the entire internet!

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Comics // Review // Elektra #11

Concise

The last issue of this expertly crafted tale of action and introspection ends with suitable bombast, but writer W. Haden Blackman doesn’t short-change Elektra emotionally, instead offering up some more powerful and personal moments for our hero. And all the while artist Michael Del Mundo draws some absolutely stunning panels of action, brutality, and of course ninjas. An excellent last bow for an excellent series.

Elektra #11 Cover

Spoilerful

On the surface writer W. Haden Blackman has told a relatively straight-forward Elektra story; hired by the match-maker to track down missing assassin Cape Crow before the assassins guild get a hold of him Elektra travels the world and faces off against villains and ninjas, culminating in the appearance of a mystically resurrected and enhanced Bullseye. But surfaces can be deceiving, look below them and you can find all manner of currents, depths, and meanings. This has really been the story of Elektra rediscovering her place in the world; in times past she has been an assassin, an anti-hero, Matt Murdock’s lover, dead, and now she is on the path to becoming something quite different again – a hero.

There have been some weighty issues in this run, notably when Elektra faced into her darkest memories and regrets during her underwater battle with Bloody Lips, so this last issue features a lighter narrative by comparison as it is chiefly concerned with the street battle between the guild, the Hand, Bullseye, Cape Crow and his son Kento, and Elektra herself. That said, there isn’t a great deal of narrative threads to resolve at this point so it is perhaps unsurprising that the action takes centre stage. Even here though Blackman takes the opportunity to shed some light on Elektra’s emotional state; as she faces into near-certain death she considered the things that an early death will cause her to miss out on, and whilst they are undesirable for sure (cancers, and pills, and heart attacks), there is very much a sense of regret in Elektra’s tone. Elektra has lived a life of urgent and immediate violence and the price for that may well be that she doesn’t get to age and wither like a regular person – she will forever be fighting this fight (a point further emphasised by Bullseye’s late stage de-powering and escape, after all he will be forever fighting this fight too).

And yet the fight at the centre of this issue is as much an emotional one as it is a physical one. Elektra is having one final crisis of faith in herself, is she really capable of being the hero, of stepping up and saving the day, saving her friends? Of course Elektra doesn’t go down without giving her all, and despite the beating she has taken (the brutality of which is so well captured by the art, at once both beautiful and horrific) Elektra does indeed step up to get the job done. Whilst Elektra’s evolution into a fully fledged hero is complete, after all she puts saving a child’s life over revenge, it is still tempered by pragmatism and ruthlessness as evidenced by the deal she makes in exchange for her help – that the guild will belong to her from now on. A deal that leads to my favourite moment of this issue, the epilogue, wherein Elektra, Cape Crow, and Kento step up to fight the entire guild in a weird hall of hanging dolls (yet another amazing environment from Del Mundo). This is just a brilliant ending to this story of redemption and self-discovery; Elektra will still be out there taking care of business even if we don’t get to see it (and now she has a team!)

Artist Mike Del Mundo is an absolute master of depth and miss en scène, and his ability to guide the eye through different levels of the image is truly stunning. I really don’t think there is anyone working quite like this in anything else I read right now and comics will definitely poorer for the cancellation of Del Mundo’s only current monthly title (though we’ll get a couple of Weirdworld issues from him during Secret Wars). My first experience of Del Mundo’s art was at the start of this run and initially it (favourably) reminded me of J.H. William’s work (also with Blackman) on the brilliant Batwoman book (another artist that I would love to see on a monthly book again) as they both deliver complex and intricate panels with often washed out and ghostly palettes. But with each issue of Elektra (as well as the frankly astonishing All-New X-Men #37) I have developed a real love for Del Mundo’s work on its merits alone and it has moved way beyond mere comparisons to other artists – this is some of my favourite art right now. Each page is so rich and full of detail and quality that it just begs to be stared at. And at times you could be forgiven for mistaking some of his panels for movie stills, even with the ethereal and otherworldly quality of the art, as the sense of motion and depth is palpable.

Panels where the foreground is littered with bodies and battle debris, point of view images as Elektra looks on helplessly with her hand reaching out impotently, Bullseye’s new found mystical power melting away once he is defeated, the clear visceral price of victory in Elektra’s half broken face – in all of it Del Mundo renders every moment with delicate, intricate, and a truly unique visual craftsmanship (his use of blurred foreground alone is outstanding). It is also well worth noting that in the creation of the confusing fog of war Del Mundo is ably assisted by colourist Marco D’Alfonso who manages to give the shadows and smog a threatening tangibility. The muted hues still vividly evoke the ebb and flow of battle, the calm moments and frenetic attacks, and the vicious drawing of blood.

For Elektra this book has been about two journeys, an earthbound quest to find and rescue Cape Crow, and a metaphysical exploration of her own capacity for good in the face of a past littered with wrongs and regrets. This has been a story that set out to establish Elektra as a bona fide hero in the Marvel universe; not just to bring her back to life, but to give her a life worth living, and one untethered from Matt Murdock and New York City at that. Blackman and Del Mundo have achieved that aim admirably, in many more ways than one. I am quite sad to see this book go.

Elektra #11 Panel

Elektra #11 // Writer – W. Haden Blackman / Art – Michael Del Mundo / Colours – Marco D’Alfonso // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • After the shocking, and somehow really threatening, reveal that the head of the assassins guild was a young telepath last issue I was a little disappointed that Bullseye got the better of her so easily – surely she has dealt with his type before if she has risen up the ranks so quickly?
  • Bullseye never misses – the deflected card was a brilliant moment.
  • At first I thought the head of the guild had telepathically reactivated Elektra’s body so she could save her, which may indeed have been the case, but I couldn’t quite work it out. Might just be that Elektra is hard as nails!
  • Just take another look at that beautiful cover.

All art belongs to the copyright holders

Comics // Review // All-New Captain America #5

Concise

This issue takes some disappointing turns that undermine the momentum of the story and cheapen some of what we have seen so far in this arc. The art remains great and there are still some clever and well delivered sequences here, but the escalating tension and narrative power that had been expertly built over the last few issues seems to have been squandered to some degree.

All-New Captain America #5 Cover

Spoilerful

This issue opens with a tough scene for Sam, not a fight or chase, but rather the reaction of a random narrow-minded New Yorker (no doubt echoing the views of some narrow-minded real people) to the news that the mantle of Captain America will be taken up by the Falcon. Despite the crowded cafe, brilliantly rendered by artist Immonen, this is a powerful and intimate scene, which is thanks in no small part to the wonderful colouring by Marte Gracia who draws attention to Sam and the random guy (who wears prison orange). As the guy rails against Wilson as Cap because he feels it is unearned tokenism, Sam listens quietly and takes in the unfounded criticism; criticism that stays with him as he fights desperately against Baron Zemo. This is a powerful opening, in keeping with the various reflections on how he came to be here that Sam has had in previous issues, and it speaks to an important point – whatever your feelings about heroes being replaced and rebooted, it would be impossible to argue that Sam Wilson is unfit to carry the Captain America name or shield. Rather he has been a strong, noble, and compelling holder of the title.

Unfortunately this issue goes on to take a few unfortunate turns after this point. Chief amongst them is the startling return of Ian Rogers, until now thought dead after Zemo cut his throat and bled him dry.  In one regard it is probably testament to Remender’s breathless and believable writing that I bit down so hard on Ian’s supposed death; the scene itself a few issues ago was visceral and shocking, a practically unthinkable twist so early into a new run. Which, of course, it now proves to have been. So why bother with the fake out at all? Nomad’s death was a powerful moment not just because it was surprising, but also because it was an immediate reminder that this isn’t a game, Sam doesn’t get to just put the suit on and then relax, he is fighting real brutal villains and anyone can make a mistake that gets them killed. Ian Rogers was a good man and a strong hero in his own right, and his death was a tragedy in no uncertain terms. This unproven team with an unproven Captain America, immediately taking a casualty offered so much potential tension and dramatic weight for future arcs. Instead we are treated to a classic and cliched deus ex machina.

With Cap on the ropes Nomad steps in to swing a few punches Zemo’s way. This fight has been going on for two issues, and it delivered some quality thematic resonance and dialogue, but there are two moments here that serve to weaken the entire affair; the ridiculous grab-the-sword-by-the-blade move which would have left Cap handless the rest of the issue (it deflated the tension of the fight because rather than roll with it I had to stop and think about whether or not it would work – and it absolutely not) and the afore mentioned return of Nomad. Cap’s noble battle in the face of undefeatable odds and subsequent sacrifice to concentrate on the virus-bugs instead becomes a rather stale side-kick saves the day moment, the threat of Baron Zemo is gone and everything Cap has done up to this point feels somehow undermined. And when you couple this with that opening scene and Sam’s own narration, “This was the only way it was ever going to end“, it all seems to paint an odd message – are we supposed to believe that Sam wasn’t ready to take up the shield? That he is a poor choice for the role?

And then this fight underwhelmingly ends in exactly the same way as the last one did just before Nomad died, a point that Sam even raises, with Cap having to race away on the chase whilst Nomad is left behind to hold off the bad guy. Whereas last time there was a sense that anything could happen, here there can be no tension because now we know that Nomad could be killed a hundred times over and just pop back up a couple of issues later. This whole side-kick death imbroglio is then (presumably unintentionally) hilariously spoofed by Remender himself when Redwing gets taken out by a Nazi Vampire. This plays like a curiously underwhelming rehash of that powerful death from just a couple issues ago – again is this supposed to be a point about Sam’s ineffectiveness as Cap, his inability to save anyone (Nomad, the child prisoner, now Redwing)?

There are some good reasons to read this book, Sam Wilson is an excellent Captain America and Remender writes him very well, the flashback scenes have all offered strong characterisation, and there are smart moments like the use of Sam’s ‘bird call’ to deal with the virus-bugs. Unfortunately this isn’t a particularly strong issue in the run, and a few of the narrative decisions feel a little hollow. I am sure this arc can get back on track, so hopefully next issue will do more things right.

This makes no sense
This makes no sense

All-New Captain America #5 // Writer – Rick Remender / Penciler – Stuart Immonen / Inker – Wade Von Grawbadger / Colourist – Marte Gracia // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • I was sorry to see that Misty only got a single panel, even if Taskmasters betrayal of Zemo was fun.
  • I took a few minutes and read all of Bram Stoker before coming” – you literally just got done being killed Nomad, maybe not with the smug straight away.
  • Also, how and from whom did Nomad get all this information about Zemo’s Nazi Vampire plan B?

All art belongs to the copyright holder